Farewell, Fellow Worker: Reino Erkkila

Submitted by Juan Conatz on October 5, 2014

Reino J. Erkkila, a leading figure in the San Francisco Finnish community and in the maritime labor movement, passed away at his home April 5, at age 93.

Born Oct. 2, 1912 in Oulainen, Finland, he immigrated to the United States with his parents a year later. Reino spent the next ten years in Butte, Montana, where his father worked in the copper mines. Many of the Finnish miners were involved with the IWW, including his father who was an avid reader of the IWW daily Industrialisti.

In June 1917, 190 miners died at Anaconda Copper’s Speculator mine in Butte, many of them Finns. The miners struck over safety conditions and in July IWW organizer Frank Little came to help out the strikers. In the middle of the night on August 1, suspected copper company vigilantes broke into Little’s boarding house room next to the Finnish Wobbly hall, where he was nursing a broken leg, dragged him out, tied him to the rear of a car, and dragged him through the streets several miles out of town to the Milwaukee Railroad trestle where they hung him.

Incensed by the brutal murder, thousands of miners and their families walked in a funeral procession from downtown to the cemetery, the largest ever seen in Butte. Reino Erkkila, then 5, distinctly remembered walking with his parents in that demonstration, replete with union banners.

The Erkkilas moved to San Francisco in 1923, where Herman worked as a longshoreman and was active in the 1934 strike. Reino Erkkila joined his father on the docks and in the ILWU in 1935. In 1943 he became chief dispatcher in ILWU Local 10, and was later elected president of Local 10.

Reino was proud of his Finn Wobbly family background and it motivated his own years of activity in the labor movement.

He was one of the people on my IW “paper route” here and always enjoyed reading the paper. I recited two bilingual poems at his memorial. He was a great, generous-hearted guy. I’ll miss him.