Shaun Maloney 1911-1999
Note: This is a eulogy for Shaun (Jack) Maloney written by Dallas Delay soon after Maloney’s death on December 19, 1999. We are reprinting it because it is an informative and inspiring description of the life of a real “soldier of solidarity” and relates inextricably to the struggle of the working class today. —Socialist Viewpoint
Shaun (Jack) Maloney, perhaps the last survivor from among the heroic figures who emerged from the labor struggles of the 1930’s, died at his home in Seattle on December 19, 1999. Maloney had a long history in the labor movement and helped build the Teamsters union into a national powerhouse. He was 88.
Maloney’s activism in the labor movement began at the age of 15 with his membership in the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”) on the South Dakota prairies of the 1920s, followed by participation in the great Teamster struggles of the 1930s.
The indelible image of a hot July day in 1934 when Maloney and 66 other striking truck drivers were shot down by city police during the titanic Minneapolis Teamster strikes was burned forever into his consciousness and retold often to succeeding generations of labor militants.
“When police opened fire on hundreds of truckers in downtown Minneapolis killing four of us, I (Maloney) and two friends ran into an alley. When we came around the building, one of the ‘bulls’ had a machine gun and fired at the three of us, left to right,” Maloney would remember, long after his stomach wounds had healed. “I was lucky, Harry DeBoer spent months in the hospital and never fully recovered.” [Harry DeBoer (1903–1992) was an American labor militant and Trotskyist. He was born in Crookston, Minnesota, and worked in the Minneapolis coal yards. DeBoer became one of the leaders of the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 and was a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party. DeBoer was imprisoned together with many other SWP leaders under the Smith Act for opposing the U.S. involvement in the World War II.]
Maloney served two years in federal prison on Roosevelt administration frame-up charges arising out of his organizing of over-the-road truck drivers in the late 1930s, a campaign on which he worked with, among others, James Hoffa of Detroit. Maloney was released in early 1942 and left Minneapolis for the West Coast, where he continued his union activism and lived for the remainder of his long life.
His labor activity included a decade of activism in the Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP) and over four decades in the militant International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU). He was elected to five successive terms as President of Seattle ILWU Local 19, serving until his retirement in 1976.
Up until three weeks before his death, Maloney continued his activity in the ILWU as a relentless advocate of the maintenance medical benefits for retired members, as well as a tireless campaigner for militant labor solidarity.
In 1986, although retired for ten years, he traveled to Austin, Minnesota with other members of ILWU Local 19 to join in solidarity actions with members of Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, who, having been betrayed by their International leadership, were then on strike against Hormel. From 1996 to 1998, he supported the ILWU’s international solidarity actions for the Liverpool dockworkers and the Neptune Jade defense campaign, which grew out of that world wide labor struggle.
On November 30th of this year , although confined to a wheelchair as a result of a series of recent strokes, Maloney joined the labor protests at the Seattle World Trade Organization meeting—a fitting culmination to his over 70 years of labor activism. While at the labor march, Maloney was recognized and greeted by many in attendance, despite being confined to a wheelchair and having lost 60 pounds.
Labor activists from several unions applauded Shaun’s presence, including ILWU President Brian McWilliams and other local union leaders that had sought and received his help during strikes and contract negotiations over the years. While he listened to Jimmy Hoffa Jr. deliver a speech to those gathered at the WTO labor rally, Maloney recalled times that Hoffa’s father did much the same thing.
Throughout the 1940s, Maloney worked as a merchant seaman, including sailing on the fabled “Convoy to Murmansk,” delivering desperately needed supplies and weapons to the Soviet Union under the Lend Lease program. U.S. merchant ships ran the gauntlet of German submarines and aircraft en route to the Soviet Union. Only four of the over 40 ships in his convoy made it to their destination.
After his ship, the S. S. Samuel Chase, was almost destroyed by German attacks on that run in 1942, Maloney spent almost six months ashore at Archangel in the USSR before repairs could be made to the ship and he was able to return to the U.S., where family members had already mourned him as dead.
After his participation in a bitter union dispute in the late 1940s known as the “Mahoney beef,” (named after its militant leader, Seattle seaman John A. Mahoney—a lifetime friend of Maloney’s), Maloney and Mahoney, and many other union members were expelled from the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific (SUP) for refusing to cross the picket line of the Canadian Seamen’s Union which, like the “red led” ILWU, was targeted by ship owners, governments, and right-wing union leaders.
This political purge was one of the opening salvos in the anti-Communist McCarthyite witch-hunts, which decimated the organized labor movement. All were eventually given back their seamen’s documents by order of the U.S. Supreme Court, but once reinstated into the SUP, many were promptly expelled again.
By then, Maloney had found work on the Seattle docks where he had joined the ILWU (International Longshore Warehousemen’s Union) a fitting place for him, as it was a union known for its militancy. He continued his advocacy of workers’ interests as an influential union officer and rank and file militant.
He became one of the leading critics of the controversial “Mechanization and Modernization” Agreement. Maloney challenged ILWU President, Harry Bridges, at one of the Longshore Union Caucuses in the early ’60s, and opposed the so-called “M & M” Agreement because it traded jobs and conditions for a buyout resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs and union power. Because of his actions, a second vote was required in Seattle to narrowly ratify the Agreement.
Always colorful, he would often disarm audiences with his humor and wit, using the many quotes and facts that were stored in his photographic memory. “I don’t have privy to the crystal ball that is used to arrive at…” [some fact in dispute], and it was obvious that those making such a claim were also not privy to a crystal ball. Maloney’s point was generally well taken.
Maloney often claimed that some famous writer had usurped his ideas and words before he could put them into print. Shaun’s amazing memory helped Farrell Dobbs write Teamster Power, Teamster Politics, Teamster Rebellion, Teamster Bureaucracy, and other books. [Farrel Dobbs was a leader of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster Strike and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party.]
In 1973, a Seattle newspaper columnist described him as the “stormy petrel” of the Seattle waterfront, writing “some employers complained that Maloney’s idea of labor relations was to hard-time the bosses...beefs naturally gravitated into his vicinity and swirled around him.” However, the column continued, “this moody, often oratorical Irishman held his members’ loyalty” and had been elected the previous year even though the Local was “under the shadow of a huge legal judgment,” resulting from a Maloney-led battle against the giant Sea-Land Shipping Corporation.
Maloney would not have flinched at those descriptions of his labor strategy. His fiery outlook on life, undiminished with age, was one of class struggle—harsh and usually uncompromising. He was animated by a vision of a better world built and run by the working class.
Born in Minneapolis on September 10, 1911, Shaun Maloney was immersed in labor radicalism at an early age. Deserted by his biological father before he was born, Maloney took his stepfather’s surname. Maloney’s stepfather, Ole Severson, who was an early supporter of the IWW, introduced him to the labor movement when he was just a boy growing up in Minneapolis during the Great Depression. Maloney’s mother, Katherine McGillin, was a fiery Irish nationalist.
Shaun, known to most of his Minneapolis associates as “Jack,” dropped out before attending high school. He began working with Ole Severson, who had been blacklisted as a result of his participation in a failed Teamster strike in Minneapolis in 1917. Shaun dug foundations with a team of horses, moved furniture, and performed other odd jobs that came available to those that were blacklisted.
He worked in the “barns” feeding and caring for horses, and then, at the age of 15, he began driving an old sidecar motorcycle to deliver packages. Soon after, he graduated to driving delivery trucks around the “cities,” St Paul/Minneapolis, and neighboring towns in the Midwest. He sailed the Great Lakes in 1930, when he first got his Merchant Seamen’s papers.
As a young man, Maloney became acquainted with the legendary Dunne Brothers, who, along with Swedish immigrant Carl Skoglund, became the leaders of the victorious 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strike and conceived and carried out the class struggle strategy that made open-shop Minneapolis a Union town.
When he was 21 years old, Maloney was quickly incorporated into the Strike’s central leadership, participating not only as a leader of the feared flying picket squads, but as a seasoned negotiator and strategist. More than once he stepped into the breach, while the older leaders were imprisoned at the State Fair Grounds under the watchful eye of the Minnesota National Guard.
One of Maloney’s proudest moments came when “The Agreement,” recognizing the Union, was finally reached in August 1934, contingent on a majority vote of the workers. A front page photo in the August 28, 1934 Minneapolis Journal shows a dapper “Jack Severson,” as he was then known, sporting a Workers’ cloth cap adorned with a couple of union buttons, casting the first ballot in the election. Although it was a secret ballot, there was no doubt about how Maloney’s vote would be cast, and for the next 65 years there was never any doubt about where Shaun “Jack” Maloney stood when workers’ rights were at stake.
Shaun’s legacy lies in the myriad of lives that he touched and bettered over the years. A cultured and self-educated man, he was an instinctive rebel with a profound sense of solidarity with the oppressed—from trade unionists, to members of minority groups, women, gays, Native Americans, and countless others.
His memory is cherished by those who knew him and who, like him, look hopefully to the working class as an agent and champion of social change, to a world without borders—a world of peace, abundance and brotherhood.
Shaun left no direct descendants. He is survived by his older sister, Margaret Mack; younger sister, Dorothy Weinreich; scores of nieces and nephews; and many long-time friends whose lives are forever enriched by having known him.
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