MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The ranks of Minnesota working-class activists suffered a loss recently, when the long life of Toinie Mackie ended. The story of her life is a chapter in the history of left politics and labor organizing in the upper Midwest over much of the 20th century. She learned her politics young, and her radical beliefs were still strong at the age of 93.

Toinie was born on the Iron Range, where Finnish immigrants like her father did the hard work in the dangerous mines. When Toinie was nine, a mine accident left her father seriously incapacitated and with only a scanty pension. It was a struggle for the family financially, but the social environment was rich in valuable experience.

Toinie was an active member of the Young Communist League, and met her future husband, Martin Mackie, an organizer for the Timber Workers’ union, at a YCL dance. Gus Hall (just her age), later the longtime head of the Communist Party, was a neighbor in the small town of Cherry, where the family spent summers. In 1929, the year she graduated from high school in Virginia, Minn., she went on a Hunger March to Duluth, demonstrating for jobs and farm relief. Martin Mackie became a full-time union organizer, and Toinie brought in a regular paycheck as a legal secretary – a job she lost when Martin ran for governor as a Communist.

Late in her life, Toinie recalled with pleasure the thirties, peak days for radical politics in Minnesota – the days of Governor Floyd B. Olsen and the Farmer Labor Party, of progressive reforms in Minnesota and then in the nation with the New Deal. And she recalled sadly the five years in the fifties, during the worst of the McCarthy period, when repression drove her husband underground. She remembered also the seventies, when she became friends with Matt and Helvi Savola, Minnesota CPUSA district organizers in Minneapolis, and worked with them for many years.

Toinie Mackie was a member of the Minneapolis Club of the Communist Party at the time of her death, and plans are underway to dedicate an event to her memory.

(Material for this article was drawn from “Life of the Party” by Katy Reckdahl, which appeared in the Minneapolis/St. Paul publication City Pages, Oct. 6, 1999.)

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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