Competing Communities at Work:
Asian Americans, European Americans, and Native Alaskans in the Pacific Northwest, 1938-1947
In 1932, Edward R. Ridley of Ketchikan noted: "There are more than enough 'local residents' right here in this town without hav[ing] to import [workers] from other places." He emphasized to salmon canning companies operating in the town that his was no personal conjecture, but was the general opinion "of our people nowadays." By "our people" Ridley meant Native Alaskans—largely Tlingits—of southeast Alaska, and as the vice president of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB), he did indeed have insights into the concerns and needs of Native Alaskans. Ridley believed Asian American contractors not only mistreated Native Alaskan workers but also severely limited Tlingit employment opportunities in the midst of the Depression. In addition to arguing that canners might hire Native Alaskans more cheaply than Asian American crews, Ridley hinted strongly that the ANB might consider some form of collective action. Indeed, in the late 1930s, the ANB began to organize among Alaskans and it sought the federal government's approval to act as a union for Native men who fished and Native women who worked in the canneries. The presence of competing Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and American Federation of Labor (AFL) locals, whose respective memberships were largely Asian Americans—especially Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos—and European American residents of Alaska, complicated the situation. Through 1946, the jockeying among the ANB, CIO locals, and AFL locals to represent the residents of southeast Alaska who worked in canneries reveals how the members of these "communities" defined themselves, how they vied for jobs, and how they found fleeting possibilities for cooperation amidst that tremendous competition.
This story of intergroup rivalries and union affiliations is not some strange, exceptional story that played itself out in isolated Alaska, or one purely driven by competition from the national headquarters of the CIO and the AFL. It
is a quintessentially western story in which a multicultural populace leaned heavily on the federal government for resolution of its racial and class problems. It is also western in the sense that it illustrates how populist sentiments, or grassroots politics, make strange bedfellows, for in this region where party machines had at best a weak hold, institutions like unions and ethnic or fraternal brotherhoods carried much weight.
The very construction of the communities under consideration here also made them part of the Pacific Northwest, even the U.S. West, and not just Alaska. Asian immigrant and Asian American workers traveled in regular seasonal migration patterns through central and northern California, Oregon, and Washington on their ways to and from Alaska canneries; canning companies had their headquarters in San Francisco, Portland, Astoria, and Seattle, while their markets were global; and especially after the Jones Act of 1920, the territory was virtually a colony of Washington state. It is all too easy to isolate Alaska as some huge, underdeveloped behemoth to the north that is "outside" U.S. history, even the history of the U.S. West.
Rather than constituting an isolated, non-western case in which local labor stood against "outsiders," these three "western" communities, though different in type and constituency, overlapped in the salmon canneries of southeast Alaska. Asian American cannery hands, whom most in the industry referred to as "China gangs" or "outside crews," formed the bulk of those about whom Ridley complained. Recruited up to the mid-1930s by co-ethnic labor contractors, by 1938 these workers found representation in the CIO locals, often drawing upon a "community of association" held together by semipermanent co-ethnic residents in towns along the seasonal work cycle that many of the laborers followed in the U.S. West. In southeast Alaska, the resident Asian Americans, particularly the Filipinos, provided entrée into organizing "resident" and Native Alaskans for the "outside" unions.
Tlingit, as well as Tsimshan and Haida people living in southeast Alaska, in contrast to the outside crews, were important to the industry as a local source of labor. The men served largely as fishermen, the women in the canneries. Their participation represented an adaptation of precapitalist seasonal fishing and fish preparation activities to industrial wage labor conditions, replete with the older gender division of labor. Unlike Native Americans in Oregon and Washington, who by the beginning of the twentieth century had been marginalized in the political economy of those states, Native Alaskans played a central role. Largely through the auspices of the ANB and its parallel organization the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), as well as through the often competing AFL unions, Native Alaskans gained institutional representatives in the struggle to control jobs. Especially among the Tlingit, who predominated in the region, the community base was an ethnic/clan/national one with separate village divisions, alliances, and loyalties.
Like Native Alaskans, resident Alaskans—European Americans who had
migrated to southeast Alaska towns—formed a local labor pool. Highly dependent on salmon canneries and related enterprises for their incomes, their competition for jobs with Asian Americans and Native Alaskans contributed to a common sense of shared "white" ethnicity as "Alaskans." They also developed strong populist-like resentments of the outside financial control represented by cannery companies headquartered in the lower fortyeight states and by outside political resentment epitomized by theJones Act of 1920, which gave Washington, especially Seattle, a virtual stranglehold on Alaskan shipping.
The culmination of two separate organizational thrusts brought these three communities into conflict. The first was the 1938 government-mediated decision that gave the outside, Asian American-led CIO locals the right to represent cannery workers. Having secured a foothold, Asian American unionists then moved to organize Alaska to protect against AFL counter-attacks and to strengthen workers' solidarity against cannery owners. They ran headlong into the second development, the ANB and ANS efforts to establish greater political representation for Native Alaskans. By the late 1930s, that included, as Ridley had indicated, a drive for recognition of the combined ANB and ANS as the collective bargaining agent for Native peoples in southeast Alaska. A few studies have begun to explore ANB/ANS activities in voting rights, school desegregation, and land claims, but scant attention has been paid to its collective bargaining role in spite of the importance to Native Alaskan livelihoods.
The ANB came together first in 1912, created by mostly Tlingit men under the influence of Presbyterian and Russian Orthodox missionaries in the territory who had organized church-based societies bent on providing vehicles for "civilizing" and "assimilating" Native Alaskans. Similarly, in 1915, various "Women's Village Improvement Societies" reorganized to form the ANS. In the 1920s and 1930s, the organizations moved from their earlier focus on assimilation and temperance programs to take up an extensive agenda for Alaska's native peoples that they pursued for the next half-century. While voting rights and other civil rights issues as well as land claims promised to provide long-term benefits, the question of collective bargaining promised more immediate returns.
Members of the ANB and ANS resented political and economic control held by "outsiders" to the territory and promoted the slogan "Alaska for Alaskans." In doing so, ANB and ANS members found that they had much in common with European American residents, but not enough to bridge racial divides. Through those organizations Native Alaskans used New Deal policies—Alaska's version of the Wheeler-Howard Act, the Alaska Reorganization Act of 1936, and the Wagner Act—to regain some measure of independence in the twentieth century.
ANB and ANS members tried to convince salmon canners, the federal
government, and labor unions that their organization had the right to represent its members and bargain collectively for them. The Alaska Native Brotherhood, the organization's mouthpiece, told readers late in 1938: "The final opinion of the [delegates at the 1938 ANB Grand Camp] Convention was that the ANB can do everything that other unions can do. If we are in the majority, we can still keep our identity and collect our dues exactly as do the CIO and the AFL where these unions are in the majority. In many cases, the officers of the ANB and the local union are the SAME PEOPLE, only that the money goes to San Francisco." As early as 1937 the ANB/ANS had entered into collective bargaining arrangements in Sitka, and by 1938 a number of the ANB/ANS camps (nearly each small town in southeast Alaska had one) sought to use the ANB to represent the interests of Indian purse seiners and cannery workers. By 1939, ANB and ANS activities as a bargaining agent for Native Alaskans were in full swing.
Native Alaskans used the ANB and ANS to express a strong strain of ethnic pride that merged into racialism at times. Native Alaskan FrankJohnson worked as an organizer and official of the AFL-affiliated fishermen's and cannery workers' locals. Along with the outside CIO locals, Johnson represented a significant competitor to ANB and ANS plans for labor organization. In 1940, Louis F. Paul, an important force in the ANB, confronted Johnson in a letter to the Ketchikan Alaska Fishing News arguing that he had "permitted the ANB to be used as a vehicle to increase [AFL union] membership." Paul warned Johnson:
You cannot be brown and white at the same time. . . . [F]undamentally it is impossible for the white people to overcome their racial prejudice; it is impossible for them to favor Indians over their own kind. . . . They will use you and when they are through, they will abuse you. And in the end you will come back to your own people even as our sisters have come back to us in their shame with their unfathered children.
Louis Paul thus signaled to Native Alaskans that they could not expect fair treatment by "outside," "white" unions. His allusion to unfathered children seemingly played on long-standing resentments about the conduct of the outside crews and the strong Christian element in the ANB and ANS as well as a not too veiled reference to what he believed the unions would do to Johnson.
Louis's brother William L. Paul did not mince words either. In an argument supporting the ANB and ANS as a bargaining agent he stated:
The unions will never take up the scope of activity of the ANB for our people. We will challenge any organization in the territory to show that they care enough for our people to step up and attempt to do even a small portion of the ANB work. It is not in the cards. No white man will take the punishment for his efforts.
William L. Paul believed that only the ANB had the interests of Native Alaskans at heart. In 1938, he explained to Wrangell ANB Camp President Frank Desmond that "the ANB was organized to give Indians an equal chance to make a living—to put bread and butter on the table for our women and children." Later, in 1942, he reportedly told Craig ANB Camp members: "Tell our young people to be proud of their race, do not be ashamed of it. We are Indians, we are not white people, and the white leaders of the CIO and . . . [AFL] do not work for the benefit of the Indians."
While William L. Paul and others in the ANB raged about outside control and white racism, they focused their concerns almost solely on fishing to the virtual exclusion of cannery work and women's employment. ANS members got involved in the organization of cannery workers, but when they took action, ANS members usually did so in concert with, or in support of, the fishermen. Fish prices and the status of traps, usually owned by canning companies, were the typical concerns of the ANB. The ANS was also very active in the movement to regulate and abolish traps in the territory. ANS leaders wrote letters to local and regional newspapers and to federal officers urging that traps be eliminated to "give fish and fishermen a chance!" The ANS and ANB often relied on the argument that traps hurt entire families, explaining that "most of us have families to feed."
When it came to organizing the women into a union, however, Native Alaskan patterns of work caused problems. Those patterns in the twentieth century were in part a continuation of long-standing practices in which women undertook a variety of seasonal tasks, of which the fish harvests were only one, and canning company strategies of using Native American women largely as a reserve labor pool to supplement the outside crews. Conrad Espe, business agent for the CIO cannery workers' local in Seattle, took advantage of those employment features and warned that neither the industry nor the unions could tolerate women's part-time work. Espe declared that
in the days of old there were whole families which . . . worked in the canneries from the 12-year-old youngster up to the grandmother. I don't think modern Industry can function along these lines. I don't think modern labor relations should be built so as to provide equal conditions for the entire family. . . . [It] must bring out the quality of the work; parity and equality of work must go hand in hand with the parity of ability to perform it. . . . A person who is a resident cannot continue, as has been done in the past in many instances, where they want to work if they feel like it and not work when they don't feel like it. . . . [T]here must be a stable work force.
Espe was right: Tlingit women and indeed Native American women generally, well into the twentieth century, continued to mix subsistence activities with wage labor. For example, Sally Hopkins, born in Sitka in 1877 and later resident of Dundas Bay and Juneau, worked in salmon canneries most of
her life. During the canning season, she and her children picked berries to be preserved between shifts and on off days. Indeed, nineteenth-century canners had long complained about the "irregularity" of Indian women as workers. They, like Espe, had wanted the women available at all times, but Native Alaskans were not willing to forego necessary and even fulfilling seasonal cycles for the sake of the canners. The ANS, however, tried to sponsor childcare facilities for families employed by the canneries during 1943 and 1944, but it was not enough to counter Espe's implications that outside crews provided a more stable work force than Native Alaskans.
When the ANS acted outside the camps, however, its leaders tended to use the organization to lobby alongside the ANB for civil rights. As a case in point, ANS Grand Camp President Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich's 1945 speech before the Alaska Territorial Senate is generally considered to have been the telling factor in the passage of Alaska's anti-discrimination legislation. Moreover, ANS involvement in land claims was an essential part of that long struggle. Locally, in each camp, ANS activities centered around fund-raising, "mostly through Bingo games" and the sale of foodstuffs or arts and crafts; the money often went to build or maintain ANB halls or to support the civil rights issues. The ANS also embraced moral suasion harkening back to the ANS roots in the village improvement societies. Labor issues took a back seat in the ANS. When Native women in southeast Alaska chose to throw themselves into the field of labor organization, they tended to do so through established labor organizations—the various AFL or CIO locals—and that meant fostering cooperation with people from the other communities of workers.
The membership of the AFL locals consisted of Native Alaskans and resident Alaskans, fishers and cannery hands alike. These organizations also made greater efforts to represent cannery workers' interests than the ANB and ANS. Like the ANB, the AFL cannery workers' and fishermen's locals took up the slogan "Alaska for Alaskans." The cannery workers' leaders claimed that their members thought that "their jobs are menaced by . . . the CIO unions," that the CIO dues paid by Alaskans financed the "CIO drive to replace residents . . . [with] outside workers." Officials of the AFL locals also declared that they had "no quarrel with [the ANB] as a fraternal organization." They believed, however, that "certain self-seeking, power-hungry individuals in the ANB [are] seeking to pervert that organization, to reduce it to a union smashing weapon, a tool of the employers, and through the medium of the ANB launch a vicious slanderous attack upon the bona-fide resident labor unions of Alaska." The AFL cannery workers tried to paint their locals as the true defenders of Native Alaskan women and their employment. In 1939, the AFL locals publicized a case in which five women, "all Natives" and CIO members, were prevented from gaining employment
in a plant where they had worked for eight years. "Most of the women have children," the leaders explained, "and the cannery work they depend upon helps to support them the rest of the year. " The women thus quit the CIO local "in disgust" and "joined immediately" with the AFL local. The latter also countered a CIO media blitz in local newspapers and Ketchikan radio station KGBU, with the caution that it was only an attempt on the part of the CIO "to stem the ever increasing flow of cannery workers into the fold of the [AFL] Cannery Workers Auxiliary Union."
If it was accurate in its membership accounting, the AFL cannery workers' locals controlled a sizable portion of the resident workers in the region. After the 1939 season, the local claimed to have 1,300 of the approximately 4,500 resident workers on its rolls at virtually every southeastern cannery town, including Metlakatlah, Craig, Klawok, Hydaburg, Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake, Sitka, Hoonah, Angoon, and Ketchikan. When the CIO cannery workers' locals petitioned in 1939 for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certification election—the key instrument of federal involvement in this case—in southeastern Alaska, Marie Murphy, president of AFL cannery workers' local in Ketchikan explained that her organization "expect[s] to be the bargaining agency for Southeastern Alaska by the right of majority rule." It took until 1946 for the NLRB to begin to sort out representation for Alaskan cannery workers, and in the meantime the CIO locals began a concerted effort to organize Native Alaskans and Alaska residents.
As the ANB/ANS and AFL positions indicate, the CIO locals had to buck a strong tide of anti-Asian and anti-"outsider" sentiments. To counter that image, the CIO drew upon people in three areas: Resident Alaskan (European American) women, Native Alaskan women, and Filipinos residing in Alaska. Among the resident Alaskans were the handful of women in towns such as Ketchikan. Elizabeth Del Fierro, for example, was the daughter of an Italian American fisherman. She lived in Ketchikan and worked in a salmon cannery there, but unlike women and girls in other canning regions who developed work cultures that fostered pan-ethnic alliances among women and assisted in organizational attempts, Elizabeth Del Fierro and other women in southeast Alaska also worked with significant numbers of men. The work culture that developed there enabled men and women from diverse ethnic backgrounds to come together. Elizabeth, for example, married Salvador Del Fierro, a staunch supporter of the CIO locals and central figure as a local linchpin in Ketchikan of the "community of association" for Filipinos, with connections reaching to Seattle, Portland, and Stockton. Indeed, like the Fierros, a great many of the officers in Ketchikan's CIO local were married couples—European American wives and Filipino husbands.
The Seattle and San Francisco CIO locals began their organizing efforts among Ketchikan residents in 1937, but the NLRB certification election
struggles between the 1937 and 1938 seasons distracted the stateside locals from that effort. Beginning late in the canning season of 1938 and continuing into 1939, the Seattle and San Francisco locals renewed their efforts to bring Alaska residents under their umbrella. First, union leaders tried to blame canners for the "Alaska for Alaskans" sentiments. Fearful of an AFL counterattack on the newly won jurisdiction, the CIO locals also blamed the AFL for the popularity of the slogan. Publicist for the Seattle CIO local and prominent Nisei labor leader Dyke Miyagawa declared that the AFL created "a false race issue" in its organizing message to Alaskan residents. He claimed the AFL told "resident whites" that "the Filipinos, Japs and Chinks are trying to take everything away. . . . 'To protect yourself,' the resident organizers have been saying to the residents, 'you've got to drive out the Orientals—save Alaska for the Alaskans."'
Early in 1939, Filipino immigrant Salvador Del Fierro, "the progressive leader of cannery workers in Ketchikan," reported that "considerable headway has been made to bring about greater cooperation and unity between the workers in the Territory and those in the states." Leaders of the CIO locals agreed that in order to organize Alaskan residents as well as Native Alaskans it needed to "equalize the status" of the two groups and to bring their wages up to those "enjoyed by the cannery workers of Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco." In spite of the rhetoric, the stateside CIO locals placed Alaska organizing at the bottom of their priorities. In the Seattle local's list of five proposed actions for 1939, for example, cooperation with Alaskan locals stood in fifth place. When it did attempt to organize, the CIO sent men to the region and as a distant second alternative relied on people like Salvador Del Fierro to work in concert with their wives.
CIO locals made headway with resident workers, however, because they used the examples of Salvador and Elizabeth Del Fierro to argue that they represented resident interests. The ability of Ketchikan's Local 237 to make public its program through KGBU radio also won it some local recognition. Most telling, though, was the CIO's ability to deliver. Unlike the ANB and ANS, or the AFL locals, the CIO locals had a strong position with the canners because of the 1938 certification among "outside" workers who constituted the bulk of the workforce. The locals used that as leverage to negotiate minimum wage guarantees for Alaskan workers (resident and Native Alaskan alike).
During 1942, and even more so in 1943, wartime exigencies stalled the struggles between the three communities and created a brief and uneasy coexistence. The outside crews lost approximately seven hundred members when the U.S. government interned people of Japanese ancestry, and several hundred more (especially Filipinos) to the military service, to shipyards, and to other related war industries. Internal realignments and competition preoccupied the stateside CIO locals. Resident Alaskans, too, volunteered for
the military and migrated to Seattle, Portland, or other cities for wartime jobs, but because canners had negotiated contracts with the government to supply tins of salmon to the troops, those employed in the industry earned exemption from military service if they so chose, and many remained in Alaska. Unlike in the Alaska peninsula or Bristol Bay, where military concerns placed severe limits on salmon production, in southeast Alaska the war brought an intensification of the reliance on Native Alaskan employment as cannery hands and fishermen. Wartime travel restrictions further limited Native Alaskan movements, making them all the more dependent on wage labor in southeast Alaskan canneries than they might otherwise have been. For all three groups, the War Labor Board temporarily reduced competition over wages. Finally, a patriotic fervor encouraged people to set aside their differences for the national good.
Late in 1943 and early in 1944, the communities began to jostle for position again through the competing unions. They did so in anticipation of renewed negotiations at the war's end, but more immediately, in October 1943, the ANB/ANS publicized the possibility that it might entertain a merger with one of the other two labor organizations. Ironically, part of the pressure to merge was a result of earlier government pressure to expand ANB/ANS membership. In order to gain status as a bona fide labor organization, the NLRB required the ANB and ANS to admit non-Indians to their ranks, but they did so only as "associate members" with status as beneficiaries of any labor agreements and with no voting rights on other ANB or ANS matters. In the 1939 ANB convention, though, the ANB created the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (also known as the Tlingit and Haida Central Council) at least in part to distinguish itself from the mixed membership of the ANB and ANS and to pursue the land claims issue separately from the organizations' roles as bargaining agents. The conflicting directives from various government agencies ultimately weakened the ANB/ANS position as a separate union and contributed to talk of a merger with one of the other unions. That news prompted unprecedented action on the part of the CIO locals—the dispatching of a woman to Alaska as a key organizer. In spring 1944, Rose Dellama went north from San Francisco to recruit resident and Native Alaskans into her union.
Dellama had grown up in the "Italian tenements" of Oakland, California, and had first come to labor concerns after having been fired in the 1934 newspaper strikes of the Bay Area. She subsequently joined the Communist Party and by 1937 had found a position as secretary for the San Francisco Alaska Cannery Workers Union, which shortly thereafter became a CIO local. The stateside struggle among cannery workers to gain certification had steeled her in the politics of union organizing. Upon her arrival in Alaska, she joined up with Marguerite Hansen, the business agent of Ketchikan's CIO local, and for the entire negotiating and canning season the two
stumped throughout southeast Alaska, especially in Ketchikan, Juneau, Hoonah, and Petersburg.
Dellama's leftist politics, experience with the San Francisco local, and Italian American background put her in good stead with certain portions of the resident population in Alaska. For example, Elizabeth Del Fierro, an Italian American married to a Filipino, had much in common with Dellama. While she no doubt drew upon these connections, Dellama also took great pains to reach out to Native Alaskans. "They all beamed," she recalled of her first arrival in Alaska, when she used the broken Tlingit she had learned to say, "I'm very happy to be here with you."
Dellama proved able to find ways to reach Native Alaskan women in particular. She explained, "These women expected the CIO to represent them in all sorts of things," including a ruling that no U.S. military personnel could associate with Native Alaskan women. Dellama approached the union leaders in Alaska about protesting the ruling, but, complained: "I couldn't get the bastards to do anything." Not content to accept the men's refusal to acknowledge women's concerns, Dellama managed to plead her case to Alaska governor Earnest Greunig. When the order was rescinded shortly thereafter, Dellama earned a reputation "as the CIO lady who got that thing repealed." While Dellama's account reveals no recognition of the substantial campaign against the order mounted by the ANB and ANS, her stance on the issue differed markedly from the CIO's male organizers who had preceded her.
While Dellama and Hansen negotiated for wage improvement in the form of higher seasonal guarantees and better hourly wages as had earlier male organizers, they added efforts to overcome the twin barriers of sexism and racism. They urged the locals to give dances, to hold bingo games, and to sponsor activities to raise funds for organizing in the region. By these means they hoped to link up with the type of activities that the ANS regularly conducted to generate interest in the union through channels that might appeal to women and that would be in relatively neutral social settings.
Dellama and Hansen, joined by the Del Fierros and others long familiar with organizing in the region, also made a special effort to publicize the efforts of Native Alaskans in the CIO locals. In May 1944, the national union newspaper for CIO cannery and agricultural workers, the UCAPAWA News, ran a picture of six Native Alaskans, five of them women, on a page of articles about the organizing campaign. The newspaper stressed the prominent role the women played in the union and the fact that the locals supported a family economy. "SUSAN BROWN," one caption read, "is an Alaskan native and has helped . . . [the CIO locals] win the benefits the workers now enjoy." Another lauded Ruth Hayes, whose mother, father, husband, and children toiled in the canneries, to indicate her long-standing association with native labor. "Sister Hayes," explained the paper, "has been largely
instrumental in organizing her Local and has been its Business Agent for the past 5 years." The paper presented Margaret Wanamaker as the centerpiece, touting her as "Vice-Pres[ident] of Local 269 in Juneau, . . . [and] secretary of the Alaska Native Sisterhood of Juneau." The pictures and captions reinforced the image that the CIO unions worked against discrimination, supported "bona fide" resident cannery workers, and, in doing so, helped foster the well-being of Native Alaskans.
In spite of the tremendous efforts by the international union, outside organizers like Dellama, and locals like Hansen, recruiting Native Alaskans was difficult because of the activities of the ANB and ANS. According to Dellama, the "Indians were interested in unions," but the ANB/ANS was "a big problem" because it attempted to spread "all kinds of rumors" about her. She complained that while she might sign workers in a particular village on one day, on the next day, "when the Native Brotherhood organizers came to the village they would all sign up with him [sic], too. Then I would have to go back to that village and organize all over again."
Dellama also had to confront cultural assumptions over which she and other non-Native Alaskans had little control. In June 1944, a dry summer, a tremendous storm, and a house fire. started a conflagration that leveled the town of Hoonah, killing one and resulting in the loss of many ceremonial and personal items. Hoonah's residents were "staunch Alaska Native Brotherhood people," but Dellama had been "making headway" until an investigation of the fire pointed to its origin in the home of a "known CIO man" where Dellama and other organizers had lodged. "Suddenly it was the CIO's fault," she recalled, and "people wouldn't speak to me."
After six months of organizing in Alaska, Dellama returned to San Francisco. "When I left, I told the Indians I'd be back in six months, but then I learned that the union wasn't going back. . . . The union never went back." That was unfortunate for the CIO, because Dellama's presence and the CIO's media campaigns tapered off just as the battle for certification as the bargaining agent for the region began to heat up again. During the 1945 canning season, the NLRB polled resident cannery workers, Native and non-Native, on their choice for union representation. In the NLRB tally the ANB/ANS earned 364 votes as the appropriate bargaining agent for southeast Alaska while the CIO and AFL registered 357 and 301 votes respectively. While the ANB/ANS achieved a plurality of the votes, NLRB officials believed the election was "not decisive" because no party had earned a simple majority. At the requests of the ANB/ANS and the CIO locals, the NLRB ordered a run-off to be completed by September 1, 1946.
In the interim, the ANB/ANS and AFL became much closer partners. By the November 1945 ANB Grand Camp Convention the die was cast. Louise Collier, one of three "fraternal" AFL delegates attending the ANB convention, told the assembled conventioneers:
Providing work is a matter of native politics. I pledge myself to fight for Indians. As my personal message, if cannery workers joined [the] CIO there would be no social work. . . . The AFL has more to offer as an affiliation. The CIO has no interest in social affairs and decisions are governed by the pocketbook. Alaska needs an all-Alaska union. AFL is for Alaskan workers. ANB is for placing natives in work first. The CIO doesn't care about placing anyone on a job [except outside workers]. What they do makes evil thoughts come.
A majority of the delegates approved the proposal to merge with the AFL cannery workers' locals. The AFL promise of "complete autonomy" for the local at each small town in the region—a cornerstone of the ANB—must have helped a great deal for it allowed each ANB/ANS camp to determine how to balance the concerns of its members and other non-Indian resident workers. Nonetheless, a third of the delegates either voted against AFL affiliation or were absent. A significant proportion thus balked at any alliance with the AFL.
That reluctance delayed the merger between the ANB/ANS and AFL, and showed in the NLRB election results. The new combined organization, the Alaska Marine Workers Union, struggled to keep its membership's divergent interests in check and ultimately joined with the AFL-affiliated Seafarers International Union, which provided some administrative assistance, but in spite of the merger and outside support, it garnered 465 votes to the CIO's 485 votes. The election came late in the year and although the NLRB made its decision in December 1945, as late as the end of January 1947 neither the CIO nor the AFL locals seemed to know with any certainty which party had won the election. By late March 1947, head of the Seafarers International Union Harry Lundeberg protested to Paul Herzog, chairman of the NLRB, that a "true election" among southeast Alaska resident workers, not one peppered with "outside" voters, would give his union a majority. In attacking the Asian American-led "outside" CIO union, Lundeberg connected the Seafarers' own anti-Asian and anti-CIO campaigns with those of some Alaskan workers. While the AFL contested several of the 1946 votes on these grounds, NLRB officials sustained the CIO locals as the bargaining agent.
With that decision, the joint ANB/ANS and AFL activity lost its currency and the organization's leader, William Lewis Paul, bitterly accused "whites" of "deserting" Native Alaskans while the union "silently folded up and died." In addition, the growing concern over communist infiltration in labor organizations, reorganizations of the internationals, and the continued struggle between the AFL and CIO once more distracted the larger stateside locals. The possibility that one labor organization might represent the entirety of Alaskan salmon cannery workers again disintegrated into its component parts. By that time, however, the ANB and ANS had moved beyond labor is-
sues to a wholesale attempt to regain rights to a land base. Filipinos struggled to maintain their positions against a growing corps of college students hired by canners, the continued attacks on them as "foreigners" and radicals, and the old standby that they were "outside" workers. Efforts to accommodate Native Alaskans, Asian immigrants and Asian Americans, European Americans, and men and women never truly took hold.
In spite of the tremendous competition among these three "communities" for employment and the attending racialism and friction, some opportunities emerged for building bridges between groups. Filipino residents of Alaska not only served as loci for the geographically diffuse community of co-ethnic migrant laborers, but also as links to local communities through marriage and labor organizing. Many "white" resident Alaskans played upon the image of Asian American "outsiders" to defend their positions, but ironically found themselves allied with Native Alaskans. Native Alaskans, especially women, played a central role as an important element in the economy and politics of Alaska and developed bridges to other groups.
Labor organizations and the federal government played significant roles, too. While the CIO's racially inclusive policies have been amply demonstrated, in this case the AFL's support of racial minorities is instructive. It occurred during a window of opportunity that opened in the late 1930s when it began to compete with the CIO for members and as the federal government ensconced itself as a permanent player in labor arbitration. Up to the mid-1940s, as Kevin Leonard has demonstrated for Los Angeles, that window remained open and the AFL continued to embrace a new racial consciousness. The onslaught of the anti-communist drives of the late 1940s and early 1950s slammed that window shut. In the meantime, both Native Alaskans and the AFL had used the opportunity to push forward their own separate, but conjoined, agendas.
The swirling tides of "community" cooperation and conflict in southeast Alaska confirm the centrality of cultural frontiers to the nineteenth- and twentieth-century West. How the people in those communities came to define themselves, sometimes in the context of discrimination, shifted over time. The ANB/ANS, for example, began as an assimilationist temperance organization, but then began to take up civil rights issues in the 1920S, combined those with labor programs beginning in the 1930s, and then transformed again in the postwar years to focus on land claims and camp-level activities. When different communities came into contact with each other at various historical moments the result was as often conflict as cooperation. Alliances were brief but promising. Maintaining them, sometimes quite literally against storms and fires, was never easy, particularly in the West with its multiplicity of active racialized peoples who were not just outsiders in the region's history.
Unlike the South or the unmarked North (or East), the U.S. West's narrative and rhetoric of race up to the mid-twentieth century was not calculated as a black-white binary. Instead, it held room for many players, who, though they operated under a system dominated by historically constructed "whites," struggled with each other for positions in the racial hierarchy. Social theorists Michael Omi and Howard Winant argue that such a "war of position" (though perhaps wars is a better term) marked a transition from an earlier epoch when racialized peoples were excluded from the political system to one in which they gained access but not control. In the West, the federal government's presence and control of property (resources and land) and labor was far greater than in other regions. When shifts in federal policy occurred, such as the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively with representatives of their own choosing, racialized peoples seized the moment to press their agendas. Yet in places where no "majority" truly existed—as was the case in Alaska and throughout much of the West—these competing communities sometimes set aside the long history of divisive struggle at their places of work to create moments of cooperation. Their grassroots political concerns as "Alaskan" and/or "workers" sometimes overrode "Tlingit," "Indian," or "Filipino" issues. The story of the competition and cooperation among Asian Americans, Native Alaskans, and European American Alaska residents thus becomes part of the West's larger story, one that goes beyond isolated ethnic enclaves and embraces the "cultural frontiers" of the interactions among peoples. The West's complicated social relations force us to develop a narrative that refuses to essentialize racial, class, or gender categories. We need to dream of the shifting currents inside and between each. We also need to recognize that this is much more than a small vignette played out in distant Alaska or the U.S. West: it encompasses issues of interethnic relations that reach far beyond the region; it reveals how world markets shuffled people and resources around the globe; and more importantly, it demonstrates how people struggled at individual and community levels to make a reasonable life for themselves in the face of much larger constraints. If "western," this story is one of a cultural frontier fraught with competition and conflict often driven by national and even international market forces. Western visions thus cannot be narrow, exceptionalist explanations.