One Big Union Transcript

One Big Union Transcript

- The more I think about, it was one of the awful dreams of my life. A kid eight, nine years old and all a sudden, I found myself in this institution. I still can't put it in my mind how I ever got there. All I know, I played hooky like a lot of kids, and I didn't go to school and one day I found myself in court, and they sent me to this reform school. Mostly you were learning religion while they spoke about the beauty of God and, you know, going to heaven and all these beautiful things and the colors of the church and stained glass, you were constantly being suppressed or repressed by the regimentation, shaping up all the time.

"Become a jungle kid, become a hustler." My path was to be a gangster, I was tuned into it. And I was fortunate in a way between my mother and between the 1930s where people were fighting for bread and I became very socially minded about it and I said... We're involved in an economic world and I began to study politics. My family were always anti-fascists and anti-Mussolini, and my mother in particular. And she worked in the shop, in the clothing shop, she was a buttonhole maker and she would talk about the union, how to go do the peace work, and how the job was being mechanized. And she was very socially minded with the working, working conditions. My old man understood one thing, "You gotta work like a son of a gun. You gotta sweat, you gotta get up in the morning, you gotta go to work."

My father had an ice route and I used to go with him as a kid, at that time they had scales and they give blocks of ice, they would weigh the ice. And he used to say, "I'm like the horse, Jack. I gotta get up every morning, I gotta go to work. I don't know what the hell I'm doing but here I am." And that's the story of my father. I think I was working as a union organizer in about the 40s the CIR's on the Western Electric campaign. And we had a lull period after the guys went into the shop. They got in at seven to eight, so I would go to the Union office there and I'd get some paper out and I found myself making some lines trying to draw.

First thing I knew, I went back to work on a U-y staff. And geez, I was drawing. Said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm drawin'!" I got so excited, I couldn't think about organizing anymore. So I would be in a corner there drawing this guy, and drawing that guy, and drawing that guy. They were in the period and I had to start all over and I went down and I got the job in the Morgan Machine Shop on Long Island. We would have coffee time twice a day. The Union came in and the men were allowed to get coffee, so this woman would come in with that little wagon every morning and we'd go there and we'd line up and have our coffee. Now I'm in the left hand corner there, pushing a wagon.

No matter what you do, I think that the satisfaction you get and it in a way, I think that's what art is about. You take a brick layer or a carpenter, or even when I was cutting ice or my father would cut ice, he would chop it a certain kind of a way and there's a rhythm to it. Bing, bing, bing! Two, four, six, eight, snap it. And the thing falls right, and it cracks, right? Like a butcher. Gets a piece of meat. He snaps it, there's a certain satisfaction, like a brush stroke, you hit it. Life is really art. There's that sweat and determination in art and in life, that makes it the hardest thing is to do. The hardest thing is to live anybody could die, it's easy. But to get up every morning and shape up, and live and go to work and paint, and take the so-called monotony of life is what life is all about. How to beat it, that's the game.

A couple of years ago, I don't know... It seemed to come to a dead end in New York City. I met a guy one night and he said, "Where you going, Ralph?" I said, "Well, I'm gonna go to Boston." "Whatcha gonna do in Boston?" "I'm gonna stand on the corner, I'm gonna paint." "What are you doing?" "I don't know just gonna go to Boston." I worked there 1938 when I came back from Spain so my wife said, "All right, go up there, do what you have to do.." And we talked it over and I said, "I'll go up there and I get my car and I'll stop on the corner and I'll spin around, I'll find a place and I'll start over, do Boston." Well, I saw a friend of mine, Bill Chan. He said, "Where you going, Ralph?" I said, "I'm gonna go to Boston." He said, "Ralph, I've got this book on Lawrence." And somewhere in behind in my mind, I remember my mother talking about Lawrence and the 1912 strike. Anyway, I went to Lawrence, I hit the town, and I see these mills and I said, "My God, here's (indistinct) again." Same old red brick, same old story. We're talking about 1912, that's a long time ago, but the immigrants, the Irish came and they built the mills with the help of the Italians.

At that particular time in history, it was mostly Italian in the 19th century but it would be used as scabs. And the IWW came around and said, listen man you can't be a scab, you can't be a strike breaker. And they organized 'em to the union then became good union men and fought for wage because what they're getting is four and five bucks a week. They were on strike a long time, they had no money, they had no strike benefits and they were really hard up for food. And so when the company cut 'em down, which meant the wage cut, the whole thing blew up. The martial law was declared. The national guards took over, Collards of people were arrested, and I think this is one of the first strikes that they were able to get the national, the Belgians The Italians, the Syrians, the Czech, the Pols and not only together, collectively.

I'm trying to put it on the canvas, that's all I'm trying to do. Say, "This is what this thing was all about." On one of the demonstrations, one day she got killed so I was trying to show again in this painting of the funeral. The most active and most militant ones in the strike period are the woman. "We want bread, kids are hungry we need bread for the children." Those are the troopers that came in from Boston, the national guards. The 30s, we had a lot of battles but a lot of idealism. The IWW was the Industrial Workers of the World. There were a bunch of American travelers, they were called hobos but they're itinerary workers, they weren't attached anything. Mainly worked in lumber camps, turpentine camp, coal mine, iron ore mine, and all different type of mines in the west. They were the restless people that came from Europe and America. And they were beginning to understand the social force that made America.

So they put the leading force in the Lawrence strike, in the Patterson Strike, in the Colorado Strike, in the Ludlow Strike. They were talking about one big industrial union. Remember we were craft unions. In Lawrence you had the Weaver's Union and you had the Separators Union, and you had 15 different unions that were never able to get together. And the IWW came along saying that, my god, the only way you can get there, have one big industrial union regardless of race, religion, creed, or sex. And their slogan was, "An injury to one as an injury to all."

The thing that sings most of the whole thing is a public library at the bottom. And that's what I'm trying to tell the people of Lawrence and any small town is that if you go to public library and you read, you'll find your history. And just like I did it, you can do the same thing. And if you ever wanna know where you're at and to understand the ballgame, you gotta read. You gotta read. Because it's one thing, understanding the thing, but it's another thing knowing the ballgame.