Bill Bailey was born in Jersey City and grew up in Hoboken and New York's Hell's Kitchen. He went to sea in 1929 and maintained a career in the Merchant Marine until he was "screened out" during the McCarthy era. He fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and organized workers in New York, Virginia, California, and Hawaii. In 1953 he began work as a longshoreman, retiring in 1975 to write, lecture, and appear in documentary and feature films.

Through his organizing, speaking, and writing activities, Bill Bailey advocated fundamental social change that would eliminate injustice, discrimination, and oppression. His entire life was dedicated to a vision of society where the needs of people come before profits. His autobiography, published in 1993, The Kid from Hoboken, chronicles this lifetime of commitment.

A freelance writer since 1930, Bill Bailey wrote for and edited trade union publications, composed novels and contributed to anthologies. He was interviewed for dozens of publications, including Studs Terkel's The Good War (New York: Ballantine, 1984), Al Richmond's A Long View from the Left (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972), and Bruce Nelson's Workers on the Waterfront (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988). He was featured in several documentary films, including Seeing Red, The Good Fight, Growing Up in the Depression, and Between the Wars. He appeared in the BBC's six-part series Granada and in the BBC's The UnAmericans. In addition, he played roles in feature films On the Edge and Guilty by Suspicion.

Bill Bailey died in San Francisco on February 22, 1995.

The Kid from Hoboken