The 47th annual Pacific Coast Pensioners Association (PCPA) convention met in Vancouver, British Columbia, on September 15-17. Over 200 members and guests attended this year’s convention. Topics that were discussed included the ongoing Longshore contract negotiations, the Pacific Northwest Grain Agreement, health care and the importance of international solidarity.
The convention opened with a brief welcome by Mike Marino, President of the Vancouver Pensioners Organization. The convention was dedicated to the memory of Arne Auvinen, former PCPA President who passed away on July 31st of this year, and all of the other friends and comrades lost in the past year.
PCPA President’s report
PCPA President Rich Austin, who also serves as the pensioner representative on the Longshore Negotiating Committee, gave a brief report on the ongoing contract talks. He reported that the health of the pensioners clubs was good. “The PCPA is in good shape,” said Austin. “Our treasury has grown and so has our membership. The Tacoma Pensioners Club set about to increase its membership and they more than doubled in size in the last year. Good job Tacoma. Other Clubs have also added members.” He also reported on some of his activities over the last year, including his participation on a panel at the Labor Campaign for Single Payer conference held at ILWU Local 6 in Oakland.
Austin also said that he made a presentation at the Coast Longshore Division’s “History and Traditions” conference held in San Francisco in December of 2013. He described the event in the following way: “What I observed was an example of the union at its best. The assembly was full of young, engaged and attentive brother and sisters who were thirsting for knowledge about the history of our union and the working class. As Pensioners we can play important roles in helping them learn more. The agenda of the workshop was created by the rank and file members of the Education Committee. We need more education programs geared to working class values and ideology.”
International Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams attended the conference representing the International officers who, along with the Coast Committeemen, could not attend because they were serving on the Longshore Negotiating Committee.
Adams outlined the many attacks by employers on the wages, benefits and jurisdiction of ILWU members in recent years. He acknowledged the resilience of ILWU rank and file and officers in withstanding these attacks. “Despite it all, this union still continues to grow, organize and thrive,” Adams said. He also acknowledged the new generation of ILWU leaders who are emerging up and down the coast, whose passion, energy and commitment will be vital to the future of the ILWU.
Other ILWU speakers included ILWU Canada President Mark Gordienko, Local 13 President Bobby Olvera Jr., and Local 8 President Mike Stanton.
Special guest speaker, President Jhon Jairo Castro Balanta of the Port Workers’ Union in Buenaventura, Colombia, was unable to attend because of visa problems, but the convention was still able to hear from two international speakers: Fred Krausert, National Secretary of Maritime Workers of Australia (MUA) Veterans and Jim Donavon also from the MUA Veterans. Both gave spirited talks about the common struggles that unite maritime workers all over the world. The PCPA and MUA Veterans groups enjoy strong fraternal ties. The same bonds of solidarity that link the active memberships of the ILWU and MUA survive even into retirement.
ILWU Coast Benefits Specialist John Castanho gave a brief history of the ILWU’s fight for health care and pension benefits. Area directors for the benefits plan, coordinators for the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Program (ADRP) and representatives from the Benefits Plan office spoke at the convention and were available to answer questions.
ADRP Coordinator Jackie Cummings noted that there are a growing number of retirees who are raising their grandchildren and an increase in the number of teenagers abusing prescription drugs nationwide. She said that ILWU pensioners who are raising their grandchildren can seek help from the ADRP if substance abuse problems are evident.
Preserving the past
Michael McCann, Director of the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington was on hand to talk about the important academic programs that teach students about labor and working class history and foster important ties between students, researchers, activists and labor unions.
The Labor Studies program at the University of Washington is the only labor studies program funded entirely by workers. Conor Casey from the Labor Archives of the University of Washington spoke about the importance of preserving the history of working people in the Pacific Northwest. Casey explained the resources and assistance available to local unions and individuals to help them preserve union records, correspondence and other materials that will be valuable to historians and researchers trying to understand the history of the working class.
ILWU historians Harvey Schwartz and Ron Magden attended the event and conducted over a dozen oral histories, with assistance from Casey. The interviews were videotaped and are one important way in which the experience and voice of workers is being preserved.
The convention passed a resolution sponsored by the Seattle Pensioners Club to support a nation-wide an hour minimum wage in the United States in order to combat the alarming number of families who are falling below the poverty line.
Honoring Arne Auvinen
The convention unanimously passed a resolution honoring past PCPA President Arne Auvinen. The resolution renamed the PCPA archives, the “Pacific Coast Pensioners Association Arne Auvinen Memorial Archives” to honor his many years of service to the ILWU and pensioners.
Jesse and Lois Stranahan Award
This year’s recipient of the Jesse and Lois Stranahan Award went to Bill Duncan of the Van-Isle Pensioners. The award is given out every year to honor an outstanding labor activist. Also receiving recognition from the convention was John Horgan, leader of the “New Democratic Party” of British Columbia, who received the PCPA Friendly Politician Award.
Mike Marino, and the PCPA officers, all praised the host committee, and especially Barry Campbell of the Vancouver Pensioners, for a job well done.
The 2015 PCPA convention will be held September 7-9th in San Francisco.