Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

February 19, 1999

ROBERT EMMETT MURRAY of the Seattle Times, a past president of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, has authored a book about the labor movement that fills a longstanding void.

"More than 500 key terms, biographical sketches, and historical insights concerning labor in America" proclaims the paperback cover of Murray's "The Lexicon of Labor." The $13.95 book, published by The New Press in New York City, contains just over 200 pages, making it by far the largest compilation of definitions of words and phrases used in the specialized vocabulary of unionists. And it is the newest in many years. Elaine Bernard, formerly of Vancouver, B.C., who's the executive director of the Harvard University Trade Union Program in Cambridge, Mass., said this of the newly issued volume:

"Murray's Lexicon of Labor is more than a reference book and guide to American labor - it's an encyclopedia of the world of work and workers in America. Teachers, students, lawyers, journalists and anyone interested in the world of work and labor will want to have a copy of The Lexicon of Labor. Informative and fun to read, a copy should be in every school and office in the country."

THE LEXICON'S definitions run the alphabetical gamut from "across-the-board increases" to "zipper clause." Subjects of thumbnail biographical sketches include Gene Debs, Mother Jones, Asa Philip Randolph, John L. Lewis, George Meany, Walter Reuther, Cesar Chavez, Lane Kirkland, John Sweeney and others, including Harry Bridges, Dave Beck, James R. Hoffa, plus still more. Historic strikes and labor disputes such as Seattle's General Strike are recalled by Murray and he also reports on Pennsylvania's Lattimer Massacre, Colorado's Ludlow Massacre and Washington State's Centralia Massacre and Everett Massacre.

Federal laws affecting workers and their labor unions are covered, as are landmark court decisions.

Small photos of key personages and historic events decorate the book's cover and dot inside pages.

MURRAY LISTS the names of labor unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, ditto for the unaffiliated independents. For those interested in further reading about the labor movement he itemizes the more than 50 books he consulted in compiling his lexicon. In a list of 10 "brochures, pamphlets and periodicals" he includes the Northwest Labor Press, describing it as: "Lively and newsy semi-monthly put out by the Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. of Portland, Ore. Does a good job of covering national as well as regional and local labor issues."

A short bio of the author on the book's final page notes that he was born in Brooklyn in 1939 and covers his life as a student and worker in the U.S. and Mexico until he was hired by the Seattle Times in 1971. The bio says he currently edits a suburban edition for the Times and his earlier jobs there were "copy editor, travel writer, assistant city editor, feature writer, book reviewer and Central American correspondent." A longtime union activist, Murray led the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, Local 82, from 1988 through 1994. He's also active in the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association and attended its 1998 conference at Portland State University.

Author Robert Emmett Murray writes that he was "named after the doomed Irish patriot Robert Emmett of the early nineteenth century." Curiously enough, the author of an earlier glossary of labor vernacular was Robert Emmett Doherty of Cornell University's New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Labor savant Doherty's 34-large-page "Industrial and Labor Relations Terms: A Glossary" was first published in 1962 and updated several times.

ANOTHER EARLY BOOKLET explaining labor's specialized vocabulary was "Speaking of Labor Unions - A reference manual of terms and titles in the American labor union movement." Its 46 narrow pages were issued in 1964 by the International Labor Press Association, AFL-CIO. In addition to its translations of labor lingo, it contains a summary of federal labor laws plus a spooning-out of the alphabet soup of abbreviations for unions' names. Major credit for that excellent piece of work rests with the late Kenneth Fiester, a breezy, tart-tongued AFL-CIO public relations factotum who for many years was the ILPA's secretary-treasurer and later its president.

Murray writes that he was inspired to produce his lexicon by "Labor Jargon," a pamphlet published in the 1980s by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He credits his wife, labor and Democratic activist Nancy L. Rising, as his "collaborator and instigator of the whole project."


EDWIN M. SCHMIDT, a Northwest Labor Press reader in Springfield, Va., after seeing the recent entry in this space about Jack London and the definition of a scab attributed to him, mailed in a copy of an article questioning the credit given London for the blood-curdling quote.

The demurrer carried the byline of the afore-mentioned Ken Fiester and was printed decades ago in the IUE News published by the International Union of Electronic Workers, to use a shortened version of the union's formal name. Fiester didn't think London wrote "A Scab," which he said was first printed in 1936 by the West Coast Marine Firemen's Union paper, Black Gang News. Fiester noted that London had died in 1916 and thus the attribution to him "was 20 years too late for London to affirm it or deny it."

FIESTER DIDN'T KNOW who if not London should receive credit for the definition of a scab but his article mentioned several possibilities. These included Mother Jones, a crusader for workers' rights; Big Bill Haywood, a leader of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World); and Thomas J. Hagerty, described by Fiester as "a Catholic priest who turned to Marxism, was a founder of the IWW and wrote the preamble to its constitution."

Reader Ed Schmidt for decades was the "postmaster general" of the AFL-CIO in Washington D.C. He headed the labor federation's department of mailings, reproductions and other services. Retired from the AFL-CIO, he's an authoritative consultant on postal matters and support services. Since the 1970s he's helped labor editors navigate the intricacies of postal regulations.


"SHE FLIES With Her Own Wings" is Oregon's state motto but there's been talk in the current Legislature at Salem of maybe changing it. However, that probably will come to naught. Before the Beaver State adopted "She Flies" as its motto, that statement of independence held aloft by an eagle with outspread wings graced the front page of the old Oregon Journal as a symbol of its independent editorial attitude. Sam Jackson picked the motto when he launched the Oregon Journal shortly after the turn of the century as competition for the hidebound Republican Oregonian.

Sam died in 1924 and after his heirs also moved from the masthead page to the obituary page the once-proud Portland afternoon paper was run by a troika of trustees including its publisher, anti-union lawyer Bill Knight, father of Nike's Phil Knight. Knight and his fellow trustees, a banker and another lawyer, clipped the Journal's wings and moved it into the Newhouse-owned Oregonian's gilded cage at the start of a five and a half-year strike in November 1959. Some 20 months after the beginning of what the unions said was an Oregonian management-provoked strike, media chain boss Sam Newhouse of New York City bought the Journal. His sons strangled Sam Jackson's paper in 1982, along with that once-proud slogan and the high-altitude eagle.


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