The records of the International Fishermen and Allied Workers of America (IFAWA) are now open to researchers at the Bancroft Library.
IFAWA was a trade union on the Pacific Coast of the United States active from 1939 until the mid-1950s. It grew out of an earlier amalgamated fishermen’s union, the United Fishermen’s Union (UFU), which was established in 1937 as an affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In May of 1939, the UFU and three other CIO-affiliated fishermen’s unions merged to form the International Fishermen and Allied Workers of America. IFAWA was also CIO-affiliated and its emergence was spurred by the rise of industrial fishing (with a focus on canning) and by a national movement of industrial unionism during the 1930s. IFAWA was one of many unions representing different kinds of workers on the West Coast’s waterfront, a center of radical unionism during the 1930s and 1940s. IFAWA brought to fruition the idea of a Pacific coast union that would represent all workers from catch to cannery in the fisheries industries in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. For the first time, fisheries workers joined together across the craft boundaries that had dominated West Coast fishermen’s organizing since the late-nineteenth century. At its peak, the union represented approximately 30,000 workers. IFAWA’s early years coincided with World War II, which brought challenges in the form of changing demographics, the drafting of many of the union’s members into the military, and increasing suspicion of the union’s Communist Party ties. In 1950, IFAWA became one of eleven unions expelled from the Congress of Industrial Organizations, in part because of its connections to the Communist Party. During the same year, IFAWA merged with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Scholar Geoff Mann writes that IFAWA “is not a well-known union,” and “rarely discussed in secondary sources.” He explains that he “stumbled on it” in 1953 article on the Taft-Hartley Act.* It is my hope that the opening up of these important records of one of the radical unions representing workers on the Pacific waterfront will bring renewed historical interest in IFAWA.
* Geoff Mann, “Class Consciousness and Common Property: The International Fishermen and Allied Workers of America,” International Labor and Working-Class History 61 (Spring 2002): 143.
Lara Michels, archivist