Shot for Communications for Change's "Documenting Social History: Chicago's Elderly Speak" oral history series. Boris Ross, an immigrant from the Soviet Union, describes his experiences as a union organizer in Chicago during the 1920s.
0:01Copy video clip URL Boris Ross, a Russian immigrant, talks about his experiences as a union organizer. Ross came to the United States through Ellis Island in 1922, and moved to Chicago. His family was initially detained, but his uncle in Chicago was able to use his connections to expedite the immigration process. Initially, Ross did not intend to stay in the United States. However, his family pressured him to start working in order to support his elderly parents, and he took a job in the stockyards.
7:06Copy video clip URL Ross noticed that the workers in the stockyards were mostly foreigners who were unable to communicate with each other because they all spoke different languages. Ross spoke several languages, and so he began trying to organize the workers into a union. He describes the awful conditions in the stockyards, and how he had to hide the smell from his family, who did not know that he had taken a job in the stockyards.
10:50Copy video clip URL Ross was forced to start his education from scratch after a visit to the Russian consulate, who tore up his diploma because it was from the Soviet Union. Ross continued to work in the stockyards, but was discovered by his brother, who had connections with the company and found him a job in the employment department. Ross had to quit the job because the smell of the stockyards was causing him to fall ill. A lot of workers were affected by similar problems caused by the conditions at the stockyards.
14:47Copy video clip URL Before quitting his job, Ross continued to try and organize the workers at the stockyards. After quitting, he began working at a knitting factory, where he continued his union activities. Ross urged the workers to join the May Day demonstration, and he was shocked to find that the workers did not know that May Day originated in Chicago as a result of the Haymarket riot.
21:37Copy video clip URL The company management eventually discovered that Ross had been distributing union propaganda to the workers. They told Ross that he could someday become a manager, but Ross refused to dissociate himself from the workers, and was immediately fired. He kept moving from company to company under assumed names, distributing union propaganda for as long as he could until he was fired. He says that in the first six months in the United States, he held eighteen jobs.
26:06Copy video clip URL Ross’ cousin found him a job with the Bridgeport Tobacco Company, where he worked for several years. Ross graduated high school and started attending YMCA College. While there, he wrote a paper on the constitution of the Soviet Union, which fascinated his pre-law professor, Frank Spencer. Ross believes this eventually led Spencer to become a radical. Spencer was later part of the group of faculty members who left the school to start Roosevelt College.
30:28Copy video clip URL Ross found a success as a cigarette salesman while he attended junior college, and later attended DePaul University. When the Depression hit, his father and his brother lost their jobs.
32:33Copy video clip URL End of tape. Video ends in mid-sentence.