Posts Tagged With: labor


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About a mile from Semiahmoo Cannery is the Semiahmoo Cannery Museum. Easily identified by a totem sitting in front of twin buildings. The museum is run by volunteers and asks for donations. The second building most likely supports it by rents from weddings and other affairs.

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The bride smiled sweetly when I took her picture. There was also a bride at the cannery, but I was unable to get her picture. Suffice it to say, both parking areas were very full and busy on Saturday. But, brides are always good luck. What a happy time for them.

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It started with fleets of small boats, netting salmon during the run and hauling their catch to the cannery.

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Every day, these guys would go out and load their boats with fish maybe two or three times in one day. They’d bring in enough fish to feed an army.


They would net enough fish to actually fill the boat, and look at the size of the salmon then. Not a small one in the net.

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Salmon became the biggest West Coast Industry along with logging and big companies stepped in to reap the bounty. Fleets of company boats went out salmon fishing everyday instead of individually owned boats.

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There was a cannery on every river from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, 50 of them.  They all knew each other an competed. Only one, at Dillingham, Alaska is still in operation. There are new ones, but not the old canneries from the 1900’s. Most are gone. The boats, went to huge wooden sailing ships, like the one above, then steel sailing ships, to motorized ships. It became very big business indeed and is still a corporate operation today.

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The real dirty work of cleaning fish by hand,  and loading cans and boxes of fish for market demand, was done mostly by about 30,000 Chinese workers imported to do a dirty and dangerous  job. Some had boats and fished for themselves but they were not welcome to compete on the water.  Always industrious, they still managed to send money to their families in China, considering it was a short, seasonal job.

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All that changed with the invention of the Iron Chink, patented with that racially charged name by Edmond Smith of Seattle in 1905. It revolutionized the canning industry. Each of the nine Iron Chinks at Semiahmoo took the place of 15-20 laborers on the fish line. The machine could process more than 100 fish per minute. The industry grew exponentially.


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The only reminder of the Chinese contribution to the industry in the museum, the Iron Chink and these two whiskey bottles.

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Before the big ships and the big corporations took over the industry, local fishermen decided to fish the way the Indians did, by building fish traps across narrows in the rivers. The take diminished so badly within a couple of years that the traps were outlawed. The Indians fed themselves, they didn’t fish commercially.

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The cans were flat, then rounded and fitted with a bottom and rim before being filled with fish and sent through the cookers, and capped.

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Then they were labeled, packed for shipping and found their way into our pantries.

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Labeling and building boxes was a side industry of its own. This stencil machine was invented in 1911.

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The stencils were metal and used over and over again.

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Applied to the ends of the boxes, that held four dozen small cans of salmon, less of the larger cans.

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The Penguin was a popular local boat under Captain Thorstenson.

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All of the pictures are copies from the museum, showing the industry as it went from one man operations like this one…DSC07673 (Copy)

To huge netting operations like this. The museum has a wonderful film that captures the story as it unfolded from the 1880’s to present day. In the film, a woman who worked the office of the cannery said, “If you ask around, even today, you can hardly find anyone who didn’t work the salmon, or had an uncle, father, or grandfather who worked the industry. And they loved it.” This museum is only open during the summer months and we missed it on my first visit here in 2011. It is well worth visiting.




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Recent news about Volkswagen in Tennessee voting against organizing with the United Auto Workers Union surprised me. Union membership has fallen dramatically and Union Bashing is a favorite activity of the Republican Party, and corporate interests in general. I name the GOP because they traditionally support corporate America over labor, and especially unions. I don’t know if there was intimidation involved or not, but it worries me that young people, who have difficulty finding meaningful work to support a family, seem to have no remembrance of what Unions have meant to working people.  My surprise was augmented by watching the Triangle Fire on PBS, about the horrible working conditions women, men, boys, and young girls faced to simply feed themselves and pay for slum shelter.

[At the paper office, Bank Alley, 4 P.M.]  Location_ Syracuse, New York (State)

Corporate America thought it was their right to pay whatever they wanted while they collected millions in profits. Millions in the 1800’s was mucho big bucks.  No safety standards or any regulation of the thousands of factory workers who produced clothing, jewelry, pots, pans, you name it, existed. New York was the center of the garment industry.tff-sidewalk

The Triangle Fire, where 145 girls perished in a shirtwaist factory, kind of woke up the nation to the idea that working people should have some protections. The girls worked 7 days a week for 14 hours a day. They were not allowed to get up and get a drink of water, nor use the bathroom until lunch time, which they ate at their sewing machines. If they didn’t sew fast enough the boss would chastise them.  If they made a mistake,  it came off their meager pay. When fire broke out,  the door to the street was kept locked so no one could sneak out for a moment, and they were trapped on the ninth floor. The bosses got out on the first packed, slow elevator. New York City FD ladders could only reached seven stories high. Those that got out on the fire escape, (some escaped,)  until the fire escape fell to the ground under the weight.

The shirtwaist factories in NYC went on strike. The policemen who girls for striking, arrested them for striking, and falsely arrested them as prostitutes, were now faced with picking up the bodies of girls they had hassled before the strike was settled. The Triangle, did not go union like most of the other shirt waist factories, but Triangle did reduce hours and paid more money. No safety regulations applied to any of them.

I have a Free Riders Card which states:

I am opposed to all unions. Therefore, I am opposed to all the benefits unions have won through the years: paid vacations, sick leave, seniority rights, wage increases, pension and insurance plans, safety laws, workers compensation, Social Security, overtime, unemployment benefits and job security.  I authorize my employer to withhold the amount of the union-won benefits from my paycheck and donate it to charity.

Unions are still needed. In the early 1970’s, when the protestors on the streets of Berkeley, were screaming at the cops and calling them PIGS, they were secretly smiling because Sheriff Houchins went to the Board of Supervisors to plead for overtime pay for Deputy Sheriffs,  a first for the Department. The department later unionized and won modern benefits unavailable to them previously.

In the 1960’s, just before retirement, the company my father worked for, took many measures to get him to quit so he couldn’t collect his pension, including midnight phone calls to my mother, tacks under his tires, etc.  My Dad walked into the administration office with both of his Sons-in-law, dressed in suits and ties carrying briefcases. He asked them to make a formal statement in front of them, never revealing they were not lawyers. The company quit their harassment and he got his pension.

Do we really learn from the past?

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