Sunday, October 7, 2012

Photo Archeology—The IWW in Chicago in the ‘70’s

I was really happy to be able to attend the 26th Annual Music Circle party thrown by old pals Kathy Taylor and Hannah Frisch at their digs in Chicago’s Hyde Park.  It always great to see old friends of forty years or more from our wild and reckless youth as members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Chicago.
Basically, the party is a recreation of what we might have been doing any Saturday night back then—drinking, singing and telling each other lies.  What could possibly be better?
I’ll tell you what.  Judy Freeman showed up with a stack of 8 x 10 prints she made of photos that she took back then.   I came home with a couple.  Here they are with some commentary,

This one was taken at a party about 1975.  One of the great things about the Chicago IWW in those days was how multi-generational it was.  Relative whippersnappers like me associated freely with class war veterans.  A lot of lore and wisdom was passed along.
Here we are gathering in honor of Sam Dolgoff, the big man in the plaid shirt with the beer.  Sam was a New York Wobbly and career house painter who was also one of the elders of the American Anarchist movement.  A committed advocate of anarcho-syndicalism he had edited and translated the definitive English compilation of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin’s writings.  On this visit he was introducing his classic, The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution, 1936-1939.  Sam took delight in mentoring new generations—and discouraging them from abandoning class conscious anarchism in for Nihilism and knee jerk street violence.
Also in the picture is young Dean Nolan (on the far left), a Wobbly recently arrived from Portland, Oregon who became one of the Chicago Branch’s most active members.  That’s me in profile, younger and slimmer.  I was editor of the Industrial Worker at the time.  I see that I was rockin’ the floral print shirt and red silk scarf.
Center is Carlos Cortez deep in conversation with Sam.  Carlos was a former editor of the Industrial Worker and still contributed his signature Left Side column and other articles to the paper every month.  He was gaining fame as a graphic artist, poster maker, and poet.  His General Strike poster as well as his salutes to Joe Hill, Sacco Vanzetti, Ben Fletcher, Flores Magon and other figures are still admired.
Finally, on the right is Kay Brundage, ex-wife of the Janitor of the College of Complexes.  Kay was active in the Chicago Branch in her own right and a link to many of the legendary soap boxers of Bug House Square.

When I first saw this shot, I thought it might be from an IWW convention.  But I figured out it was from a Chicago Branch social at the IWW General Headquarters then on Webster Street near Halstead.  I think it was 1978.  That’s Michael Hargis on the left.  He had just been elected General Secretary Treasurer (GST).  Mike is still active and is one of the most senior and highly regarded of American Anarchists as well.  The imminently memorable Leslie Fish is in the center with her 12 –string guitar.  Leslie not only sang, but was a prolific songwriter of tunes like Freedom Road.  She sang with the Chicago Branch band the Dehorn Crew.
Listening intently is Fred W.  Thompson.  Born in Prince Edward Island, Fred was a leader of the 1917 Halifax Dock Strike when he was only 18.  After bumming across Canada he came to America in the early 1920’s just in time for the post-World War I Red Scare.  He served time in San Quentin on a charge of Criminal Syndicalism for selling the Industrial Worker on the streets of Marysville, California.  He was such a good organizer that while in the joint, he convinced his fellow inmates to refrain from masturbating more than once a week so that self relief would “not lose its therapeutic value.” 
In 1932 he helped organize the first sit down strike in the auto industry at Briggs in Detroit when he slapped silent agitator stickers on auto bodies moving down the assembly line. Later he organized and was the long time secretary of the last big Industrial Union Branch in the IWW—the I.U. 440 Metal and Machinery Workers in Cleveland, which included Magic Chef Stove and other factories.  Fred also taught at Work People’s College in Duluth, Minnesota, severed several terms as GST, edited the Industrial Worker and was the organizations leading historian and philosophizer.
Fred was my personal mentor.  He let me do the update of his classic IWW history which was published as The IWW: Its First 70 Years 1905-1975 and be listed as his co-author.  He was the best man at my wedding when he was 81 years old.
Fellow workers Carlos, Sam, Kay, and Fred are all gone.  Now Dean, Michael and I are the old timers.  May we pass on the tradition half as well.

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