Them and Us
James C. Higgins, poet, journalist, union organizer and
co-author of Them and Us, died here Feb.
16. He was 84.
Born in Milwaukee, Higgins was raised in Boston. He graduated
from Harvard University in 1938. He also studied at the University of
California at Berkeley, where he received a Master’s degree. While at
Harvard, Higgins became interested in jazz and became a jazz critic. He went
to work for New Directions, a publishing company, where he worked with the
poet William Carlos Williams and the novelist Henry Miller. His own work was
published in The Best Short Stories of 1939.
In the 1940s, he was a shipyard worker, employed at the Bath
Iron Works in Maine, and joined the staff of the CIO Industrial Union of
Marine and Shipbuilding Workers. During those years he formed an enduring
friendship with James J. Matles, then UE director of organization.
Higgins began a career in journalism in 1950 as a reporter
with The Gazette and Daily of York, Pa. He swiftly became a city
editor, an editorial writer and editor. He served as the Gazette’s
editor for 20 years.
Returning to Massachusetts in the 1970s, Higgins became a
lecturer in the Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics at
Harvard University. He also taught newswriting and other journalism classes at
Boston University and Regis College. His work as a writer and poet was
published in a variety of publications, from Harper’s Bazaar and The
Boston Globe to The Nation, The Village Voice and Liberation
Following his retirement from The Gazette, he
collaborated with his old friend Matles, then UE general secretary-treasurer,
on an insider’s history of the "struggles of a rank-and-file
union." The result was Them and Us, a unique and widely-hailed
account of UE and industrial unionism published in 1974 by Prentice-Hall. To
mention just a few of the numerous comments: Them and Us is "an
explosive and important book for anyone with an interest in American
labor," wrote Studs Terkel. Contains "Some of the most dramatic —
and controversial — episodes in the history of the labor movement,"
proclaimed the Erie Times. "This is a valuable book," said Business
(UE published a reprint of Them and
Us in 1995.)
The River Works of General Electric in Lynn receives prominent
mention in Them and Us, and so it was fitting that IUE/CWA (originally
UE) Local 201 expressed its appreciation for Higgins’ work in the pages of
the Electrical Union News. "The death of James Higgins," the
local union newsletter said, "should remind us of our debt to generations
gone by, the value of studying our history, and of our obligation to pass the
lessons we’ve learned onto our new brothers and sisters."
UE News - 03/01