Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's in my blood

Eryn and I are co-vice presidents of OSEA Chapter 51, representing more than 400 classified employees in the Tigard-Tualatin School District. This incredibly diverse group of non-licensed workers includes secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, instructional assistants, food service, bookkeepers, registrars, electricians, plumbers, security, groundskeepers, learning specialist assistants and library media assistants. It also includes all the non-managerial positions at the district office, such as accounts payable, payroll, etc.
With a new chapter president this year, our vice-president duties increased tremendously. And with those additional duties came several trainings: leadership, steward, worksite organizer.
In one of those trainings, we all shared why we were part of the union leadership. Eryn and I both said we had to - it's in our blood. Really!

We come from a long line of working-class, union people: teachers, custodians, police, longshoremen, carpenters, social workers, hospital workers. I've always heard stories of my great grandfather's involvement in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

At the Fantz family reunion last weekend, Uncle Chuck showed me this DVD case for a PBS documentary about Harry Bridges, founder and first president of the ILWU:
The back:
See the guy holding the banner on the right?
That's my great grandfather, Jim Fantz!!!!

(That photo is also the banner on the Harry Bridges Project Web site!)

Seeing this DVD case prompted a lot of Internet research, and I found proof of the family lore I've heard my whole life.

In the 1930s, '40s and '50s, Bridges was investigated for being a Communist. His immigration and deportation status was up in the air while he was repeatedly investigated and tried.

According to an extensive interview posted on the University of California Web site, "In 1940 there was a bill in Congress, specifically calling for Bridges's deportation. That was dumped by the Senate because the Constitution says, "No state...shall pass any bill of attainder..." By dictionary definition, a bill of attainder is " act of legislation finding a person guilty of treason or felony without a trial." In other words, the Constitution bars the specific use of a person's name in a legislative bill."

"There was something relentless in this round-the-clock surveillance and the avid prosecutorial hunt to run this man to the ground—to wipe him out by jail or deportation," journalist Sidney Roger said in the interview with Julie Gordon Shearer for the ILWU Labor Oral History Series.

This went on for decades, until March 1953 when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case. Afraid that Bridges and vice president, J.R. Robertson would be imprisoned, interims were elected... and this is where MY GREAT GRANDFATHER comes into the story.

"At the ILWU Tenth Biennial Convention, delegates voted to prepare for an interim period—in case Bridges and Robertson were tossed into jail.... The convention elected two men without opposition. From Portland, a longshoreman, James Fantz, as interim president, and from Hawaii, Joe (Blurr) Kealalio, as interim vice president, to take Bob Robertson's place," Roger said in the interview. 
"What was James Fantz's political stance?" Shearer asked.
"He was left of center. Everybody liked Jim—a quiet-spoken, very honest, decent, young longshoreman with a bent toward socialism. And Kealalio was respected as a hard-working, tough union man," Roger replied.

This was big news!

The News-Review, April 11, 1953 (Roseburg, Ore.):

Register-Guard, April 12, 1953 (Eugene, Ore.):

Capital Journal, April 11, 1953 (Salem, Ore.):

Sunday Herald, April 12, 1953 (Provo, Utah):

Long Beach Independent, April 11, 1953 (Long Beach, Calif.):

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1953 (St. Louis, Mo.):

The Statesman, April 12, 1953 (Salem, Ore.):

ILWU The Dispatcher, April 17, 1953:

It wasn't necessary for my great grandfather to take over the duties of president. However, he remained very active in the organization, locally in Portland and also at higher levels.

I found a couple photos in the ILWU newspaper:

While Papa Fantz (that's what the family calls him) is a couple generations away, I actually have lots and lots of memories of him. He lived a long life and died during my junior year of college. He's not a far-off person way back in my family's history.

I am so proud of the incredible work he did to fight for workers' rights - and how respected he was in the movement! I'm glad that DVD prompted me to dig and learn more about my family and this part of history. It really makes me extra proud of the hard work I'm doing with OSEA Chapter 51 - fighting for the rights of my fellow classified workers!


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