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.

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
· 57 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 95 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. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 27 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. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
· 14 rsvps

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 5 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.