Each year for the Northwest Folklife Festival, we select a Cultural Focus. The Cultural Focus provides Northwest Folklife’s staff the opportunity to learn more about a particular group or community, to share that knowledge with the public, and to make deep and lasting friendships with community members.
In recent years, as Northwest Folklife expands its year-round programming, the Cultural Focus has become a larger program that begins before the annual Festival, and continues even after the Festival is over.
For the 2013 Festival, the Cultural Focus was Washington Works, exploring various aspects of occupational folklore in the Northwest.
Northwest Folklife is working in collaboration with the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, (WSLC) a voluntary nonprofit organization that provides services for more than 600 local unions and trade councils throughout Washington and represents more than 450,000 rank-and-file union members (http://www.wslc.org/aff-list.htm). For Washington Works, Northwest Folklife’s Deputy Director, Deborah Fant, a public folklorist, will be the Project Director. She will collect approximately fifty interviews with a representative cross-section of Washington’s union workers, including farmworkers, nurses, health care workers, grocery workers, cannery workers, teachers, bus drivers, machinists, communication workers, hotel and restaurant workers, truck drivers, correction officers, and members of the building and construction trades.
Unions are an important part of Washington’s history, from IWW organizing in the woods of Eastern Washington in 1907 to shipyard workers closing down Seattle in 1919, from machinists organizing at the Boeing airplane factory in south Seattle in the mid-1930s to community college faculty in the 1970s and 80s organizing and striking to improve their share of corporate profits. Unions built a strong middle class in Washington, and today the state’s workforce contains a one of the highest percentages of union members in the country.
The interviews will cover many topics: a description of a particular job, the way it’s done now with a comparison to the way the interviewee learned to do the work, tales connected with the kind of work being performed, family dynasties in unions, uniforms or clothing, strikes, food on the job, jokes, comeuppances.
Stay tuned for more updates about this exciting new project!