Labor stalwart Irene Hull dies at 98

SEATTLE-Irene Hull, a beloved fighter for trade union rights, world peace, equality, and socialism died on the first day of spring, March 20, in Seattle. She was 98.

A week to the day before her death, she attended her Communist Party club meeting in Seattle. Someone announced the Saint Patrick’s Day rally in Olympia to protest budget cuts and to demand that the legislature “tax the rich.” Hull spoke up: “I’ll go if someone picks me up.”

She was a tiny dynamo, two inches shy of five feet tall, barely over 100 pounds. She became a national labor heroine when the Seattle chapter of Jobs With Justice (JwJ) published a poster in 1995 of several enormous police officers arresting Irene Hull.

Lonnie Nelson, a Seattle JwJ leader and a member of Irene’s CP club, recalled that day. “It was during a sit-in at Republican Party headquarters to protest their attacks on Medicare,” Nelson said. “When the Seattle police told Irene to move, she told them, ‘I’m going to go limp.’

“So they handcuffed all of us, hauled us out and put us on a transit bus and took us to the county jail,” Nelson continued. “They had us in jail for hours. We sang union songs. We talked about standing up against the vicious Republican attack on Medicare. Through it all, Irene’s big concern was my wrists aching from those tight handcuffs.” Nelson laughed merrily at the memory.

Quality healthcare for all was the last big battle she fought. Every week, she passed out the People’s World to every union office in the Seattle Labor Temple.

A member of the Brotherhood of Bookbinders Local 87, she was recipient of the 2008 Mother Jones Award. Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, the city’s first African American mayor, proclaimed Sept. 7, 1996 “Irene Hull Day.”

Irene Hull was born Feb. 22, 1913, in Republic, Kan. Her family moved to Southern California when she was seven. Her father was a “jack-of-all-trades” instilling in his daughter “a sense of where workers ought to be, in their unions,” Hull said in an oral history interview.

She graduated from UCLA with a degree in education and soon after met her husband. It was her father-in-law who introduced her to Marxism, arguing in support of women’s equality and socialism. Hull joined the Communist Party USA in 1942.

During World War II, Hull found work in the Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver, Washington, installing insulation in Liberty ships and taught at the federally funded daycare center for the children of “Rosie the Riveter” shipyard workers.

Hull moved to Seattle and threw herself into the struggle to preserve the federal childcare program. It succeeded in convincing the Seattle School Board to keep them open for three years after the war. By now, Hull, herself, had three young daughters, Bev, Sally, and Marj. Marj Sutherland followed in her mother’s footsteps, a party leader in Tacoma and sparkplug of the progressive movement. She predeceased her mother. Pushkara Sally Ashford is a peace and justice advocate, a gifted singer, living on Whidbey Island. Bev Rader lives with her husband in Chehalis. Hull is also survived by her 10 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren.

During the years of Cold War repression, FBI agents followed her from job to job, pressuring employers to fire her. She helped form the defense committee for those blacklisted and expelled from their unions. She was a delegate to the 27th Convention of the CPUSA, July 2001, in Milwaukee, Wis.

In the struggle to rebuild after Cold War setbacks, Hull joined the Seattle Rank and File Committee, was a founder of the Seattle Coalition of Labor Union Women, and Washington State JwJ. Since 1980 she has been a “delegate in perpetuity” to the King County Central Labor Council. Hull was also a founding member of the now disbanded Seattle Women Act for Peace.

She was one of nearly 60 union members from Washington State who flew via Canada to join in the Sept. 19, 1981, “Solidarity Day” march protesting President Reagan’s firing of 12,000 PATCO workers. She traveled to the Soviet Union and was a Venceremos brigadista to Cuba.

Evergreen Labor presented Hull with their “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2002. Speaking on behalf of the Washington State Labor Council, Robby Stern, now president of Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans, said, “She has never stopped fighting for us. Irene, we love you!”

Photos: Irene Hull is arrested for protesting GOP attacks on Medicare in 1995. In black and white photo, children, including Irene’s eldest, Bev, protest Washington State’s  Canwell Committee in 1948. It was one of the HUAC/McCarthy committees that conducted political witchhunts during the 1940s and 50s. (Courtesy of Pushkara Sally Ashford)


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives in Sequim, Wash., in the home he shared with his beloved late wife Joyce Wheeler. His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a kind of history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view.