"There're a lot of old radicals here, said one person yesterday afternoon, gazing around Ester Peterson's cozy living room, with fireplace logs ablaze, on upper Northwest 13th Street.
The old radicals came with labels a breed apart -- Amalgamated Clothing Workers, textile workers, steelworkers, International Union of Electrical Workers, Newspaper Guild members . . .
"A lot of United Auto Workers," added Harry Conn, who does public relations for organized labor. He was standing just a few feet from a man who spent his whole life with the UAW, Victor Reuther.
The occasion, marked by the singing of labor songs and "Happy Birthday," was the 100th anniversary of the birth of the famous organized labor songwriter Joe Hill -- "poet and rebel," said labor folksinger Joe Glazer, "who died at age 36 in Salt Lake City, a labor martyr . . . executed for a murder many people doubted he committed."
Songs and talk were led by Glazer, who sings, collects and records labor songs, and Joe Uehlein, a 26-year-old folk singer who has recently recorded labor songs, and learned many of them from his steelworker father.
Joe Hill, who came to this country in 1902 from Sweden, became the songwriter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the "Wobblies," and organization whose workers always sang in solidarity -- at meetings or wherever they assembled -- as their little red songbooks proclaimed in print on the covers, "To Fan Flames of Discontent."
In 1914, a grocer in Salt Lake City was fatally shot in his store by two men. Both fled, but one apparently was shot by the grocer's son. Joe Hill, who suffered a gunshot wound that night, was arrested for the murder and tried. Hill would only say that he was shot by a man in an argument over a woman. Hill never revealed her name, to avoid risking ruin of her honor, Glazer explained yesterday to the group.
The remark brought applause from William R. Hutton, executive director of the National Council of Senior Citizens.
"Unfortunately," said Glazer, "whereas his silence won points with Mr. Hutton, it didn't with the jury."
Hill was executed on Nov. 19, 1915, after intercession by President Woodrow Wilson got him a temporary stay. Shortly before his death, he told his friends, "Don't mourn for me -- organize."
The talk and songs were interrupted, as Glazer was describing how rival unions had rallied to Hill's cause before his death, when a small bird suddenly flew from a corner bookcase across the living room. "It's Joe!" someone cried out, before a door was opened for the bird to fly out.
Among the guests was Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall. "I'm a friend of Joe Glazer's, he said, smiling.
"I love folk singing and I come from Utah, so Joe Hill is part of my history," said Esther Peterson, onetime labor organizer, consumer champion and currently special assistant ot President Carter for consumer affairs. Peterson lived in Sweden, in the late '40s, when her late husband, Oliver Peterson, was U.S. labor attache there.
"Singing Joe Hill songs reminds me of my youth," said Victor Reuther looking at the party guests seated cross-legged on the floor, while an assortment of children and a big German shepard wandered through the room. "It reminds me of the old UAW meetings -- visionary, hopeful, spirited, an enthusiasm worth rekindling."