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ILWU pensioner Arne Auvinen passed away on July 31st. Arne was an active union member who dedicated his life to the ILWU. He was elected to numerous local union positions over his long career and was an active member of the Pacific Coast Pensioners Association in his retirement.
Arne was first chosen to
serve his local in 1957 when he was elected Secretary of Local 21. Over
the years was elected by the membership to serve the union in
several offices including caucus and convention delegate, dispatcher,
trustee and in 1964, Local 21 President. In 1970 he was elected Vice
President of Local 92 and Local 92 President in 1971.
In retirement Arne served as
President of the PCPA from 2003-2006 and as the PCPA Secretary for 10
years. The 47th Annual PCPA Convention, held this September in
Arne Auvinen was my Pap and my
hero. I was blessed to have him 65 years. He and my mother, Margie, who
died in 1982, raised my sisters and me to believe that we could do
anything we wanted if we worked for it, and work was paramount to
achieving our dreams. They also taught us that people are people,
regardless of our color or race.
My Pap was born into the labor
movement in Southwest Montana
on May 9, 1923, in the small mining town of Bear Creek. His father,
Paul, was active in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), helping
workers fight for humane working conditions against employers who viewed
employees as expendable.
My granddad eventually ended up
being black-balled from the mines, which happened to many union
supporters & organizers. Their family moved to
Granddad passed away in 1943
because of the lung disease he got from working in the mines. This left
my grandmother destitute with a mortgage to pay on an unfinished house.
Growing up in those circumstances deeply influenced my father’s
commitment to improving conditions for working families.
I cannot remember a time when my dad wasn’t involved in what was happening at the union hall, which he believed was crucial to keeping our union healthy and strong because it made workers more informed and involved.
He believed that the hiring hall
was the single most important result of the 1934 strike and must never
be surrendered. I can remember when the unity and strength of my
father’s generation made the 8-hour day a reality, so he could get
home at 5:30 instead of 6:30.
My Pap believed that you owed your employer a good day’s work for a good days pay. He never believed in working 2 hours on then taking 2 hours off, or working 4 on and 4 off, even though it became more common before he retired.
His rule was this: if you were
supposed to be working a job and weren’t there, you should be fired.
It was totally against everything he believed for someone to be paid for
not working. Pap believed that our jobs were secured through the
strength and sacrifice of union members, and that union members had a
responsibility to care for those jobs and not abuse them.
When I worked on the docks in 1966-1977, most cargo was still being moved by hand. It was hard work, but I never felt that I was worked too hard for the pay that I received. Workers who are fortunate enough to be part of the ILWU’s elite longshore workforce enjoy the best blue-collar working conditions and benefits in our country.
My father believed that employers would always find ways to exploit unorganized workers – and he believed that it was the responsibility of union members with good jobs and benefits to help unorganized workers build unions. He thought this was the only way to preserve and improve the working class. He didn’t see it as a local issue, but a world issue.
He didn’t think these were
individual problems, but ones for union members to address together with
the entire labor movement. He believed the ILWU’s Ten Guiding
Principles should be respected and followed.
Arne didn’t quit when he
retired in 1985. He and our stepmother, Esther, became active in the
Pensioners. He advocated for widows to receive a larger portion of their
husband’s pension benefit after their husbands died. He also pushed to
bring the pensions of older retirees more in line with current pensions.
My Pap’s last hurrah was the
Lower Columbia Longshore Federal Credit Union’s 60th Anniversary on
April 26, 2014. He was instrumental in it getting it established, and I
was glad to join him that day when he was still sharp and witty. Today
he is gone, and I miss the conversations and his comments more than
could ever have imagined.
I wish that those of you who
follow in his footsteps will cherish and protect the work that he and
others like him were able to do. I hope you realize how fortunate we are
today because of the work that was done by our elders who were totally
committed to the cause of the working man.
My dad and the others of his
generation are mostly gone now – but there’s still plenty of work to
be done – so the rest is up to us to carry it on.
– Michael Auvinen