James E. Miller fought for socialism and working people all over the world. He was just 65 when he died on April 14.
Jim grew up in Madison, Wis., and attended the University of Wisconsin during the late 1960s. The Black liberation struggle was surging forward and so was the movement against the Vietnam War.
Like Berkeley in California, Madison and its big campus became a political center. Police attacked University of Wisconsin students demonstrating against Dow Chemical, which made millions supplying the Pentagon with napalm that burned people alive. Black student athletes at UW led struggles against racism.
Tens of thousands of young people across the United States wanted to make a revolution within what Che Guevara called “the belly of the beast.” Jim Miller was one of them.
He was attracted to Marxist theory and read the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Plekhanov and Trotsky. Above all, Jim Miller was a fighter.
He joined the Milwaukee branch of Workers World Party in 1967 and became chair of Milwaukee’s chapter of Youth Against War and Fascism. YAWF contingents in anti-war demonstrations proudly carried the flag of Vietnam’s National Liberation Front.
YAWF’s number one job was to fight racism. YAWF members joined Father James Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council in marching inside the old Milwaukee Auditorium in 1968 to disrupt presidential candidate George Wallace’s hate rally. Wallace was an Alabama governor and one of the U.S.’s top racists.
Fighting racism meant defending Black Panther Party members Booker T. Collins Jr., Jesse Lee White and Earl W. Leverette. They were framed on ridiculous charges of firing a shotgun at a Milwaukee cop through the back side window of a Volkswagen Beetle!
Every Sunday, YAWF members joined scores of other militants in picketing the House of Detention, where the “Milwaukee 3” were held. Sheriff’s deputies pointed their weapons at them.
Milwaukee police have a bloody history of murder and brutality. During the single month of December in 1974, cops killed four Black people, including the unarmed 16-year-old Jerry Brookshire.
Milwaukee Police Chief Harold Brier repeatedly denounced YAWF in 1968 for daring to leaflet high school students. Also in 1968, YAWF organized a bus to go to Chicago to protest Mayor Daley’s cops clubbing demonstrators at the Democratic Convention.
“Red Squad” police officers would regularly park their vehicle in front of the local Workers World Party and YAWF headquarters at 150 East Juneau. In 1971, Milwaukee police attacked a demonstration protesting the Attica prison massacre. They arrested three YAWF members: Benita Orozco, Jim Miller and Bill Colangelo.
A few months later, “Red Squad” cops attempted to storm the local party headquarters. They were beaten back but several comrades were arrested.
These cops were furious that YAWF had helped organize an 800-person strong demonstration that night against George Wallace and Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, who had spoken at two adjoining meetings.
The most serious charges were against Comrade Benita Orozco, who was facing years in jail for allegedly beating police at the Attica protest.
Jim Miller became the heart and soul of her defense, doing much of the tedious and painstaking work required by a legal defense. Judge Hugh O’Connell almost had conniptions when a jury acquitted Benita Orozco.
Jim also helped to defend the anti-war GIs known as the “Camp McCoy 3.” Their indictment was announced by Attorney General John Mitchell, who himself was later to be sent to prison as one of the criminals in the Watergate case of illegal interference in the 1972 presidential election.
What made Jim’s diligent effort even more amazing was that he was working the nightshift at a bakery.
Union leader and father
Jim Miller was greatly influenced by the older, worker revolutionaries in the Milwaukee branch of Workers World Party. These included Betsey Stergar and Al Stergar, and Shirley Plaster and Earl Plaster.
These four had stood firm during the McCarthyite anti-communist witch hunt of the 1950s and became teachers for a new generation of revolutionaries.
Milwaukee was one of the most segregated cities on the planet. But thousands of Black workers were employed in the city’s factories. As late as 1980, half of the African Americans employed in Milwaukee held manufacturing jobs.
Jim went to work in the bakery proudly wearing a “Free Angela Davis” button on his leather jacket. He defended workers and became president of the bakery workers local union.
Jim later became an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union organizer in Fond du Lac, Wis., before returning to work in a bakery.
Bakery work helped kill Jim. Like millions of other workers, Jim Miller’s early death is probably linked to occupational causes. For years, Jim was forced to breathe in flour dust while working.
But this didn’t stop Jim from enjoying life. He was a loving father to Peter and Sara Miller.
And while he was a student of Marxism, Jim was also a sports fan, particularly of the Dodgers, because Dodger African-American star Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball in Brooklyn.
Long live the memory of Jim Miller, bakery worker and revolutionary!