Arthur J. Miller, a Wobbly of wide renown, passed away from natural causes at his home in Tacoma, Washington on May 4th, 2021. Arthur spent much of his working life pipefitting in shipyards of the United States’ west, east, and gulf coasts. He had also a fine flair for the written word, producing many accounts from his life as a Wobbly and class-conscious worker, as well as reflections, analyses, and stories about the ongoing struggles of the working class. These he published in the Industrial Worker; in his own anarchist journal, the Bayou La Rose, of which he was co-editor for over forty years beginning in 1978; and in various anarchist periodicals across four continents.
Born in San Diego into a frequently-relocating Navy family, Miller recalled being radicalized early in his life after being subject to harassment for befriending children of other races and ethnicities, from Guam to San Francisco. He got involved in the anti-war movement in 1967, during a time when he was frequently being expelled from schools and arrested for rebellious behavior. In the late 1960s he began distributing radical literature and working with the Black Panther Party in southern California, writing his first article on incarcerated Panthers in 1968. Around this time he joined his first picket, saying of that time, “Both political prisoner support and support of ongoing struggles like strikes I viewed as solidarity work and I felt that was very important and though I maybe [was] heavily involved in other things, I had to always make room for solidarity work.” This would continue to hold true throughout the course of his life.
His organizing career began after being subject to frequent arrest and police harassment along with many other street vendors selling and distributing radical left literature. He put up flyers and held a meeting at his own house where he and others formed a vendors’ union and co-op. One of the members suggested joining the IWW. At the second meeting of the street media vendors’ union and co-op, on April 4th, 1970, Miller joined the IWW and remained a constant member and supporter for the remainder of his lifetime. In less than two years his underground publishing had reached a level of circulation and prominence such that local, state, and national authorities began to take concerted efforts to disrupt operations in which he was either involved or helping to lead. This culminated in the disintegration of the paper in which he was most directly involved; the resurrection of “criminal syndicalism” laws, not used against IWW members in almost 50 years, which were wielded against Wobs of an associated publication; and, accordingly, the formation of an IWW General Defense Committee (GDC), also unused for quite some time.
Following these developments, he had a sense that “most everything [he] had worked for was gone.” Having helped organize some IWW promotional speaking events for Wobbly Frank Cedervall, whom Miller said, “had the old fire and brimstone of the old Wobblies,” he followed the speaking tour north to San Francisco and then traveled to Chicago to learn more about the IWW at its general headquarters (GHQ). Spending hours in the GHQ library, he quipped that he “may be one of the few people to have seen every issue of the IWW paper, the Industrial Worker.” He was first elected to the General Executive Board (GEB) in 1972. His IWW activities would go on to include two more terms on the GEB; roles as delegate, branch secretary, and Secretary of the GDC; and membership in seven different branches: San Diego, Chicago, Long Beach, Houston, Tacoma-Olympia, Puget Sound, and Tacoma.
In mid-1972 he returned to the west coast and engaged in several campaigns as an external organizer. These experiences, and the expectation of the birth of his first child, led him to enter the shipyards trade and pursue experience working and organizing directly from the shop floor. After completing trade school in southern California, he was pin-balled around the west coast on false job promises and short-term employments. Finally, en route with his family and all their possessions to another promised job in Louisiana, a catastrophic vehicle breakdown 50 miles west of Houston resulted in his connecting with some Houston-area Wobblies and settling there for a time. He later called it providence, saying that “staying in Houston became a great learning experience for me — I was able to learn what true labor struggles were all about from Gilbert, Blackie and another old time Wobbly seaman, Fred Hanson; and I was able to learn my trade at Todd Shipyard.” After two-and-a-half years and another lay-off, Miller and his family packed up and continued following shipyard work wherever it took him: San Diego; New Orleans, where he engaged in an eight-month strike action; Seattle, and finally Tacoma, Washington, where he moved in 1989. During these years he learned and wrote extensively of labor and organizing struggles. He also began engaging in indigenous struggles, beginning his ardent and unceasing pursuit for the release of wrongfully imprisoned native American Leonard Peltier beginning in 1979; and supporting resistance against government and big-business-partnered interests in mineral extraction in the Diné Bikéyah region, now home to Hopi and Navajo peoples, at Big Mountain in the United States southwest starting in 1985.
His experiences in the shipping industry, in trucking, as an itinerant day-laborer and self-described “bum,” and “a bit of an outcast and outlaw,” informed his views on environmentalism, racial justice, immigration, indigenous rights, and other social issues which inspired his work as a solidarity-based activist. As a writer, he sought to encourage all of us workers to share our own stories with one another. “I write because I strongly believe that the most important stories told are by the rank-and-file activists, the organizers and so on. … It is my hope that in my writing I can help inspire these people to write their own experiences.”
Friends and fellow activists remember him fondly, memorializing him on social media with comments such as: “You had fire in your words, loyal, and hard working. You never gave up. … Comrades since 1984. Much love and respect for your soul. Shine on.” (Annette A.); “It was an honor to help support your organizing and march by your side. You were a walking encyclopedia of the history of labor struggle, and a connoisseur of awful B-movies from the 1950s & 60s” (Steve H.); “The Popular Wobbly has laid down his hat … I have so many memories of him typing away. Editing the Bayou La Rose and other writings, pamphlets, and event posters. Old school way. Glue, scissors, collating, stapling, and heading out to [the copy shop]. I have carried Big Mountain in my heart ever since our many trips there. So many rallies, runs, events, people… Amazing people, organizing, driving all over. Raising money all month so we could drive 1500 miles to Big Mountain in whatever vehicle we [could] beg, borrow, or steal, so we could give support to people there as the Elders requested. … There’s a legacy here that I’m not not equipped to shoulder alone. … Peace and Love and All My Relations” (Christina F.).
A collection of Miller’s writings is available at the IWW archive at https://archive.iww.org/history/library/AJMiller/
Yardbird Blues and Upon the Backs of Labourare also available in print at the IWW store.
Excerpts from Arthur J. Miller’s Works
‘At the beginning of the raspberry season, the owners were paying 7 cents a pound, with a raise later to 8 cents a pound. Under the circumstances it is inevitable that some pickers throw dirt, pebbles, and green berries in to increase the weight, and hence their pay. So, if you happen to get a basket of berries with a little extraneous matter in it, just think of the conditions under which they were picked, and don’t think too badly of the “direct-actionist” who has thus left their calling card.’
‘Since I have left that place, I have not eaten raspberries, for I cannot look at a raspberry without thinking about Burnside and the things I saw as just another fruit tramp.’Arthur J. Miller (Berry Picking in Oregon)
‘To depend upon politicians, laws and bureaucracies to safeguard the interest of working people is foolish. Everything we have gained has come from the direct result of working-class economic force or threat of force. And every gain that we will keep will also be the result of the same.’
‘Our creative spirit can do many amazing things. And we need to turn that spirit into a struggle to reclaim our lives back from those who believe that they own us.’Arthur J Miller (What Ever Happened to the Eight Hour Day?)
‘I never went to college, I had to drop out of high school to go to work. So I was never trained to speak or write as the ‘educated’ folks do. But most every time I get involved with ‘educated’ folks I find that I have a communication problem.’
‘Here is a little reality check for you. If you need to get your car fixed, would you take it to someone who could explain in theory how each part functions, but had no direct experience in fixing a car? Or would you take it to someone who had direct experience in fixing cars? In that case experience is more important than theory, if you want a running car, that is.’Arthur J. Miller (On Communication)
‘Working class environmentalism would start at the point of production and from there struggle for earth-safe industrial production. It would create a struggle against the owners of industry, uniting on-the-job struggles, working class community struggles and the struggles of those who are resisting being taken over by the greedy industrial system.’Arthur J. Miller (Developing Working Class Environmentalism)
‘There is dignity in our work and there is dignity is standing up for our common interests.’Arthur J. Miller (Dignity of Labor)
‘In the continuous struggle, the old pass on to the young that which was passed on to them and that which they added to the struggle…’Arthur J. Miller (A Dinosaur’s Tale)
‘The rich people’s government did try to suppress the IWW and they may tried to do it again. Those swine lackeys of the rich could burn every Wobbly card, all our records, every book and every pamphlet the IWW ever printed, they could hang every Wob or throw them into the deepest dungeons and throw away the keys for all the good it would do ’em! For how do you suppress an ideal that lives in the hearts and minds of every rebel toiler? The Wobblies would always reappear.’Arthur J. Miller (Down at the Low Dive Cafe)
‘For the reasons of good wages, benefits, safe working conditions and for real environmental protection there needs to be industrial organizing within this industry. But for this to happen there needs to be a bond of solidarity between full time company workers and temps. And they should all be organized into the same industrial union. If this were to happen, then full time company workers and temps could not be used against each other, but rather would be an industrial force that the bosses could not defeat.’
‘No amount of federal or state laws can truly protect workers if they do not have their own organization to back them up. There is one labor organization that views all working people as equals and stands against the idea of an aristocracy of labor. This organization, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) stands for all workers in any industry (regardless of whether they are full time company workers or temps) organizing together in the same industrial union. The IWW believes that any struggle of any group of workers in any industry is the struggle of all workers.’Arthur J. Miller (The Fate Of The New Carissa)
‘As of this writing I have been a member of the IWW for 40 years. I have been a delegate, a branch secretary, Secretary of the General Defense Committee, and I have served on the GEB three times and on a number of committees. I have been a member of 7 branches (San Diego, Chicago, Long Beach, Houston, Tacoma-Olympia, the Puget Sound branch, and the Tacoma branch). I have also been a member of a number of non-branch Wobbly groups. I don’t know what the future has planned for me but I do know this much: I will be an active Wobbly to my dying day.’Arthur J. Miller (The Wobblies Still Live!: Life As A Wobbly)