a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, October 12, 2009

Socialism isn't a bad word here

A Louis Goaziou poster promoting a circa 1949 meeting circa of United Steelworkers of America Local 1758 at the Slovak Hall in Donora, Pa.

By Scott Beveridge

CHARLEROI, Pa. – A historical society restoring a print shop founded by a famous Socialist in America’s labor movement has discovered a time capsule inside the century-old building where time has been frozen for as many years.

Members of Charleroi Area Historical Society, while moving heavy shelves in the Louis Goaziou Building, found printing proofs of his jobs to make posters advertising the many unions that once held power in the Mon Valley.

“I mean the whole place is a time capsule, really,” said Nikki Sheppick, chairman of the society in Charleroi, Pa., a town that was a hotbed for union activism during the 1920s and 1940s.

Goaziou’s legacy was destroyed by his relatives in a hurry during U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy's 10-year witch hunt to rid the country of Communists through 1957. To avoid problems, the Goaziou family burned everything that linked it to Louis Goaziou, who has been called the most-prominent leader of the Franco-American Socialist Movement.

He was born March 22, 1864, in Scrignac County in the French province of Brittany, where his family raised him to be a priest. He shunned the church, immigrated to America in 1880 and settled in Charleroi, where he published a French-language newspaper, L’Union Des Travailleurs, which, when translated, means The Union of Workers.

In an earlier propaganda sheet, Goaziou promoted the violent Pullman Strike against railroads in 1894. Later, he touted visits to Charleroi by Eugene V. Debs during that man’s unsuccessful bid on Socialist ticket for the White House and the spunky coal mining activist known as Mother Jones.

But behind the shelves of his shop, Sheppick found on a windowsill under an inch of dust a stack of print jobs for unions, work that sustained the Goazious on a day-to-day basis.

There she found a ticket stub for a 1923 boxing match in Charleroi, an event that cost $2 plus a 20-cent tax to pay down the debt of World War I. There are other signs promoting union meetings at U.S. Steel mills in nearby Donora, as well as those for a bar run by a union bartender, a union barbershop and the Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Projectionists.

The printing presses, and all the type that went into these posters, remain to this day where Goaziou arranged them in his modest, two-story brick storefront building.

Yet it’s going to take some time for this museum at 807 Fallowfield Ave. to open to the general public. The society is wading through the complicated steps of winning architectural and borough approval to erect handicap ramps to the entrances, something that could happen as early as November.

Click here to read more about Goaziou on this blog.

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