[TIMELINE] Fil-Am Cannery Unionism in Seattle (1940-1959)
- The Local 7/ Local 37 Story:
Filipino American Cannery Unionism in Seattle 1940-1959
The Filipino American-led cannery workers union has a marked history
of conflict and tumult, from the assassination of the president
Virgil Duyungan and secretary Aurelio Simon in the mid-1936 to
another dual assassination of union leaders Silme Domingo and Gene
Viernes in 1981. Historians have concentrated on the events and
issues surrounding the two sets of assassinations, providing valuable
accounts of union building in the 1930s and of the reform efforts
initiated by Domingo and Viernes forty years later, but we know
little about the intervening decades. This essay uses union records
to explore the critical middle period in the history of Seattle's
Cannery and Farm Labor Union, affiliated in the early 1940s as Local
7 UCAPAWA and after 1950 as Local 37 ILWU.
During this period, the union dealt with a myriad of struggles.
Political strife and leadership shifts dominated the 1940s. As the
decade waned and the 1950s began, allegations of Communist activity
took a heavy toll on the union, leading to reorganization under a new
national and a new name: ILWU Local 37. Recovery from these events
led to a stability of power that lasted throughout the 1950s but
ultimately led to a less active union.
The cannery workers' union was originally founded as the Cannery
Workers' and Farm Laborers' Union (CWFLU) Local 18257 under the
American Federation of Labor (AFL). From its birth, it was already
rocked by conflict; in 1936, two of its leaders, Aurelio Simon and
Virgil Duyungan, were shot and killed (presumably due to opposition
from anti-union labor contractors). In 1937 the union left the AFL in
favor of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) becoming
United Cannery, Agricultural, Packinghouse, and Allied Workers of
America (UCAPAWA) Local 7. The local's maturation into a powerful
bargaining force was characterized by a constantly shifting
leadership with a wide range of political beliefs. (The early history
is covered in Crystal Fresco's essay "Cannery Worker's and Farm
Laborers' Union 1933-39: Their Strength in Unity")
The outbreak of World War II provided both opportunities and
challenges for the young labor union. Membership declined as former
cannery workers enlisted or took more stable jobs in defense
industries. Internal disagreements seemed also for a time to threaten
the union. But a new set of leaders and the intense bonds between the
union and Filipino communities on the West Coast helped the union
consolidate its position. By the war's end Local 7 not only
represented Seattle workers but had become the bargaining agent for
cannery workers up and down the coast.
Struggles over leadership dominated the early years of the 1940s. In
1940 Vincent Navea won the election as President of Local 7. Navea's
past gave him a tenuous hold on the presidential office: he was
respected as a hard-working union official (he had previously been
the union's business agent) and upstanding community member, but he
had never worked in the canneries. A great deal of conflict and
intrigue surrounded Navea, as his strong business sense was
accompanied by constant accusations of being a "company man." These
accusations were supported by his personal history. He had
previously worked for the Western Outfitting Company, which appears
to have been associated with the pre-union labor contractors.
Navea's successor, Trinidad Rojo, was elected President of Local 7 in
October 1942. Wordy, intellectual, and often less than humble, he was
active in union affairs from the 1940s through the 1950s. Rojo
espoused efficiency and discipline in the union. In a 1975 interview
he took credit for a series of innovations and reforms, such as
introducing the time clock to the office, reducing gambling problems
and concentrating the flow of union money in the offices of the
treasurer and secretary.
Like many young Filipino men, Rojo came to the United States in
search of educational opportunities. In the Philippines high school
was very expensive and it was not uncommon for a full family to spend
a large amount of its resources to educate one child. The United
States to which Filipinos could immigrate freely until the passing
of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 offered young Filipinos the
chance to be self-supporting students, taking a great weight off of
their families. However, many found that after gaining an education
there were few opportunities for Filipinos in America. This
frustration led many highly educated individuals to become active in
labor struggles. Rojo was one of them.
Rojo had succeeded Navea in 1942 but there was continuing conflict
between the two men and their allies. In August 1943 an election
dispute occurred relating to the validity of the nomination of Irineo
Cabatit for the local's annual presidential election. Membership
meeting minutes show two distinct groups: one composed of Navea and
Cabatit, and another led by Rojo and the secretary, Prudencio Mori.
Cabatit had withdrawn from the election over the phone but still
wanted to run for president. Arguing that votes should be thrown out
because he was removed from the ballot, and that it was
constitutionally required for withdrawals to be submitted in writing
(and not over the phone), Cabatit was still given a chance to run as
president for the remainder of the voting period. He did not win
Following Cabatit's defeat, Navea attempted to gain control of the
union membership from the outside by filing a petition to the War
Labor Board asking that the American Legion post that he headed
(Rizal Post), be recognized as the sole bargaining agent to the
Alaska cannery industry. Most of the canneries had been
consolidated under one umbrella organization during the beginning of
the war and they relied on the union to seasonally dispatch workers
to Alaska for the two-month summer canning season. Thus, winning
representation with the industry was the key to controlling the
cannery labor base. Navea was unsuccessful and was charged with anti-
union activities by the union. A small 1944 membership meeting vote
on the matter revealed how split the membership was at the time: 38
voted him guilty while 32 voted him not guilty. The leadership was
much different, however: an 8-1 vote by secret ballot in an executive
board meeting two days earlier condemned Navea to a ten-year
One can see by the small vote tally that the union membership
decreased dramatically during the war. Between the dramatic fall of
Bataan to the Japanese in April 1942, the draft, and the lure of non-
seasonal work, the UCAPAWA locals lost over a thousand workers to
various military services and even more to industries related to
military production. The labor shortage had a drastic effect on
the union and the salmon industry in general. The government exempted
many Filipino workers from the draft because the supply of canned
food was considered important to the war effort.
Faced with this challenge, Local 7 looked towards new fronts on which
to represent workers. Alaska cannery workers shipped out of Portland
and San Francisco as well as Seattle, and in those ports they were
represented by affiliated unions: Local 5 in San Francisco and Local
266 in Portland, both of which dispatched predominantly Filipino
workers to Alaska under the same agreed-upon contracts. According to
various oral histories, Local 7 had the most sway with the UCAPAWA
International. Since the union was in charge of dispatching, it also
became heavily involved in the process of labor recruiting during the
war, sending agents to Filipino communities around the west coast to
get more workers. The Filipino community in Stockton, California was
one of the most looked-on targets. By the summer of 1944, there was
talk of setting up a year-round branch in Stockton and Local 7
President Rojo himself was asked to travel there to drum up more
support. Even after war, when the labor shortage was dramatically
ended, Stockton continued to remain an important to Local 7's leaders
and members, largely because the seasonal nature of Alaska cannery
work fit well with the asparagus season in California.
As the union expanded outward in search of new members, it
consolidated its three locals into the one Seattle-based Local 7
based on the argument that it was redundant to have three
organizations negotiating with the single Alaska Salmon Industry
organization. The level of hostility from the small southern locals
to consolidation is difficult to gauge, as their own records no
longer exist. Local 266 in Portland fought not for continued
existence as a separate local but did demand the continued operation
of the office. Upon hearing that the two southern locals were going
to be absorbed by the Seattle one, the Portland local's president
Ernesto Mangaoang traveled to Seattle to request only that the
Portland union hall retain some funding, explaining that it was an
important community center. In the discussion, Rojo spoke up "not as
president, but as one who has studied the problems of Filipinos in
the United States" and made Local 266 a branch of Local 7. The
Seattle local also killed two birds with one stone by mandating that
the Portland branch officers must spend several months out of the
year organizing labor in Stockton.
The intersection of labor interests with Filipino community interests
was not uncommon in this union. While it did cater to some other
Asian-American interests (such as establishing a "Farm Committee" to
aid interned Japanese-American farmers in holding their land for no
profit), it was becoming more and more a Filipino union. The
Chinese-American populations in Portland and San Francisco lost power
from the consolidation of the three locals and the Japanese Americans
on the west coast lost all representation due to internment.
While Filipinos had dominated the union since the beginning, the war-
era dramatically eroded the role of other Asian Americans. .
By and large, the union and the Filipino community benefited from one
another. Local 7 was considered the most militant and active Filipino
union in the United States. Despite a large Filipino population that
was dispersed throughout both the urban and rural Pacific coast,
Local 7 was seen as the one place during the summer months where
Filipinos in America could get a job en masse outside of farm work.
Perhaps the most memorable photos of the union's history are those of
Main Street in Seattle, showing a massive crowd of Filipino men
waiting outside the union hall to be dispatched. It would be
incorrect to argue that the union was the sole community center.
Fraternities such as the Caballeros de Dimas Alang and umbrella
groups like Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc. held massive
community events as early as the mid-1920s and continued to do so at
least through the 1950s. However, the union hall was still a
valuable tool for the Filipino community, between annual dances,
various social functions, and, of course, the employment it promised.
Cold War Tensions
Communists had been involved in the union from its beginnings in the
1930s. As the Second World War ended and the Cold War began, the
presence of Communists in the leadership of the union would usher in
a decade of volatility. However, unlike many unions with Communist
Party ties, the Cannery Workers Union would not be destroyed or
severely weakened by outside forces.
The early postwar years saw continued intra-union political strife
that led to the creation of a rival union. Immediately following the
end of the war, the union was characterized by dull union meetings
and a highly unsuccessful 1946 strike under the presidency of
Prudencio Mori. Trinidad Rojo had left at the war's end to resume
his studies but was back by 1947 to witness (though not really
participate in) a tense split in political differences between "the
conservatives and the progressive" at Local 7 (now Local 7 of the
Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union of America,
which replaced UCAPAWA that year). The "progressive" side (including
Mori) accused some members of the union leadership of being
associated with the canning industry while allegations of communism
were already being prepared by the more "conservative" side. In early
1947, during one of the heated arguments resulting from this
conflict, Max Gonzales, the vice president of the union and a staunch
anti-Communist, pulled out a revolver and shot in the "general
direction" of the more leftist Matias Lagunilla, who would later
become a secretary at the union. The minutes of that particular
meeting have disappeared, so it is difficult to ascertain what
exactly catalyzed the shooting. The political divisions between
Gonzales and Lagunilla were certainly apparent, however, and would be
a disruptive issue for some time.
While Gonzales did not hurt anyone, he still submitted his
resignation to the Executive Council three days later. It was
rejected by Mori and the rest of the council on the grounds that
Gonzales' resignation would signify an undesirable lack of unity
among the union. The Executive Board minutes also go on to exemplify
Gonzales' "excellent track record" of service for the union, but
this added discussion appears to have taken place primarily to make
the choice appear less political.
In early March, 1947 the FTA International's president, Donald
Henderson, came to Seattle and met with Local 7's officers. He was
not well-received. Stating that members were fearful of going to
meetings because of Gonzales' actions, Henderson sternly chastised
This Executive Council has not lifted its finger to condemn such an
action to protect its members. You are violating your oath and office
by not acting on this matter. You are giving the C.I.O. a black eye
for refusing to act on this matter. You are also giving the Filipino
people a black eye.
In spite of Henderson's condemnations, the council tabled the motion
to expel Gonzales. By mid-June, he was still an active member in the
council and, with the support of fellow officer Cornelio Briones, was
trying to move Local 7 in the direction of secession from the
Communist-linked FTA International. Mori was in staunch opposition,
arguing that the International was vital to the union's success.
Gonzales was convinced that Local 7's defiance against the
International would result in Local 7's charter being revoked.
Local 7 remained intact, however; instead of its dissolution,
Gonzales was expelled and Briones followed him.
Gonzales and Briones then formed the independent Seafood Workers
Union. They filed a suit against Local 7 in an attempt to dissolve it.
 During the court proceedings, the Local 7 leadership was held in
contempt of court for failing to produce documents relating to
alleged misuse of $6,000 from the union's burial fund (this fund came
from annual payments from members and was to be used to pay for a
funeral in the case of a worker's death). The contempt ruling
effectively tied up the union's treasury, making it difficult for
Local 7 to apply its budget towards being effective against the
cannery industry. However, the majority of the Filipino community and
the workers remained with Local 7 and the case was decided in its
favor in what Trinidad Rojo called a "technical knockout." It turned
out that Gonzales was working as a cannery foreman, thus making his
Seafood Workers Union a company union and therefore illegal.
Not long after the Gonzales challenge was resolved, another factional
divide emerged between newly re-elected President Rojo, who
positioned himself as a noncommunist moderate, and leftwing activist
Chris Mensalvas. The issue was not radicalism but how to allocate
resources and time. In 1949 Mensalvas would defeat Rojo and become
President of the local, remaining in that office until 1959.
Mensalvas was a newcomer to Seattle, having been initially involved
in labor struggles in other areas of the Pacific Coast. He spent most
of his early years in the United States going to school and working
on farms, where he was exposed to Communism and involved himself in
labor activism. He eventually became the business agent of the
Portland cannery local before the locals merged. Due to his
resistance against some amalgamation procedures, he resigned largely
at the bidding of Gonzales and Briones only to resume involvement
in union affairs upon returning to the Portland branch. After the
death of his first wife in 1947, he became involved in the Seattle
local as the publicity director but still had a marked interest in
California. In late 1948, he left Seattle and moved to Stockton,
where he served as a publicity director during attempts to organize
asparagus workers. That effort ended in defeated and costly strike.
(costly because of the civil and criminal cases that followe).
Rojo later wrote that Mensalvas and those working with him spent an
exorbitant amount of money ("The legal fees alone cost over $37,000")
for the strike despite Rojo's warnings that it would fail. It is
difficult to ascertain how accurate Rojo's report on Mensalvas is
since there is little documentary evidence to corroborate it; on the
contrary, letters from Mensalvas to the Local 7 Seattle headquarters
in April 1949 indicate that some significant progress was made in
Stockton. Whatever the case was, Rojo and Mensalvas never
appeared to be on good terms with one another.
Confronting the Taft-Hartley Act
The inter-union strife was further complicated by the effects of the
Taft-Hartley Act (also known as the Labor-Management Relations Act),
passed in 1947 to outlaw closed shops and require union leaders to
file affidavits declaring that they were not members of the Communist
Party. While the union and its leadership did not publicly declare
any sort of Communist affiliation, it was well-known within the
community that Communist Party members had long been active in the
politics of Local 7. According to Rojo, it was not uncommon for right-
wing members of the politically diverse Filipino community to report
alleged Communists to the Bureau of Immigration. With this new
set of anti-Communist legislation, these reports became a major
concern for the leftist union leadership.
The Seafood Workers Union merged with the Alaska Fish Cannery Workers
(AFCW) of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and made another
attempt to undermine the union.. This amalgamated organization
petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for
representation elections, which were subsequently approved and set
for April of 1949. Local 7 was accused of being a Communist union,
and the election was preceded by a raid from U.S. Immigration
officials who arrested business agent Ernesto Mangaoang, newly-
elected president Chris Mensalvas, and several others on accusations
of being Communist.
While Local 7 sustained the attacks quite well from an organizational
standpoint-- winning the representation election in 1949,--the
specter of Communist involvement haunted the union for the next
decade. Later that year the FTA International was expelled by the CIO
because of its ties to the Communist Party. That led to yet another
attempt by conservative cannery workers to change the course of Local
7. Several Local 7 officers resigned and formed a "red-free" union,
Local 77, UPAWA-CIO, under Vincent Navea, who had been president
of Local 7 ten years earlier.
Local 7 then gave up its affiliation with the wounded Food, Tobacco,
Agricultural and Allied Workers Union of America, finding a new
parent international union in the International Longshoremen and
Warehousemen Union (ILWU). On March 26, 1950 the cannery workers
affiliated with the ILWU and became Local 7-C. That summer, it won
collective bargaining rights in another NLRB representative
election , defeating Local 77 and the Alaska Fish Cannery Workers'
Union, SIU-AFL. The following year, Local 7-C signed a four year
union shop contract with the canning industry and subsequently became
Local 37 ILWU.
Why did Local 7 succeed against these competing unions despite the
constant threat of Communist accusations? One important factor is
that Local 7 had the power of the union hall. In mid-1948, when
Gonzales' and Briones' aggression was at its peak and the new Taft-
Hartley law was in effect, attendance at May membership meetings was
as high as 560 people. Meetings in 1949 were not as large but
still reached almost 300 members near the end of May, right
before the beginning of the dispatching season. This was a
significant number out of a yearly dispatched force of several
thousand workers, and it was exposed much more to Local 7's
leadership than it was to the voice of the opposition. Moreover,
Local 7's leaders still participated in community activities and were
allowed to stand their ground and defend themselves in open letters,
public discussions, and so on. While many community members whispered
about rumors of Communism among the union leaders, the workers were
still more familiar with Local 7's leaders and unfalteringly
supported them in NLRB elections.
Facing the Threat of Deportation
After 1950, the threat of breakaway unions and outside
unions would recede. After affiliating with ILWU and becoming Local
37 some of the turmoil diminished, but the union and its leaders
faced a new set of problems. On November 17, 1949 Ernesto Mangaoang
was arrested and held for deportion under the order of District
Director John P. Boyd (who would antagonize the union over this issue
for some time) . He was released eleven days later under a ruling
by the District Court that Boyd's action was an abuse of discretion,
but Mangaoang's problems and the union's problems were far from over.
Deportation orders and court cases would dominate the next several
In 1950, Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act),
requiring communists and communist front organizations to register
with the Attorney General and allowing immigration officials to make
a case to deport "subversive" aliens. Under this act, Mangaoang and
some thirty other Filipinos were placed in jail. Mangaoang's
attorneys were not notified so he was not allowed to cross-examine
his witnesses. After 83 days jail, he was released, and a deportation
order soon followed. The case worked its way up to the Supreme Court
in 1953 and was concluded by an issue brought up by the famous
defense attorney John Caughlan, who argued that Mangaoang never
technically "entered" America as an alien because he traveled from
the Philippines while it was still an American territory. This
landmark ruling established residency rights for the thousands of
Filipino Americans that had arrived before the Philippines
established its independence in the mid-1930s.
It can be argued that the intensity and strife created by the
controversy over Communism and the hearings actually contributed to
the union's power and activity. Up until the mid-1950s, leaflets and
publications by the union convey a strong sense of urgency to be
involved and stand up for the union. During the initial arrests in
1949, Matias Lagunilla formed the Local 7 Defense Committee and
released a large flier (click here) with pictures of five leaders
facing deportation (including Mensalvas and Mangaoang). It proclaimed
in bold text, "THEY TRY TO KILL OUR UNION", juxtaposing the Communist
trials with the murders of Duyungan and Simon in 1936. The first page
ends with "YOU'RE NEXT, UNLESS " followed by the top of the second
page: "...YOU HALT THIS DRIVE AGAINST OUR UNIONS." These
sentiments were also exemplified in Local 37's 1952 yearbook, wrought
with powerful language. Headlines implore workers to "Know Your
Rights" while various articles by the union leadership espouse a very
victorious and tenacious approach to the union's recent history,
especially in relation to the deportation issues.
The union also actively lobbied against deportation legislation and
anything related to it. In early 1953, Local 37 filed for an
injunction on the Walter-McCarran Act with strong support of the
membership. The local also educated its members on the effects of
the immigration laws through news bulletins. The International
also provided some assistance by meeting with immigration officials,
 but the record provides little evidence of monetary assistance.
The newly renamed Local 37 found itself identifying strongly with the
ILWU International. As the ILWU president Harry Bridges faced
deportation and prison, parallels were drawn between him and Local
37's own Ernesto Mangaoang. The local donated money out of its
general budget for Bridges' defense, promoted his cause in its
publications, and even sold "Harry Bridges Defense Stamps" to raise
money. However, there was little the ILWU could do for Local 37,
and many of the members felt that they were not getting what they
deserved from the International. One issue of particular importance
to the executive council was that five months of dues had to be paid
to the International per year despite the fact that Local 37's
members only worked a two month season. Although leaders of other
locals involved in seasonal work were brought in to explain why they
were willing to pay the same amount of dues, it remained a sore spot
for Local 37.
Dissention in the Board
Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, Ernesto Mangaoang
was a hero to the union. Respected as an incredibly shrewd
negotiator, he was defended by the union all the way up to the
Supreme Court. Yet in the fall of 1954, not long after winning his
case, Mangaoang was ousted from the union. The events that lead to
this political intrigue resulted from a general dissatisfaction in
the leadership of Mensalvas and Lagunilla and the involvement of the
well-known Filipino author and activist, Carlos Bulosan.
Bulosan came to the United States at the onset of the
Great Depression to look for opportunities outside of his agrarian
community. He wrote the best-selling pseudo-autobiographical novel
America is in the Heart and published it as World War II began. He
was well recognized as the premier Filipino-American writer and
befriended Chris Mensalvas while Mensalvas was attempting to organize
labor in California. In 1952, Mensalvas invited Bulosan up to Seattle
to edit Local 37's yearbook, which remains one of the most coveted
pieces of the local's history from this time period, and would have a
profoundly inspirational effect on the activist student unionists in
the 1970s. The yearbook (which is reprinted in its entirety on
this site) was significant not only because of Bulosan's involvement,
but also because it was published at a turning point in the union's
history: after the inter-union competition had been quelled and a
string of victories had been won against government forces despite
the Taft-Hartley and Walter-McCarran acts. As liberal organizations
around the nation were disappearing or morphing into something more
conservative, ILWU Local 37 celebrated its leftist commitments
unabashedly in this yearbook, promoting strong positions against the
Korean War, the "fascist" Walter-McCarran Act, and the "stooges" in
the less liberal AFL.
However, behind this celebration of the union's
militancy was a growing discontent among the more moderate members.
Trinidad Rojo, who was still active in the council as a trustee,
attacked Mensalvas in August 1953 for improperly using union money as
president instead of confining all monetary transfers to the office
of the treasurer. Mensalvas had loaned union money to Bulosan and had
not been paid back. Bulosan had chronic health issues and was
hospitalized at the time. Defending him with Mensalvas was Matias
Lagunilla, who stated that "an injury to one is an injury to all."
Mangaoang, still Business Agent, also came to his side, trying to use
a technicality to show that Bulosan owed nothing. Rojo responded in
his usually analogical manner by arguing "that is like stretching a
fly to cover an elephant." Between the costs of all the legal
defenses, the strain the local had undergone fighting other unions
and the lack of support from the ILWU International, Local 37 was
very low on money and every dollar became an issue.
Rojo pinned the budget problems on the leftist leadership. In
November, he wrote a resolution to call in the ILWU International to
investigate and audit Local 37's leadership. In a board meeting,
Mensalvas stated that "with all its good intentions, the resolution
will confuse the membership; and it will make a wedge for them to
come and again inject dissension." The executive board promptly
condemned the resolution. Mangaoang, however, disagreed, arguing that
it is dangerous for the officers of a democratic union to refuse to
be publicly investigated. Lagunilla countered with his belief that
the resolution had ulterior motives and was a "dirty way of
eliminating officers that they cannot eliminate in the election."
By 1954, Mangaoang was in open disagreement with the other Local 37
officers. In a February membership meeting, he tried to read a speech
on his stance and was promptly denied the floor by Mensalvas, who
said that the reading of a minority opinion at a membership meeting
was unprecedented (which was most certainly untrue). Mangaoang
prepared a leaflet stating his problems with the union leadership
(mainly with their lack of activity and proper budgeting) and was
challenged by the executive council at the April meeting. The
conflict is exemplified in the meeting's minutes, prepared by the
argumentative secretary Matt Lagunilla:
Lagunilla said that the Business Agent is like the monkey
who said to the turtle that his tail is very long; yet the Business
Agent failed to look back and see if he has any tail at all. He said
that we have nothing to do here all winter, but getting drunk and
solving the crossword puzzle. What is wrong with solving the puzzle
if there is nothing to do. Drinking after office hours is not the
business of anybody, much less the Business Agent he said. He fails
to include in his leaflet that he stayed in the Casino all winter
playing rummy, coming only to the office to claim his weekly check.
No wonder the Business Agent has so many claims not settled. Now the
Business Agent resort to arbitration which means the expenditure of a
lot of money.
The next day, Mangaoang finally had the chance to speak in a
membership meeting on the topic, probably because his leaflet had
already been well-circulated among the membership. The same arguments
were expressed and hashed out. Directly following that Mensalvas
called for the nomination of officers for the upcoming election.
Mangaoang's name did not appear in any category.
A trial committee was formed among the membership to address the
allegations about both Mangaoang (for creating dissension) and the
other officers of Local 37. At the June meeting as the committee
began presenting findings and resolutions, matters became so heated
that members were shouting at one another and came close to
The International was ultimately kept out of Local 37 affairs,
however, and Mangaoang was gone by autumn of that year. In the
following January, the Trial Committee presented its findings, with
Mangaoang found guilty and all other cases dropped. The Mensalvas
faction had won out entirely.
Regardless of whether Mensalvas and his cohorts were guilty of
acting irresponsibly with the budget, the union was still having
financial difficulties. It was constantly digging into the burial
fund, taking out loans of five or six thousand dollars at a time. At
the July 1954 meeting it was announced that the budget had a deficit
of around $15,000. The union also received notice from the office
of John Caughlan, who had represented Mensalvas and Mangaoang when
they were under threat of deportation, that Mensalvas' $5,000 bail
had finally been refunded to the attorneys but would not be returned
to the union until the attorneys themselves were paid by the union. A
resolution was passed in a February membership meeting stating that
the local did not make any commitment to pay and the money should be
returned in full. By March, the executive council was mortgaging
the union building because it was still in the red despite having
already borrowed $15,000 from the burial fund. The conflict with
Caughlan was drawn out for the next few years as the union continued
to borrow money. Another eighteen thousand dollars was borrowed from
the burial fund in December 1956 as Mensalvas reported that only $700
of his $5000 bail had been refunded. Caughlan's case against the
union eventually reached the state Supreme Court in 1958, which
affirmed that the union still owed money to the lawyers.
Local 37's records from 1957 are missing, and records from 1958 are
very spotty; however, the records that remain point to some
resolution, or at least a leveling out, of the budget crisis. The
minutes that remain of the executive board meetings focus more on
union involvement in community events than on the financial issues
that dominated the mid-50s discussions.
While membership meeting records are spotty throughout the 1950s, a
look at the member attendance for various 1955 meetings reveals only
134 members attending before the peak of the dispatching for the
season. While there may be other factors involved (perhaps the
dispatching became more staggered that year), the numbers still point
to a less active membership.
A New Conservative Era
In 1959, Mensalvas went to Canada to meet with the Soviets at a labor
conference. On the way back, the Department of Immigration challenged
his return to the country, arguing that he lacked U.S. citizenship.
He somehow made it to Seattle with the aid of his attorney, but then
quickly left to Hawaii and stayed there for several years. The
details of his departure are unclear. Years later when interviewed
for an oral history, Mensalvas briefly touched on this part of his
life, saying that the "political question" in Seattle affected his
decision to go to Hawaii. What he meant by "political question"
is not clear though this time was marked by a distinct change in
organizational structure, which may have been what Mensalvas was
referring to. The union had moved to consolidate the offices of the
president and the business agent into one. Gene Navarro, who had been
the business agent since Mangaoang's departure, had become president
by Mensalvas' return to Seattle in 1963. Navarro would remain in
office with a more moderate, or even conservative, ideology that
would last until the 1980s.
Why Navarro and not Lagunilla or another individual closer to the
political orientation of Mensalvas? Why, after years of staving off
anticommunist assaults, did the union chose a more conservative
leadership so late, in 1960? The records do not provide a clear
answer. Perhaps Gene Navarro was simply in the right place at the
right time to maneuver for a more powerful position. What few records
of meetings or elections in 1960 remain discuss little more than day-
to-day business, so it is difficult to tell.
Whatever the case, the Mensalvas era ended with this single event.
Mensalvas would continue to play an advisory role to the union until
his death in 1978, but he did not make significant direct
contributions to union activity after 1959.
The Question of Stability
It is difficult to ascertain why Mensalvas was able to remain
president of the local throughout the entirety of the 1950s. It is
not uncommon to draw connections in labor history between Communist
elements of a union and heightened participation among rank and file
members. But once Mensalvas had established his power, the
membership became less active, not more. This lack of activity may
have kept him in power, but may have ultimately undermined the
support he needed to sustain his progressive leadership agenda.
One might also argue that the stability of Mensalvas' power lay in
the fact that the union's conflicts were less glamorous in the 1950s
than in the 1940s. All CIO locals had to deal with the Taft-Hartley
law and there was a sense that everyone was in it together. Moreover,
Mensalvas was able to use the dissent caused by fighting with the
Gonzales/Briones faction and, later, the "red-free" Navea faction, to
portray himself as a hero who used his skilled oratory to stand up
against the "AFL stooges." The conflicts of the 1950s were dirty, and
generated political controversy over Communist allegations and the
heated personal dissension between old friends like Mensalvas and
Mangaoang. Following 1952, union survival was no longer in doubt,
and these struggles lost their life-and-death tone.
Local 37 was not a massive union, nor was it a very well-known union
outside of the Filipino community at this time. ILWU histories pay
little attention to it in comparison to other locals and its
successes during this era are generally not celebrated in labor
history. However, it was extremely significant to Filipino Americans
in an era when discrimination prevented them access to most other
jobs. Equal opportunity employment would not become government policy
until the 1960s, but the labor union prevailed as a source of
employment for the disenfranchised Filipino Americans for decades
before that, The cannery union also played a very important role in
the economics, politics, and social dynamics of the Seattle Filipino
community, and beyond that the Filipino American community as a
whole. The tone of its struggles, from the manner in which it settled
infighting to its unique successes against Communist allegations,
reveals a union solidified by ethnic identity. In contrast to the
rest of American society, one's status as Filipino American was an
advantage in this organization, and it fostered a Filipino American
identity that would be celebrated for decades to come in both
Filipino American and labor history.
(c) Micah Ellison 2005
(HIST 498, Fall 2004)
 See Crystal Fresco, Cannery Workers' and Farm Laborer's Union:
Their Strength in Unity, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History
Project website, also, Dorothy Fujita-Rony, American Workers,
Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-
1941 and Chris Friday, Organizing Asian American Labor: The Pacific
Coast Canned-Salmon Industry, 1870-1942.
 See Bulosan.org, The Reform Movement of Local 37: The Work of
Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes,
http://www.bulosan.org/html/local_37.html; also, Han et al, Unknown
 "Filipinos in the Labor Front", The Philippine Yearbook: 1941,
Vincent Navea Folder at FANHS, Seattle, WA.
 Trinidad A. Rojo, interview by Carolina Koslosky, FIL-KNG75-17ck,
18 & 19 February 1975, Filipino American National Historical Society
(FANHS), Seattle, WA, p. 22.
 Many interviews from the Demonstration Project for Asian
Americans (DPAA) reflect on this theme and can be found at the
National Pinoy Archives at the Filipino American National Historical
Society (FANHS), Seattle, WA.
 Minutes of Membership Meeting, Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers
Union, Local 7, 19 August 1943, UW Special Collections, Accession
#3927-1, Box 3, Folder 8. (All membership and board meeting minutes
are located in this collection)
 George A. Valdez, "A Brief History of Local 37," 1952 Yearbook,
ILWU Local 37, Chris D. Mensalvas Papers, UW Special Collections,
Accession #2361-1, Box 1, Folder 14, p. 12.
 Minutes of Membership Meeting, 5 June 1944, Box 3, Folder 9.
 Minutes of Executive Board Meeting, 3 June 1944, Box 2, Folder 7.
 Friday, p. 188.
 Minutes of Membership Meeting, 29 June 1944, Box 3, Folder 9.
 Minutes of Executive Board Meeting, 27 March 1944, Box 2, Folder
 Minutes of Membership Meeting, March 1942, Box 2, Folder 4.
 Friday, pp. 186-188.
 Cordova, 175-183.
 Ernesto Mangaoang, Report of the Business Agent, 1952 Yearbook,
ILWU Local 37, p. 7.
 Rojo, 21.
 "Unionist Says He Shot To Scare," Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
1947. A photocopy of this news clipping was found in the Ernesto
Mangaoang folder at FANHS. Only the year was recorded on the copy, so
the exact date is not known. I have tried to find the minutes of the
membership meeting during which this particular event took place (in
February 9) but they do not seem to exist.
 Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, 12 Feb 1947, Box 3, Folder
 Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, 2 March 1947, Box 3,
 Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, 18 June 1947, Box 3,
 Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union (CWFLU) Local 7, "Matias
Lagunilla Again a Martyr," 1948, Local 7 UCAWAPA-CIO file, FANHS,
 "Arrest Asked for 10 Cannery Union Aids," Seattle Post-
Intelligencer 1947. A photocopy of this news clipping is on the same
sheet as the previous article mentioned in the Ernesto Mangaoang
folder at FANHS in Seattle, with the same lack of information as to
the exact date. However, the article mentions a future court
appearance scheduled for April 2, so it must have been published
early in the year.
 Trinidad Rojo, "Food Tobacco and Allied Workers of America, CIO
Local 7, Now, International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU),
Local 37," unpublished, no date (though it was written after the
murders of 1981 and before Rojo's death in the early 1990s), Cannery
Workers Union Local 7, CIO folder at FANHS, Seattle, WA
 Chris D. Mensalvas and Jesse Yambao, interview by Carolina
Koslosky, FIL-KNG75-1ck, 10 & 11 February 1975, FANHS, p. 31.
 See Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, CWFLU Local 7, 4 Feb,
4-5 Mar, 1946, Box 3, Folder 10. Some of the headings on these
records are incorrectly labeled as 1947: they were transcribed from
audio recordings in 1947 but their content and structure clearly show
that they took place in 1946.
 Two letters from the Chris D. Mensalvas Papers, Accession #2361-
1, University of Washington Special Collections.
 Rojo, p. 13.
 See UW Special Collections, CWFLU Local 7, Acc #3927, Box 21,
 Rojo, p. 11.
 University of Washington Libraries Manuscripts and University
Archives Division, Inventory: Cannery Workers' and Farm Laborers'
Union, Local 7, Accession #3927, Seattle, WA, 1989.
 University of Washington Libraries Manuscripts and University
Archives Division, Inventory: Cannery Workers' and Farm Laborers'
Union, Local 7, Accession #3927, Seattle, WA, 1989.
 Valdez, 12.
 Membership Meetings, Box 4, Folder 4.
 Membership Meetings, Box 4, Folder 7.
 Juana Mana'o (de Mangaoang), Seattle: the McCarthy Era: the
Chronology, 12 June 1999, http://www.capriotti.com/lawprof/ (Accessed
17 November 2004).
 Ernesto Mangaoang folder, FANHS, Seattle, WA.
 The 1952 yearbook can be found both in the Chris Mensalvas
Papers (Box 1, Folder 14) of the Special Collections division of the
University of Washington Libraries and at FANHS.
 Executive Board Meetings, Box 4, Folder 8.
 See Chris D. Mensalvas Papers, UW Special Collections, Accession
#2361-1, Box 1, Folder 10.
 See Chris D. Mensalvas Papers, Box 1, Folder 3.
 Chris Mensalvas, Local 7-C ILWU Newsletter, 7 August 1951, UW
Special Collections, CWFLU Local 7, Acc #3927, Box 24, Folder 41.
 Executive Board Meetings, 26 February 1953, Box 4, Folder 8.
 See Bulosan.org, The Reform Movement of Local 37: The Work of
Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes,
 Executive Board Meeting, 7 August 1953, Box 4, Folder 8.
 Executive Board Meeting, 5 November 1953, Box 4, Folder 8.
 Membership Meeting, 24 February 1954, Box 5, Folder 14.
 Executive Board Meeting, 27 April 1954, Box 4, Folder 9.
 Membership Meeting, 28 April, 1954, Box 5, Folder 14.
 Membership Meeting, 30 June, 1954, Box 5, Folder 14.
 Membership Meeting, 5 January 1955, Box 5, Folder 15.
 Executive Board Meeting, 21 July 1954, Box 4, Folder 9.
 Membership Meeting, 9 February 1955, Box 5, Folder 15.
 Executive Board Meeting, 2 March 1955, Box 4, Folder 10.
 Executive Board Meeting, 11 December 1956, Box 4, Folder 10.
 52 Wn.2d 656, John Caughlan, Respondent, v. International
Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, Local No. 37-C, Appellant,
Supreme Court, July 31, 1958.
 Membership Meeting, 17 May 1955, Box 5, Folder 15.
 Chris D. Mensalvas and Jesse Yambao, p. 57-58.
 For a fascinating reflection of the next generation of young
cannery labor activists in the 1970s, see Gene Viernes'
article "Chris Mensalvas: daring to dream" in the May 1978 issue of
the International Examiner, p. 6, available in UW Special
Collections, #3927, Box 36, Folder 17.