Reviewed by Bob Bonner
Working Class Giant, the Life of William Z. Foster by Arthur Zipser (NY: International Publishers, 2023), $19.99. 215 pp.)
Imagine if you will, that we lived in a country in which TV and movie scripts were produced for merit and not edited and censored to ensure compliance with capitalist ideology.
Imagine that in this fictitious USA, it were possible to make movies celebrating heroic leaders of the struggles for working people, Black people, and immigrants.
Imagine that those films could be financed, promoted, and viewed as widely as the mindless tripe we are currently subjected to that encompasses all sorts of idiocy from vampire scripts, to “reality” TV, or films making heroes of CIA agents or as forces for good in an evil world.
In such a world, a movie maker would go to unimaginable lengths to obtain the rights to Working Class Giant, the Life of William Z. Foster, written by his former aide, Arthur Zipser. This 215-page offering from International Publishers screams to be made into an epic work on the life of a man for whom the term giant is no exaggeration.
Foster was born in 1881 in Taunton, Massachusetts but moved to a tough, ramshackle neighborhood in Philadelphia known as Skittereen when he was seven. His is truly a story of a man from humble beginnings achieving remarkable goals, all to further the interests of working men and women. He fought for racial equality. He opposed efforts to split up workers through ethnic division. He championed equal pay for women, international solidarity of workers and socialism.
His accomplishments are far too long to list here but some of his roles included teacher, organizer, author, strike leader, reporter, editor, theoretician, US Presidential candidate, worker, diplomat, and husband and father!
Foster was so feared by the capitalists that he was twice seized and kidnapped by them, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1919 and Denver, Colorado 1922 to keep him away from the striking steelworkers and railroad workers he was supporting. He was shot at, beaten, arrested numerous times, smeared, condemned from the floor of the House of Representatives. He served two prison terms and was indicted under the Smith Act.
Foster joined the Communist Party in 1921 and was a tremendous asset in a time of factional struggles and attempts to destroy the party from within. The young party resisted the efforts of the most powerful government on earth to crush it. He served in leadership and ran for US President three times on the party ticket receiving 102,991 votes in 1932.
He did all this and more, but most of all, he was revered by working people everywhere because he shared their pain and aspiration for a better life for themselves, their families, their neighbors. He was profoundly moved by their suffering describing the 1931 coal strike as, “one of the severest strikes I’ve ever went through. ………. it was heartbreaking to see starving miners being cut to pieces by the ruthless operators.”
in 1941 Theodore Dreiser on Foster’s 60th birthday declared “To me he is a saint-my first and only contact with one……..a leader among leaders who has always kept faith with the working man.”
Gus Hall wrote, ”He was the very best that the U.S. working class has produced.”
Foster’s sixtieth birthday party at Madison Square Garden attracted 18,000 people. Paul Robeson sang!
Despite being initially published in 1981, the now reprinted book is as timely as ever as the country begins to see an organizing and strike upsurge. Its historical accounts cannot be retold often enough. If you have not read it, do so now. If you have read it, relive the story of a titan.
The latest edition includes a very fine introduction by a passionate disciple of Foster, Chris Townsend, former Legislative Director for the United Electrical Workers and former Organizing Director for the Amalgamated Transit Union.
–Bob Bonner is former president of AFGE Local 2028 in Pittsburgh, PA where he represented US Veterans Administration workers.