Interview, Peter Cole's Blog

Anti-Racist Unionism: Ben Fletcher and the IWW

By the Red Caucus

How long have labor activists struggled toward racial unity against capitalism? Join us on March 20th as we host author Peter Cole to discuss the life and times of the remarkable Ben Fletcher, a black Wobbly longshoreman from the early 20th century who led one of the most racially diverse unions in the country: Local 8 in Philadelphia. We’ll also hear from local Portland labor activists Olivia Pace and Opal Brockschmidt about organizing in the childcare industry, where 45% of the workforce nationally is Black and Brown.

Hosted by the Portland chapter of Democratic Socialists of America’s Red Caucus and Libertarian Socialist Caucus and endorsed by Portland Jobs With Justice. Moderated by Luisa Martinez, co-chair of Portland DSA and a Partisan magazine editor.

Peter Cole is a professor of history at Western Illinois University in Macomb and a research associate in the Society, Work and Development Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cole is the author of “Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly,” the award-winning “Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area,” and “Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia.” He co-edited “Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW.” He is the founder and co-director of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project.

Olivia Pace is Black, biracial, queer woman writer, educator and organizer from the Portland metro area. Her work focuses on capitalism, leftist politics, racial justice, popular culture, chronic illness, climate change and sexual violence. She graduated Cum Laude from Portland State University in 2019, receiving her BA in Child and Family Studies and a minor in Black Studies.
Olivia was one of the lead organizers of the Disarm PSU campaign from 2015-2020. She is a previous member of the organizing committee for the Growing Seeds Worker’s Union, who won their union vote by 90% on March 11th of 2020.

Opal Brockschmidt is a childcare worker and organizer in Portland, they were active during the Universal Preschool NOW Campaign, a grassroots initiative that passed in the November General Election and will bring universal preschool and living wages for preschool workers in Multnomah County. They also were involved during the beginnings of the Childcare Labor Alliance, a group of childcare workers in Portland dedicated to organizing for childcare workers’ rights, and for the betterment of our families and those that we care for.

Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly