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Ballad of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

Tom Neilson
Lingua: Inglese


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[2013]
Lyrics & music by Tom Neilson
Album: It's a Crime to Tell the Truth
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Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (August 7, 1890 – September 5, 1964) was a labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Flynn was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women's rights, birth control, and women's suffrage. She joined the Communist Party USA in 1936 and late in life, in 1961, became its chairwoman. She died during a visit to the Soviet Union, where she was accorded a state funeral with processions in the Red Square attended by over 25,000 people.



Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was born in 1890 in Concord, New Hampshire, the daughter of Annie (Gurley) and Thomas Flynn. The family moved to New York in 1900, where she was educated at the local public schools. Her parents introduced her to socialism. When she was only fifteen she gave her first public speech, "What Socialism Will Do for Women", at the Harlem Socialist Club. As a result, she felt compelled to speak out for social change, making a decision she later regretted, to leave Morris High School before graduation.
A year later, in 1907 she met a Minnesota local organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, J. A. Jones. He was sixteen years older than she, but Flynn stated in her autobiography, "I fell in love with him and we were married in January 1908". The union produced two sons, John Vincent who died a few days after birth, and Fred Flynn, born 19 May 1910 (he died in 1940).
In 1907, Flynn became a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, and attended her first IWW convention in September of that year. Over the next few years she organized campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington; and textile workers in Massachusetts. During this period, author Theodore Dreiser described her as "an East Side Joan of Arc".
In 1909, Flynn participated in a free speech fight in Spokane, in which she chained herself to a lamp-post in order to delay her arrest. She later accused the police of using the jail as a brothel, an accusation that prompted them to try to confiscate all copies of the Industrial Worker reporting the charge.
Flynn was arrested ten times during this period, but was never convicted of any criminal activity. It was a plea bargain, on the other hand, that resulted in Flynn's expulsion from the IWW in 1916, along with fellow organizer Joe Ettor. According to historian Robert M. Eleff, three Minnesota miners had been arrested on murder charges arising from an incident which arose when a group of deputised mine guards, including an alleged gunman by the name of James C Myron and a former bouncer named Nick Dillon, came to the residence of one of the miners, Philip Masonovitch, to investigate allegations of the use of an illegal liquor still on the premises. A confrontation ensued in which Myron and a bystander were shot dead. According to Eleff, some witness testimony seemed to indicate that Myron could have been killed accidentally by one of his colleagues, who fired into the Masonovitch residence from outside, and that the bystander was killed by Dillon. Three IWW organizers were also charged, although all three were elsewhere at the time. Head of the IWW's organizing committee, Bill Haywood seemed confident that Judge Hilton, who had successfully defended George Pettibone when he and Haywood were on trial in Idaho, could win the case for the miners.
However, the main organizers on the scene accepted an arrangement by which the other organizers were allowed to go free, but the three miners, none of whom spoke English fluently, faced time in prison. There was also a mixup in the sentencing; a prior agreement for one year in prison was somehow changed in the courtroom to a sentence of five to 20 years. Haywood held Flynn and Ettor responsible for allowing the miners to plead guilty to charges that they probably did not understand. Haywood wrote in his autobiography that Flynn and Ettor's "part in the affair terminated their connection with the IWW." Haywood's biographer, Peter Carlson, wrote that Ettor left the IWW and that Flynn "remained in the union, but took pains to avoid Haywood and his supporters".
A founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920, Flynn played a leading role in the campaign against the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti. Flynn was particularly concerned with women's rights, supporting birth control and women's suffrage. Flynn also criticized the leadership of trade unions for being male-dominated and not reflecting the needs of women.
Between 1926 and 1936, Flynn lived in southwest Portland, Oregon with birth control activist, suffragette, and Wobbly Marie Equi. Though Flynn was in poor health most of her time in Portland, she was an active and vocal supporter of the 1934 West Coast Longshore Strike. In 1936, Flynn joined the Communist Party and wrote a feminist column for its journal, the Daily Worker. Two years later, she was elected to the national committee. Her membership in the Party led to her ouster from the board of the ACLU in 1940.
During World War II, she played an important role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women and the establishment of day care centers for working mothers. In 1942, she ran for Congress at-large in New York and received 50,000 votes. In July 1948, a dozen leaders of the Communist Party were arrested and accused of violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the US government by force and violence. After they were convicted in the Foley Square trial they appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld their conviction in Dennis v. United States; two justices wrote in dissent that they were convicted in violation of their Constitutional rights for engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.
Flynn launched a campaign for their release but, in June 1951, was herself arrested in the second wave of arrests and prosecuted under the Smith Act with sixteen other Communist Party members. They were accused of charged conspiring to "teach and advocate violent overthrow" the government. Original lawyers included: Abraham L. Pomerantz, Carol Weiss King, Victor Rabinowitz, Michael Begun, Harold I. Cammer, Mary Kaufman, Leonard Boudin, and Abraham Unger. Later, they were relieved by O. John Rogge, gangster Frank Costello's lawyer George Wolf, William W. Kleinman, Joseph L. Delaney, Frank Serri, Osmond K. Fraenkel, Henry G. Singer, Abraham J. Gellinoff, Raphael P. Koenig, and Nicholas Atlas. After a nine-month trial, she was found guilty and served two years in Federal Prison Camp, Alderson near Alderson, West Virginia. She later wrote a prison memoir, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.
After her release from prison, Flynn resumed her activities for leftist and Communist causes. She ran for the New York City Council as a Communist in 1957, garnering a total of 710 votes.
Flynn became national chairwoman of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961. She made several visits to the Soviet Union and died while there on September 5, 1964, 74 years old. The Soviet government gave her a state funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people attending. In accordance with her wishes, Flynn's remains were flown to the United States for burial in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Eugene Dennis, Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, and the Haymarket Riot Martyrs.
Flynn left her small estate (books, clothing, and furniture) to Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker house in New York city following her death. Flynn and Day first met in the 1910s and Flynn regularly sent old clothing and blankets to the New York Catholic Worker house.
Flynn's influence as an activist was far-reaching, and her exploits were commemorated in a popular ballad. A popular song, "The Rebel Girl", was written by labor activist and musician Joe Hill in honor of Flynn.

The Rebel Girl


Flynn's statement at her trial in 1952 is listed as #87 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank).
A fictionalized version of Flynn is depicted in John Updike's novel In the Beauty of the Lilies in which she is said to have had an affair with the anarchist Carlo Tresca, which is supported by Flynn's letters and memoir. Tresca had also had a relationship with Flynn's sister Bina, and was the father of her nephew, Peter D. Martin.
History has a long-range perspective. It ultimately passes stern judgment on tyrants and vindicates those who fought, suffered, were imprisoned, and died for human freedom, against political oppression and economic slavery.
We believe that the class struggle existing in society is expressed in the economic power of the master on the one side and the growing economic power of the workers on the other side meeting in open battle now and again, but meeting in continual daily conflict over which shall have the larger share of labor's product and the ultimate ownership of the means of life.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn gravestone
Her union speech, at age 16, ignited a sensation.
"Gurley" was her given name, but not her reputation.
She won fame as a firebrand, with wisdom to bestow:
The world would be a better place if workers ran the show.

Soon she was among the greatest Wobbly organizers,
sworn to wrest the power from the capitalist misers.
Their tool would be the general strike, and not the bomb or gun.
Their power was the workers may their mighty will be done.

In New York hotel kitchens, under New England smoke stacks,
with Minnesota miners and southern lumberjacks,
she journeyed 'round the country, without breaks, throughout the year,
and, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, reached the peak of her career.

At the tender age of 16, she was tough as powder blasts -
A tireless defender of the hurting working class.
Her will belied her stature and she taught the bosses fast
that, even with a size six boot, it's still called "kicking ass".

The textile mills of Lawrence made the owners' pockets full,
but little reached the poor mill hands whose looms produced the wool.
The wages were abysmal. Families barely stayed alive.
Nearly half the deaths in Lawrence were of children under five.

The legislature cut the standard work week by two hours,
But soon the owners showed that they abused their lofty powers.
When the next paychecks were shorted, they removed all mystery,
And the workers launched one of the greatest strikes in history.

Opposed by all the instruments of power and persuasion,
Militia, press and clergy and the state administration,
Gurley and her comrades organized the teeming throng,
and the strikers held together, more than 20,000 strong.

At the tender age of 16, she was tough as powder blasts -
A tireless defender of the hurting working class.
Her will belied her stature and she taught the bosses fast
that, even with a size six boot, it's still called "kicking ass".

When the leaders were arrested, Gurley jumped to take the reins,
making speeches, raising strike funds and consolidating gains
with round-the-clock mass pickets and soup kitchens alike,
and history came to know her as the spirit of the Strike.

Then Gurley planned an exodus of strikers' kids from town
to stay with union families 'til the mayhem simmered down.
Some were beaten, with their mothers, in a brutal police raid,
but most went to other cities and were feted with parades.

They marched along the boulevards, appearing near starvation.
Emaciated bodies spurred the outrage of the nation.
The bosses caved. They knew they'd lost, undone by their own sins,
and the kids returned to Lawrence to celebrate the win.

At the tender age of 16, she was tough as powder blasts -
A tireless defender of the hurting working class.
Her will belied her stature and she taught the bosses fast
that, even with a size six boot, it's still called "kicking ass"

inviata da giorgio - 27/4/2020 - 08:40



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