Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An evening with labor activist Sam Scarlett

Last November, I found this index-sized card tucked inside a 1920 book about Karl Marx.

According to "The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan," Sam Scarlett was "a skilled machinist, a talented athlete and football player, and a superb public speaker, [and] was one of the most interesting and colourful labour activists in Saskatchewan trade union history."

The I.W.W. listed on the above card stands for Industrial Workers of the World, a union that had more then 100,000 members in the 1920s but includes only about 2,000 today.

Some interesting elements of Scarlett's life (also from The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan):

  • "As part of the authorities’ campaign to suppress syndicalists and labour agitators Scarlett was framed on a murder charge and accused of over a hundred separate crimes. He was imprisoned a number of times for several years. Sympathetic biographers estimate that he was arrested 160 times while fighting for workers’ rights and defending picketers."
  • "[He] was one of the best platform speakers of his day. He could move listeners to laughter and tears in quick succession. He used to rent a theatre in Saskatoon on Sundays when movies were not permitted, and speak to large audiences about some radical or militant subject. He was a devoted syndicalist and an admirer of the Soviet Union."

Scarlett was involved with the Estevan Riot in 1931, in which three striking coal miners were killed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the aftermath, he was arrested and charged with rioting and disturbing the peace.

Scarlett moved to New York City during World War II, probably to escape the crackdown on Communist Party members in Canada during that time period, and died there in 1941.

I'm surprised nobody has made a movie about Scarlett. Seems like a juicy and fascinating potential role.

Further reading:
A blogger's book review of "Bienfait: The Saskatchewan Miners' Struggle of '31" (because I'll probably never get another opportunity on this blog to link to a Saskatchewan Socialist news blog).

No comments:

Post a Comment