Wisconsin Labor Oral History Project: Max Raskin Interview, 1981


In late 1980 the Rockefeller Foundation granted to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin money to support a project to collect oral remembrances of individuals involved in industrial union organizing in Wisconsin. This interview with Max Raskin is part of that project.

Max Raskin was born in Vitebsk, White Russia in 1904. (An elementary school teacher “assigned” him November 8 as a birthdate, since the actual date is unknown.) His father was a cattle merchant and his mother cared for her family of nine children. Max was the youngest of the nine. As Jews they suffered “prosecution by the czarist troops and persecution of the other villagers.” The threat of draft into the army to fight the Russo-Japanese War provided the final incentive to leave. Max escaped across the border with his parents in 1912 with the help of older children who had preceded them.

Until 1919 he lived with his family in a Jewish Socialist neighborhood in Brooklyn and listened to the soapbox speeches of Eugene Debs and Emil Seidel. Max then moved with his parents to Milwaukee where he continued his education. He was the only child of the family to go to high school and college and received support from his older siblings to do so. For this reason, he felt a strong sense of responsibility to the family and is quick to characterize himself as a man of conscience.

After two years at normal school he attended Marquette University, completing his law degree in 1926. During this period he became active in the Socialist Party. He joined in the 10th ward and listed his occupation as shoe salesman rather than attorney because “socialists and labor unions considered lawyers the enemy.” After four years of work he was asked to run for the office of district attorney. Though he lost that election, he ran as city attorney in 1932 and was successful.

As city attorney Raskin worked to support the rights of workers, particularly during strikes of Packinghouse Workers, at Geuder, Paeschke & Frey Co. and Lindemann-Holverson stove works. The latter was settled by the creation of the Boncell Ordinance, which used the principle of public nuisance against employers who refused to bargain with striking workers.

In 1936 Raskin was swept out of office along with many other Socialists due to the “anti-collectivist” spirit of the times. However, the good relationship with labor built during his term in office helped him become counsel for various unions including UAW in Wisconsin and, later, the CIO. As labor counsel, he helped establish procedures for trying union members accused of breaking rules as in the case of Harold Christoffel. His work with the state CIO terminated with merger, as the WSFL counsel was retained. Raskin became active in the Democratic Party and was appointed to a judgeship by Governor John Reynolds in 1963.

Today at the age of 77 Raskin still serves with enthusiasm and bright energy as Reserve Judge for Waukesha County. He lives with his wife in Milwaukee and spends the winter months in Florida.