hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Wed Sep 19 08:26:46 MDT 2001
September 18 2001
An e-mail came last night from the names of a man and woman unknown to me.
The subject line was STOP STOP STOP -- and the message was short and
WILL YOU FOR GOD'S SAKE STOP. who cares. You are a sick person
Good taste rules out any response -- facetious or otherwise -- seeking more
specific info. Clearly, someone's coming apart and I see no point in
contributing to the process.
Although this expression of desperation carries contradictory
implications, it's not hard at all to see sensitivity under all of this --
but a sensitivity caught up in the maelstrom of high, strong winds and
blinding fog coming in from all sides. The result here is obvious
It may sound supercilious but this is simply another victim -- no more, no
less. Other victims, at least for the moment, are some of the civil
liberties and environmental and mainline labor groups that are currently
stopped in their tracks, or pulling back -- silent. Or, some [not all!]
social justice groups whose statements are devoted in the main to the
self-evident hideous nature of the September 11 tragedy, with the rest
spent on a call to apprehend and punish the guilty -- and maybe, maybe a
faint and carefully tangled sentence or two on the threats to domestic civil
liberty and to persons of Mid-Eastern background.
For the rest of us, and we are many indeed, the high mountains of challenge
lie directly ahead -- as they always do. And no matter how many we transcend
, there's always another high range beyond.
Everyone of us reading this, no matter one's age, has been through
challenging crucibles with hard lessons -- emerging ever more sensibly
I remember an old friend, the late Juan Chacon of Grant County, New Mexico,
in the southwestern part of the state [Silver City and environs.] A veteran
metal miner, he was one of a number of militantly committed and effective
radical activists in that well-known Mine-Mill local -- Amalgamated Bayard
District Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers: Local 890 of the
hard-fighting and very Left International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter
Workers. [ IUMMSW was formerly the Western Federation of Miners and, in
1905, the prime founder of the Industrial Workers of the World.]
Juan Chacon had gone through no end of social justice fights from the moment
he was hatched. Among his many battle stripes was that of the male lead in
the extraordinarily fine film, Salt of the Earth, ostensibly in a fictional
mode but based closely on the long and bitter Mine-Mill strike of
predominately Mexican-American miners and their families against Empire Zinc
at Hanover, NM -- which lasted from October 1950 to January, 1952. In this
hard-fought campaign, following a court injunction prohibiting miners from
picketing, their wives took over the picket line and played a key role in
carrying the struggle to victory.
"Salt," this great human rights film -- worker rights, racial equality,
women's rights --filmed on location and with most of the acting done by
local people, was made in the face of extreme Red-baiting and other attacks
from the mining bosses, House Un-American Activities Committee, Joe
McCarthy, and a gaggle of local New Mexico politicos -- and by open
violence from local racist and right-wing "vigilantes" -- thugs.
But the film was made and completed and won rave reviews even from mortal
enemies. TIME -- however grudgingly: " . . .the film within the
propagandistic limits it sets is a work of vigorous art. It is crowded with
grindingly effective scenes, through which the passion of social anger
hisses in a hot wind; and truth and lies are driven before it like sand. .
.The passion carries the actors along too in its gale. The workers, actual
miners of the New Mexico local, carry conviction in their savage setting as
trained actors could never do. The best of the worker-players is Juan
Chacon, real-life president of the local union. Ugly and cold as an Aztec
amulet, his heavy face comes slowly to life and warmth as the picture
advances and in the end seems almost radiant."
Salt also took major international film awards -- even as it was
systematically black-listed in every commercial movie house in the United
States. Very recently, it was picked by the Library of Congress as one of
the 100 most important films ever made in this country. Long before that,
several years after his death a decade and a half ago, New Mexico Western
University named a building in honor of Juan Chacon. [And Salt is now widely
available on the Net -- if you haven't seen this great homegrown radical
work of art, Do!]
But let's jump back to the bitter fall of 1959. Copper workers were out on
a massive industry-wide strike from Butte, Montana to the Mexican border --
and in some other settings as well -- led by Mine-Mill. At the same time,
in a cruel, calculated, and extremely revealing move, long-dormant
indictments were activated by the United States government against key
Mine-Mill leaders -- who were then, concurrently with the strike, brought to
trial in Denver on the trumped-up phony charges of "conspiring to defraud"
the Government vis-a-vis non-Communist affidavits required by the viciously
anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act. Thus, Mine-Mill was not only embroiled in a
huge fight against the powerful copper bosses -- Anaconda, Phelps-Dodge,
Kennecott, Magma, and American Smelting and Refining -- but had much of the
top International leadership tied up in Federal court in Denver in a
Kafkaesque proceeding involving a variety of seamy, paid FBI informers and
various mining company sycophants,
I was a grad student, then, at ASU -- but, much more importantly, was
coordinating a large-scale effort in central Arizona focused on raising
miners' relief [food and money] and labor defense funds with respect to the
"conspiracy" trial. In our setting, as in comparable ones elsewhere in this
great multi-faceted struggle, we were met by constant Red-Baiting [I was
tagged on the front page of the leading newspaper, Arizona Republic, as
"young Mr. S., the head of the Arizona state Communist Party." [Note No
CPUSA organization existed anywhere in Arizona by that time.] The Goldwater
atmosphere was almost strangling, the Birchers were growing rapidly, and
Phoenix alone had 100 "Anti-Communist Leagues." As part of our intensive
miners relief / labor defense effort, we were showing Salt of the Earth --
in union halls, community centers, some Catholic parish halls, university
settings etc -- and the FBI was working in an increasingly open fashion to
try, generally without success, to get these places closed to us. We were
attacked by thugs and our homes and cars were broken into.
We kept going. At one point in the middle of all of this, Juan Chacon sent
me a warm, personal Western Union telegram from New Mexico which concluded
with, "Success will be ours in the long run." I've always remembered those
words -- and I've carried them with me wherever I've gone: off to
Mississippi and far, far beyond. Right to the present moment.
The copper workers -- led by Mine-Mill -- won the Great Strike early in
Eventually, even though the Mine-Mill leaders were convicted at Denver in an
atmosphere of extreme fear and hysteria, those cases -- and all the other
anti-Mine-Mill Federal witch-hunting cases -- were eventually won in the
higher courts. [But the financial cost to the Union was very heavy.] If
interested, see this page from a long 1960 article of mine,"IUMM&SW: The
Good, Tough Fight" [under my former name of John R. Salter, Jr] which I've
reproduced on our website and which has also some up-dating notes on the
Mine-Mill legal cases and related matters.
So, when I get something like
WILL YOU FOR GOD'S SAKE STOP. who cares. You are a sick person
I shrug, remember Juan and his fighting words -- and all of the other good
things I've heard and learned along the trail we're all continuing to blaze.
Keep fighting. Keep moving ahead. Keep fighting.
And -- any reactions from anyone reading this?
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
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