In the winter of 1959, Harvey Richards was in Butte, Montana with his camera and tripod in a miners’ union hall making a film to help the miner’s strike effort against Anaconda Copper Company. He was photographing strikers lined up for their union strike benefits. With the sun streaming into the windows, he left his tripod and camera to walk over behind the table and shoot the line of strikers.
This photo with his unmanned camera and tripod in a line of workers symbolizes for me what my father was all about. As a unionist, an organizer, a striker and a communist, he had been active in union struggles since he got on a merchant ship in Portland, Oregon at age 18 headed across the Pacific. When he got off his last ship in Boston, MA, four years later, he went to work organizing WPA workers and then moved on to work for other unions in Philadelphia and Boston. Moving to the west coast in 1938, he went to work in the shipyards in San Francisco. Before long, he became a shop steward for the Machinist Union installing big guns on warships during the war years. He was a strike leader in the 1946 strike that hit the west coast shipping industry in a major confrontation between unions and the industry to determine how much of the union protections gained during World War II would be retained in the post war era.
The strike won some benefits from the industry, but in return, the union began to purge militants from its ranks, including Harvey, who was expelled as a communist in 1948 and never worked again as a machinist. When he took up photography in 1955, his first projects involved farm workers and mine workers. The anti-communist crusade pushed Harvey out of the union movement and out of the trade he made a living with. But his determination to fight for justice and a fair share of the wealth for workers got stronger as the years went by. This militant’s perspective is in every shot he took. You can see more of his Butte photos in a new photo gallery now online. His black and white photography book, Critical Focus, by Paul Richards, is also available in print and eBook formats.