HELENA — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Curtis doesn’t deny her sympathies for an obscure union with a radical past — the Industrial Workers of the World — and said she’s “amused” that the state Republican Party is labeling her a “communist” because of it.
“(Republicans) cannot talk about the issues, so they resort to name-calling,” she said in an interview Friday. “I’m fairly amused by it.“
The IWW, formed in 1905, sought to organize workers in individual industries, rather than at a specific company. The preamble to its constitution calls for workers to take over the means of production and says the “historic mission” of the working class is to do away with capitalism.
The IWW won significant organizing victories in the early 1900s, but largely faded from view in the wake of government repression and an internal schism in the 1920s.
Today, the union has about 2,000 members nationwide, including a handful in Montana. It has organized workers at a few businesses in recent years, but has no formal membership branch in Montana.
Curtis’ husband, Kevin, a freelance videographer and artist, has been an IWW member and was listed as a delegate for the Two Rivers General Membership Branch several years ago, but the branch disbanded in 2011, IWW members said. Curtis said her husband no longer is involved with the IWW.
Curtis said she identifies with the IWW goals of better wages and safe working conditions and its history of fighting for workers’ rights, but doesn’t agree with its goal of doing away with capitalism.
“I have always advocated for a kinder capitalism that ensure workplace safety, a living wage, equal pay for equal work — a capitalism that will work for Montana families,” said Curtis, who is a math teacher at Butte High School. “The IWW is largely a historic organization.“
The state Republican Party issued a news release this month saying Curtis “can run, but she can’t hide her communist connections,” outlining what it called her “proven involvement with the IWW.“
A Republican Party-created website — www.meetamandacurtis.com — has a section titled “IWW/Communism,” which lists similar charges and contains several references to communism. The site also says it is authorized by the campaign of Curtis’ main opponent in the Senate race, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.
“When you endorse an organization that calls for the end of capitalism, that’s legitimate grounds to open up that debate,” Bowen Greenwood, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, said last week.
To back up its claims, the party points to a pair of photographs posted on Curtis’ Facebook page, an email in which Curtis called the IWW her “favorite union,” and two articles written by Curtis that appeared in a September 2008 issue of the IWW’s newspaper, the Industrial Worker.
One photo shows Curtis in a group of people standing by and commemorating the Butte grave of Frank Little, an IWW organizer kidnapped and murdered in Butte in 1917, presumably by Anaconda Co. agents. His murder was never solved. Several people in the photo are holding an IWW flag and banner.
The other photo, posted briefly by Curtis, was a shot of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, an IWW organizer, feminist and socialist who co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union and was a member of the Communist Party USA. Flynn became the party’s chair in 1961 and died while visiting the Soviet Union in 1964, where she was given a state funeral.
She said she doesn’t recall precisely why she posted a picture of Flynn, but that it probably was to celebrate Flynn’s birthday. Curtis said she admires Flynn’s career as a union organizer and that “she’s been on the side of the worker class like I am.“
Curtis said the 2008 articles — one on the restoration of Little’s grave in Butte and another about the IWW and other unions setting up “union corner” at the International Folk Festival in Butte — are reprints of short articles she wrote for local papers in Butte.
Curtis called the suggestion she is a communist “ridiculous,” and said she is “fortified by the fact that (Republicans) are unable to talk about any issues.“
Daines and Republicans don’t want to talk about his votes to cut Pell grants for students, to shut down the federal government in 2013, for “tax giveaways” to corporations, against raising the minimum wage, and against women’s reproductive rights, she said.
“Montanans can see through that,” she said. “They don’t like politicians who hide from debates, who sidestep questions and then name-call.“