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Clinton Jencks and Mexican-American Unionism in the American Southwest

James J. Lorence

Publication Year: 2013

Labor historian James J. Lorence presents the first comprehensive biography of progressive labor organizer, peace worker, and economist Clinton Jencks (1918 - 2005). A key figure in the radical International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) Local 890 in Grant County, New Mexico, Jencks was involved in organizing not only the mine workers but also their wives in the 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company. He was active in the production of the 1954 landmark labor film dramatizing the Empire Zinc strike, Salt of the Earth , which was heavily suppressed during the McCarthy era and led to Jencks's persecution by the federal government.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Working Class in American History


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Further Reading, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Although most of this book was written during my retirement, its origins and a portion of the research reach back into my teaching years, especially the late 1990s when I was engaged in the work that resulted in the publication of The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Film in Cold War America in 1999. ...


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Clinton Jencks, Mine-Mill, and Biography as History

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pp. xiii-xxii

I was first drawn to the engaging personality of Clinton E. Jencks through the back door of films as social history, a field of study itself struggling to be acknowledged as a central feature of the new cultural history. In the mid-1980s my teaching responsibilities included the regular offering of an American history course ...

Part I. Years of Preparation: Roots of Radicalism

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1. Growing Up Concerned: Childhood, Family, and the Formation of a Value System, 1918-1939

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pp. 3-20

Watching over the bustling resort community and mining town of Colorado Springs, the front range of the majestic Rocky Mountains provided the backdrop to where Clinton E. Jencks grew to maturity during the dark days of the Great Depression. The natural beauty of this environment, together with the dramatic story of its exploitation by first prospectors and then the mining industry, ...

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2. The World of Work and New Opportunities for Social Action: Living Faith, 1939-1945

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pp. 21-32

Fully politicized by the time of his graduation from the University of Colorado, Clinton Jencks now pondered the next step on the road to radicalism. Having jettisoned any thought of a legal career, he looked for an occupational base for social action in the depths of the Great Depression, still searching for an opportunity that would sustain a determined effort ...

Part II. Building for the Future: Envisioning a New World

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3. Coming Home: Veterans Advocacy and Renewed Political Commitment

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pp. 35-44

For the restless Clinton Jencks, the ASARCO job provided a new lease on life. Although the work initially involved hard and dirty labor in a low-wage position, it connected him again to the world of social action through the union. Although he worried about the corrosive impact of the fumes that caused his clothes to disintegrate in a day’s time ...

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4. Mine-Mill and Social Change: Economic Progress, Mexican American Activism, and social Justice, 1945–1947

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pp. 45-62

On his first day in Silver City, Clinton Jencks began searching for the residences of local union leaders, a simple task that quickly became complicated when he discovered that the officers’ homes were scattered over a three-hundred-square-mile area. What he observed in the process was a beautiful landscape scarred by the remnants of generations of exploitation. ...

Part III. Cold War Unionism: Progressives on Defense

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5. Mobilizing for Mass Action: Social and Political Initiatives, 1948-1950

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pp. 65-90

In early 1948, following a meeting of the corporate-controlled American Mining Congress, one company after another, including Kennecott, American Smelting and Refining, United States Refining and Mining, and the Phelps-Dodge Copper Corporation, took advantage of low copper, lead, and zinc prices to stall, delay grievance settlement, ...

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6. The Moment of Decision: the Empire Zinc Strike, Grassroots Feminism, and Mexican American Liberation, 1950–1953

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pp. 91-112

When the Empire Zinc strike began, Clinton Jencks was unaware of what the future held; indeed, the strikers had no idea that their action “would attract attention outside this corner of southwestern New Mexico.” On the fortieth anniversary of the event, Jencks recalled that the workers of Local 890 “only sought what [they] enthusiastically wanted for every other human being in our world, ...

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7. Telling the Story: Salt of the Earth as a Medium of Communication

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pp. 113-130

In the midst of the Empire Zinc strike, Clinton Jencks’s union responsibilities were expanded beyond Grant County by the International. Now a portion of his duties included organizing in the even less hospitable environs of the Clifton-Morenci area in Arizona. Clifton was a community dominated by the omnipresent shadow of the giant Phelps-Dodge Corporation; ...

Part IV. A Time of Peril: Public Exposure

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8. Confronting Domestic Anti-Communism: The Jencks Case, Civil Liberties, and the Law, 1953-19547

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pp. 133-158

After relocating in Denver, Jencks immediately became engaged in the preparation of a national campaign from the International office designed to familiarize Mine-Mill members and the wider labor audience with the attack on the union and its leaders, with his case as the central feature of the effort. ...

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9. The Web of Consequences: Life after Mine-Mill

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pp. 159-192

In Cold War America lingering anti-Communist hysteria died a slow death. Jencks believed that it served as a convenient cover for a well-established corporate offensive to erase the gains made by unions during the 1930s and 1940s; his conviction that corporate America had voided the New Deal social contract had been the key to his activism since 1947. ...

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Epilogue: A Reflection on the Committed Life

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pp. 193-202

Clinton E. Jencks was many things to many people. And even to himself, he could be a puzzle, a man who struggled with compulsive behaviors that dogged him throughout his life, including problematic interaction with women and sometimes disruptive family relationships. ...


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pp. 226-233


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pp. 203-240


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pp. 241-254


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pp. 255-266

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About the Author, Further Reading, Production Note, Back Cover

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pp. 298-306

James J. Lorence was a professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Marathon County. His many books include the award-winning A Hard Journey: The Life of Don West. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094804
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037559

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Working Class in American History
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OCLC Number: 840569814
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Palomino

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Subject Headings

  • Jencks, Clinton E., 1918-2005.
  • Pacifists -- Southwestern States.
  • Economists -- Southwestern States.
  • Labor movement -- Political activity -- Southwestern States.
  • Hispanics -- Civil rights.
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