Labor Pioneers: Their Stories

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.

 

Debs_book_cover2.jpgEugene 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_HIll2.jpgJoe 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_Reader2.jpgDolores 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_film_cover_photo2.jpgMother 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.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 45 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 14 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 8 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.