THE MINE-MILL"CONSPIRACY" THAT WASN'T:
RELENTLESS ATTACKS ON A MILITANT, DEMOCRATIC UNION [HUNTER GRAY/HUNTER BEAR 2/01/02] EXPANDED WITH UPDATE ADDITIONS
The crux of this major Federal "case": the Mine-Mill leaders were charged with "conspiracy to defraud the government" in the matter of signing and filing non-Communist Taft-Hartley affidavits.
NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR: MARCH 3 2004
I send this off to
all of my discussion lists today -- with this prologue:
Our Lair of Hunterbear website --
probably won't get lost -- though it's even happened in our website to me a time or two -- and I do suggest taking a lunch and a canteen of water just in case.
The website contains a great deal of stuff on Native rights, radical labor,
civil rights and civil liberties, current issues. My personal collections
involving the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and the historic Industrial
Workers of the World are very substantial and contain some now extremely rare material.
One of my greatest satisfactions at this point is seeing our website
material utilized by a wide variety of genuinely interested folk --
including Natives and civil righters and certainly workers and students and organizers and professors. For example, contemporary copper workers and other metal mine workers -- primarily in United Steelworkers since Mine-Mill and USWA merged in 1967 -- have found my Mine-Mill writings and material of great value in understanding the roots of their own unionism in metal mining, milling, smelting and refining. There are many visitors from Sudbury, Ontario -- long a Mine-Mill citadel. Probably showing my age a little at this point, I am always surprised at how relatively little many students of today -- and their professors -- know about the history of American and Canadian Labor [to say nothing of the labor movement of Mexico.]
The historic -- and infamous -- "Mine-Mill Conspiracy Case" was one a number of legal attacks brought by the Federal government and the metal mining bosses against the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, especially from the late 1940s deep into the 1960s. The case should be known and well studied -- especially in view of the fact that reactionary elements in both major political parties can certainly be expected to utilize every nefarious weapon at their command ["conspiracy" doctrines and everything else] as the class war lines are ever more sharply drawn.
Although still quite young in those days, I knew a number of the Mine-Mill "conspiracy" victims. I learned much from Maurice "Trav" Travis [there is a substantial page on our website relating to his life and times.] The last time I saw Charles Wilson -- an extremely courageous White Southerner [Alabama] over decades of struggle on behalf of militant labor and civil rights -- he had set up a large-scale and impressive civil rights speaking engagement for me under the aegis of the Arizona Mine-Mill Council. [A page on that is also on our website.] As I arrived and we shook hands warmly, he asked "How's Jim?" -- a reference to our good mutual friend and that of Ella Baker, James Anderson Dombrowski, who with two other officials of the Southern Conference Educational Fund [for which I had become Field Organizer] had just been arrested at New Orleans under "sedition" charges initiated by the Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and Mississippi U.S. Senator James O. Eastland of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. [The case was ultimately won by Jim et al. in the major U.S. Supreme Court decision, Dombrowski v. Pfister [1965.]
"Jim's pretty much OK," I replied. "How are you doing in Tucson with the
Goddamned "conspiracy case?"
Charles Wilson grinned. "Not bad," he said philosophically. "Probably a
little better" he went on "than you all are doing in those Deep South
In another context, I knew Jim Durkin's daughter as a college student.
I learned a lot from Maurice Travis. One of the last things he taught a
number of us was how to die with grace and courage. He passed away in 1985 of extremely debilitating cancer. In my website page on him, I have this:
"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. "
I am, of course, afflicted with a potentially lethal disease [the worst
variant of Systemic Lupus, or SLE.] It can hit any time [and has] and it's
now complicated by diabetes. A few weeks ago, I was beginning to quietly sink into a kind of depression. But I dug out that last letter Maurice Travis had sent to his many friends. Without an iota of self-pity, he describes in graphic and specific detail the hideous effects of the ravaging cancer that was to take him away only a few days later. I read the letter to Eldri and the older kids. "I am fortunate," said I. And I pulled out of my completely counter-productive slump.
The "conspiracy doctrine" has been widely recognized by Federal and state judges, and countless legal scholars, as downright dangerous to every decent concept of justice. Legendary Judge Learned Hand saw "great oppression" in conspiracy indictments. Here is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H Jackson in 1949:
The conspiracy law is . . . "elastic, sprawling and pervasive. . .As a
practical matter, the accused often is confronted with a hodgepodge of
acts and statements by others which he may never have authorized or intended or even known about, but which help to persuade the jury of the existence of the conspiracy itself. In other words, a conspiracy is often proved by evidence that is admissible only upon the assumption that the conspiracy existed."
This will show you a now very rare 1948 Mine-Mill pamphlet attacking the Taft-Hartley Act; and also the late 1960 Mine-Mill defense pamphlet, "The Mine-Mill Conspiracy Case."
This is a page partly drawn from the long article by John R Salter, Jr
[Hunter Gray] in the October 1960 issue of MAINSTREAM: "IUMM&SW: The Good, Tough Fight." This website page of mine contains notes into relatively contemporary times.
This now rare Mine-Mill pamphlet -- ca. 1948 -- attacks the viciously anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 as a trap which no bona fide labor organization should have anything to do with. The Act. among all of its other nefarious provisions, required union officers to sign and file "non-Communist affidavits." Although initially, leaders of many United States unions refused to sign -- including Mine-Mill -- their unions were then denied NLRB privileges. lf all unions had maintained the boycott solidarity that many, including Mine-Mill [and John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers], vigorously encouraged, the Taft-Hartley Act would have been effectively undercut. But, increasingly, unions "signed" -- putting those who didn't at an increasingly serious disadvantage: the bosses refused to negotiate with non-signing unions and some unions who signed began vicious raids against those who had not. Eventually, virtually all unions signed. Mine-Mill finally did so in 1949 in order to defend the Union.
International Secretary-Treasurer Maurice E. Travis publicly resigned from the Communist Party in order to sign. A Westerner who had worked in rough and tumble settings since his teen years, and son-in-law of the legendary I.W.W. organizer, A.S. "Sam" Embree, Travis had just lost one eye as the result of a brutal beating at Bessemer, Alabama by a gang of Klansmen who were involved on behalf of the rival, right-wing United Steelworkers. Maurice Travis, who was always very open about his political stance, was a direct speaking man:
"Since the interest of the International Union is uppermost in my mind, I have been confronted with the problem of resigning from the Communist Party, of which I have been a member, in order to make it possible for me to sign the Taft-Hartley affidavit. I have decided, with the utmost reluctance and with a great sense of indignation, to take such a step. . .This has not been an easy step for me to take. Membership in the Communist Party has always meant to me, as a member and officer of the International Union, that I could be a better trade unionist. . .a call to greater effort in behalf of the union as a solemn pledge to my fellow members that I would fight for their interests above all other interests."
Soon after this, in 1950, Mine-Mill was one of the several Left unions forced out of the CIO -- of which it had been a founder.
And then the attacks upon Mine-Mill mounted with the greatest ferocity: flowing from the mining bosses and their legions, right-wing unions -- such as the Steelworkers; and the Federal government. Mine-Mill fought back -- hard, on all fronts. These attacks -- and Mine-Mill's prolonged and courageous struggle and its consistently democratic and egalitarian ethos -- are discussed in the pages that follow.
A major battlefield for the Union was the infamous and blatantly strike-breaking attack: the Mine-Mill conspiracy case.
Published in late 1960 by the Mine-Mill Defense Committee, this detailed, 19 page labor defense pamphlet, written by noted American labor reporter and writer, Sid Lens, carries an introduction by Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas who wrote, "The issue is not communism but justice." It also carries endorsements and substantial statements by several leaders of major AFL-CIO unions: O.A. Knight, President of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers; Mike Quill, President of Transport Workers Union; Frank Rosenblum, Secretary-Treasurer of Amalgamated Clothing Workers.
A major leader of the American Quakers and the pacifist movement, Stewart Meacham, also publicly and vigorously supported Mine-Mill.
A slightly earlier [Fall 1960], much smaller Mine-Mill folded multi-page defense brochure -- Conspiracy Against a Union! -- on the same legal crisis carried an even larger number of support endorsements and brief statements by top officers of AFL-CIO unions, and the Teamsters. In addition to the aforementioned -- O.A. Knight, Mike Quill, Frank Rosenblum -- the smaller brochure also carried photos and statements by Patrick Gorman [Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America]; John Burke [International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers]; James Hoffa [International Brotherhood of Teamsters]; A. Phillip Randolph [Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.] It was published by the Mine-Mill Defense Committee.
The smaller brochure listed the Mine-Mill defendants with their respective years of service to the American labor movement. The average was about 25 years.
[I personally distributed in various ways about 2,500 copies of Conspiracy Against a Union! -- as well as many copies of The Mine Mill Conspiracy Case.]
This big labor defense pamphlet [The Mine Mill Conspiracy Case] was published as I've indicated in late 1960 by the Mine-Mill Defense Committee and focuses on this -- one of the heaviest of the mounting Federal legal attacks against the Union: the so-called Mine-Mill "conspiracy" case which began in late 1956. Targeted were a number of present and former Union officials. They were charged with "conspiracy to defraud the government" in the matter of signing and filing the non-Communist Taft-Hartley affidavits. Once brought, the indictments lay dormant for three years. And then, in one of the most blatantly strike-breaking U.S. Government moves in history, the case was brought to trial at the same time the Big Five copper corporations refused to bargain -- and the great copper strike of 1959-60 began.
With the far-flung copper strike swirling, the so-called Conspiracy Trial began at Denver on November 2, 1959. The defendants were Irving Dichter, Secretary-Treasurer; Vice-President Asbury Howard; Jack Marcotti, Arizona Regional Director; Executive Board Members Al Skinner and James Allen and Chase Powers; staff members Harold Sanderson and Charles Wilson and Jesse Van Camp; and former Secretary-Treasurer Maurice E. Travis and former staff member James Durkin -- both of whom had since left the Union. Attorneys for Mine-Mill were its general counsel, Nathan Witt -- and also General Telford Taylor [who had prosecuted at Nuremberg] and George Francis of Denver. The men were convicted on December 17, 1959. The great copper strike was won in January, 1960. As with all of the other Mine-Mill cases, the "conspiracy convictions" were appealed.
And, as in all of the other Federal legal attacks on the Union, this one was eventually won. In June, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court threw the case out.
This historic 1960 pamphlet -- widely disseminated by Mine-Mill throughout and beyond the United States -- was accompanied by a letter from International President John Clark [who had once driven stage coach in Arizona Territory in the very early 1900s.] President Clark summed it up very well:
"The enclosed pamphlet is the work of one of America's most distinguished labor writers and reporters, Sidney Lens. His examination of the Mine-Mill conspiracy case and of the twelve year history of persecution of this Union is a great contribution to our fight for justice.
Norman Thomas' introduction to Mr. Lens' pamphlet helps further to expose the false charges of communism which obscure the real issues in the unprecedented hounding of a democratic union and its officers by the departments of government.
The International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers has, during its 67 years of existence, a dramatic record of grassroots, independent, militant unionism. Starting as the Western Federation of Miners in 1893, it has brought decent wages and conditions to tens of thousands of metal miners and smeltermen in hundreds of company towns in the United States and Canada. Our officers are elected by secret ballot. Salaries are probably the most modest in the American labor movement and our union is completely run by the rank and file members.
The unprecedented legal attack these past years on our union has put a harsh burden on our modest resources. Only the generosity and understanding of wide sections of American labor and liberal individuals has allowed us to fight back with such determination for complete vindication. . ." [John Clark, President]
In April 2008, I received a very long and cordial letter from the son of a man who had been a key Mine-Mill leader and a defendant in the "Conspiracy Case." This excerpt is a then-kid's poignant recollection of the Red Scare epoch:
"I was a teenager in high school when the
first Mine Mill Conspiracy Case
was prosecuted in Denver. I well remember my father flying from Salt Lake City
to Denver every Sunday night for the upcoming trial sessions, then flying back
on Friday night to spend the weekend in contract negotiations with Kennecott
Copper Corp. all weekend. Those were scary and angry -- but formative -- times
for me, including the McCarran Hearings [U.S. Senate Internal Security
Subcommittee] at the Salt Lake Post Office building in October, 1952, which I
attended. On Thursday and Friday, the last two days of hearings, I ran into my
high school civics teacher at the Newhouse Hotel during lunch on Thursday
(across the street from the post office), where he was attending a two-day
teacher's institute seminar. I introduced him to my father and invited him to
attend the hearings. He did, and was appalled at the behavior of McCarran and
the other senators and staff. He returned for the full Friday hearing. He was so
disturbed by what he witnessed that the next week he invited me to make a
presentation to my class on the hearings showing all the newspaper articles on
those hearings, including the Salt Lake Tribune full-page ad by Mine-Mill on the
[McCarran concentration] camps. We ended up spending the entire week's classes
discussing those hearings. The following Spring my teacher was informed that his
contract would not be renewed, even though he was a tenured teacher. As far as I
know, He never again taught in a school in Utah."
Among our many Mine-Mill links: