Joyce Maupin, 1921-1998

Against the Current, No. 79, March/April 1999

Barri Boone

JOYCE MAUPIN, A long-time revolutionary activist and writer and a founder of Union WAGE (Women’s Alliance to Gain Equality), died last September 14.

Joyce loved to recount the story about “women in line to pee” leading to the formation of Union WAGE, the organization they spent a decade building. Her friend, Jean Maddox (ex-Communist Party) attended a March, 1971 conference on Women’s Day at UCB (Berkeley) called by NOW. Standing in line for the bathroom, Jean chatted with Anne Draper (ex-International Socialists), both complaining that there was nothing on the program about working women.

Less than a month after its founding, WAGE mobilized a demonstration of over 100 supporters protesting the state’s Industrial Welfare Commission’s failure to reopen and revise the fourteen industry orders covering some 2.5 million workers. Within its first year WAGE organized support for workers trying to form unions and campaigned for extending protective legislation to all workers.

WAGE members paraded against the war in Vietnam and for reproductive choice. And WAGE published a well-read newsletter, which changed its format to a regular bi-monthly newspaper in early 1972. Joyce played a critical role as editor with this newspaper, writing regular columns about “labor heroines” in order to share with younger women her long experience and the history of struggle.

The paper was astonishing in its range of coverage, from ongoing campaigns and strikes to international news about women workers and analysis of new developments such as the Coalition of Labor Union Women (devoting two full pages to differing points of view among the eighteen WAGE members who attended the CLUW founding convention in 1974).

Joyce, herself a former member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), was proud that the initial organizers of Union WAGE were women from three different left political groups working together to train women “to empower themselves, democratize unions and not become bureaucrats like in CLUW!”

A Life of Struggle

Joyce was born four years after the Russian Revolution to a woman journalist who published in McCalls magazine a firsthand account of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith in Russia,” about how the revolution affected the common folk. Quite a red diaper!

Joyce traveled to Germany with her boyfriend, arriving the day Hitler took power. The Nazis were banging on the front door where she was staying and her boyfriend ran out the back door!

The whole family in the house died during World War II. This traumatic event led Joyce to ask the question: “How can they let Hitler come to power without fighting back?” Before completely attaining adulthood, Joyce made her life’s vow to never stop fighting back—and kept it.

She skipped college because she realized she could “write even without college!” Her question led her to politics and to Trotskyism, and she joined the SWP. By the late `50s she led a minority tendency.

In 1957 when the SWP wanted to run its own candidate for mayor of NYC, the male leadership was stumped as to who could do the job. Joyce volunteered to run and thought that they only accepted her candidacy because they were so stunned at her suggestion, they couldn’t think of a reason to say “no.”

Her campaign won the SWP 14,000 votes, more than in previous years. Party leader Murray Weiss in his majority report to the SWP plenum stated, “The most significant result of the l957 city election campaign was obtained in NYC. The SWP ticket, headed by Joyce Cowley (Maupin —BB) gained the support of a large section of the Communist Party ranks and of the former periphery of the CP.”

Joyce herself insisted on speaking to women workers, youth, and in particular to workers in Harlem. Their response was her measure of success.

Joyce saw the crisis in Stalinism after the East German uprising and the Hungarian Revolution and its impact on the world working class, as an opportunity for the SWP to break out of its double isolation from the mass movement and from the radical workers in the United States.

Critical of the SWP’s post-1956 efforts toward regroupment, she stated her position in 1958 for a “basic strategic proletarian orientation. Our primary party task continues to be propaganda activity within the working class, with particular attention to the growing receptivity of the Negro people and the working and student youth, as well as party intervention on issues facing broad sections of the masses wherever practical opportunities exist.”

Dissatisfied with the SWP’s orientation toward campuses, Joyce left the party in 1962, determined to continue to do work that she believed in, party or no party.

She worked in various clerical jobs, a single mom supporting her only daughter, Irene. Years later Irene would explain that yes, Joyce has been an inspiration to many of us, BUT—it was just a wee bit awkward to be in your teens in the McCarthyite `50s and have your mom’s face on posters running as a socialist (!) for mayor, all along the pathway to your high school, just hoping that your friends wouldn’t notice!

In San Francisco, Joyce worked at a clerical job for ILWU Local 10, and was active in OPEU Local 29. Twice she organized a strike there. The first one was over a shop steward being fired because she wouldn’t go to bed with “Smitty,” a “President/gangster.” A three-day strike ensued, with the women carrying signs that read “Longshore Girls on Strike.”

After immediate arbitration, the steward was rehired with full back pay. During the strike International ILWU President Harry Bridges had to “shove his secretary out the door, because her scabbing would make him look bad,” Joyce recounted with a twinkle in her eye, on several occasions. And Smitty had tried to hire scabs during the strike!

The second strike resulted when Joyce called the Pacific Maritime Association to close the office where the secretaries worked because of health and safety problems that were in violation of the codes of the Industrial Welfare Commission, which were ignored by the men. The CP women felt it anathema to “strike against Harry,” but Joyce was, as ever, compelled to “do the right thing!”

Always A Fighter

When WAGE decided to dissolve, Joyce went on to organize the Household Cleaners Co-op, mostly Black and Latin women, and pioneered development of non-toxic housecleaning. The group developed excellent resources and shared them with newly formed support groups of people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) in the `80’s. The co-op was so widely recognized and used in San Francisco and the East Bay (with links in South America) that a LaRouche-type group copped a similar name.

Joyce had battled with bad health for several decades, but always worked with poor and working class women as she could, assisting in the early organizing of home care workers by SEIU Local 616 in Oakland.

Her final struggle was against the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) leading tenants in her public housing complex for seniors. Shoddy remodeling of a poorly constructed building took place over eleven years, with Joyce finally convincing the other tenants to join in a suit against OHA, which was legally represented by none other than one-time “Free Speech” figure Dan Siegel.

Many tenants died before the settlement, but Joyce, with failing health, managed to enjoy the victory money, purchasing her first brand new dining/work table, a comfortable reclining chair, and bookcases months before she died.

About a week before her death I stopped at her chiropractor’s office so she could return a video of “Reds.” She was in severe pain, but said she wanted to read more about John Reed to discover how he came to know so much about the Russian Revolution, that he told the same story she had heard from her mother so long ago.

Joyce’s heart and mind pulsed with the major issues of the 20th century. She balanced her “fightin’ spirit” with her love for baseball, her cat, Chinese almond cookies, books, and mostly her love for her daughter Irene and her “adopted” daughter Judith. I’m proud to say that I have, as I’m sure many have, incorporated Joyce Maupin into my “inner wise woman.”

Joyce Maupin wrote a pamphlet called “Labor Heroines: Ten women who led the struggle.” By all justice she should be known as the “Eleventh Woman,” joining those who lived the struggle her entire life.

ATC 79, March-April 1999

1 comment

  1. A reader pointed out that Joyce’s Social Security record has her birth date listed as 1921, not 1914, which appears in the print edition. I have edited the article on the website so that it reflects what we now know.

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