Maurice E. Travis -- and a special added note on Listening to Experience
hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Thu Aug 22 04:49:08 MDT 2002
Although, as I've often indicated, the social justice focus of our quite
large Lair of Hunterbear website [ www.hunterbear.org ] is contemporary in
thrust, we do have within it a substantial amount of radical history
material: e.g., labor, Native American, civil rights. And we shall have much
I was fortunate, as a very young person, to spend substantial periods of
time with older veterans-of-struggle -- who were most generous in the time
and effort that they spent with me. Some of these, reaching back into the
very earliest parts of the Twentieth Century [e.g., C.E. Payne, a founder of
IWW and one of its principal activists over many decades], were of advanced
years -- but their bright sun still hovered in full above the Western
horizon. Others had cut important trails in the '30s and '40s -- and were
still doing so in significantly on-going struggles in the cruel era of the
mid '50s when I arrived to Save the World. In appropriate Native fashion, I
incorporated and assimilated all of these courageously committed Left
examples and perspectives into my own being and on my own terms, And, when
I began, soon enough, to cut my own visionary trails in earnest, learning
and building my own experiences and insights and lessons with my own
intensity, all of these people and their shining eyes and minds and vital
recollections were -- and sturdily remain -- of enormous value to me. And,
I should add, since they were humans of several different -- but always
eminently committed and courageous radical traditions -- I came early on to
recognize the great importance of Solidarity, rather than backbiting and
knifing, if one is to effectively confront the Adversary of Capitalism "and
all its wicked works and ways" and blaze the trail to genuine socialist
Note by Hunterbear:
I'm much into contemporary issues but I never forget my roots. I personally
owe a very significant debt, vis-a-vis my own development as a radical
activist, to a number of great fighters for social justice. And one of
those -- and one to whom my debt is great -- is the late Maurice E. Travis.
I'm presently involved in a major writing project on his turbulent life and
times -- in the context of the American West, the fighting Mine-Mill union,
and the literal bulls-eye of the extraordinarily vicious Cold War Red Scare.
We have much Western radical labor history on our very large website, Lair
of Hunterbear, and this page -- my short sketch of Maurice Travis -- is
taken from one of our many on the International Union of Mine, Mill and
Smelter Workers. [ IUMMSW was formerly known as the Western Federation of
Miners -- founder of the Industrial Workers of the World.] Maurice Travis
was a man who kept fighting and kept going. His fine example is super
relevant to our times. I'll keep our List posted on the progress of my
>From our Lair of Hunterbear website -- and with photo of Travis and Now Is
The Time http://www.hunterbear.org/travis.htm
Now Is The Time -- was a historic and prophetic speech (issued as a widely
disseminated pamphlet by IUMMSW), given by Mine-Mill International
Secretary-Treasurer, Maurice Eugene Travis, at the founding convention of
the National Negro Labor Council at Cincinnati, Ohio, October 28, 1951.
Maurice Travis, born  and raised in the Pacific Northwest,
exemplified, throughout his life, the uncompromising fighter for worker and
minority rights. A person of extraordinary capability, he held many
Mine-Mill posts and was subjected to extraordinary red-baiting and
witch-hunting by private and governmental forces. He was the son-in-law of
A.S. "Sam" Embree, the noted Western I.W.W. organizer and later Mine-Mill
organizer. Maurice Travis wore a black patch over one eye -- an eye no
longer there: kicked out by a gang of KKK members and other white
supremacists at Bessemer, Alabama in April 1949.
In his major and historic Now Is The Time speech, Maurice Travis spoke as he
always did: forcefully, directly:
"I didn't come here to tell the Negro workers of America, or their leaders,
what to do. I didn't come to orate about the problems of the Negro people
and hand out a fancy custom-built set of answers designed to wash away all
those problems -- like Tide, the Washday Wonder.
Here on the stage, and out there, is a great abundance of genuine Negro
leadership. Here are the real leaders of the Negro workers of America.
They know what must be done, and they are ready, willing and very, very able
to do it. . . .
This is a time for new John Browns to arise, up and down the land. And I am
convinced that out of this conference will come a whole army of -- John
Browns, men who are dedicated not to talk and double-talk, but to action.
Men of principle and of conscience who are convinced that jim crow can be
licked, and that the time has come to lick it, so that the Negro can take
his full and rightful place as a first-class citizen of this land -- with
full social, economic, political, and civil rights.
The time is ripe. Let's go!"
As the viciousness of the Red Scare intensified in both the United States
and Canada, the attacks against Mine-Mill and its activist radical
leadership mounted from the mining bosses, the Federal government, some
state governments, then-right wing unions such as the Steelworkers, and
thugs and vigilantes. The relentless assault against the Union was the most
concerted and venomous campaign of its kind since the multi-faceted attack
on the Industrial Workers of the World during the World War I and post-war
Red Scare epoch. [And what remained of the old-time I.W.W. was formally
listed by the United States Attorney General on the Federal "subversive
list" in the late '40s and carried thereon for a generation.]
Maurice Travis, a person of great ability and courage and commitment, was an
especial Mine-Mill target of the witch-hunters for many years -- as was, for
example, Clint Jencks, the equally courageous and committed Mine-Mill
International Representative in southwestern New Mexico. Jencks, of course,
was also a major figure in the splendid and enduring Mine-Mill film, Salt of
the Earth -- to which Travis had given full backing as International
Mine-Mill fought back year after year -- hard and effectively -- on all
fronts: collective bargaining, labor defense, civil rights, civil
liberties. But, in 1956, the Union's Executive Board -- in an unsuccessful
effort to stop or at least reduce the attacks, pushed the "controversial"
Travis and Jencks out of their Mine-Mill positions. The Union, fighting on,
continued to handle all of their legal defense needs.
See, among other Mine-Mill sections of our Lair of Hunterbear website, these
links on the Red Scare attacks against the Union and a discussion of the
great film, Salt of the Earth. All of these link-pages are at and around
this page on Maurice Travis.
Clint Jencks wound up as a graduate student at UC Berkeley and then the
London School -- securing a PhD in economics. He then taught successfully
for many years in the California university system. Travis went on to the
West Coast where he initially worked as a chef in the Bay Area and then as a
cabinet maker. Securing a shipping clerk's position with International
Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, he worked in that capacity for
thirteen more years.
In 1967, the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers merged --
in both the United States and Canada -- with its bitter adversary, United
Steelworkers of America, which had, by this time, a few relatively better
faces in its top leadership. [One Mine-Mill local, 598, representing workers
at Falconbridge Nickel, Sudbury, Ontario, refused to merge and continued a
very effective life on its own -- eventually, many years later, entering
Canadian Auto Workers, and then the New Century. It maintains its unique
Mine-Mill identity to this very moment.]
Maurice Travis never lost a spark of his basic fire.
In a late Summer, 1984 letter to a friend, commenting on the 1967 merger of
Mine-Mill, he wrote in part: "I regret very much what happened to Mine-Mill
in both this country and Canada and, as a matter of fact, if I were younger
I would attempt to restore that international union to a place in the sun.
I think this could be done without too much difficulty under present
circumstances because there is no doubt that the American labor movement,
with a few exceptions such as the ILWU and some of the other so-called
left-wing unions, are merely the tools of a reactionary government. The
sorry workers and even the employers as well are paying the price for their
short-sighted policies. The steel industry is practically shut down in this
country. The poorer south-west miners and smeltermen, etc., are on strike
under hopeless conditions, the mines are shut down in the south-west, the
smelters and mines of Montana are completely shut down. . ." [Note by
Hunter Gray: Travis, in his reference to the copper workers' situation in
the Southwest, is referring to the disastrous Steel-led Phelps-Dodge strike
of 1983-84. Characterized by the usual top-down decisional polices of the
Steel union -- in contrast to the grassroots democratic approach of the old
Mine-Mill -- the PD strike was functionally lost.]
Although the latter portion of his life was increasingly isolated and often
bitterly lonely, Maurice Travis consistently maintained his powerful
commitment to militant and democratic radical unionism and social justice in
general. And he kept his good humour, high spirits, and great optimism all
the way through. He died in 1985 at Fremont, California -- an area that he
and his wife Una had come to love deeply. In one of his final
communications before he succumbed to painful and debilitating illness, he
wrote in conclusion:
"Perhaps [it's] the most beautiful spot in America, under the shadow of
Mount St. Helena and rich in the varied colors of the grape leaves and the
smell of burning grape cuttings. There is no place like it on the face of
Perhaps one day I will return there. However like the greatest brains that
lived in this century, Albert Einstein, who was an Agnostic, I believe only
that there is a powerful force somewhere in the scramble of stars."
I am very fortunate to be one of a tiny number of people who has a
transcript of Maurice Travis' extensive oral history. I also have in my
personal possession much other rare Travis material.
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org (strawberry socialism)
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