Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

December 18, 1998

"DON'T WASTE TIME mourning for me. Organize!" Labor martyr Joe Hill admonished his Wobbly friends and followers with that thought before he faced a Utah prison firing squad Nov. 19, 1915 to be executed for a murder many were convinced he didn't commit.

Hill, 34, an organizer for the Wobblies - the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) - in the Utah copper mines, was framed, many believed, for the Jan. 10, 1914 murder of a Salt Lake City grocer who was shot and killed by two masked men. Salt Lake cops arrested radical labor organizer Joe Will three days later. He was convicted on evidence so circumstantial - some might say trumped-up - that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was among those who asked in vain for Utah's governor to reopen the case. Hill's supporters thronged together in protest rallies around the world.

"Despite flimsy evidence, a hostile judge, a vengeful prosecutor and an inflamed press succeeded in securing a conviction," historian Bob Master wrote in Labor Unity.

JOEL HAGGLUND was the name Hill was born with in Sweden on Oct. 7, 1879. He migrated to the United States in 1902, changed his name to Joe Hillstrom, later shortened it to Hill. He traveled around the U.S. working at a variety of jobs, writing songs and poems.

Perhaps his best remembered Wobbly song was:

"You will eat bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky;

Work and pray,

Live on hay,

You'll eat pie

In the sky,

When you die."

THE IWW advocated the concept of "One Big Union" encompassing skilled and unskilled workers organized along industrial lines. The Wobblies hoped to become so powerful that a grievance involving workers in a single shop could set off a regional or nationwide strike that would paralyze a whole industry. In Joe Hill's era, the IWW had a quarter-million members, many of them in the West, toiling in the mines and in the woods.

Joe Hill had an Oregon connection as this column noted in 1979 with these words: "Most accounts of his life say he joined the Wobblies in 1910 in the waterfront town of San Pedro, near Los Angeles. However, a labor historian says that ain't so. "William Adelman, professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois' Circle Campus in Chicago, says his research shows that Joe Hill joined the Wobblies in Portland in 1910.

"A quick check of the Labor Press editions for that year failed to turn up any mention of Hill. However, the Labor Press used a goodly amount of ink to chronicle the appearance in Oregon in October 1910 of Eugene Debs, one of the founders of the IWW. Debs delivered several two-hour speeches around the state, including one in Portland on Oct, 23. It is possible that a wandering Joe Hill might have stopped to listen and been converted to the cause."


ANOTHER COLORFUL FIGURE in Portland's past was the multi-faceted Charles Erskine Scott Wood, better known as C.E.S. Wood. Earlier this fall a long schedule of events was held here in celebration of his life. Born in Erie, Pa., in 1852, he came to Portland in 1894, left about 30 years later, and died near San Jose, Calif., in 1944.

Colonel Wood, a soldier, lawyer, poet, artist and writer, was one of the founders of the Portland Library (now the Multnomah County Library), the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon National Guard and the Arlington Club, an exclusive eating, drinking and deal-making bastion for the Rose City's elite, and he godfathered the Portland Rose Festival to provide excitement and entertainment for the masses. He won an unheard-of $1 million attorney's fee for legalizing a New York firm's acquisition of nearly one million acres of government land in Oregon's eastern reaches.

No stuffed shirt, the bearded Wood possessed a radical side that could well have steered his life into a brief intersect with that of the afore-mentioned Joe Hill. Wood spoke at rallies of the Industrial Workers of the World, lawyered for the IWW, and probably was present at the 1910 appearance in Portland of Wobbly founder Eugene Debs where Chicago professor William Adelman says Hill enlisted in the IWW's battle for economic and social justice.

In his role as an attorney, Wood defended political radical Emma Goldman, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger and other luminaries of the left. He was a lawyer for labor unions and the Labor Press. He also wrote an occasional editorial for the Labor Press, then published weekly.

Upon exiting the city of bridges, roses and rain, Wood wended his way south to the Golden State accompanied by his longtime mistress, but left behind enough of that million-dollar legal fee to provide financially for the family he left behind.


IT'S FUNNY (peculiar, not ha-ha) that companies with reputations as liberal employers are opposed to their employees joining a labor union. We saw that in Portland some time back when Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 9 tried to organize workers at an east side eatery, Old Wives Tale. We're seeing it again locally as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union seeks to sign up workers at the stores of Powell's Books. Owner Michael Powell, whose reputation as a liberal recently stirred up the wrath of the Republican conservatives who run the Oregon Senate, sent letters to his 325 employees admonishing them against exchanging his paternalistic policies for a labor union. And, from the other side of the continent comes word that the Ben & Jerry's ice cream company, another paternalistic employer with a reputation as a beacon of liberalism, is challenging an organizing drive by Electrical Workers Local 300 at the frozen confection company's Vermont plant.


PHONY IS THE WORD for Fox Television's slogan about its news programs: "We Report. You Decide."

Fox TV, owned by right-wing media billionaire Rupert Murdoch, tries to give the impression that its news shows are as bias-pure as the driven snow. But when one listens long enough to its talking heads and sees who they have as news sources and talk-show guests, it seems apparent that Fox is advancing the political and economic agenda of its Australian-born owner.

Fox recently dropped plans to air a television show based on "Strange Justice," a prize-winning investigative book by two Wall Street Journal reporters which said Anita Hill was truthful when she charged Clarence Thomas, now a Bush-appointed U.S. Supreme Court justice, with sexual harassment.

In reporting how Murdoch killed the Fox TV drama because of his friendship for ultra-conservative Thomas, the New York Times said:

"MR. MURDOCH HAS A HISTORY of supporting conservative politicians as well as curtailing projects that might affect the financial health of his company. Four years ago, he dropped the BBC news service from Star-TV, his Hong Kong-based satellite service, after the Chinese (Communist) Government protested its coverage of Chinese dissidents."

The newspaper also recalled that one of Murdoch's book publishing companies cancelled plans to print a book critical of China, which was written by Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong. The book has since been printed by a non-Murdoch publishing house.


TV TWISTS OF TIIE TONGUE-In addition to misspellings in the graphics that have appeared on every Portland television station's news shows and every network's news programs, the local reporters and anchors unintentionally punctuate their offerings with amusing slips of the tongue or the mind. Without mentioning names or stations, here are a few recent aubs: "...A teen-aged teen-ager." "Serving" as a mispronunciation for surveying. "First Congressional Church" for First Congregational Church. "Senator Earl Blumenauer" for Oregon's Third District U.S. representative. And that's all, folks,'cause we're outta space.


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