The Union, Community Organizing, and Civil Liberties:
Clinton Jencks, Salt of the Earth, and Arizona Copper
By Christine Marin Ph.D.
They called him “El Palomino,” as in “Mira, hay viene el Palomino!/ Look, here comes Palomino!”  Just as
the Palomino horse is distinguished by its gold or yellow or cream coat, and its beautiful silver or white
mane, Clinton Jencks, with his shock of smoothly combed blond hair, stood out among the brown-
skinned, black-haired Mexican American workers in Arizona and New Mexico who struggled with him to
build their Mine-Mill unions.

Clinton Jencks, labor union organizer and leader, was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1918, the
son of a postal service employee with a strong labor consciousness. Jencks recalls that, as a young boy,
he and his father took food baskets to striking miners who faced evictions from their company homes.
Upon graduation from high school, Jencks worked at he John Deere company. He attended the University
of Colorado where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics in 1941. During the World War
II period, Jencks served in the Army Air Force and saw action in the Pacific as a navigator of a B-24
squadron. He earned four battle stars, seven air medals, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, Jencks became active with the American Veterans Committee and became president of its
Rocky Mountain chapter in Denver. Through his work with the AVC, Jencks devoted himself to veterans’
issues, such as fair housing, employment, and health care, and sought to bring an end to racial and
ethnic discrimination. It was also during this time that Jencks found work as an acid plant operator in the
American Smelting and Refining Globe Smelter at Denver, and became an active member of the
International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 557, the IUMMSW. In 1947, the union hired
Jencks as their business agent and sent him to Bayard, New Mexico to work with the Amalgamated
Bayard District Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, Local 890, a predominately Mexican American
union. For some years, Local 890 struggled to overcome issues such as job and wage discrimination and
unsafe working conditions at the Empire Zinc Company in Hanover, New Mexico, a subsidiary of the New
Jersey Zinc Company. In 1950, Jencks helped Local 890 stage a fifteenth-month strike against Empire
Zinc. In early 1951, Jencks was elected president of Local 890. During the strike and at a picket line at
the mine’s entrance, Jencks and other strikers were arrested by local law enforcement authorities on
June 12, 1951. He was jailed and placed in solitary confinement for a period of sixteen months.

After his release, Jencks encountered Paul Jerrico, a Hollywood screenwriter who had worked at the
Howard Hughes RKO studio. Jarrico had recently been blacklisted by Hollywood for refusing to reveal his
alleged ties to the Communist Party and for not revealing the names of others who were also suspect of
being party members. Jarrico was vacationing in San Cristobal, New Mexico and was looking for some
story ideas for new film projects. Jencks related to Jarrico the events of the Empire Zinc strike and the
plight of Mexican American miners and their families who struggled for their civil rights in a company town.
Jarrico found the story appealing, and he contacted Hollywood friends to help him produce it
independently. He also asked Jencks to help him write a script based on the Empire Zinc strike. Jencks
agreed, and the idea for the pro-labor film emerged. In 1953, the motion picture, Salt of the Earth, was
filmed in the Silver City-Bayard, New Mexico area, and released for distribution in 1954, amid political
controversy and violence. The film was later denounced on the floor of Congress for its “Communist
influence,” and was later blacklisted by Hollywood and withheld for worldwide distribution. All of those
associated with the film, including Clinton Jencks and his family, were accused of helping to make an un-
American film which promoted Communistic ideas, and which was to be used as a propaganda tool for
those “subversives” whose intent was to overthrow the American government.

On April 17, 1953, Clinton Jencks was arrested, charged and indicted with allegedly falsifying his non-
Communist Taft-Hartley affidavit. The affidavit was required of all union leaders under the Taft-Hartley Act
of 1947, and which Jencks signed on April 28, 1950. He was accused of having lied when he denied
membership in the Communist Party, and of having lied when he denied his affiliation with Communism.
The International Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union rallied around his defense and mounted a
massive effort to help Jencks, but to no avail. His chief accuser was Harvey Matusow, a paid FBI
informant and a Communist turned-undercover agent for the FBI. The so-called “Jencks Trial” took place
in El Paso, Texas in 1954. Matusow stated in the trial that Jencks had Communistic ties to the party,
charges that were later proven to be untrue. In his 1955 publication, False Witness, Matusow admitted
that he had lied about Jencks, and he admitted this again when Jencks appealed for a new trial. On
October 26, 1955, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans affirmed the guilty verdict against Jencks. In
a 1957 landmark decision known as the “Jencks Case,” the United States Supreme Court declared
Matusow’s charges invalid, and declared Jencks innocent of all charges which tied him to the Communist
Party. Jencks was now a free man. In 1964, Jencks obtained his Ph.D. degree in Economics from the
University of California at Berkeley. That same year, he was hired as a Professor of Economics at San
Diego State University, where he taught until his retirement. He is now Professor Emeriti, San Diego
State University, and currently resides in San Diego.

In 1994, the Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Arizona State University Libraries, Tempe, acquired
the Clinton Jencks Papers from Professor Emeriti Jencks. The following year, I arranged and processed
the collection.  The Clinton Jencks Papers contain information about his labor organizing activities with
the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers in the southwest during the periods from 1950
to 1957. They also consist of IUMMSW union memorandums, newsletters, newspaper and magazine
articles and printed matter about Jencks’ activities as International union representative of Amalgamated
Bayard District Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 890. The collection includes information
about the fifteenth-month Empire Zinc strike in Hanover, New Mexico, led by Local 890, IUMMSW. Also
included in the Papers is information about the “Jencks Case,” the 1954 trial in El Paso, where Jencks
successfully fought false and untrue charges brought against him by an undercover FBI informant who
believed Jencks to be a member of the Communist Party. The collection extends from 1950-1957, and has
been divided into five series: JENCKS CASE; MINE MILL DEFENSE FUND; UNION LOCALS; EMPIRE ZINC
STRIKE; and UNION NEWSLETTERS.
Print
The JENCKS CASE series consists of memorandums
written by John Clark, President of the International
Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union during
the period from 1953-1956 which urged union
members to support the legal defense of Clinton
Jencks, who was falsely accused of being a member
of the Communist Party. Also included in the series
are newspaper articles about the Jencks Trial and
case during the period from 1953-1955. The series
also consists of printed matter circulated by the
Jencks Defense Committee which describes the legal
proceedings and events of the so-called “Jencks
Trial” held in El Paso, Texas in 1954. Also included in
the series is a copy of the legal document attested
to by Harvey M. Matusow, a self-acknowledged
Communist and under-cover FBI informant, who
confessed to lying in his testimony about Clinton
Jencks’ ties to Communism, and which was cited as
the reason why the Jencks case was declared
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invalid by the United States Supreme Court in 1957.

The MINE MILL DEFENSE FUND is a series of memorandums written by various union officials calling for
the financial support of the legal defense of Clinton Jencks. Union members are encouraged to be
generous with their donations.

The UNION LOCALS series consists of International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union
correspondence and newsletters of union Locals in Ray-Sonora, and Morenci, Arizona; Bayard, New
Mexico; and El Paso, Texas during the period from 1951-1955. Newsletters describe events such as labor
disputes; the Empire Zinc Strike; and contract negotiations between unions and management. Some of
the newsletters are bilingual in text, written in English and in Spanish.

The EMPIRE ZINC STRIKE series consists of information about the strike of Mine Mill Local 890 at Hanover,
New Mexico against the Empire Zinc Company, a division of the New Jersey Zinc Company, during the
period from October, 1950 to January, 1951. Also included is information about the pro-labor motion
picture, Salt of the Earth, filmed near Bayard, New Mexico in 1953 and which depicts the events
surrounding the Empire Zinc strike and released in 1954.

The UNION NEWSLETTERS series consists of Mine-Mill union newsletters and bulletins of union affiliates in
Ray, Arizona and Denver, Colorado during the period from 1954-1955. Issues such as union contracts
and wages for workers as they relate to the Ray Mines Division of the Kennecott Copper Company are
discussed.

Clinton Jencks’ presence among Arizona copper workers was established in January, 1948, when he was
President of the Bayard, New Mexico District Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 890. He and
his wife, Virginia, came to Douglas to meet with Phelps Dodge Copper Corporation’s Mine, Mill and
Smelter workers and their families. He helped workers from the Phelps Dodge Council, comprised of
representatives from Arizona’s Mine Mill Locals in Morenci, Bisbee, and Douglas, formulate their goals and
objectives, and build strategies against Phelps Dodge management, who threatened to disrupt their
union organizing activities and efforts. Primarily, the Council sought “joint negotiations with other unions
in Phelps Dodge plants, and to build a substantial strike fund in every local union.”   Just two years
earlier, in 1946, the Phelps Dodge miners were supported in their strike against the company with funds
raised by the Miami Miners Union Local 586, and so it seemed logical for workers to contribute as much
as they could to other Locals’ strike funds in order to help workers through difficult economic hardships.  

Organized labor was formally initiated in the Miami, Arizona area in 1942. This labor movement stemmed
from the national trend toward unionization which was sweeping the country at this time. Before unions
were organized in the Miami, Arizona’s copper industry, labor relations were often handled by an
employees’ committee. The committee was comprised of four workers, elected from various departments,
and representatives from the company; i.e, Miami Copper Company, Inspiration Consolidated Copper
Company, and the International Smelter and Refining Company. They met once a month and discussed
labor-management problems. Workers were usually Euro-American workers, those who didn’t speak
about those issues regarding Mexican or Mexican American workers’ issues: issues such as the dual-
wage system of work and pay; racial and ethnic discrimination in the work place and reflected in the pay
scale; propias, or bribes the Mexicans and Mexican Americans had to pay Euro-American foremen in order
to keep their jobs, avoid being fired, and at will, or without justification. Exploitation of Mexican and
Mexican American workers was common. Although there were several attempts to establish ideal
working conditions, there was little or no success in these efforts.  Clinton Jencks was not a stranger to
this history of labor conditions of Mexican and Mexican American workers in the mining industry. Through
his work as a Mine Mill labor organizer, he learned that events similar to those occurring in Miami,
Arizona, were also taking place in nearby locations such as Morenci, Bisbee, Ray, and Sonora.   

In 1953, Mine Mill Local 915 of Sonora began a community effort to bring an end to company housing
segregation imposed by the Kennecott Copper Company against its Mexican and Mexican American
workers. For example, when Kennecott extended its open-pit mine too close to housing where Mexican
and Mexican American families lived, blasting caused extensive and dangerous cave-ins to occur. The
homes of eighteen Mexican American families were extremely damaged. The lives of these families were
threatened, and they were forced to leave their homes. One family with seven children moved to a two-
room shack and had to set up beds outside. Other families moved in with other relatives, or with
neighbors and friends. Company housing was available in near-by Ray, where twenty company houses
were empty. However, Ray was where Euro- American workers lived. Kennecott refused to allow these
Mexican American families to move into Ray. This refusal brought to a head the smoldering resentment of
the Mexican and Mexican American community of Sonora, as well as that of sympathetic Euro-Americans
in Ray.  Mine Mill Local 915 stepped in to try to resolve the issue and to bring an end to the company’s
long-standing housing discrimination policy in Ray and Sonora. The union called community meetings to
discuss the situation in Sonora. Soon, a committee comprised of Mexican American and Euro-American
organizations, such as veterans’ clubs, church clubs, and men and womens’ clubs from both Ray and
Sonora was formed. Together, they formulated a set of four demands in their letters sent to Kennecott
Company officials, and sanctioned by Mine Mill Local 915: 1) provide immediate housing in Ray for all
displaced Mexican American families from Sonora; 2) build new housing for workers in Sonora and in Ray;
3) clean up the town of Sonora and get rid of the open sewers near homes there, thus eliminating a long-
standing health problem for the Mexican and Mexican American families, which had been ignored by
Kennecott officials; and 4) put an end to the segregation of Mexican Americans and Euro-Americans and
eliminate Kennecott’s segregated housing policy.
Two months passed, and still no response from
Kennecott concerning the demands stated in the
letters of Local 915. It was a difficult time for the
families who had been displaced by the cave-ins,
who had moved in with other family member,
neighbors, or friends in Sonora, thereby causing
hardships for many.   Local 915, however, received
an August 8 letter from the Kennecott Copper
Company, in which it agreed to build eighteen
houses in Sonora to replace those destroyed as a
result of the ground settlement adjacent to the pit.
Kennecott also agreed to hire a building contractor
to survey the housing situation in Ray and Sonora,
and that it would make available water and sewage
disposal facilities in the area. Most importantly,
however, Kennecott agreed that any new housing
built in Sonora or Ray would be made available to all
company employees on an equal basis without
regard to nationality. Such results, however, would
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not be implemented by Kennecott in Ray and Sonora until a year later, in 1954. But the year-long wait for
results did not discourage the communities of Ray and Sonora from continuing with their efforts to create
change in their towns. Kennecott’s concessions meant labor and moral victories for both Mine Mill Local
915 and the Mexican American community of Sonora. It is important to note that these victories were
won by a cooperative effort on the part of Euro-Americans and Mexican Americans in Ray and Sonora.
Such community efforts are strikingly similar to those won by the Euro-American and Mexican American
community members of Hanover,  New Mexico and their strike against the Empire Zinc Company. In each
instance, Euro-Americans and Mexican Americans worked together through their union and their
communities for common causes that benefited both groups.

In 1953, Clinton Jencks worked with International Union of Mine Mill and Smelter Workers Union
representatives Maclovio Barraza of Arizona and Vicente Becerra of New Mexico to organize miners at the
Coronado Copper and Zinc Company in Dragoon, Arizona, located in Cochise County. Within two years,
Mine Mill Local 926 would enter successful contract negotiations with the Company, and Clinton Jencks
would be at the forefront of union leadership.  That same year, 1955, Jencks served as Unity Council
Coordinator for the Mine-Mill International and worked with other organizers to raise funds to support
Arizona’s Mine Mill Local 915, Ray-Sonora, and IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)
Local 22380, Hayden and Ray, in their strike against the Kennecott Copper Company.  A major issue in
the strike was Kennecott’s position on wage differentials among Kennecott workers in Arizona, Nevada,
Utah, and New Mexico. They refused to pay all workers the same wage, and would not agree to give
workers the same increase in wages. On this issue, Kennecott refused to budge. Officials maintained
that copper output and working conditions in each of their divisions and locations varied and were
subject to change due to unforeseen conditions. For these reasons, Kennecott said that their position
regarding wage differentials was justified. In effect, this meant that each Local had to negotiate for their
own wage increases and implementations. By August, the Kennecott strike was over, and the new
contract negotiations for Arizona workers would reflect their new wages as $13.02 per an 8-hour day,
and New Mexico and Utah workers would earn $13.18 per an 8-hour day.   Clinton Jencks’ reports to
Mine-Mill Local 915, Ray-Sonora workers, in which he reported the results of negotiations with Kennecott,
are filled with details and news about the strike. They were widely circulated among union members, and
Jencks always wrote of hope and a favorable end to their strike.  

Jencks’ warm labor relations with the copper workers of Arizona were evident in other examples during
his period as a labor union representative for the IUMMSW. This was most  evident in 1953 to 1955,
when Jencks was fighting charges brought against him by the Justice Department, and when he had to
defend himself against charges suggesting that he was a member of the Communist Party, and having
lied about it on his Taft-Hartley non-Communist affidavit.

The IUMMSW established a Jencks Defense Fund to help Jencks in his legal efforts to fight the untrue
charges against him. Locals throughout the southwest organized fund and letter writing committees to
help him clear his name, and pledged financial monthly contributions for his defense. The president of
Miami Miners Union, Local 586, Robert Barcon, among others, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General
Herbert Brownell, asking him to dismiss the indictment against Jencks and to drop all charges filed.  Prior
to trial, Jencks went on tours to southwest Locals in order to tell his story of how and why he was
indicted. In Arizona, he met with Locals in Miami, Morenci, Bisbee, Winkelman, Hayden, Ray and Sonora.  
He used his own situation as an example of how easily the work of trade unions could be destroyed by
anti-labor forces, and urged all members to support their union and work together to fight the forces that
threatened to destroy the union movement, and the gains made by labor to protect the rights of the
working class. Above all, Jencks stressed the need for worker unity, despite the outcome of his trial.

This message was most evident at the Mine-Mill Southwest Conference held in Tucson, Arizona in
November of 1954. Arizona Locals hosted union delegates from El Paso, Texas, and from Carlsbad and
Bayard, New Mexico. Juan Chacon and Robert Kirker, representing Local 890, spoke of their strike against
the Empire Zinc Company. Clinton Jencks thanked delegates for supporting him during his legal
difficulties.  

To the Mexican American copper workers of Arizona, Clinton Jencks symbolized their struggle to build
unions that represented their social, cultural, and economic concerns as laborers, and as Americans.
Their struggles for equality and dignity paralleled Jencks’ own experiences as a union member, and those
of their union brothers and sisters in Grant County, New Mexico, and their strike against the Empire Zinc
Company. Jencks’ legacy, and that of the men and women of Grant County and their labor movement, is
still visible in Arizona. In Tucson, for example, the Salt of the Earth Labor College, a community labor
school founded in 1992 by working class labor and union activists, offers classes, sponsors community
forums and workshops, and supports the AFL-CIO’s efforts in organizing the men and women who
struggle to earn a fair wage in a Right-To-Work Law state.  

The Salt of the Earth Labor College is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Empire Zinc Strike and
also the making of the film, Salt of the Earth, near Bayard, New Mexico in 1953 and released in 1954. The
working class college began their observation in March of this year with an International Women’s Day
program and has planned an all-day program for November 19 in Tucson. Plans are also underway for a
gathering at Silver City with others there to commemorate the labor victory won by Empire Zinc strikers,
Mine Mill Local 890 at Hanover, New Mexico during the period from October, 1950 to January, 1951. Their
victory, as well as the victories won by labor unions elsewhere, continue to serve as an inspiration to
working people worldwide. And their struggles become landmark struggles for the civil rights of racial and
ethnic minorities, for women’s equality, and for the right to organize.
Dr. Christine Marin Curator/Archivist and Historian of the
Chicano Research Collection, Department of Archives and
Special Collections, Hayden Library, Arizona State University
E-mail:
Christine.Marin@asu.edu
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Published by the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues in Phoenix, Arizona
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Clinton Jencks with union members  of Local 890, IUMMSW, Bayard, New  Mexico, 1951, at the height of the  “Salt of the Earth” labor strike. From  Left to Right: Ernesto Velasquez;  Clinton Jencks; Pablo Montoya; Fred  Barreras; Cipriano Montoya; Vicente  Becerra. Photograph: Chicano Research Collection, Hayden Library
Clinton Jencks with union members
of Local 890, IUMMSW, Bayard, New
Mexico, 1951, at the height of the
“Salt of the Earth” labor strike. From
Left to Right: Ernesto Velasquez;
Clinton Jencks; Pablo Montoya; Fred
Barreras; Cipriano Montoya; Vicente
Becerra.
Clinton Jencks and his wife, Virginia, with their two children, Michael and Linda. Denver, Color., 1953. Photograph: Chicano Research Collection, Hayden Library
“Clinton Jencks and his wife,
Virginia, with their two children,
Michael and Linda. Denver, Color.,
1953.”
Photographs: Chicano Research
Collection, Hayden Library
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