We stand on the shoulders of those who devoted their lives to the cause of labor. We asked DSA activists to share some of their favorite biographies. This is an evolving list. Check the DL blog for further additions.—Ed.
Eugene Debs Though best known as presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, USA (SPUSA) from 1900-1920, Eugene V. Debs first became important as a leader of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, later becoming a founder of the American Railway Union. Debs’s most famous action as a labor leader was the nationwide Pullman Strike, broken by President Grover Cleveland. After helping found the SPUSA, Debs also took part in organizing the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Ray Ginger’s The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene V. Debs (1949) is rightly hailed as a classic. If you can’t find a cheap used copy, be sure to pick up the 2007 reissue by Haymarket Books, which contains an introduction by veteran Marxist author Mike Davis. —Jason Schulman
Joe Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund (aka Joseph Hillström), was a songwriter, union organizer, and labor martyr. Executed in Utah after a show trial, Hill maintained his innocence until the end. One of the best biographies is Gibbs Smith’s Joe Hill (1969). A later work by William Adler, The Man Who Never Died (2011) reveals information that was never introduced during the trial. Hill is best remembered for the phrase: “pie in the sky” and his final wish: “Don’t waste any time mourning, organize!” To learn more about him, check out the University of Utah’s Joe Hill website at joehill.org. —Neil H. Olsen
Dolores Huerta Although hundreds of magazine and news articles have been written about her, A Dolores Huerta Reader, edited by Mario Garcia, is the first adult book to focus on Huerta’s life and work. Huerta, who is a DSA Honorary Chair, has contributed to movements for union rights and social justice since she helped found the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. The creation of the UFW changed the nature of labor organizing in the Southwest and contributed significantly to the growth of Latino politics in the United States. She became a UFW vice president and was the primary negotiator of the first UFW contracts. Today, at age 84, she speaks frequently at colleges, universities, and high schools where she presents a Latina feminist perspective to labor, civil rights, and immigration issues. Huerta is a founding board member of the Feminist Majority Foundation and serves on the board of Ms. Magazine. —Duane Campbell
Mother Jones DSA member Rosemary Feurer has written, produced, and co-directed a documentary about Mary Harris (“Mother”) Jones, who is most remembered for her injunction to “Pray for the dead but fight like hell for the living.” After her husband and four children died from yellow fever, Jones became a labor organizer, crisscrossing the country in support of striking miners and families. A powerful orator, she also campaigned against child labor. An Irish immigrant, she opposed white supremacy, supported African Americans and others in low-skilled mining jobs, and worked to bring together Mexican and Italian miners in the Southwest. Information about various biographies and the documentary DVD is available at motherjonesmuseum.org —Peg Strobel
This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.
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