100 Years of Activism

1953: Filipino Cannery Workers Strike

During the McCarthy era, workers stood up to the Red Scare by refusing to bar Communists in union leadership roles.

By Madeline Ostrander and Valerie Schloredt November 21, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Seattle Met

Local7 1949 p2 ls4bqa

Starting in the 1920s, Seattle was home port for the “Alaskeros,” the Filipino immigrants who—with low pay and poor working conditions—labored seasonally in the fishing canneries of Alaska in winter and West Coast farms in summer. In 1933 they formed the Cannery Workers’ and Farm Laborers’ Union Local 18257, the first Filipino-led union in the United States. It was the beginning of a process that, despite the following decades of internal and external struggle, including the murder of union leaders, improved the industry, the labor movement, and the status of Filipino Americans. 

During the McCarthy era, cannery workers stood up to the Red Scare by refusing to bar Communists serving in union leadership according to the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. That made the union a target, but it persevered in its principles and defeated a government attempt to deport union leader Ernesto Mangaoang (top center in the poster above) and others as “subversive aliens” after they were jailed in 1950. Mangaoang was an American citizen who had arrived in the U.S. before Philippine independence. His landmark Supreme Court case of 1953, supported by the union, established the facts of residency for other Filipino Americans. The union had won a significant victory over the use of deportation for political suppression and intimidation.

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