Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

January 17, 2003

THE STORY of Joe Hill, Wobbly worker, musician and martyr, has been told many times in many different languages. His story briefly: Born Joel Hagglund in Sweden in the year 1879, he migrated to the United States in 1902. He worked his way West, toiling at many different jobs, and joined the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies, in 1910. A songwriter, poet and guitarist, he wrote numerous songs and poems about the struggles of oppressed working people. He became an organizer and troubadour for the union up and down the West Coast.

Along the way he changed his name to Joseph Hillstrom and later to Joe Hill to outwit a blacklist by employers against hiring members of the militant, radical IWW. In 1913 he responded to a call for IWW organizers to go to Utah and work in the copper mines. In January 1914 he was arrested and charged with the murders of a Salt Lake City storekeeper and his son in a robbery. Because Hill was a militant Wobbly, the powers-that-be in union-hating Utah spitefully and wrongfully convicted him. In 1915 he was executed by a firing squad. His parting message to his fellow Wobblies and his supporters worldwide was: "Don't mourn; organize!"

BECAUSE JOE WROTE so many songs, including "The Preacher and the Slave" and "The Rebel Girl," it is fitting that a song was written about him. The man who eulogized Hill was Seattle-born Earl Hawley Robinson.

Born in 1910, Robinson attended West Seattle High School and the University of Washington. In a report copyrighted by History Ink and available Online from HistoryLink, labor historian Ross K. Rieder of Seattle wrote this about Robinson:

"...HE TRAVELED to New York City in 1934 to join the Work Projects Administration Federal Theater Project. His patriotic themes expressed a strong sympathy for the working class and for ordinary citizens. They earned him the friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Paul Robeson, Hollywood movie commissions, and a right-wing blacklisting in the 1950s. He was 'rediscovered' during the folk music revival of the 1960s. Robinson returned to Seattle and his roots in 1989 to pursue more abstract compositions. He died in a car accident near his West Seattle home on July 20, 1991."

ROBINSON WROTE his ode to Joe Hill in 1936 while working in New York State. One verse from it follows:

"I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me.
Says I, 'But, Joe, you're ten years dead,'
'I never died,' says he,
'I never died,' says he."

Rieder also reported of Robinson:

"...HE WROTE and co-wrote many topical songs, of which 'Joe Hill,' 'Abe Lincoln,' 'The House I Live In,' and 'Hurry Sundown' are perhaps the most famous. 'Black and White' also achieved great popularity, selling more than a million copies as recorded by 'Three Dog Night.'

"Robinson's cantatas set the tone for a genre of patriotic compositions. Most notable was 'Ballad for Americans,' first performed on radio in 1939 by the great Paul Robeson as soloist, and 'The Lonesome Train.' He twice received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt welcomed Robinson to the White House in the 1940s while the FBI had him under surveillance.

"Ballad for Americans" was the theme song at both the Republican and Communist Party national conventions in 1940. In 1947, a documentary starring Frank Sinatra called "The House I Live In" won an Academy Award."

ROBINSON'S "JOE HILL" ballad is often played by the singer-musicians of "General Strike," the Portland-based labor band that's been performing stirring concerts for years at picket lines, union rallies, Labor Day functions, folk music festivals and other venues.

Ross Rieder, who authored the copyrighted History Ink essay on Earl Robinson, is widely known in the labor movement as the guiding force behind the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association and its annual conferences and yearly calendars. Rieder has had a long career as a labor writer and editor, a union organizer and contract negotiator, and a political campaign strategist. He is a member of Seattle Local 8 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union.

My thanks to Cheri Rice of the Labor Press staff for downloading the Earl Robinson material from the HistoryLink Database.


RANDY LEONARD, Portland's newest city commissioner, has ended a decades-long drought at City Hall. The longtime member and former president of Fire Fighters Local 43 is the first member of his union to occupy a seat on the Portland City Council in 30 years.

The last Local 43 member to serve on the City Council was Terry D. Schrunk, who was mayor of the Rose City from January 1957 to January 1973 when he retired and turned over the reins of the city to Neil Goldschmidt. Mayor Schrunk did not run for re-election in 1972.

Schrunk had been president of Local 43 and also represented the union as a delegate to the Portland area central labor council. Leonard, too, represented Local 43 at the central labor council, which for the past two decades has carried the name of Northwest Oregon Labor Council.

Before becoming mayor, Schrunk, who served as a United States Navy officer in World War II sea battles, had held the office of Multnomah County sheriff.

MAYOR SCHRUNK, for whom a downtown Portland plaza is named, ranks high in the estimation of many longtime Portlanders.

Before being elected as a city commissioner in last November's general election, Leonard had served in the Oregon Legislature as a state senator and later as a state representative, representing an outer East Portland area.

In Mayor Schrunk's days as the presiding officer at City Council meetings, there were two other former labor leaders serving with him - City Commissioners William Bowes and Stanley Earl. BILL BOWES served at City Hall from 1939 until his death at age 74 in 1969. A printer by trade, he'd been financial secretary of Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58 for five years before going to City Hall. He died of a heart attack. His union is now in the Communications Workers of America.

STANLEY EARL was elected as a city commissioner in 1952 after a career in the labor movement and as a federal and state government official. He became active in the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union in the 1930s and later held high office in the Woodworkers, moving from there in 1943 to the leadership of the Oregon State CIO Council, the Beaver State unit of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union is now the Western Council of Industrial Workers, an affiliate of the Carpenters.

The Woodworkers are now in the International Association of Machinists. The CIO merged with the AFL (American Federation of Labor) in the mid-1950s.

Before winning election to City Hall, Earl had served with the U.S. State Department as a labor adviser to the government of South Korea. Later he worked for the Oregon State Tax Commission. Earl died unexpectedly in 1970 at age 59 of a heart attack as he sat at the wheel of his car in the driveway at his home.

In the late 1980s and into the '90s, a former member of three labor unions, Dick Bogle, served as a city commissioner. He'd been a member of the Portland Police Union while working as a city police officer and later belonged to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists as a news reporter and anchor at KATU-TV Channel 2. He also had been a member of Portland Newspaper Guild Local 165 while working as a sportswriter and a record critic for the Portland Daily Reporter, the 1960-64 tabloid newspaper started by the Oregonian and Journal strikers.

Bogle was not a striker but moonlighted at the Reporter with the permission of the Police Bureau.


The Carpenters Food Bank, based in the basement of Local 247's Building at 2205 North Lombard St. at Brandon Ave., distributed some 500 Christmas food boxes that helped feed an estimated 2,000 men, women and children.

Mike Fahey, who coordinates the Union Food Bank along with his wife Sandy, said that "generous donations" from individuals and labor organizations enabled the Food Bank to purchase 500 hams for the holiday food boxes. The Union Food Bank has been helping active and retired workers and their families for more than 20 years.

Food boxes are distributed in the afternoons on the third Thursday of each month. The entrance to the basement is on the rear side of Carpenters Local 247's Building.

Financial contributions can be sent to the Carpenters Food Bank, Post Office Box 17358, Portland, Oregon 97217.


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