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James Green- R.I.P.

James Green

James Green, labor historian, professor at University of Massachusetts, and writer died June 23, 2016 in Boston. He was the author of the definitive work Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America in 2006. Here's the New York Times obituary.

I only met Jim once, in 2006 when he was visiting San Francisco to promote his new book on the Haymarket affair. And I subsequently kept in touch with him over the phone and with a few, occasional e-mails. But he was a true comrade. The kind of guy who left us all better off for the fact that he once lived and made valuable contributiongs to class struggle.

I can't remember exactly how I met him, but I was familiar with his work. I think I first learned who he was when I picked up Workers' Struggles, Past and Present: A "Radical America" Reader in the 1980s or 1990s at a used bookshop. Soon I was prowling through second-hand stores looking for more backissues of Radical America, to the point that I now have a near-complete set -- from the first issue in 1967 through the early 1980s when, to me at least, they ceased being interesting.

When I briefly made an aborted attempt to teach a labor history seminar at local college (the small school collapsed as the semester was beginning), I also picked up Jim's excellent books The World of the Worker: Labor in Twentieth Century America and Taking History to Heart: The Power of the Past in Building Social Movements, both of which I've recommended to comrades who want to get a great overview of working class history from below for the U.S.

Also, I opened up a workshop on Stan Weir at the I.W.W. Centennial in Chicago with a slideshow of photos from the 1946 Oakland General Strike accompanied by reading Stan's accounts of his participation in the strike. The session was organized by Staughton Lynd, so at one point during the weekend I got to talking with him about Waldheim Cemetery and my desire to visit the Haymarket Memorial (a pilgrimage I've taken almost every time I've visited Chicago). Staughton had just finished Jim's Death in the Haymarket, which he was raving about so I immediately picked up and couldn't put down. I savored every page. It is one of the all-time best labor history books.

Around the same time, in the summer of 2006, I'd heard that Jim was coming to San Francisco for a LaborFest book talk. I volunteered to meet Jim and bring him to the bookshop for the event. It ended up that he was doing a radio interview about the book in Berkeley that morning, so drove there by car and met him at a cafe. Somehow, we immediately started talking about his friendship with Stan Weir and I knew instantly that he was my comrade. He had tons of stories about Stan and inspiring examples of class struggle more generally. We hit it off wonderfully.

We had half a day to kill, so I drove him to San Francisco's Coit Tower to show him the murals -- some overtly Marxist and anti-capitalist in theme -- as well as the Diego Rivera mural nearby at the San Francisco Art Institute. Jim had so many anecdotal stories to match my own. It was great talking with him.

I drove him around town, stopping for dinner with a militant from the ILWU -- who later joined a study group we still have and became a good friend. Then the book talk, which went extremely well.

I never saw Jim again, but when I was writing a piece about the 2006 May Day General Strike by Latina/o workers opposing Sensenbrenner's H.R. 4437, I remembered a comment Jim had made about how many of them learned about the Haymarket Martyrs in their home countries and brought the tradition of striking on May Day back to the U.S. We talked on the phone and he gave me lots of great references to confirm these connections.

A couple years later, just before May Day, I was part of a strike at an ESL school. To a person, all the students from my class honored our picket line and helped us shut down the school for four days (we lost, but that's another story). While painting slogans, in at least 8 languages, on the picket signs I asked one of my Bolivian students if she knew about the traditions of May Day. She quickly answered yes, asking "wasn't it for those guys killed in Chicago a long time ago?" Jim was right!

So I say, "Jim Green—presente!"

Posted By

Hieronymous
Jul 8 2016 02:46

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doug
Jul 8 2016 16:21

RIP James Green. Really interesting obituary, Hieronymous. I'll be checking out his books when I can.

MT
Jul 8 2016 20:21

Never heard of Jim or this book. Thanks for highlighting his work!
Does anyone have a PDF of the book?