Before the nineteenth century ended, his commitment to the union
movement had led him to become an organizer for the United Brotherhood
of Carpenters. Sometime later he went over to the United Mine Workers
and played a part in the bloody labor conflicts in Colorado in 1913
and 1914, including the Ludlow Massacre in April 1914 when actions
by militiamen employed by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company led to
the deaths of twenty-five people, including two women and fourteen
In the 1920s he was in the middle of the fight in West Virginia
when owners used force against coal miners attempting to organize.
Brown believed deeply in the union movement and accepted the
inevitability of bitter and often violent conflict; as he put it, "if I
have to live under this system I must fight, and one can't fight alone
and accomplish anything."
By the early 1930s he had left the United Mine Workers and was
living in semi-retirement in Woolwich, Maine. He continued to be active
in union affairs, however, and in 1934 he helped establish Local 4 of
the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America at
the Bath Iron Works where many years earlier he had first become
involved in the union movement.
Besides working to organize workers at the Bath Iron Works, Brown
served as an advisor to the General Executive Board of the Industrial
Union. Perhaps his most significant contribution was his column "Workers
Should Know" in the Shipyard Worker, the Industrial Union newspaper.
Starting on October 30, 1936, the column appeared regularly through June
20, 1941, the day after Brown died. Through his comments in "Workers
Should Know," Brown in effect became a teacher, guide and cheerleader.
His major themes were that since workers are an indispensable part
of the production process they should be paid appropriate wages and that
since managements will resist paying workers more than they have to,
workers must unite to force managements to accept their demands.
Brown's actions during the 1940 presidential election when Frankin
D. Roosevelt ran for a third term reveal something of his character. An
election in September that the Republican candidate for Congress won by
over 70,000 votes had made clear that in November Maine would be solidly
for the Republican ticket headed by Wendell Willkie.
Despite the odds, as a committed Democrat and a fighter, Brown
"wasn't for handing it to them." He worked hard in what he knew was a
losing cause but had the satisfaction of knowing that his efforts helped
win Sagadahoc County, his home county, for the Democrats and helped
reduce the Republican majority across the state to less than 10,000.
Late in the evening of June 19, 1941, Brown sat on the back door
stoop of his house in Woolwich working on his hunting rifle. Somehow it
went off in his face, wounding him so severely that he died within the
At the Bath Iron Works at noon the following day a spokesman for the
Industrial Union announced Brown's death over the public address system,
noting that "He was a great and good man, an outstanding American. His
spirit still lives on, and John Brown will remain an immortal in the
ranks of American labor."