Morris Wright: The Salt of the Earth "He didn't try to fit events into a preconceived notion about what had to be occurring, but tried to understand and explain the strike on its own terms." That memory of Morris Wright by a participant in the historic cannery workers strike at Watsonville, California provides a fitting epitaph for the veteran labor reporter who died in Oakland May 18 at the age of 86. Certainly it would please Morrie who prided himself on both his professionalism as a journalist as well as his commitment to the cause of workers fighting for their needs and rights. But it is also a tribute Morrie had earned in the course of more than half a century devoted to working class journalism. Morrie Wright was not a flashy writer -- although he had a poetic streak which was always there between the lines and occasionally found its way into the text. His style was direct, economical and thorough. Whether about a strike of copper miners in Arizona, the trial of Angela Davis in a California courtroom, the passing of ILWU leader Harry Bridges or daily life in revolutionary Cuba, when you got done reading an article under Morrie's byline, you knew a lot more than you did before. Morrie Wright was no dispassionate observer of events. He was partisan in the best sense of the term, believing that working men and women wanted and needed the truth about all things. And that's what he devoted himself to delivering to the best of his ability. He didn't always succeed. None of us do. But when he realized he'd gotten something wrong, he had no hesitation in admitting it and set out to do better; not only on points of fact in a news story, but in the basic propositions of a world outlook as well. Morrie came to his partisanship out of his own life experiences and a questioning mind. He was born January 18, 1908 in the town of Enid in what was then the Oklahoma Territory and seems to have come by his straight-shooting style genetically; his mother, according to Morrie's daughter Carol, was reputed to be "the best shot in the Oklahoma Territory." Raised in Illinois, he attended Carleton College in Minnesota but left before getting a degree to ride the rails and hitchhike around the west. During these early depression years he worked at whatever he could find -- herding cattle as a cowboy in Montana (and even riding the rodeo circuit for a while), harvest hand in the alfalfa fields, slinging hash and chili as a short order cook. He also worked as a carpenter and spent one summer delivering ice in Chicago. Morrie's first encounter with the labor movement came when he found a job at the McCormick Reaper plant in Chicago where the Farm Equipment Workers Organizing Committee (FEWOC) was trying to bring the workers into the fledgling CIO. Morrie threw himself into the campaign, signing up workers for the union, writing leaflets and ultimately becoming editor of the FEWOC newspaper. It was his baptism in labor journalism. In time he would work as writer and editor for The Union, the newspaper of the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers, and The Dispatcher, the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) paper. Around 1936 Morrie joined the Communist Party, remaining a member for 20 years. There he met his wife Marie Moxley with whom he had three children -- Molly, Larry and Carol. During the McCarthy years, their home in Denver became something of a "safe house" for party members on the run. Carol and Larry, who were then young children, remember those days as a time when they were told not to talk about the various "visitors" who were staying with them and not to bring friends home while the "visitors" were there. And when it came time for these clandestine figures to move on, they recall, Morrie would back his Willis Jeep into the garage, the underground party members would lie down on the floor or the back seat, and the kids would pile on top of them. Then, gleefully chewing away at some popcorn or sucking popsicles, they would head off for a "picnic" in the country. In 1953, along with a number of other active left-wing unionists in Denver, Morrie was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was not, needless to say, a friendly witness. Ever an internationalist, Morrie was exuberant about the victory of the Cuban Revolution from the moment of its victory. In 1969, while working as Assistant Editor of The Dispatcher, Morrie incurred the wrath of ILWU head Harry Bridges by traveling to Cuba with the first Venceremos Brigade. (At the time, Bridges was low-profiling his radicalism out of concern for losing his base in the union rank and file.) As a result, Morrie lost his job with The Dispatcher and left the union shortly thereafter. So early in the '70s Morrie, then 66, began a new career as a left-wing journalist, covering West Coast and labor news for The Guardian. Those were the years when C‚sar Ch vez and the farmworkers were making news up and down the West Coast and Morrie became a familiar figure in the fields and at the union halls through California's Central Valley. Morrie also provided The Guardian with incisive week-in, week-out coverage of the Angela Davis trial. In the 1980s, Morrie joined Line of March, one of the numerous "party- building" organizations of the period, and became the labor editor of its newspaper, Frontline. At the end of the decade, Morrie was part of the diverse core of activists who helped launched CrossRoads. At the age of 74, Morrie made his first trip to Nicaragua with the Elders for Survival. He would return to Nicaragua two more times, the last to cover the election which resulted in the ouster of the Sandinistas. Over the years, Morrie's distinguished firsthand coverage of critical turning points in the U.S. class struggle and his participation in the political movements he wrote about established him as a figure in the great tradition of other left-wing journalists like John Reed and Wilfred Burchett. Morrie also provided all of us with a wonderful example of how to be a political person. He was modest to a fault, open-minded, direct, full of humor and extremely generous. He was incapable of rancor, spite or cynicism. And now Morrie Wright is gone. He will be remembered for the many contributions he made to the cause of labor and social justice. And for those of us who were privileged to know him, he will be remembered too as that rare individual who earned the right to be called -- after the film he worked on during his years with Mine-Mill -- a human being who was truly "the salt of the earth." --Irwin Silber For those who wish to honor Morris Wright with a contribution to a cause he held dear, you can send a check to Alta/U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment, 3181 Mission St. #14, San Francisco, CA 94110.