Sticking to the Union: An Oral History of the Life and Times of Julia Ruuttila


Although married four times, Julia Ruuttila claimed that the love of her life was not a man but a union. From her Industrial Workers of the World origins to the CIO, the International Woodworkers of America, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, she stuck to unions throughout her long and vibrant life. A well known labor activist and journalist in the Pacific Northwest, Ruuttila chose the picket sign and the typewriter as her chief weapons. She possessed a tireless passion for workers and their ...

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Although married four times, Julia Ruuttila claimed that the love of her life was not a man but a union. From her Industrial Workers of the World origins to the CIO, the International Woodworkers of America, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, she stuck to unions throughout her long and vibrant life. A well known labor activist and journalist in the Pacific Northwest, Ruuttila chose the picket sign and the typewriter as her chief weapons. She possessed a tireless passion for workers and their struggles, whether founding a committee to free the last Wobbly prisoner from the Centralia Tragedy, leading the Ladies' Auxiliary of the IWA during an eight-and-a-half month lockout, or coming before the House Un-American Activities Committee. At the same time, her everyday hardships were not unlike many other working class women of her era: abusive husbands, illegal abortions, poverty, and single motherhood.

In the premier title of Palgrave Macmillan's new oral history series, Ruuttila's remarkable story unfolds in her own words, with author Sandy Polishuk skillfully placing the narrative in its historical context and pointing out where other sources conflict with Ruuttila's account. Sticking to the Union provides a much needed woman's perspective on American labor history of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Julia Ruuttila (1907-1991) was a lifelong political activist-she was cradled in the Industrial Workers of the World, matured in the CIO, tested in the red-baiting '50s and fully at ease ("too old to get beat up") in popular struggles of the late 20th century. A self-educated free-thinker, Ruuttila supported herself and a variety of family members on the small income she earned working for the ILWU (the longshoremen's union) and reporting for various leftist newspapers. While Ruuttila was active in many important causes-the right to unionize, voter registration, protection of the rights of the foreign-born, the Civil Rights movement, the antiwar movement and a myriad of poor peoples' struggles-her story might have been buried with her had she not caught the attention of Polishuk, a Portland State University women's studies professor. Moved by a photo of Ruuttila being dragged off by police at an antiwar demonstration in 1966, Polishuk started researching this feisty woman's life and times. From extensive interviews with Ruuttila, Polishuk assembled a first-person autobiography, intercut with amendments from family and friends. To make this account more useful for a variety of readers, Polishuk summarizes the relevant history (e.g., the rise of the AFL, splits within the CIO, the Vietnam War, etc.) at the beginning of each chapter. Fortunately, she leavens the weight of all this history with the occasional salty tale (e.g., Ruuttila's mom extorting money at gunpoint from the abortionist who'd done a bad job on Julia's abortion) and Ruuttila's openness to self-criticism. Mistakes were made, sure, but what a life! 13 b&w photos. (Dec.) Forecast: Polishuk's book should be of interest to labor historians and scholars of women's studies. But it's also a good model of how to publish an oral history (e.g., how to verify and correct a subject's memories while remaining respectful) and could be useful to journalism students. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
An "oral history" of the life of Pacific Northwest-based political activist and writer Julia Ruuttila (1907-91), this book presents some dicey problems for the acquisitions librarian, not the least of which is its hefty price. Author/editor Polishuk (women's studies, Portland State Univ.) is admirably up-front about the questions raised by oral histories, both in general and in particular, as their reliability is open to question at best. Polishuk interviewed Ruuttila at length from the 1980s to early 1990s, but her subject, who championed the underdog and tirelessly worked throughout her life for civil liberties, civil rights, and peace organizations, was clearly "creative" with the truth. Polishuk has wisely interspersed Ruuttila's narrative with her own observations, providing contextual settings and corrective facts to counter Ruuttila's "complications of memory and motive." Polishuk also sensibly questions Ruuttila's insistence on avoiding any discussion of her private life, suggesting that at least some details (e.g., she married four times, attempted suicide at least once, and claimed to be part black) would be helpful in making sense of her story. Sensitivity to research methods and good critical thinking skills are necessary for an appreciation of this book. Recommended only for special and academic libraries.-Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"what a life!"--Publishers Weekly

"Sandy Polishuk's Sticking to the Union is the best kind of oral history, bringing to life a person and an era quickly passing out of reach.."--Elinor Langer, author of A Hundred Little Hitlers
"Sticking to the Union is a fabulous oral history, Julia Ruuttila a compelling subject, and Sandy Polishuk, a thoughtful scholar who allows Ruuttila's voice to drive the narrative, but who also probes the intersections of ego and memory to present the many truths of Ruuttila's life story."--Mary Murphy, Montana State University
"This is a gem. Julia Ruuttila gives an imaginative, vivid account of her hard times and struggles as a labor radical, feminist, anti-racist, and internationalist peace advocate in the Pacific Northwest."--Michael Honey, Harry Bridges Chair of Labor Studies, University of Washington
"Sandy Polishuk deftly explores the challenges of history and memory in this fascinating oral history biography of Julia Ruuttila: consummate union, civil rights, and peace activist of the Pacific Northwest . . . The story of this extraordinary woman should inspire a new generation of activists."--Laurie Mercier, author of Anaconda: Labor, Community, and Culture in Montana's Smelter City and Associate Professor of History, Washington State University Vancouver.

"As one of the first volumes in Palgrave's Studies in Oral History series, Sticking to the Union sets high standards for subsequent series contributors to match."--Journal of American History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403962409
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 11/1/2003
  • Series: Palgrave Studies in Oral History Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandy Polishuk is an Instructor of Women's Studies at Portland State University.

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Table of Contents

Series Editors' Foreword
Abbreviations in Text
List of Illustrations
Introduction 1
1 That's Where I Heard About Sabotage 17
2 The Valiant Never Taste of Death but Once 27
3 I Shed My Youth 37
4 A Baking Powder in the Masses 45
5 I Had a Typewriter 57
6 Free Ray Becker 77
7 You Can't Tell About People 89
8 They Were Paranoid in Those Days 95
9 My Bad Reputation Caught Up with Me 103
10 White Trade Only 115
11 It's Work That Interests Me 123
12 You Find Friends in Improbable Places 135
13 I Mean to Be Your Friend 143
14 The Lives of Working People Are Full of Desperation 159
15 You Sure Met Some Wonderful People 167
16 I Shall Not Come This Way Again 185
17 I Look Around 195
18 Vietnam 203
19 Too Old to Get Beat Up 213
20 The Trials of Parenthood 219
21 Do Not Look Backward When You Latch the Gate 223
Afterword 231
Abbreviations in Notes 237
Notes 239
Bibliography and Sources 255
Index 265
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