Upton Sinclair; California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual - Lauren Coodley

My new biography, *Upton Sinclair; California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual*, will be released in September from the University of Nebraska Press. My book focuses on a number of aspects of Sinclair that have not been emphasized in prior biographies, including his relationship to labor, both organized and unorganized. His most significant interactions with organized labor involved the slaughterhouse workers in Chicago (1904-1905); the coalminers at Ludlow, Colorado (1913); the dock workers in San Pedro, California (1924) and the auto workers at Ford Motor Company in Michigan (1937).

When Sinclair wrote *The Jungle* in 1905, his goal was to educate Americans on the brutal treatment of workers in the stockyards. Instead he almost singlehandedly brought about the creation of the FDA and the regulation of food safety. Sinclair later wrote "I aimed for their hearts but I hit their stomachs." Less well known is Sinclair's passionate involvement in the tragic fire in Ludlow, Colorado where so many mining families died during the 1913 strike. Immediately after the massacre, the United Mine Workers sent a group of miners to New York City to publicize what had occurred.

Upton Sinclair attended a mass meeting in Madison Square Garden. That night he came up with the idea of asking a group of sympathizers to put on mourning bands in memory of the murdered of Ludlow and picket the Rockefeller offices. After the protesters were turned away from the Rockefeller headquarters, they found sympathizers and "more important, a dozen reporters. Now, when the author of *The Jungle* told the story, every reporter was scribbling diligently." With demonstrations underway in New York City, Sinclair decided to go to Colorado to personally investigate the conditions in the mines, to create publicity for the miners, and also to gather information for a novel on the coal strike. It was published as *King Coal* in 1917.

Many writers were sympathetic to the struggles of organized labor in San Pedro, California in 1923, but few put themselves in harm's way, as Sinclair did. Some 3,000 longshoremen tied up the port. The local police began mass arrests of strikers, raiding IWW halls. Sinclair was arrested for reading the Bill of Rights at a mass rally, and held for several days with no outside communication. When he was released, he wrote a play called *Singing Jailbirds* to document the treatment of the workers in jail, which was staged around the world.

In 1937 Sinclair wrote to Albert Einstein "I hope to have a new story to send you in a couple of weeks. It deals with Henry Ford and his struggle with the labor unions." The project was a pamphlet called *The Flivver King*. Victor Reuther, Vice-President of the UAW, printed 200,000 copies of *The Flivver King *in order to educate autoworkers. "This excellent book," Reuther declared, ''was a very useful weapon; the workers passed it secretly to organize; it publicized conditions of the Ford workers."

Reuther told Sinclair that all over the world Ford workers slipped the *The Flivver King *into their pockets: "If you didn't have a coat on, it stuck up about 4 or 5 inches, a green signal of defiance." Sinclair suggested to the UAW that he could produce *Flivver King* as a movie, with workers buying advanced tickets to fund the filming. Although this plan never materialized, Ford workers unionized four years after his book was published.

Lauren Coodley

[Cross-posted, with thanks, from H-Labor]