Interview With Will Parry, Part III
Editor’s Note: In 2010, former Retiree Advocate editor and lifelong working class activist Will Parry gave a 90th birthday interview to Real Change reporter Cydney Gillis. This is Part III of that interview. The conclusion will follow in a subsequent issue.
What was it like having the FBI follow you around?
I’ll give you one example. They had a stool pigeon named Traynor Hansen who worked for the Seattle P-I who was an FBI agent … He came to our office at the People’s World one time and he must have been wired. He asked me incriminating questions like: What would you do if you stumbled across some military secrets? Would you turn them over to the Russians? I’m putting it crudely. I told him I didn’t care about military secrets. I cared about the welfare of people. He started the conversation by flattering me about my coverage of the Smith Act trial. I knew that was bullshit because I was very green at covering legal proceedings and I was not at all satisfied with my own coverage, so he was fluffing me up … He subsequently came out publicly as an FBI agent.
They recruited throughout the labor movement. They had a twofold attack. From within they recruited stool pigeons and people to [be] disruptive and divisive. It still goes on today. There are people in the labor movement for whom the leadership never does anything right, they’re never radical enough … I’m often critical of leadership, but not that way.
[Then] there was this nationwide campaign to get the reds out of the labor movement. They got rid of the communists and all the militancy, all the left-wingers. It took the starch out of the labor movement. It took out the people who’d done most of the organizing and led the strikes and done the work of the labor movement. That was a tragedy for the country, and we’re still trying to repair that.
It was a concerted campaign by employers and Congress. It had its legislative focus on the Taft-Hartley Act and others like it and it had an on-the-job focus with stool pigeons and a media focus on “exposing” the reds in the labor movement. [It] took the guts of the labor movement.
What was the Smith Act trial?
The Smith Act was another repressive law aimed at the Communist Party. Eight leaders of the Communist Party in Seattle and Washington were hauled into court and charged not with conspiring to overthrow the government, but with conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the government. It was several steps removed from any action to overthrow the government. It’s against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to outlaw teaching and advocacy of anything. It was just a very repressive time.
What happened after you moved to the box plant? Did the FBI still follow you?
When I got the job at Longview Fibre, for the first few weeks, I went to work by different routes and watched for tails. But they caught up with me eventually, the FBI did. After I’d worked there four or five months, the superintendent calls me into his office and asks if I’m a communist and of course I denied it. I had to hold a damn job. Fortunately the superintendent was a nice guy and he had gone to Washington State College at the same time I did and he let me stay. Otherwise, I would have been out on my can. There were a lot of people who got fired for being reds. I was the only lefty there.
One year, some forces within the union red-baited me, so I wasn’t re-elected to the standing committee—I was defeated, badly. I just ignored it and kept going to the meetings and did my best to play a constructive role. The next year, they re-elected me. [After becoming a legislative lobbyist for the union] I had the same thing happen later with the area council of the Western Paper and Pulp Workers. They red-baited me there, too [because] Louise, my wife, had chaired a committee for a candidate who [in 1975] was an open communist running for the Legislature—Elmer Kistler. So my union brothers and sisters asked me about that. They were not happy about it at all. [But] I told them if we had a half-dozen people like Elmer Kistler in the Legislature, my job as lobbyist would be one hell of a lot easier.