[Marxism] Mine Mill and the Steel union [re Herbert Hill]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 21 14:24:49 MDT 2004


I was glad to see Louis Proyect's repost of his nicely done statement of a
few years ago on Herbert Hill and Steel and Mine Mill and closely related
matters.  When his post initially appeared, I posted a purely complementary
piece giving my perspective from several related tree tops.  I am, in
addition to Marxism Discussion, posting this on Redbadbear and Marxist --
and then, on those, following up separately with Louis's good post.  Best -

The Good Mine-Mill -- And The Vicious Role And Raids By Steel

From: Hunter Gray

Subject: The Good Mine-Mill -- And The Vicious Role And Raids By Steel

Date: Tue, 09 Jan 2001 19:25:01 -0800

The posting [ by the commendably provocative Louis]  from the quite recent
Nelson book, Divided We Stand: American Workers and the Struggle for Black
Equality, and specifically  the excerpt discussing Herbert Hill and the
NAACP and Phillip Murray and United Steelworkers of America -- with a
substantial mention of the Mine-Mill union [IUMMSW] -- stirs deep waters in

Herbert Hill's consistently dedicated work as Labor Secretary for the NAACP
is obviously secure in History.  He was certainly one of the much better
people in the National Office, even as the organization became increasingly
tied to the narrow, oft-legalistic and frequently red-baiting orientation of
Roy Wilkins [Executive Director] and Gloster Current [Director of
Branches] -- who frequently undercut the grassroots efforts of such  staff
as Mississippi's Medgar Evers, actively worked to sabotage our  massive and
militant Jackson Movement in 1962-63, and carried on warfare [often
conniving with J. Edgar Hoover et al.] against more pervasively activist and
militant civil rights organizations: SNCC, CORE, SCLC, and SCEF.

I am not an admirer of the United Steelworkers of America as it existed in
the late 1940s [when I was still very much a kid in Arizona] or later in the
1950s and into the 1960s, when I had come of age and experience.  My
loyalties always were with the old International Union of Mine, Mill and
Smelter Workers  and they very much remain -- again, always -- with the
bright memory of  Mine-Mill:  pervasively democratic in the most basic
grassroots sense, courageous and militant, socially visionary, thoroughly
effective, and absolutely committed to  the fight for full racial equality.
[Much of the Mine-Mill membership was Mexican-American and a significant
dimension was Afro-American.  In addition, there were many Native people
very comfortably involved with Mine-Mill.] Conversely, the Steel union  in
the aforementioned time period -- whether in the United States or Canada --
was bureaucratic, Anglo in ethos, right-wing, given to any scurrilous
red-baiting or race-baiting approach that would advance its imperialistic
agenda against Mine-Mill: even, as in 1948 and 1949, IUMMSW had not yet,
with the other left unions, been actually forced out of CIO and the
CCL  by cold warriors such as Phillip Murray.  After the
"expulsion" of the left unions, raiding and destruction were pursued year
after year by the right-wing unions. Again, in the Arizona mountains, I was
very well aware of the vigilante attacks which burned and destroyed the
union halls of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers of
America (one of the forced-out left unions) in the Salt River Valley; and
the mounting attacks by Steel,  the mining bosses, and thugs on Mine-Mill in
the copper country.

When Mine-Mill withstood these unremitting attacks
against it in its basic hard-rock,  metal mining jurisdiction, the U.S. [and
Canadian] Federal forces openly entered the conflict on the side of the
mining corporations and the Steel union.  The U.S. government from the
mid-1950s well into the 1960s, levied a continual series of "legal" attacks
against Mine-Mill [among them witch-hunting Congressional committees,
Taft-Hartley "anti-communist" charges, McCarran Act knives and hatchets such
as the so-called "Subversive Activities Control Board" -- whose spurious
"hearings" and other thrusts against Mine-Mill well into the 1960s were
endorsed by the Steel union and carried by the Kennedys. As time went on, a
very few somewhat "better" faces entered Steel's leadership --  e.g., "Wavy
Davy" McDonald [and his pretentious hair-do] was replaced as USWA president
by I.W. Abel.  Ultimately vindicated by high Federal courts, and always very
much so by the grassroots and by History, but with its fiscal resources
totally exhausted,  Mine-Mill merged with Steel in 1967 [save for the
Falconbridge local -- 598 -- at Sudbury, Ontario.] As indicated by me in a
quite recent post in our Discussion, Local 598  very effectively carried on
a completely independent  Mine-Mill existence until it joined CAW in '93 --
but has certainly kept its Mine-Mill identity very much intact and at this
point is most effectively involved in the  prolonged and bitter strike
against Falconbridge  Nickel at Sudbury.

The Mine-Mill merger with Steel saw the old Mine-Mill locals fight hard
within Steel to maintain their uniquely democratic and vigorous identity --
and those that have survived still do so.  Not all have survived. Some of
the most historic -- e.g., Morenci (AZ) Miners Union Local 616 -- were
destroyed in the disastrous Steel-led copper strike of 1983-84 against
Phelps-Dodge. In that tragic debacle, with still continuing ramifications,
Steel's traditional top-down "decision-making" and then Arizona Governor
Bruce Babbitt's  ["Scabbitt"] betrayal of Labor [with  heavy use of
anti-strike state police] played pure hell for the copper workers.  This
was, among other things, in sharp contrast to the extraordinarily
hard-fought industry-wide copper strike of 1959-just into 1960 -- led and
effectively won by hard-pressed  and consistently democratic Mine-Mill whose
top leadership was also, concurrently, in a Federal court at Denver fighting
the Federal Taft-Hartley  Non-Communist affidavit "Communist conspiracy"
charges. This case, initially started by the Federals and the mining
corporations in 1956, lay quiescent for three years until the great copper
strike, and was then deliberately brought to trial by the government in an
obviously union-busting maneuver.  Mine-Mill won that strike [and, years
later, won the "conspiracy" case after appeals] -- but, in 1983-84, Steel
lost the PD copper strike.

Anything that Herbert Hill and others could do to help USWA develop a much
better racial attitude and practice [Steel used to call Mine-Mill the
"N____r union"], was and is certainly all to the good.  But if you're going
to look at effective -- and, for a hell of a long time in the face of
hideous and often bloody attacks from many reactionary sides -- enduring and
visionary democratic unionism, then look to the example set by International
Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (and others in the Sunlight of
radicalism) and not to United Steelworkers of America.

A final word at this point:  In the 1949 attack on Mine-Mill in Alabama
[Tennessee Coal and Iron], a key Mine-Mill spokesperson, Maurice Eugene
Travis, International Secretary-Treasurer, was brutally assaulted by Steel
organizers and Klansmen in a Bessemer radio station -- losing the sight of
one eye.  Brother Travis -- who thereafter wore a black eye patch -- was
later attacked, again and again, by the U.S. government [ultimately winning
consistently in the appellate courts] but died in relative obscurity in
Northern California in 1985.  Mine-Mill carried on the fight in Alabama long
after 1949, a major leader being pioneer Mine-Mill Black civil rights
activist [later International Vice-President] Asbury Howard  of Bessemer.
Very much personally indebted to Maurice Travis [ among many other Mine-Mill
activists], I have a page regarding him on my current website
http://www.hunterbear.org/travis.htm   and, more substantially, have in my
personal possession considerable Travis material [some rare], including his
extensive and characteristically frank oral history and a number of
accompanying letters -- and am presently engaged in a quite long article on
his life and times and very positive vision and career.   Hunter Gray

HUNTER GRAY  [HUNTER BEAR]   Micmac /St. Francis Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunter Bear]

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