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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Joseph Paszak
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Joseph Paszak's parents were Polish immigrants to Wisconsin, where Joe was born in 1908. They moved first to Virginia, Minnesota, and then to Duluth in 1918. Joe began working in the U.S. Steel Company mill in 1927, but was laid off during the depression. In 1935 he took a job at Universal Atlas Cement Company (a division of U.S. Steel), and remained there for the rest of his working life. He became immediately involved in the labor movement, and helped to organize a local which eventually affiliated with the united Steelworkers of America (CIO) as Local 1210. He also participated in strikes led by other CIO unions. When the CIO Council was formed in Duluth in 1936, Paszak became its chairman. Shortly after that, the steelworkers elected him to the Minnesota CIO Council as well. As part of that body, he served on the editorial board of the CIO's state newspapers, Midwest Labor and Minnesota Labor. During World War II Paszak enlisted in the Army and served three years in the European theatre. After the war he returned to Duluth and resumed his duties on the state and local CIO councils. However, in 1948 he ran into opposition from the Steelworkers International because of his support for progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace. He was removed from the Minnesota CIO Council, and the next year when his term as chairman of the Duluth CIO Council was up, he did not run for re-election. His local continued to send him to the council as their representative, but because of the ongoing purge of Communists and communist sympathizers from CIO unions, he found himself in a distinct minority there. Meanwhile, the FBI also investigated him on suspicion of being a Communist. Paszak married and had one daughter by adoption. At the time of the interview he was retired and living in Duluth. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Social conditions on Duluth's west end in the 1920s and 1930s; working conditions that led to the formation of unions; harassment from the FBI; participation of African Americans in the labor movement; racial relations in Duluth; the National Maritime Union strike of 1946; the American Newspaper Guild strike of 1937; Governor Elmer A. Benson; the administration of Duluth Mayor Rudolph Berghult (1930s). Communist purge of the CIO (1948); organized labor's stand on conservation and pollution; relations between steelworkers at the U.S. Steel plant and those at Universal Atlas Cement; the Glass Block strike of 1946; Jewish involvement in the labor movement and the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party; anti-Semitism in Duluth and in the U.S. Army; Congressional campaign of John A. Blatnik in 1946; opinions about the labor movement in the 1970s and 1980s; attempts to organize bartenders in Duluth (1930s); ethnic diversity and pressures towards Americanization in Duluth; visit of singer Paul Robeson to Duluth; experience of entering a concentration camp in Germany after World War II. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: The interview is anecdotal rather than sequential, and Paszak does not supply the context for many of his stories. It is also repetitive: at about page 20 (tape 2), they return to the earlier portion of his life and he goes into more detail about some of the subjects already covered. There is another oral history interview with Earl Bester and Joe Paszak, recorded in 1980, which fills in some of the missing information. The first side of tape 1 is faint. The voices of the two female interviewers sound very much alike. Paszak's grammar, sentence structure, and expressions have been left largely intact in the transcript, except where they obscured his meaning.
2 hours sound cassette
44 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
01:58:22 running time
Interviewee: Paszak, Joseph
Interviewer: Frenkel, Susanna
Interviewer: Hyvarinen, Virginia
Made in: Duluth, Saint Louis County, Minnesota, United States
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.31 (Accession Number)
MHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'