Blurring the Boundaries of Struggle: The United Construction Workers Association (UCWA) and Relational Resistance in Seattle's Third World Left
- Author(s): Schulze-Oechtering, Michael Schulze-Oechtering
- Advisor(s): Taylor, Ula Y
- et al.
My dissertation, Blurring the Boundaries of Struggle: Relational Resistance and Seattle’s Third World Left, challenges an ongoing tendency of social movement historians to interpret the racial politics of the late 1960s in narrow terms. While few scholars still entertain Todd Gitlin’s notion that the rise of Black Power and other “identity movements” resulted in the “declension” of 1960s social movements, contemporary civil rights histories still portray this period as a time of interracial strife. Yet, opposed to past studies that focus on black and white disunity, more recent studies emphasize examples of racial discord between communities of color. Once again, the emphasis placed on conflict obscures a more significant historical development. In the backdrop of the radicalization of domestic anti-racist movements and decolonization movements abroad, activists of color articulated a common political identity as “Third World people,” which expressed a shared relationship with racism, capitalism, and colonialism. To capture the new political and social relationships that developed between self-proclaimed “Third World leftists,” my dissertation advances the concept of relational resistance: a process by which communities with different experiences of racial oppression begun defining their liberation in relation to and in solidarity with one another.
To explore this concept, I focus on Seattle’s movement culture in the 1970s and 1980s, a distinctly multiracial “contact zone” of people, ideas, and social movements. A unique brand of working-class solidarity emerged out of this political milieu that revealed the multiracial contours of Seattle’s Black Power Movement. Black workers in the United Construction Workers Association (UCWA) and their allies throughout the Pacific Northwest rallied around the concept of “No Separate Peace.” Through an analysis of archival documents and interviews of over twenty movement participants, I have organized my dissertation into two parts to analyze the multiple ways No Separate Peace functioned as a form of relational resistance. In part one, I explore key events and critical moments where the struggles of Black and other aggrieved racial groups converged and cross-fertilized. Part two then shifts into an examination of the discourse that surrounded relational resistance. Specifically, I interpret No Separate Peace, and other concepts developed by UCWA activists as “languages of solidarity” that conceptually linked the experiences of distinct groups. In sum, my research sheds light on the expansive world of solidarity that emerged from movements that are too narrowly defined as simply “identity politics.”