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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Ernest DeMaio
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Ernest DeMaio was born in 1908, in Hartford, Connecticut. His parents were Italian immigrants, and his father worked in the construction trades. After graduating from high school, Ernie became a machinist. His main talent lay in organizing, however. At some point in the early 1930s he joined the Communist Party and began to agitate for a union. Not satisfied with the craft union approach of the American Federation of Labor, he helped to found the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) in 1936. As a staff organizer for the UE, he moved gradually west, building the union as he went from Connecticut to Pennsylvania to Ohio. In 1940 he arrived in Chicago, to head District Eleven of the UE, which included Minnesota, where he spent a fair amount of time. He was a frequent contributor to the newspaper of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in Minnesota, Midwest Labor (later Minnesota Labor). As president of District Eleven, Mr. DeMaio was also an international vice-president of the UE. The Communist Party considered him one of its "influentials" in the labor movement. His dual role was full of tensions. He frequently found himself disagreeing both with the non-communist leadership of the CIO and with the Communist Party leadership's directives for its labor movement activists. This tension came to a head in 1949, when the UE was expelled from the CIO for its communist sympathies. Mr. DeMaio stayed with the UE, rather than affiliating with the new CIO union, the International Union of Radio, Electrical, and Machine Workers (IUE). The strength of the UE diminished from 1949 onward, under raids from the IUE, teamsters' union, and auto workers' union on the one hand, and pressure from the government's anticommunist crusade on the other. At the same time, most of the Communist Party leadership went underground, even further removing itself from the realities of the labor movement. Mr. DeMaio's increasingly vocal opposition to CP directives led to his expulsion from the Party in 1956. Shortly thereafter he also left the UE, and for twelve years he represented the World Federation of Trade Unions at the United Nations. This position involved traveling extensively, which broadened his perspective on trade unionism in the U.S. and abroad. Mr. DeMaio married Mary Karpa in 1936. At the time of the interview he was retired and living in Norwalk, Connecticut. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Early growth of the UE, both nationally and in Minneapolis (especially at the Honeywell plants). Impressions of Robert Wishart. Harassment from the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Impact of World War II on union organizing efforts. Divisions on the Left: Communists and Trotskyists, Browderites and Fosterites in the Communist Party. Impressions of Hubert Humphrey, and labor's role in his election as mayor of Minneapolis. Opinions of Phillip Murray. Expulsion of the UE from the CIO, and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the purge of Communists from the labor movement. Raids on the UE by CIO unions (particularly the united Auto Workers) after the expulsion. Impressions of James B. Carey. Opinions of Earl Browder and his policies. Opinion of Samuel K. Davis. Merger of the Farmer-Labor and Democratic parties in Minnesota, 1944. Factors that contributed to the demise of the UE in Minneapolis: Clarence Hathaway's leadership of UE Local #1139; Douglas Hall; Leo Giovannini; company strategies to weaken the union; the Taft-Hartley Act; post-war prosperity; Hubert Humphrey. CIO convention of 1946. Reasons that Phillip Murray supported Harry S. Truman in the 1948 presidential campaign, instead of supporting Henry A. Wallace. Memories of organizing Jones and Laughlin Company workers in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, 1937. Assessment of the collapse of the CP and the radical labor movement, late 1940s and early 1950s. Opinions of the labor movement of 1988; assessment of the economic strength of the US in 1988; chances for a revival of the labor movement. Impact of the Trotskyists on the Minneapolis labor movement, 1930s; comparisons with the communist impact on organized labor. Reorientation of CP policy regarding trade unions in 1954; CP position on cooperating with the Taft-Hartley Act's non-communist affidavits. Opinions of Samuel Kushner, Max Weiss, Gilbert Green, and Louis Torrey. Opinions about the workings of the free market system comments on labor conditions in Mexico, and the loss of US manufacturing jobs to plants overseas, 1988. Opinion of the National Recovery Administration. Success of the CIO in organizing the first- and second-generation immigrant workers, late 1930s and 1940s; changing demographics of the working-class and northern cities after the Second World War; entry of African Americans into the skilled trades, especially the building trades. Opinions about the national debt, 1988. Comments on the future of the labor movement, and how it might renew itself; the chances for broad-based coalitions of progressives; the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign of 1988. Evaluation of the role of the Left generally; the difference between reformism and revolution; the inevitability of a collapse of capitalism. Opinions of the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachov in the Soviet union, 1988; memories of a trip to Leningrad, 1970s; reflections on the history and culture of the USSR; comparisons of Gorbachov and Nikita Khrushchev; the promising future of the USSR and the bleak future of the U.S.; relations between the two countries. Peace and war in the Middle East, 1988. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: Mr. DeMaio's memory is generally quite clear. The interview is rich in anecdotes and stories about the labor movement and its top leadership. The final hour of the interview (approximately) is devoted to his commentary on current affairs. Mr. DeMaio's personal papers are deposited with the University of Chicago Library.
3 hours sound cassette
46 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
02:46:13 running time
Interviewee: DeMaio, Ernest
Interviewer: Ross, Carl
Made in: Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.11 (Accession Number)
MHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'