Seattle Worker interviewed Fellow Worker Dave “Tuck” Tucker about his time with Carlos Cortéz, an artist, poet, editor, Indigenous struggles activist, and longtime wobbly.
Seattle Worker: How did you meet Carlos Cortéz?
Tuck: I was the General Secretary-Treasurer elected for the term in 1983, so I went from Bellingham where I live to Chicago, to serve the union in the General Headquarters office (GHQ). While I was in Chicago, I had the great pleasure to work regularly with FW Carlos Cortéz as well as other great folks, memorable among them specifically being Fred Thompson. Carlos came into office as a volunteer. The union was much much smaller then and the office was staffed by the one paid person—me—and volunteers who came in from the Chicago area. Carlos was one of the most steadfast of those volunteers. He wrote a column for the Industrial Worker—“Red Cloud’s Corner.” I spent a lot of time with Carlos.
Seattle Worker: I understand you considered Carlos one of your mentors. What values did you learn from him?
Tuck: One was to take it easy. He’d say, “OK you’re workin’ in here, we’ve elected you and hired you to to run this office, and that puts you in the spotlight as the General Secretary. Don’t take anything personally or feel you have to respond to everything that comes your way unless it’s a letter from a fellow worker—then you damn well better write back, and acknowledge receipt!”
He also said, “You need to be diligent, make sure to get the things taken care of that you need to get taken care of.”
And further, he was always encouraging me to call him or Fred or Penny Pixler or any number of people in Chicago to come down and help. I remember one time at a branch meeting I was pissin’ and moanin’ about how I’d put in a couple of really long days typing out mimeograph stencils for the GOB and running our very cranky mimeograph machine, and I remember Carlos said “Why the hell did you not call me?” I was in the office at 1 a.m. and was not going to call him, and he kind of reamed me out: “I can get down there!” So he mentored me in not taking things personally when people objected to things that were going on, or when they raised a ruckus as people do in this organization. He urged me to take a break and not feel like I had to attend to everything right now, and watch out for myself, but to be sure that things did get done.
He was steadfast. He showed up at EVERY picket line, which we attended a lot of, every rally where there were Wobs participating in the march, there was a Mayday march, anti-intervention in El Salvador, or anything like that, you knew that Carlos was going to be there.
Seattle Worker: You sent us two photographs. What can you tell us about them?
The one of Carlos in the office, I don’t know for certain what he’s doing, probably typing up something for the Industrial Worker. We did get submissions that were handwritten in the mail, and Carlos in particular and others would have to type those up so they could be readable by the typesetter. He was always typing.
Seattle Worker: Will you paint us a picture?
Tuck: Carlos was a relaxed guy. He would just show up in the office, “Hey fellow worker, how are you doin’?” He spoke slowly: “How are ya? Well, I came by because I wanted to use the typewriter. Is it available?” Then he would come in and sit down at one of the empty desks and start doing his thing, but he loved to chat, just to hear what I’d been up to. He would kinda hunch over his typewriter and clack it out two-fingered. But he would easily enough take a break, and light up one of his little cigarillos, sitting by the open window, or he might close the window because it was too cold. (Laughs) Just kinda wanted to know what I’d been up to, somebody else is coming into the office to do something or just hang out, he would engage them. I mostly think of Carlos as an easygoing, relaxed person, with his long gray ponytail, usually wearing a beret or sitting at the desk and making his counterfeit bus transfers (laughs).
Seattle Worker: Counterfeit bus transfers?
Tuck: Carlos taught me how to make a fake transit transfer pass, so that I’d get on the bus or the “L”, I’d get a transfer and he’d show me how I could use that all day long instead of just for an hour. He would often be in the office making transfers—he’d pick them up off the street and he would kind of overlay them over each other and very carefully tape them with magic transparent tape and cut them out. He was an artist at it. I don’t remember Carlos having a vehicle, I don’t remember him driving or even owning a car. I never rode with him in a car. It was always on the bus or the L.
Seattle Worker: And what about the other photograph?
The one of him with the skeleton, he made that out of plastic bottles and Carlos—his father was from Mexico and his mother was German, and Carlos thoroughly embraced traditional Mexican culture and had a reverence for the cultural symbols of skulls and skeletons, and that sort of thing. And so he made that pretty nearly life-sized skeleton out of plastic bottles, and he carried it around from time to time at demonstrations, rallies, May Day rallies. It definitely generated conversation. A lot of people would come up to talk to him, who wouldn’t otherwise, “Hey man, what’s with the skeleton?” and Carlos had a ready-made audience.
Seattle Worker: What was his biggest contribution to the IWW?
Tuck: It was his artwork, his art was his contribution to the IWW and the class struggle. He also did a lot of artwork for local Hispanic and Native American organizations.
Seattle Worker: What can you tell us about his art?
Tuck: He was pretty well known as an artist, he was known to a lot more people as a linocut and a woodcut artist. We knew him as a Wob but we also appreciated the wonderful linocuts that he made for posters, like the Joe Hill poster, and he’s got a Ben Fletcher poster and a bunch of others, I wish we still produced those. I’ve got another really great one, in addition to this Joe Hill one, I’ve got one that he made that shows some cats holding bottles, and it says something like, “There’s so many of us so few of him.” It is a great piece of art, and it’s signed CAC so you can see that it’s his.
Seattle Worker: Did you participate in any of the printings?
Tuck: Yes, I went to Carlos’ house quite a number of times. His studio was at the house, and he had engraving tools that he used on the linoleum blocks. I remember watching him doing one of those. I was pretty impressed at the quickness that he could summon to make just a lovely picture out of just a square of linoleum, and how quickly he could do that. I watched him do that and I also helped him a number of times use his printing press to print. He would ink up the linoleum block and put a piece of paper over it, and rub it, and peel it off, and then re-ink, put another big piece of paper down, rub it, pull it off. His whole house would be covered by these 2 by 3 foot posters that he made. For years, if anyone sent an order to General Headquarters to the store, to the literature department, and ordered a Carlos Cortéz poster, if we didn’t have any in stock he would just go print one! If you had ordered a Carlos Cortéz poster in those days he would have actually printed it at home, Carlos Cortéz’s fingerprints all over it. I used to have several of the ones that he made. Those were very valuable to me, but I lived on my boat for years and a lot of stuff had water damage.
Seattle Worker: What did he find valuable about the IWW?
Tuck: He was a fierce anti-capitalist. He would call himself an indigenous anarchist perhaps. Carlos had been in the union a whole lot longer than I had at that time—I was a newbie, and Carlos had been around for decades. I think it was a connection for him to the world that we want; a group of people who actually had a vision.
Seattle Worker: On the Industrial Worker, he was a contributor and Fred was the editor, right?
Tuck: Fred was the Industrial Worker editor. He gave that up partway through my year there in 1983 because his eyesight wasn’t good and then it became more of a collective effort, Penny, Carlos, Mike Hargis, me, Fred, a couple others, I think Dean Nolan might have been involved in that, Cathy Taylor. I can’t remember who all was considered the editorial collective.
Seattle Worker: What differences did he have with Fred about the Industrial Worker articles?
Tuck: Fred wanted to talk a lot about socialism, and Carlos didn’t. Carlos wanted to talk more about anarchism, and Fred didn’t. There was that, and there was how much space to devote to articles about the antinuclear or the peace movement versus articles about workers organizing the J.P. Stevens textile mills, or whatever sorts of things were going on. Fred wanted to enlarge the subject matter. He wanted there to be more stuff on non-labor efforts. Carlos was into that but didn’t think it should be our priority at the paper. Layout. . . I vaguely remember there being some discussions about layout and what goes where. Fred may have suggested we move Carlos’ column to another page. In a nice way though; it wasn’t raging arguments, just disagreements.
Seattle Worker: What was his relationship like with Fred Thompson?
Tuck: Carlos would come in to type up his column or to do some other work for the Industrial Worker, and Fred Thompson would come in and the two of them would manage to have these kinda low-key arguments. They had known each other for a long, long time, by the time I was there in 1983, probably 30, 40 years, which is as long ago as when I was there. But they always had this discussion. Fred was always giving Carlos a hard time for smoking his little cigarillos in the office, and Carlos would say, “Hey, do you want me to come in here and work or don’t you?” (Laughs) “Just open up the windows!” There weren’t any no-smoking rules at the time, in the office, and it was often quite the stinky fug in there, not just Carlos. Fred and Carlos would go round and round and round about smoking in the office. Carlos was a very personal fellow; he loved to talk to people.
Seattle Worker: Who were his heroes?
Tuck: He talked about Ben Fletcher a lot. Carlos was a conscientious objector in WWII, and went to prison. He talked quite a bit about some of the people he was in prison with. He was also quite a big fan of Fellow Worker Bruce “Utah” Phillips. I remember Phillips coming into General Headquarters a couple times, and I was under standing orders to call Carlos immediately, and he would come down and have a great reunion. I would just sit in awe and listen to these two.
Seattle Worker: What did they chat about?
Tuck: Bruce talked about his travels and where his concerts were taking him to these days. I remember something about having trouble with his guitar. It was just kind of updating. “How ya been, what’s going on, you made any good posters these days?” he’d ask Carlos, and Carlos would want to know where Bruce had been on the road, and ask “Oh, did you see so and so?” It wasn’t anything earthshaking. It was like two friends who didn’t see each other very often crossing paths again.
Seattle Worker: Who else have you met over the years that you consider either old timers or “of the old cloth”?
Tuck: I had the real honor of meeting Fellow Worker A.L. Nurse, the delegate that signed up Fred Thompson. So I met him. He lived in Missoula. A fellow worker that really impressed me was Bob Markholt from the Seattle branch, and David Jahn also from Seattle. They were much older than me. Bob’s mom was Ottilie Markholt, who was in the Tacoma branch. She was Ralph Chaplin’s office secretary and had very strong opinions about everything you could imagine. I met Frank Cedervall from Cleveland. He organized IWW in the auto plants before the UAW got around to it, and so when the IWW was doing auto worker organizing in the Detroit area in the early 1930s, Frank was in on that, and that carried over into moving to Cleveland and being a stalwart in the old Cleveland metalworkers union He came to a couple of Mayday presentations, and came by the office just to visit one time. He was a remarkable old guy. Another person I met was Minnie Corder. Minnie participated in the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence 1912, as a very young woman, a textile worker, and I met her at a convention. She was pretty old and frail even by then, and we had quite a letter correspondence. I have quite a number of letters that I’ve saved. I’ve felt very privileged to be able to meet these people who are now long gone, the people who held the union together through the 50s. It was literally a tiny discussion, people writing letters back and forth. They probably figured they were the last: “When we are gone the IWW ceases to exist.” Fortunately, they were wrong.
In fact, I just had a great association with that, I watched a Bruce Phillips documentary that’s been circulating around, and at the end there’s some people, Mark Ross and a few other old Wobs singing a song, and the song goes “We’re building a boat we may not sail on” and so I think that image is what Carlos had in his mind: we need to keep this going.