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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Raymond R. Wright
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Raymond Wright was born in Painesdale, Michigan, in 1906. His father, Charles Ryti or Rytilati, had immigrated from Finland in 1898, and was a copper miner in the Upper Peninsula until 1909, when he was blacklisted for belonging to the Western Federation of Miners. The family moved temporarily to North Dakota, where Ray's maternal grandparents lived on a farm. The elder Wright went to work mining gold in Lead, South Dakota, until the blacklist caught up with him. He saved enough money, however, to purchase a stump farm in the Upper Peninsula, and the Wrights returned there in 1910 or 1911. Ray finished his schooling in 1922, and went to work as a lumberjack in the winter and on section and extra crews on the railroads in the summer. Like many young people at that time, he traveled extensively looking for employment and adventure. From 1929 to 1931 he mined copper on the Upper Peninsula. When the mines closed, and the Great Depression deepened, he moved to Wisconsin for a couple of years, and worked with farmers resisting foreclosures in the united Farmers League. By 1936 he found himself in Minneapolis, and stayed. The Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local #665 needed an organizer, and Mr. Wright became the business agent. He held this position until he retired in 1971. He became an influential person in the Minneapolis Central Labor Union, on the Local Joint Executive Board of the HRE (which he headed for twenty-eight years), and on the State Council of Culinary Workers. Additionally, he served as commissioner Of the Glen Lake Sanatorium for fifteen years. During the 1960s, Mr. Wright was on the executive board of the Minneapolis Urban League, and on the Mayor's Commission on Human Relations. Mr. Wright was married and had two sons, Caleb and Douglas. Caleb succeeded him as business agent for the hotel and restaurant workers (reorganized into Local 17 in 1974). At the time of the interview Mr. Wright still lived in the Twin Cities area. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Origins of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local #665. Description of the meetings and operations of the local. Assessment of the communist influence on Local 665. Improvements in wages and benefits in the hotel and restaurant industry as a result of unionization. Impressions of Swan Assarson and George Naumoff. Opinions of the airline employees unions and the strike of Professional Association of Air Traffic Controllers, 1981. Terms of the early contracts with the hotels, and memories of the 1939 contract negotiations. Mr. Wright's childhood and family history. Company opposition to union organizing in the copper mines of the Upper Peninsula, 1910s to 1930s. Descriptions of copper mining, late 1920s and early 1930s. Mr. Wright's memories of his father. Opinion of the Stassen labor law of 1940 and assessment of the favorable conditions for labor unions in Minnesota generally, 1930s to 1950s. Labor-management relations in the hotel industry. Character of the workforce in the hotels: education, nationalities, skills; changes over time; race relations. Working conditions in the hotels; description of the unskilled work. Strike against Miller's Cafeteria, 1941. Strike against the Minneapolis hotels, 1953. Description of life on a stump farm in Michigan, 1910s; education in rural Michigan; formation of consumer cooperatives and other community improvement efforts. Political and religious beliefs of his parents. Organizing Wisconsin farmers during the depression. Description of working on the railroad section and extra gangs, 1920s: ethnic backgrounds of the workers; working and living conditions; duties; racial and cultural tensions among workers. Copper mining on the Upper Peninsula, late 1920s and early 1930s: ethnic backgrounds of the worker; tensions among them; working and living conditions; social and political life among the Finnish miners; mining company paternalism. Description of working as a lumberjack, 1920s: getting logs out of the woods; living and working conditions; ethnic backgrounds of the workers; kinds of trees cut and their uses; views on unionization. Explanation of the jurisdictions of the various HRE locals in Minneapolis, late 1930s and early 1940s. Estimations of Leslie Sinton and Albert Kilday. Formation of the Minneapolis Hotel Association. Improvements in working conditions: reducing the length of the workweek and the amount of work demanded; achieving. union shops; receiving overtime and holiday pay; increasing wages in general; adding sick leave and medical care. Settling of grievances. Racial integration of employee facilities in the hotels and clubs; discrimination against African American workers by employers. Effect of World War II upon Local 665 and the industry in general; increase in the number of African American and Euro American female workers. Walk-out at several Minneapolis liquor bars, 1937. Strike against the Minneapolis hotels, 1953. Assessment of the union's record on women's issues: pay equity, leadership in the union itself, employment of women organizers by the local and the Joint Board. Impressions of Lloyd MacAloon and his role in contract negotiations. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: Mr. Wright prepared for each session of taping, so the beginnings are well-organized and sequential, and the latter half more conversational. In the first interview there is a scattered section where he searched his files for information for the interviewer. There is some repetition between sessions. Memories of his childhood and early adulthood in Michigan are buried in the first day of the interview. The second day of interviewing concentrates on those years exclusively. The third day returns to Local 665, with some of the stories from the first day repeated in greater detail. Mr. Wright was reticent about his radical involvements. While interviews with his contemporaries suggest that he belonged to the Communist Party briefly, he does not discuss this. About thirty minutes of the interview (Tape 6, Side A) was not transcribed because it was repetitive of what had gone before.
8 hours sound cassette
89 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
07:02:30 running time
Interviewee: Wright, Raymond R.
Interviewer: Ross, Carl
Made in: Crystal, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
Creation: 11/01/1981 - 02/18/1982 (Interviews conducted 11/1/1981, 2/1/1982 and 2/18/1982.)
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.82 (Accession Number)
MHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'