Organized Labor’s Role in the Big Political & Governmental Changes -- James W. Murry “In the Crucible of Change”

James W. Murry
Evan Barrett, Executive Producer

This interview/discussion is a segment of the series “In the Crucible of Change” - Montana’s Dramatic Period of Progressive Change [1965-1980] - From a Corporate Colony to a Citizens’ State and the Challenge of Keeping It That Way - An Evan Barrett Telefilm Series; Produced by: Highlands College/Montana Tech & Orphan Girl Productions (Evan Barrett); Executive Producers: Evan Barrett & John Garic; Host/Moderator: Evan Barrett; Produced in the studios of Helena Civic Television (HCTV) – Production unit: Kirsten Faubion, Stephen Maly, Dave Clarke, Kelsea Kimerly, Lauren Fredrickson, Jeanie McLean-Warden; Opening Voice Recording - Ian Hadley; Photos: Montana Historical Society Photo Archives - Tom Cook; Personal Photo Archives of Evan Barrett; Music: “Living Room Jam” & “Island Breeze” - Richard H. Kuschel - The Recording Center - Missoula, Montana; “Orphan Girl” used by permission of Headframe Spirits – John & Courtney McKee; Partially funded by Grants from Humanities Montana (an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), Montana History Foundation, and The Greater Montana Foundation (encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans).


Montana has a history of strong labor union membership and activity. In the 20th Century our state was among the most unionized in the nation. Beginning mainly in Butte with the on-going conflicts with The Anaconda Company, the battle for wages, benefits and safe working conditions eventually took on a broader mission involving public policy in the public arena. Whether it be good educational opportunities for the sons and daughters of workers and all Montanans or a tax structure that was fair to all Montanans, unions were at the front of the battle. Jim Murry joined that battle, first locally and then eventually as the head of labor in Montana for 23 years. He emerged on the state level at the beginning of the “In the Crucible of Change” period as political director of the AFL-CIO and was its chief from 1968 on. There was hardly a progressive battle in which he and labor were not fully engaged. He kept and broadened the progressive coalitions in Montana, which helped shape the results of the period. As the period closed, his leadership role was recognized to the degree that he was heralded by Lee Newspapers in 1982 as the most powerful and influential Montanan, other than the Governor. This film addresses the role of Murry and labor under his leadership on the big picture political and governmental items of the period.

Jim Murry (b. 1935) is a Laurel native who rose from refinery worker to the top union leader in Montana, gaining national prominence in the labor movement. As the AFL-CIO’s Political Director from 1966-68 he helped re-elect Senator Lee Metcalf. He helped elect Governor Forrest Anderson in 1968 after being named Executive Secretary of the Montana State AFL-CIO (Montana’s top union leader). Over the next 23 years he led labor’s successful efforts to elect progressive candidates at all levels in Montana. In 1982, Lee Newspapers named him the second most powerful person in Montana. Upon retiring from the Montana AFL-CIO, he spent 8 years in workforce training with the Steelworkers Union in the Chicago area. Retiring back to Montana, he was named to the Montana Historical Society Board by Governor Brian Schweitzer. In February 2012 he was named Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, a position he held until April 2013. Jim & his wife Arlene have 5 children, 7 grandchildren & 4 great-grandchildren.