A GREAT AMERICAN HAS DIED, aged 97, and to the disgrace of our national media, he will not be appropriately honored. Rather, even in death, Roy M. Brewer, former leader of the Hollywood Stagehands Union, has been and will be vilified, as heroes are often defamed in an age marked by apologetics for immorality.
Known in showbiz as "the IA," the Stagehands remain one of the most powerful cinema labor organizations. Their official title is the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists, and Allied Crafts (IATSE, AFL-CIO). Once they absorbed the motion picture projectionists' union, they rose from a fading remnant of the early American labor movement to become the dominant representative of filmdom's vast armies of craft workers.
But the road was rough. In the 1940s, Stalinist Communists openly proclaimed their goal of controlling all unions on the U.S. West Coast, and had made the takeover of Hollywood labor a major tactical aim. The California Commies had plenty of money and plenty of clout, since the Soviet Union considered the Pacific region as important as Europe and the Atlantic in its drive for world domination. Moscow's agents had already seized control of a major section of the California Democratic party.
Four men then stood like tall, strong trees--unbending and deeply-rooted in their unions--providing an insurmountable barrier to Russian domination of the American labor movement. There was David Dubinsky of the garment workers, a veteran of armed combat by Jewish workers against the terror of the tsar and the Black Hundreds--the al-Qaida of their day--in Poland. Dubinsky's platform was firm: he would never unite with Communists, their friends and admirers, or their "progressive" and Democrat stooges. Second in line was a stern Norwegian social democrat, Harry Lundeberg of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific, a veteran rank-and-file organizer. He hated the Communists with the same loathing that Dubinsky harbored, and for the same reason: both had seen the old, idealistic European socialism betrayed by Soviet imperialists. Next came Walter Reuther, a solid son of German and American socialism, who had actually worked in a Soviet auto plant before he came back to the industrial hell of Detroit to organize auto assembly line "shop rats." Reuther was beaten bloody by the company guards of the Ford Motor Co. He survived two assassination attempts. And when the time was ripe, after the Second World War had ended and Moscow had begun a new assault on the West and particularly on America, Reuther unceremoniously booted Red officials out of his United Auto Workers.
Few today know how much of the battle for American values in the union movement was carried in California. Lundeberg defeated the Communists by getting better wages and conditions for his members on the waterfront, and Reuther had gone through bruising intraunion battles against the Moscow fifth column in the gigantic southern California aircraft plants. Russia's rodents, neutralized and threatened in the key maritime and defense industries on the coast, had turned their eyes to Hollywood. At that point, only the Screen Writers' Guild was seriously plagued with Communist interference. The Actors' Guild had seen many a rhetorical battle by the Communists, but without much success to show for it. Still, Hollywood was recognized as among the most unionized communities in the world, and a Communist victory there would have had incalculable effects.
By 1945, a weird character named Herbert K. Sorrell had spent years missionizing Hollywood for the Moscow line, trying to find a way to capture some part of Tinseltown's labor force. Sorrell was not very successful as a union organizer but he had remarkable resources, including money to buy and operate his own airplane, then quite a novelty. Sorrell brought together the fringe elements of the Hollywood labor scene--the Disney cartoonists, who had lost a strike in 1941, and small unions of set painters and plumbers--to challenge the mainstream unions, especially the IA, for control of the crafts. Sorrell called bogus strikes aimed at taking jurisdiction away from the regular unions. That was when Roy Brewer stepped forward, after years as a union leader among the movie projectionists and service in the New Deal administration of Franklin Roosevelt. The conflict between the red stooges and the well-paid and militant but patriotic union members was memorable and bloody. Communist methods in the siege of Hollywood were anything but refined.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, who worked in the industry, summed up the nature of Stalinist domination among the dream factory's scribes: "The important thing is that you should not argue with them. Whatever you say, they have ways of twisting it into shapes which put you in some lower category of mankind." When Sorrell's guerrillas struck, bolstered by Stalinist thugs from the waterfront and Soviet financing conveyed through Mexico, their weapons included acid thrown in their opponents' faces. The scene was aptly described by the then-young and charismatic actor Kirk Douglas: "Thousands of people fought in the middle of the street with knives, clubs, battery cables, brass knuckles, and chains." (Both Fitzgerald's and Douglas's quotes appear in Peter Schweizer's 2002 book Reagan's War.)
Brewer, his union, and their allies defeated the Communists. But the chaos in Hollywood led the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities to hold hearings on the movie industry in 1947. We could say "the rest is history"--except that it isn't. In place of real and verifiable history, a labyrinthine legend about Hollywood--a kind of mental virus of a kind only morbid psychology could understand--came to infect the American mind. A handful of mediocre Moscow-lovers, having thrown loud and provocative tantrums before the House committee, were sent to jail for contempt of Congress--they were soon known as the "Hollywood Ten." The American cinema industry got a worldwide reputation as the place where innocent people were blacklisted for their benevolent, liberal notions--rather than losing employment because of their strident advocacy for Joseph Stalin and his crimes. And Roy Brewer was tagged the master of the blacklist.
All those lousy movies about the blacklist were and are based on a lie. Ronald Reagan, a sympathizer of the liberal-left in Hollywood labor, learned bitter lessons about Communism from the war against the IA and Brewer. Reagan came out for Brewer, of course, and years later, as president of the United States, applied the lessons of the Hollywood labor war--that the Communists were brutes and bluffers who could be defeated by committed opposition--served him, and the world, well.
It is remarkable how few things have changed. Totalitarians and those weak in resistance to them are still challenged by a few indomitable moral figures--but the principles of freedom still prevail. With the death of Roy Brewer, hero of Hollywood labor, the last of American labor's four giants is gone. They were giants in those days. How many of us or those who come after us will live up to their example?
Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.