Rocky Mountain Radicals: Labor’s Rich & Powerful Allies

MHS ArticleNew in the Spring edition of Montana: The Magazine of Western History

The labor movement in the Gilded Age and New Deal era found an unlikely pair of allies in a wealthy miner and his nephew.

James A. Murray started his business empire with a few dollars in his pocket in 1863 prospecting in Rocky Mountain mining camps along Mullan Road. Over the next fifty-eight years he built a fortune that today would exceed $2.0 billion and stretched from Seattle to San Diego, and from San Francisco to Wyoming. Murray was a staunch advocate for labor and never stopped supporting their cause as anti-union corporations enveloped the American West. He funded a radical pro-labor newspaper affiliated with the Wobblies during the height of labor strife in World War I, and extended his radical legacy with a significant bequest to his equally radical nephew, future U.S. Senator James E. Murray.  The younger Murray rose to the top of Eamon de Valera’s support group in the U.S. and became the Senate’s strongest proponent of labor and progressive politics from  the New Deal Era until the dawn of the Civil Rights movement.

The story of the radical Murray family is told in depth for the first time in a beautifully illustrated twenty-page article in the Spring 2016 Edition of Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Copies of the Spring edition can be purchased individually from the Montana Historical Society.  The publication is also available in over 700 libraries across the globe. Find a copy near you on the World Catalog.

Coming next year: The biography of radical Copper King James A. Murray will be published by Montana Press Publishing Company in the Fall of 2017.

Coming in Fall 2017

Cover16Signed on today with Mountain Press Publishing Co to publish the biography of James A. Murray, a radical Western millionaire.

Murray built his fortune alone and unaided. The Irish immigrant was a fervent supporter of labor and Irish Nationalism, and fought at every turn against corporate capitalism. He operated his business empire, stretching from Seattle to San Diego and east to Colorado, out of saloons and hotel lobbies.  He dined with hack drivers and prostitutes in Rocky Mountain mining camps, and Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell in New York City. During the Gilded Age he owned the most magnificent home on the California Coast and a five star resort at the edge of Yellowstone Park.

 

 

 

The Missed Opportunity for an Economic Budget

JamesEMurrayFullEmployment“There is something wrong with the distribution of income in our economy. Not enough of the income created by production gets into the hands of those that will spend it back into production.

Senator James E. Murray, 1945 [1]

The end of World War II placed employment at the top of the national agenda. Seasoned lawmakers and experienced public officials had lived through the burst of an employment bubble after WWI, twenty-five years early, and the Great Depression that followed.

President Roosevelt, during his annual message to Congress, proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” to guide Congress in establishing “a standard of living, higher than ever know before.”

The rights included:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.[2]

Senators Harry Truman (D-MO) and Senator James E. Murray (D-MT) presided over a Senate subcommittee focused on the first point, to provide employment opportunities for all Americans. When Truman left the Senate for the Vice Presidency, the responsibility for shaping legislation fell to Murray. In 1945, Murray, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, drafted Senate Bill 380, the “Full Employment Act of 1945” and found bi-partisan co-sponsors in Senators Wagner (D-NY), Thomas (D-UT), O’Mahoney (D-WY), Morse (R-OR), Tobey (R-NH), Aiken (R-VT), and Langer (R-ND).

S. 380 sought to go beyond the reactionary work-relief measures crafted after the Great Depression, by taking advance measures to avoid depression and unemployment altogether. A critical element of this proactive approach was for the President to prepare a separate “National Production and Employment Budget” (Economic Budget), apart from the regular budget, that prescribes a “complete and well-rounded program for maintaining full production.” Murray believed that the Economic Budget would focus lawmakers on substantive employment policy matters every year, as opposed to merely limiting the discussion to meaningless campaign rhetoric every presidential election. [3]

During the subsequent debates of S. 380, the bill was watered-down, the Economic Budget was dropped, as was “Full” from the title. The Employment Act of 1946, adopted and signed into law, created policy objectives similar to those outlined in F.D.R.’s Second Bill of Rights, but it fell short in focusing Congressional attention on the economy and unemployment.

An annual Economic Budget is a concept worth revisiting. It could pull the nation’s most important issue off the campaign trail and put it back into halls of Congress where it belongs. It would serve as a central point to discuss living wages, work-visas, public service employment and corporate out-sourcing.

[1] James E. Murray, “A Practical Approach,” The American Political Science Review 39, no. 6 (December 1945): 1119–26.

[2] http://www.ushistory.org/documents/economic_bill_of_rights.htm

[3] Murray, “A Practical Approach.”