Working the Boats: Masters of the Craft, a six part documentary webisode, captures the golden years of Local 1329 of the I.L.A. (the International Longshoremen’s Association) in the voices of those who built it and from the community they supported. Founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1933 by Manuel Q. Ledo, a Cape Verdean community leader, Local 1329 of the I.L.A. (the International Longshoremen’s Association) was the first predominantly Cape Verdean labor union in New England.
“Masters of the Craft” refers to the men in charge of the gangs that unloaded and loaded cargo in the ports of Providence. It was a job that demanded great skill: it was a major mark of distinction to rise through the ranks and become a walking foreman, or “Master of the Craft.” Local 1329 was the “table that fed the community”: it was a way of life, not a job, and the economic lifeline for three generations of Cape Verdean men from Fox Point who worked the boats in the ports of Providence.
The l940s to early l970s was a booming period for the waterfront. Providence, Rhode Island was one of the busiest ports on the eastern seaboard, with scrap iron and loose lumber being two of the biggest cargos coming into the Port of Providence. “Working the Boats” was the economic lifeline for the Cape Verdean community, providing jobs and security for between 200 to 250 Local 1329 members and their families. Jobs were passed down from father to son, and new members learned their “craft” on the job from their fathers, brothers, cousins, neighbors and extended family.
The horsing around, pranks, fights, tragedies and stories about the old country, Cape Verdean mariners and whalers became the lore of the waterfront that was shared over meal breaks or the long bus rides back and forth to the ports further down Narragansett Bay at Davisville, Quonset, Portsmouth, or Melville. The webisode brings the story to the present, as modernization, cranes, generational tensions and changing demographics are distancing Local 1329 from the traditions and lifestyle that sustained a community.
Working the Boats: Masters of the Craft brings this unique story to life through rare 8mm footage, photographs, and interviews shot on location at the Cape Verdean Progressive Center in East Providence, RI. with three generations of Local 1329 longshoremen, retirees, their wives, and daughters. This webisode is one of three documentary features about the Cape Verdean community in Fox Point, and the second in a trilogy of documentaries about this vibrant community of immigrants from the Cape Verde Islands in the Fox Point section of Providence, Rhode Island. “Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican?”: A Cape Verdean American Story, the first in the trilogy, is the story of the community and the untold tragedy and scandal of what happened when the Cape Verdeans were forcibly displaced by urban renewal to make way for fancy coffee shops, antique stores and elegantly restored houses.
Working the Boats: Masters of the Craft WEBISODES. (Each segment is @ ten minutes)
Fox Point Community – This segment talks about the relationship between the workers of Local 1329 and the community.
Craft – This segment explores the skills required to work on the waterfront and how the work has changed over the years.
Dangers – The waterfront is a dangerous place. Many of the interviewees talk about the injuries they have suffered and the accidents they’ve witnessed in this segment.
Generations – Several generations of families have made their lives on the waterfront. With each generation, new challenges arise and conflicts between the new and the old emerge.
Union – Safety, proper compensation, seniority and many other benefits the workers of the waterfront now enjoy were fought for by the previous generations through the union. The workers contemplate the future and wonder who will take on the fight now that many of them are on the verge of retirement.
The Women – The longshoremen’s wives talk about their life and role within the community at the waterfront.
Claire Andrade-Watkins is an artist/filmmaker/historian, and an Associate Professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College. Since 2007 she has been a Visiting Scholar at Brown University in the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, and has held an appointment as a Swearer Center Community Fellow. She was a 2009 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow in Film, and has received grants for her documentaries from the LEF Foundation, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. She is the founder and President of SPIA Media Productions, Inc., a production and distribution company specializing in media from the Africana Diaspora.