The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Culture Corner:
Cold Millions; Video:

Jul 23, 2023

Book: Cold Millions by Jess Walter (2020)

In the winter of 1909—1910 in Spokane, Washington, it was hard to find work with so many unemployed. The few jobs that were to be had were doled out by “job sharks,” who charged you for the privilege and then fired you two weeks later. There was no unemployment pay or any kind of government assistance. Police and/or vigilante gangs routinely beat, harassed and/or arrested the “bums.” The Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies, were active in organizing workers, but the government and companies would allow no one to raise their voice in criticism.

So it was decided to organize a free speech protest: a worker would climb on a soap box and speak out against the rotten practices, get arrested and taken away, but then another worker would step up, speak out, get taken away, and then again, over and over, all over town. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a Wobbly organizer and speaker, the “Rebel Girl,” came to town for the protest and helped to publicize it. The book is an incredible window into the past and shares echoes with events of today.

Video: Matewan (1987) directed by John Sayles, available for viewing on YouTube

Matewan dramatizes the events of the Battle of Matewan, a coal miners’ strike in 1920.

The film is based on the actual events in a fight for a union in the dangerous coal mines of West Virginia. The company, Stone Mountain Coal, totally ruled the community: unsafe working conditions, no just compensation for death and injury, paying workers with company scrip that could only be spent at the company store, company housing. And when workers went on strike for a union, they faced ruthless, murderous thugs hired by the company. The company brought in Black and Italian workers to cross the picket line, and at first it was worker fighting worker. But finally, the old workers overcame their racism, and invited the new workers to join the fight, and they stood together against the thugs. It is a film worth seeing by all.