LaborFest 2010: Art, history and today’s struggles

In the San Francisco Bay Area, July is LaborFest month – a cornucopia of film, video, tours, art, music, theater, panels, workshops and more, delving into the many issues and struggles of today’s workers and those of earlier generations, at home and around the world.

Sound like a tall order? It is – and for the last 17 years, LaborFest’s organizers have been filling that order with multiple events in different locations for every day of the month. While most are in San Francisco, others are held in Berkeley, Oakland and elsewhere.

For complete details on the nearly 90 events, see

Every year the festival opens on July 5, the anniversary of Bloody Thursday, the day in 1934 when two workers, Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise – the latter a Communist Party member – were shot and killed in San Francisco as they supported striking longshore and maritime workers. The four-day San Francisco General Strike that followed shut down the entire city and, as Labor Fest organizers point out, “led to hundreds of thousands of workers joining the trade union movement.”  The 1934 waterfront strike also led to the founding of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

This year’s festival will emphasize sites built by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Through much of its existence, the WPA was the nation’s largest employer, and many of its projects are still in daily use. Walks and programs will highlight WPA murals, public buildings, writers and theatrical productions.

Many events shed historical light on today’s issues. One such event precedes the festival’s formal opening: on July 3, historic Angel Island, the “Ellis Island of the West,” will be the site of a talk on “The Trial of Harry Bridges & Immigration.”

Others focus on the 21st century. On July 7, Ironworkers Local 377 will host a panel presentation and tour featuring ironworkers’ jobs in the green economy. On July 17, the California Coalition for Workers Memorial Day will present the first-ever National Educational Conference on Biotech, Health and Safety, Labor and the Public.

Several events feature writers. On July 9, Working Class Voices Speak Out in the New Depression will bring together poets and writers speaking on workers’ struggles today, while the LaborFest Writing Group will hold a Reading and Writing Workshop July 6, presenting readings from projects on the themes of labor and working-class life.

Native American sites and history will be the themes of a July 7 workshop on Labor and Native Sacred Sites, and a July 11 Shellmound Walk on Indian History.

The history of African American workers and Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and other immigrant workers will also be highlighted in films, walks and discussions.

The Freedom Song Network is hosting  a song and poetry swap, and the Bay Area Rockin’ Solidarity Labor Chorus will present its new program, “Can’t Stand that Outsourcing,” dealing with globalization and the grassroots struggle against it.

LaborFest 2010 is endorsed by the San Francisco Labor Council and over 30 unions and labor organizations.

Photo: A lithograph by Jacob Burck, “The Lord Provides.”/


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe para People's World desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.