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Vindicating Joe Hill

August 28, 2011

A friend sent me this article from the NYT regarding an author’s investigation that may clear the name of a labor activist who was executed nearly 97 years ago for a crime he may have not committed–uh oh, it’s starting to sound like the intro to The A-Team.

Joe Hill was a “labor icon” who may have been “wrongfully convicted of murdering a local grocer, the charge that led to his execution at age 36.”

Who exactly should have been the prime suspect? According to the author of the Joe Hill biography, William M. Adler, authorities should have prosecuted Frank Z. Wilson for the two murders. Most of the uncovered evidence pointed to him, while the evidence against Mr. Hill was flimsy at best.

So why was Joe Hill prosecuted? He refused to testify because he didn’t think the evidence against him was good, but he also did not testify due to noble reasons; he was protecting the name of his girlfriend at the time, Hilda Erickson.

My guess on why Mr. Hill was prosecuted probably had something to do with how he had this funny notion that laborers have rights. From a perspective, he was considered someone with radical ideas.

If we take a look at history, there has always been a struggle between workers–those who fought for better benefits, working conditions, fewer hours, better wages–and their employers. The workers who demanded these “radical” things were often castigated as anarchists, socialists, communists, the whole gamut, as a tactic to tarnish their names as people who had these crazy ideas and notions. They are the ones who needed to be silenced so as not to trigger a domino effect that would spread these ideas.

For Mr. Joe Hill, vindication may have come 97 years later, but it has come nonetheless. Solidarity!

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