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FRANK WALSH

Frank
Frank Walsh, "Labor's Tribune",
1864-1939

"The modern rights of man are the right to eat, the right to live decently, the right to work." Frank Walsh

Samuel Gompers called him "A great tribune". Solidarity, the paper of The Industrial Workers of the World, put his picture on its front page. He was beloved by labor throughout the nation.

Francis Patrick Walsh moved to Kansas City at age three from St. Louis. When he was seven his father died, and at 10 Walsh quit school for a succession of menial jobs. After clerking in a law office, he passed the Missouri Bar at age 25.

As a lawyer, Walsh was a brilliant strategist. His courtroom battles with U.S. Senator James A. Reed of Missouri were legendary. Among Walsh's clients were labor leader Tom Mooney; many Kansas City unions; Chicago stockyard workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Walsh championed civil liberties as advocate for imprisoned dissidents such as Sacco and Vanzetti and Eugene Debs.

"What we need more than lawmakers and law governors is agitators. An agitator is a man who won't stand for lies [just] because they are told."

Frank Walsh c.1904

From 1900 on Walsh was active in Kansas City and Missouri politics as a member of the "Rabbits", the Joseph B. Shannon wing of the Kansas City Democratic Party opposed to the Pendergast "Goats". Walsh also fought on the state level against corrupt business influence on politicians and for social welfare programs. In 1913 Woodrow Wilson appointed him chairman of the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations to investigate the causes of industrial violence. In his dogged pursuit of those responsible for the Ludlow Massacre, Walsh grilled John D. Rockefeller, Jr., for days, conclusively demonstrating the heir's complicity in the murder of mineworkers and their families. He wrote, "It is the system that is under investigation. John D. Rockefeller and Ludlow symbolize one of the major ills of America: too much private economic power in too few hands." The final report of the Commission pointed the way toward the New Deal labor legislation of the 1930s.

Walsh was also appointed by Wilson as co-chair with William Howard Taft of the National War Labor Board, which arbitrated disputes and prevented strikes during World War I.

Although he moved to New York in 1919, Walsh tried his last case in Kansas City in 1939 on behalf of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and against the Nell Donnelly Dress Company, represented by her husband and Walsh's old rival James A. Reed. Donnelly was a pioneer of union avoidance and Reed was one of the first lawyers to explore creative legal delays to workers' newly-won right to organize under the National Labor Relations Act. Donnelly's company union was not extinguished by the NLRB until 1948, eight years after Walsh's death.

for an much more in-depth biographical essay see:
Frank Walsh - Labor's Tribune by Judy Ancel


 
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