Will Parry was a boy when the stock market crashed in 1929. But he understood "what the Great Depression meant when his father’s business went bankrupt in Seattle: Money was tight, he says, very tight."
The Depression radicalized Parry, Sr. father, who had his own small advertising agency and he, in turn, radicalized his son. He took the boy to hear speakers like William Z. Foster and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, both early-day communist leaders and also activists in the labor movement. Foster organized the first steel strike and Gurly Flynn was involved in the strike of the garment workers that led to the establishment of International Women’s Day. He also took him to hear Woody Guthrie sing and play in the Workers Alliance Hall down in the Skid Road.
- The older Parry got, the more he also understood the speeches of the leftist labor organizers and Wobblies that his father took him to see in the 1930s. By the time he was in college, Parry firmly believed in the ideal of communism and, with it, that working people, not bankers, know what’s best for the common welfare.
- In his many years as a journalist, labor activist, lobbyist, labor history teacher and advocate for the retired, it’s an ideal Parry has never stopped working toward and did not renounce back in 1947, when the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act demanded that he and other workers sign an anti-communist oath. Nor did his beliefs waver when, a year later, he was summoned to what is now the Seattle Center House to testify before the state version of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He gave the panel a big, fat Fifth Amendment.
Becoming a communist
- I became communist. I had gone to [what was then] Washington State College and spent three years over there [in Pullman] and in my final year I hitchhiked over to Seattle and joined the Young Communist League. I had subscribed to the Daily People’s World, which later became the People’s World, a weekly. I was persuaded by its political line that [communists] were on the right track, so I thought I better get into the action.
Communist Party's May Day Salute
In 1995 the Communist Party USA newspaper People's Weekly World, published a "May Day salute" to the "heroes in the class war zone". More than 100 unionists/activists endorsed the call, mostly known affiliates, or members of the Communist Party.
On April 24, 2010 the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans, where Parry has spent the past 16 years writing newsletter articles on everything from saving Social Security to passing health care reform, threw a 90th birthday party that drew "half of progressive Seattle to sing his praises and served to remind Parry just how much times have changed."
At his birthday party, Will Parry picked up his guitar and led 400 union brothers and sisters, family, comrades, and friends in singing "Carry It On" ending, "No more tears, for we're still singing."
Sponsored by the Puget Sound Alliance of Retired Americans, the celebration resounded with songs, poetry, and heartfelt tributes. Parry together with his late wife, Louise, helped build the labor movement and the senior citizen movement in the Pacific Northwest. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Washington, he worked as a factory worker at Longview Fiber, a box factory organized by the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers.
Robby Stern, PSARA president, told the banquet crowd, "Will has had an inspiring presence in the lives of everyone who is here. I have had the responsibility of stepping into the incredible shoes of the incredible Will Parry."
Stern urged the crowd to help place on the ballot an initiative to establish a "a really progressive income tax in Washington State." The initiative would tax couples with $400,000 income while lowering property taxes 20 percent. Washington State's soak-the-poor 8 percent sales tax has generated sharply lower revenues during this recession, forcing health care and public education cutbacks. "Sign up if you are prepared to go out and collect signatures," Stern said. "This is the opportunity of our lifetime and we have to win it."
Rep. Jim McDermott's aide David Loud read a letter from Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., hailing Will Parry as a leader of the fight for comprehensive, universal health care reform. "We are indebted to you for your years of service," McDermott wrote.
Ed Coyle, executive director of the Alliance of Retired Americans brought greetings from ARA headquarters in Washington. He said the staff waits for the arrival of the PSARA's newsletter, the Retiree Advocate, edited by Parry. He praised Parry as a national leader of the senior citizen movement.
Jeff Johnson, assistant to the president of the Washington State Labor Council spoke of Parry's affiliation with the Communist Party USA of Washington State, the Pension Union and the Washington Commonwealth Federation that "became so strong they elected a Communist to the legislature" during the 1940s.
Parry was targeted in the Red Scare of the 1950s, Johnson continued. "The Taft Hartley Act was passed and radicals were being purged from the labor movement. As Will said, 'They drove the radicals out and it took the starch out of the labor movement.'"
In recent years, the Washington Labor Council "honored him as a hero of the Washington State labor movement," Johnson concluded.
Bill Farris, president of AWPPW Local 817 at the corrugated box plant where Parry worked for many years, said, "He's an advocate for people who needed help, an advocate for the union. I've lost count of the number of picketlines I've walked with Will."
Lynn Domingo an organizer with Legacy of Equality, Leadership, and Organizing said she enrolled in a labor history course Parry was teaching at Shoreline Community College. "I was floundering, wondering where I was going," she said. "I have to thank you for the salvation you provided in that class."
Thurston Muskelly, board member of the Central Area Senior Center, praised Parry for his fightback against President Reagan's drive to "destroy public health." The center was facing bankruptcy and Parry spearheaded a fund drive that brought in $131,000.
Ron McGaha, a member of Machinists Local 751 recited his poem. When Parry was born he let his mother know, "I'll nurse from the left, not the right." Parry spent his life, "defending the left against the right...Progress always comes from the left, not the right."
With his guitar slung over his shoulder, Parry thanked the crowd and echoed the appeal to get enough signatures to put the State Income Tax initiative on the ballot.
"I'm glad my birthday served as an excuse to get us all together," he said. It is a time, he said, to celebrate the unity and strength of the movement, "not the feeble strength of one.",
Peoples World picnic
- [ http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021019235_parryobitxml.html?syndication=rss, Seattle Times, Seattle labor activist Will Parry dies at 93, Emily Heffter May 19, 2013]
- People's Weekly World May 6 1995 p 2
- People's World website: Hero of labor, Will Parry, celebrates 90th birthday, April 27, 2010 (accessed on April 28, 2010)
-  People's World picnic: High spirits, big bucks, Peoples World, July 21 2010