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Fellow Worker Chris White

By Steve Early, former International Representative, Communications Workers of America and author of Save Our Unions and other books.

I first met Chris White, a Connecticut native and former hard rock miner from Leadville, Colorado 37 years ago. Chris was one of the key organizer’s of a cross-union reform organization in Alaska called Ruled Out of Order (ROOR).  Anyone who has ever been a union dissident knows why the group was called that!  At the time, I was working for the Professional Drivers Council (PROD), soon to be merged with Teamsters for a Democratic Union.  Chris was a Laborer, not a Teamster, but he arranged for me to visit his adopted state and meet with members of ROOR. They included Teamsters, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, and former Alaska pipeline workers from every construction trade.

Four decades ago, people moved to Alaska not just because of the pipeline boom. They ended up in places like Fairbanks, Anchorage, Livengood, or Clear, Alaska—where Teamster technicians maintained an ICBM tracking station—because they thought Idaho was getting too crowded. Needless to say, ROOR members were probably the most colorful, eccentric, and committed rank-and-file activists I have ever met. Their shared concerns about mishandling of Taft-Hartley pension and welfare funds, and the lack of democracy within their unions, made them formidable adversaries of entrenched local union officials. At the national level, LIUNA in the 1970s, like the Teamsters in that era, was a pretty mobbed up operation. It took great courage to challenge corruption in unions like that—and Chris White, a gentle soul in appearance, was utterly fearless.

Chris (as the picture here confirms) had a longtime commitment to the Industrial Workers of the World, and its proud traditions. In recent years, he could be found camping out in 40-degree below weather with Occupy Fairbanks folks or serving on the board of Alaska Peace Center in Fairbanks. He also fought many battles within the Democratic Party of Alaska to keep it focused, at least partially, on working class concerns. He was greatly encouraged by Bernie Sanders 2015-16 campaign in the Democratic presidential primaries. When Bernie placed second, Chris backed Jill Stein and the Green Party.

At the local memorial service for Chris on December 2, 2016, his life well led was recalled by those who knew him best and loved him the most. He will be long remembered by everyone he ever worked with or aided in the struggle for union democracy and a better world for workers.

Let Them Call Me Rebel

By Jane Latour

Chris White was gentle, fierce, and dedicated to the fight for a better labor movement--the one that we need, not the one that we have. He was always seriously, earnestly in pursuit of answers to his many questions: how can we rectify, reclaim, and rebuild our unions.

Generosity was his hallmark--gentleness imbued his spirit. He had all of the old-fashioned virtues--love for his family, his wife Lee, a deep pride in his children and all of their accomplishments. He was a big-hearted friend--appreciative and sincere, sweet.

Chris was always looking for answers. He was unafraid to stand alone in opposition--he was the loyal opposition in a worthy cause. Chris and I were friends. At one point, I sent him all of the stories about the Laborers' union from the Association for Union Democracy's publications and he posted them on his website. After our beloved, mutual friend, Bob Fitch, died, Chris and I shared our grief and we often commiserated over the phone about our great loss.

Chris was loyal and warm and a true pilgrim on the path of holding the labor unions to a higher standard--a believer in what might be and a fighter who gave his all to try and make it happen. I'll miss Chris and will now include him in my ever-shrinking circle of departed dissidents who stood up when so few do and who held out hope and a vision for a better world for working people.

Chris wore his heart on his sleeve and he wasn't ashamed to do so. The great patriot Thomas Paine wrote a fitting epitaph that suits Chris perfectly: "Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul."

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.