Clara Fraser was born to Jewish immigrant parents in multi-ethnic, working class East Los Angeles. Her father, Samuel Goodman, was a Teamster. Her mother, Emma Goodman, was a garment worker and later a Business Agent of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Fraser joined the Socialist Party’s youth group in junior high school.
By 1945, after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in literature and education, Fraser was a recruit to the ideas of Leon Trotsky, whose campaign against Stalinism had gained adherents worldwide. She joined the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) that year. In 1946, she moved to the Pacific Northwest to help build the SWP's Seattle branch.
As an assembly line electrician, Fraser joined the Boeing strike of 1948. When the union was slapped with an anti-picketing injunction, she put together a mothers' brigade to walk the line with baby strollers. After the strike, Boeing fired and blacklisted Fraser, and the FBI pursued her for a decade.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Fraser stayed active in the labor arena, worked to end segregation, advocated for women, and opposed the Vietnam War. She worked with her then-husband, Richard S. Fraser, in developing Revolutionary Integration, which explains the interdependence of the struggles for socialism and African American freedom and argues the key importance of black leadership to the U.S. working class.
The SWP, however, was supporting the Nation of Islam. The Seattle local conducted a long campaign to try to win the national party to its perspective. A clampdown on internal party democracy brought this effort to a dead end. Fraser co-authored the branch’s critique of the SWP’s political and organizational degeneration in a series of documents that have been re-published under the title Crisis and Leadership (Seattle: Red Letter Press, 2000).
Socialist feminist leadership
The Seattle branch left the SWP in 1966 and launched the Freedom Socialist Party, founded on a program emphasizing the leadership role of the underprivileged in achieving progress for all of humanity.
In 1973, Fraser began work at Seattle City Light, a publicly owned utility. As Training and Education Coordinator, she was charged with implementing a program to hire and train female electrical workers.
Fired in 1974, Fraser immediately filed a discrimination complaint that documented pervasive political bias and sexism. After a seven-year battle, Fraser was victorious in a ruling that affirmed the right of workers to speak out against management and to organize on their own behalf. She returned to her former job at City Light just as a new furor broke out over discrimination against women in non-traditional trades. Fraser joined with women in the field and the offices and pro-affirmative action men to form a new organization to combat sex and race discrimination: the Employee Committee for Equal Rights at City Light (CERCL).
In 1984, an ex-FSP member named Richard Snedigar brought a harassment lawsuit against Fraser, seven other party leaders, and the organization as a whole. This case came to be known as the Freeway Hall Case.
Snedigar wanted to take back a substantial donation given years before to a fund for obtaining a new headquarters after the party was evicted from its homebase at Freeway Hall. He also demanded FSP minutes, membership lists, and names of contributors. At one point, Fraser and the party's attorneys were sentenced to jail for refusing to divulge financial information, but their sentences were stayed and ultimately overturned. The FSP pursued this case to the state Supreme Court, where civil liberties attorney Leonard Boudin argued that privacy rights are essential to the freedom to express dissent. The FSP was finally vindicated in 1992.
Clara Fraser was the mother of two sons.
Articles and interviews
- Carol Beers, "Activist Clara Fraser Dead At 74 —– 'Life Spent Contemplating Your Own Navel... Helps No One'", Seattle Times, 28 February 1998.
- Florangela Davila, "Still Active — Radical Clara Fraser Turns A Feisty 73", Seattle Times, 17 March 1996.
- Jack Hopkins, "Seattle’s Grande Dame of Socialism", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11 September 1988.
- Lisa Schnellinger, "Socialism’s Flame Flickers on in Seattle", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5 May 1989.
- James Wallace, "The Socialist and the Holy Man", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 28 July, 1990.
- Jane Hadley, "Memorial Rite Set for Clara Fraser: Seattle 'Revolutionary' is Dead at 74", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2 March 1998.
- Imbert Matthee, "Boeing Strike has Parallels to '48 Walkout", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4 December 1995.
- Clara Fraser Defense Committee records. 1979-83. .42 cubic feet.
- Clara and Richard Fraser Papers. 1905-1949, 1970. 100 items (2 boxes).
- Melba Windoffer papers. 1933-1990. 7.42 cubic feet (8 boxes).
- http://www.redletterpress.org Revolutionary Integration: A Marxist Analysis of African American Liberation
- Barbara Love, editor, Feminists Who Changed America (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2006).
- Gloria Martin, Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, 1966-76 (Seattle: Freedom Socialist Publications, 1986).
- The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure (Seattle: Red Letter Press, 2001).
- They Refused to Name Names: The Freeway Hall Case Victory (Seattle: Red Letter Press, 1995).
- Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism: 1929-1985, A Documented Analysis of the Movement (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991).