- Building Solidarity for 30 YearsPortland Jobs with Justice
BUILDING SOLIDARITY for 30 Years: Portland Jobs with Justice is an exhibit co-sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association (PNLHA) and Portland Jobs with Justice (JwJ). The exhibit offers a historical retrospective on one of the most significant workers' rights organizations established during the late twentieth century. The Portland Jobs with Justice Papers, recently donated to the Oregon Historical Society's (OHS) research library, provided the inspiration and historical record for the exhibit. Interviews conducted by the Oregon Labor Oral History Project, also held by OHS's research library, complemented by new interviews specific to the exhibit, offered detail and insights into personal experiences and perspectives that often do not make it into written records. Professional historians, members of PNLHA, developed the exhibit as volunteer curators.1 Although not utilized for this exhibit, other labor-related collections at OHS—including a robust run of the proceedings of annual statewide AFLCIO conventions, partial records of individual unions, scattered company records, Northwest Labor College papers, and the recently digitized Migrant Valley League photo collection—hold substantial history awaiting researchers who will incorporate their stories into the Oregon story.2
Founded in 1991, Portland Jobs with Justice became a vibrant part of a new labor movement taking shape in localities across the country during the final decades of the twentieth century. These labor movement activists, frustrated by the inertia of long-established labor unions, sought to restore workers' rights and build working-class power through worker-community alliances encompassing union and nonunion workers and the general public. In line with this new labor strategy, JwJ's founders and activists undertook campaign work on two fronts: supporting workers engaged in union organizing and contract campaigns; and collaborating with labor, faith, and social justice groups to further public policies for the common good. Within a decade, Portland JwJ contributed to remarkable successes on both fronts. Nevertheless, the transformative changes to which JwJ aspired proved elusive—the consequence of [End Page 40]
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[End Page 41] increasing corporate power and, to a lesser extent, inertia within the larger labor movement. This essay delves more deeply into key aspects of this history than was possible in the limited space of the Building Solidarity for 30 Years exhibit.
1988: The morning's chill had lifted, and the early June sun shone brightly as people streamed toward Portland's Terry Schrunk Plaza for a noontime rally. Some walked the short distance from nearby offices while others arrived via public transit or private car. Some boarded chartered buses from as far away as Washington's Puget Sound to join the downtown gathering. Balloons lent a festive air to the event, but the people were coming on serious business. Many wore union T-shirts or hats and carried signs that hinted at their purpose: "I work hard for Oregon," "OPEU" (Oregon Public Employees Union), "Local 189 Demands Equity Pay," "Teamsters," "ILWU" (International Longshore and Warehouse Union), "On Strike," "Jobs with Justice." Some had attended the Oregon AFL-CIO convention earlier in the week. Others had learned of the rally through non-affiliated unions, religious groups, press conferences, newspaper announcements, and even hand-crafted flyers. The Northwest Labor Press reported that "some 1,200" people crowded into the cityblock-sized plaza, nestled...