To anticipate the Fourth of July a special radio program featuring the words and life story of Tom Paine whose pamphlets helped define the meaning of the American revolution nad inspire us in today's struggles. British folksingers Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson have just released an album interweaving narrative and song honoring Tom. We'll hear pieces of that and some other relevant song.
culture of protest thurs 6/30/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
This week we mark the 29th anniversary of the Culture of Protest. When we started in June 1982 we thought we'd do it for the summer. Some 1400 broadcasts later--we're still going strong. We'll observe the occasion by playing recently released protest songs--just too challenge the claim that protest song is a dying form...and to give you some new ones to appreciate, enjoy and use.
culture of protest thurs 6/23/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
I’ve been using this blog a lot to argue against progressive handwringing about the failings of the Obama administration. But those failings are now putting the entire future at risk. I am talking about the unemployment situation. Recent jobs reports suggest a worsening job picture, despite Obama’s expectations about recovery. Especially upsetting is the record breaking number of long term unemployed. Slight growth in new private sector jobs is being offset by the steady losses of jobs in the public sector. These numbers have not evoked any discernible moves by the white house toward measures that would improve the situation. Indeed, the whole political mainstream is caught up in a process that will make things worse.
First, we have the spectacle of the GOP, campaigning nationally and in the states for ever more severe austerity measures—measures that cut jobs, that reduce the benefits and incomes of poor and working class people, and that destroy infrastructure needed for economic growth.
Second, we have the spectacle of the Obama administration, buying into the deficit hawkery, struggling to defend entitlements and unemployment benefits, but preparing a deal for major budget cutting. Whether it will stick by a determined effort to tax the rich remains to be seen. What’s disturbing in the extreme is that the Administration is deliberately avoiding effort to advance programs that might restart the economy—programs that were once hyped as central to the Obama vision of change.
In this space, I have lauded the plan for a national infrastructure bank—a plan backed by both the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. It’s a design for mobilizing public and private capital for all kinds of projects in transportation, energy, education and communication—for targeting investment that would simultaneously create jobs, move toward ‘green’ economy and promote long-term growth. What happened to this? Obama justly claimed credit the other day for the revival of the auto industry soured by unprecedented government finance. Why the silence about expanding and deepening this sort of action? This is one of a number of major initiatives that could be taken (and some of which, like the ‘green economy’, were also promised).
Instead, we have the President and such figures as Ben Bernanke, chair of the Federal Reserve, yesterday declaring (much like Herbert Hoover did in the early days of the great depression) that prosperity is right around the corner. But the best they can offer is the possibility of a higher economic growth rate next year. This at a moment when the average unemployed worker needs something like 40 weeks to find a new job, when millions have been unemployed for more than a year, when millions are having homes foreclosed, when wages are stagnating.
Most explanations for the austerity fetish claim that ideology and politics are the driving forces. Wrong headed economics are said to motivate budget cutters. And GOP strategy to saddle Obama with the bad economy account for the actions of the Republicans in congress aimed at preventing even modest job creating measures from getting through. These explanations skirt the fact that real economic interests are involved. It’s the age old urge by bankers, by creditors and rentiers to prevent inflation that would dilute their position. That same urge dominated the Hoover administration as the economy crashed in 1930. It’s that same urge that explains the behavior of the European banks that’s wrecking the lives of people in Greece, Portugal, Spain.
We might assume that the Obama administration could resist that urge. I for one thought that his bringing in of Geithner and Bernanke could be explained as a clever means of cooling out Wall Street, that the big bank bailouts were unfortunately necessary, and I’ve applauded Obama when he seemed to be delivering proper lectures to the Wall Street suits. But we learn from an important story in the yesterday’s Washington Post that it was the Geithner perspective that was controlling—defeating the advice of Christina Romer (his chief economic advisor who later resigned)and others in the inner policy circle in 2009. Their push for a larger and more effective recovery program was blunted. Here’s a revealing passage from the Post story:
‘Once, as Romer pressed for more stimulus spending, Geithner snapped. Stimulus, he told Romer, was “sugar,” and its effect was fleeting. The administration, he urged, needed to focus on long-term economic growth, and the first step was reining in the debt.
Wrong, Romer snapped back. Stimulus is an “antibiotic” for a sick economy, she told Geithner. “It’s not giving a child a lollipop.”’
Geithner has outlasted other key economic policy makers who recognized the need to deal with the jobs question, and the Post story claims that it’s his insistence on deficit reduction that now is the Obama policy.
As the Obamans gear up for 2012 I guess they assume either that the economy will be sufficiently improved and/or the Republican candidate and policies will be so distasteful as to provide the basis for victory. Maybe—but quite likely not. So in addition to the misery current policy perpetuates for millions, it risks putting into power what has become a quasi-fascist Republican Party as disillusioned working people sit it out, and large contingents of Midwestern white workers vote GOP.
If there’s any hope—and as always I think there is—it’s in the increasing tempo of mobilization on economic issues. That’s evident right now in Wisconsin, where a new’ Walkerville’ demo is happening in Madison (and folks are moving toward the possible recall of right-wing legislators in a few weeks. A rising tide of local and state level actions are ongoing.
What’s needed immediately is the formulation of some national strategy to focus the national debate on jobs with ideas about how to create them. It’s a good sign that Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, is saying the Democrats should not count on labor’s blanket support in 2012, saying that he has a ‘snootful of this sh*t’—meaning politicians who claim to be friends of workers and then compromise away their needs. He’s calling for an independent labor movement that articulates a program for workers. How this vision will be implemented of course remains to be seen.
An immediately hopeful campaign was announced by MoveOn in today’s Huffington Post,
On June 23rd, the organization, alongside former White House adviser Van Jones and The Roots, are launching what organizers are calling "Rebuild the Dream," an effort to move the political conversation away from austerity and towards job creation.
"This will be the largest economic campaign we have ever run," Justin Ruben, MoveOn's Executive Director said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "The goal here is to really change the debate and refocus it on the stuff that is necessary to create jobs and make the economy work for regular people ... It is unreal that with widespread misery across the country, Washington is focused on closing the deficit and giving tax breaks to millionaires."
I’ll try in this space to try to report more fully on emerging movement potentials with respect to jobs and the economy. I urge you to do this too. And let us know what you know.
Graduation season and each year at this time Culture of Protest presents an alternative commencement speech, featuring the voices of contemporary troubadours reflecting on the state of the world, the future, and how to find a true place in it. This year we'll have something very special--the voice of Tony Kushner giving a commencement address a couple of years ago. he's our leading playwright, and was almost denied an honorary degree at this year's CUNY graduation. Much protest overturned that, he got the degree...and it seems fitting to a Kushnerian address to graduates. Plus many songs of recent vintage that seem relevant to the occasion.
culture of protest thurs 6/9/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
We've got two hours on the air this week. In hour one, starting at 6 PM pdt we'll be remembering Gil Scott-Heron who died a few days ago at 62. He was one of the most influential politically conscious musicians of the last 40 years, creating a unique synthesis of spoken word, jazz and funk. We'll play a number of his memorable performances including tracks from his long awaited recent CD which came out not long before his death.
and in hour two:
Memorial Day just passed, and the aniversary of D-Day is just ahead. A great way to observe this conjunction is to listen to the great radio program by Norman Corwin called "On a note of triumph"-- a program heard by 60 million Americans in 1945 when the war in Europe ended. It's a masterpiece of poetry and sound that explores the meaning of the 'good war' and the hope for a new world in its aftermath.
culture of protest thurs 6/2/11 6-8pm kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: gil scott heron, world war II, Norman Corwin
As you know this is Bob Dylan's 70th birthday week. He arrived in NYC 50 years ago, and I've been following him since. So its a shock to realize that this embodiment of our youth is certifiably old. It's a good time to remember that youthful voice and particularly his astonishing outpouring of now classical contributions to the culture of protest. Recent recordings of early Dylan 'demos' and live performances will make up most of our playlist.
culture of protest thurs 5/26/11 6-7pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Problem one is exemplified by the book itself. It’s a massive, 650+ page effort and that’s because it’s a kind of encyclopedia of songs with Lynskey’s comments. He highlights 33 songs recorded in the last 70 years, but mentions scores of others. So if you’re looking for a list of commercially recorded songs of protest, here it is (with a lot of good context and background for the songs he’s decided to foreground). But here’s the big problem: the book perpetuates and greatly reinforces the conception that a protest song is something created or performed by a professional artist aimed at an audience. Indeed, reading his account of the period he covers (1939-2009), it might be thought that the protest song is a genre of popular music.
Lynskey’s right to claim that the topic of the commercially distributed protest song is interesting, but the way he’s presented it—and the way his effort has been amplified by media coverage—threatens to obliterate the fact that protest music is a product and resource of struggle. Protest songs are made very often NOT for popular music markets but in service of social movements. Historically the most lasting such songs have been made by grassroots troubadours—like Joe Hill and other wobbly bards, like Molly Jackson and other Appalachian miner singers, like the song leaders of the Southern civil rights movement. And, of course, a great many songs over the centuries were created anonymously –like the songs of the American slaves, for one crucial example. How musics of grassroots struggle get connected to popular or mainstream music production and distribution and how commercially oriented musicians use or respond to protest streams—these are fascinating and pretty complex topics. But to ignore the fact that social movements are themselves sites for song making is a bad distortion of history and, I think, reinforces the shallow cultural awareness of even ‘enlightened’ publics.
Evidence for this comes from the Nation magazine which picked up on the Lynskey book with the seemingly clever idea of asking readers (especially on the Nation website) to name the top protest songs of all time. As of early May, 2200 readers had replied. The results are intriguing to a sociologist of this stuff like me. But like Lynskey’s book, the choices of these left readers skewed heavily toward the commercial. A few of the ‘top’ selections included some key labor and civil rights songs, and the great anthem of anti Nazi partisans Zog Nit Keynmol. But the list included such dreck as ‘Eve of Destruction’ . I’m not condemning people’s selections—in fact, many people used this as an opportunity to promote some obscure songs that deserve more attention. But I was dismayed that people were more aware of rather ephemeral pop songs than of ones that were historically meaningful--songs that demonstrate that such struggle actually happened, and provide us with a window into the feeling and spirit embodied in them.
I’m not, by the way, arguing that commercially performed and recorded songs are inauthentic per se. By the sixties, of course, many songs that were made commercially became deeply meaningful in the movement. And the fact that Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and other movement oriented troubadours could have their work distributed in the cultural mainstream had big effects politically and culturally. What bothered me about the Nation musical survey was how much mainstream commercial music has seemingly drowned out the dissident, upstart, grassroots voices.
Having marginalized such voices, Dorian Lynskey ends up wondering if the protest song has gone into ‘terminal decline’. Why he asks didn’t protest songs ‘catch light’ during the Bush years? His eulogy for protest songs has been echoed and amplified in several NY Times articles about the book. Most notable was a review in the May 1 Times Book Review by Sean Wilentz. The distinguished Princeton historian lays claim to being the official Bob Dylan website historian, having recently published his Bob Dylan in America. In the course of his review, Prof. Wilentz embraces Lynskey’s view that the protest song as we’ve known it is over. Wilentz knows that there were no protest anthems against the Iraq war, and that protesters were reduced to singing ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ He concludes by declaring the death of “a particular left-wing political culture and its variants — a culture that, outside of some ’60s countercultural enclaves, seemed to run out of steam a long time ago.”
Of course, once this view is printed in the NY Times it is likely to become an accepted reality, especially since Prof. Wilentz is presumed to know what he is talking about. There’s undoubtedly a kernel of truth in these eulogies-- we haven’t had recently the sort of seemingly universal anthems of protest that figure so much in our recollections of the sixties.
But here’s the puzzle:
There are far more protest songs being written and performed and sung these days than there were in the Sixties. With respect to anti- Bush stuff: I’ve collected literally dozens of cd’s of many genres aimed at Bush and dozens more songs by all manner of performers. And some of those songs were quite popular—songs by Eminem, Pink, Conner Oberst, Michael Franti come to mind. There’s a larger number of albums and thousands of songs about the Bush era wars, and many of these were widely known. Performers who contributed to this outpouring included: System of a Down, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Tom Waits not to mention explicitly political bands like Rage Against the Machine, and Spearhead among many others. The Nation surveycalls attention to one of the great anti war songs of the Iraq War—Tom Waits, “Day After Tomorrow”—but this is but one of many songs written in the voice of young people in combat.
Wilentz might have asked why so many people are now creating such songs—and with what effect, instead of dismissing their existence. And alongside the stars who have spoken musically to the war and other issues in the last decade are literally thousands of other people who have put their protest songs on line. One place to find well over 3000 such efforts is a website started by Neil Young, called ‘Living With War Today” which he set up some years ago after releasing an album with that title. And in addition to these audio tracks, there are over 600 videos posted at this site.
The new technologies of production and distribution make it exceedingly simple for troubadours to create song and make it available directly to potential audiences. YouTube is one such avenue; My Space allows performers to cheaply create their own website for video and audio listening and downloading. Online shops like ITunes make it possible to market your stuff—and even more available for alternative, indy, unknown artists is CD Baby.
Here’s a quantitative comparison I find interesting: Bear Family Records has just released a huge compilation of Songs of the Vietnam era. It is the most exhaustive collection of antiwar (and pro-war) songs from the Vietnam era we’ll ever have. There’s a total of about 250 songs—some of which you know and most you don’t. So compare that with the more than 3000 songs that Neil Young has aggregated. Something is happening here.
What’s happening is not the death of protest song but a whole new protest culture on line. Songs of protest are just a small portion of the vast outpouring of do it yourself song creation now going on which bypasses the music industry. One result of this is the fragmentation of what in the sixties seemed like a unified anti-authority youth culture fueled by song. What all the online musicking ‘means’ in terms of social impact is an important question. But, for whatever reason and with whatever effect, the songs of protest keep being made.
Now what about Wilentz’ declaration that ‘a particular leftwing culture and its variants’ has run out of steam? I have no precise idea what he might be referring to here, but he’s got what we sociologists call an ‘empirical problem’. I suppose, the ‘particular leftwing culture’ he’s talking about is the project led by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger starting 70 years ago. It was, in essence, an effort to create a new song alternative to mainstream pop music—songs that would be able to be used and sung in social struggle.Woody and Pete thought that traditional roots musics could be recast with lyrics that spoke to the conditions and grievances of contemporary life, and set about making these songs, recording them, publishing them and organizing a contingent of others to join in the project. There’s quite a literature on all this, and a good deal of ongoing debate on what this project accomplished in its original formation.
As Wilentz certainly knows, Woody and Pete spawned several generations of artists who took them as role models in one way or another. He knows this at least because Bobby Dylan was a prime example. Dylan’s genius, of course, includes his passion to transcend any and all artistic pigeon holes, and to embrace almost the entire range of musics the American people have produced. But I’m dubious that even Dylan came to believe that the ‘particular leftwing culture’ that gave him his start was now irrelevant.
Whatever Dylan thinks about any of this, a lot of younger performers in recent years have paid enormous tribute to that culture, and by so doing continue to revitalize what is now its tradition. Think of these: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Seeger Session’ recordings and tours; Steve Earle’s conscious forays into politically oriented music making ,Ry Cooder’s numerous politically conscious recordings of recent vintage,Ani Difranco's promotion of Woody Guthrie's legacy at the Rock and roll Hall of Fame, Billy Bragg and Wilco’s ‘Mermaid Avenue’ effort to record new songs based on Woody Guthrie archived lyrics (a project that a number of other musicians have contributed to). There was the Madison Square Garden Pete Seeger 90th birthday bash two years ago. These sorts of projects are parallel to similar tributes by some black performers. Mavis Staples a few years ago released an album reinterpreting freedom songs of the sixties. John Legend recently released a similar project. Rather than running out of steam, this particular culture seems to provide inspiration and renewal to quite a few contemporary artists.
Now, events in Madison, Wisconsin suggest that the primary source of protest culture—an emerging grassroots movement---might be underway. Star musicians found their way to the rallies in Madison and, interestingly enough, found themselves singing in the Guthrie/Seeger fashion. Tom Morello has for a couple of years been performing as an acoustic troubadour calling himself the 'night watchman’. After appearing in Madison, he was inspired to write some new union songs in the Guthrie fashion and has just this week released an album, of old and new labor songs drawing heavily on the Almanac Singers. Chris Shiflet of the Foo Fighters ( right now the #1 band in America) went to Madison and sang ‘Solidarity Forever’, the lyrics of which he learned the day before and attributed the song to Pete Seeger. Meanwhile, at the Madison rallies, quite a few new songs were created and sung for the occasion—many hearkening back to the ‘particular leftwing culture’.
The Guthrie/Seeger tradition has been a seedbed for musical creativity for 70 years—for creating songs that are resources for social change and social movement. Indeed, starting in the sixties, artists all over the world emulated the Guthrie/Seeger project or took Bob Dylan-as-political-troubadour as a model. You can find singers like that in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and posting YouTube videos from Japan in the wake of the nuclear disaster. Of course there are other music streams that nourish political creativity. Rap is now a global form and so is the reggae tradition—as well as all sorts of more local musics derived from particular ethnic roots but now swirling in the electronic soup.
Maybe for some the urge to write eulogies for these traditions helps provide self-justification for cynicism and other self-serving political stances. I guess I feel that the persistence of protest music is a more interesting matter to try to know about and understand.
…and let me self-servingly recommend a new book by Rob Rosenthal and myself: Playing for Change: Music and Musicians in the service of social movements. The hard cover is expensive—but we’re making a paperback and hopefully a website that will be out in a few months.
And don’t forget to tune in Culture of Protest streaming at www.kcsb.org Thursdays at 6 pm pacific time.
Record flooding of the Mississippi River in 1927 is being equaled or surpassed right now, as the river crests in Louisiana and Mississippi. The 1927 flood was accompanied by an outpouring of songs of many styles. And as the flood waters approach New Orleans, we are of course reminded of the Katrina catastrophe which produced another wave of music. We'll present a sampling of songs from both experiences as well as some of the many 'river' songs embedded in African American musical traditions.
This week on Culture of Protest our annual Pete Seeger Birthday Program. He was 92 last week. His recent album, Tomorrow's Children, just was awarded a Grammy. So we'll feature that--Pete and friends and a schoolkid's chorus with a lot of hopeful audacity. And we'll remember Hazel Dickens, the miner's voice, who died last week at 75. And we'll have a surprise from Tom Morello.
culture of protest thurs 5/12/11 6-7pm kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
At the Altar of the Bottom Line is the title of a new book by historian and troubadour Tom Juravich,. He'll be on campus tomorrow and Friday and will be a guest on culture of protest. Tom is in the forefront of the new wave of labor song and we'll sample his music as we talk to him about his recent work, documenting in print and song, the lives of workers in the 21st century. And see below for a flier annoncing his performance talk tomorrow afternoon at the multicultural center on campus.
culture of protest thurs 5/5/11 6-7pm kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
A discussion and concert with Sociology professor and recording artist
Tom Juravich is not only one of the leading labor studies scholars working today; he is also an established recording artist with records out on Flying Fish and other labels. A professor of sociology and labor studies at the University of Massachusetts, Juravich has been fighting for union rights for decades. Among his books are At the Altar of the Bottom Line, Commonwealth of Toil, and Union Organizing in the Public Sector. Among his records are Tangled in Our Dreams, Out of Darkness, and A World to Win.
COME HEAR THIS UNIQUE TALENT TALK AND SING ABOUT THE CURRENT BATTLE FOR WORKERS' RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY!
Thursday May 5, 2011
Tags: labor song, work in 21st century, tom juravich
The official earth day is this Friday and so our program this week commemorates the arrival of earth day coinciding with the nuclear disaster in Japan, the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, the one year anniverary of the BP oil spill, and the incredible efforts to revive both nuclear power and deepwater drilling. We have songs about all of this, to help you recall past struggle and engage the future.
culture of protest thurs 4/21/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fmwww.kcsb.org
We were in NYC at the end of March for a couple of days to take part in some of the many events observing the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire. An academic conference at CUNY graduate center, the official rally at the site of the fire off Washington Square and a rich program of performance and speeches at the Great Hall of the Cooper Union were some highlights.
The tone of these happenings was surprisingly invigorating. The focus was more on the meaning of the Fire today than on what happened then. The Triangle catastrophe was defined as the trigger for the New Deal and the massive immigrant based labor movement of the first several decades of the last century. And so, now, many were seeing the events in Wisconsin and the larger attack on collective bargaining rights as important potential sparks for a revival of a grassroots workers movement. Such a movement wouldn't just be about defending rights and gains of the already organized, but about fighting back in the class warfare that Warren Buffet says the rich have been waging against the working classes.
When we think about the power of the labor movement we focus on union memberships and what is called the ‘density' of unions-i.e. what percentage of the labor force in a given industry is represented by unions. As everyone always says, by the density measure, the labor movement is in its death throes. Here's the official story from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
In 2010, the union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union--was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier, the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. In 1983, the first year forwhich comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.
Equally striking, about 1/3 of public employees belong to unions while less than 7% of private sectors are now in unions. That statistic helps explain why Republicans are using the public workers as scapegoats-they're deliberately promoting division among workers based on the relative advantages public workers have achieved because they've been organized. A good friend, with a long record of major union leadership, recently told me he thought that public employee unions would soon be ‘untenable' because of this disparity.
The decline in union power is not helped by internecine warfare and the bad feelings and demoralization that come from intra-union battling. Such fighting, like the warfare inside UNITE-HERE which led to its recent breakup, and ugly struggles within SEIU, have affected some of the strongest and most progressive unions, and undoubtedly diluted their focused strategies.
It's these things that make the class struggle in the US look like a one-sided massacre.
But such appearances are not necessarily the real or only story. The spirit, size and impact of the well-publicized battle of Madison changed the tenor of talk about the labor movement. Talk of revival is much in the air.
Why is the Madison movement so inspiring? First, of course, because of the remarkable size and spirit of the demonstrations-people came and stayed and marched and organized for days (not just for a momentary protest spasm). They did this with a lot of creativity and humor that made it possible for them to seize the high ground. Their ranks were surprisingly diverse-not just the public workers themselves but lots of people representing private sector work of every age and background. Their determination had the immediate effect of compelling those Wisconsin Democratic legislators to stick out their exile (against the instincts of many of them)-and their sticking helped sustain the mass mobilization. The Madison protests had noticeable effects of public feelings in Wisconsin and nationally-and helped reframe the discourse about public unions and the budget crisis. And, accordingly, the political dynamic in the state and nationally seems significantly changed, as labor activists organize to recall the anti-union legislators in Wisconsin, and to repeal anti-labor legislation just passed in Ohio.
So, in the states where tea partying Governors have initiated attacks on workers and their rights, a real ‘fight back' spirit has come to the fore. The momentum continued on April 4, anniversary of the killing of ML King, with hundreds of local ‘we are one' actions led by union coalitions, on April 5 when dozens of campuses participated in a national teach in carried on the internet and featuring leading academics and activists. And today, tax day, Move-On and other groups called out dozens of protests targeting corporations like Bank of America and GE for their ability to evade tax bills. If you want to get a flavor of the scope of these three national days of protest, try Google News (putting in key words like ‘we are one', ‘teach-in', ‘protest banks')
I think the fight back moment needs to lead into examination of the potentialities for a workers movement that can transcend the limitations inherent in the conventional understanding of what unions do. The power of a workers' movement need not be measured by the ‘density' of union membership and bargaining representation.
We need to learn about the many experiments and ideas in recent years about forms of organization and strategies for worker action that don't depend on achieving contracts to defend people's needs and rights. Here are some:
1. Unions have political power because of their membership size and resources-power to affect elections, (this they do a lot of, of course) and to have impact on mass media (something they've done less of). To use union resources in the wider political arena is as old a strategy as collective bargaining, and in this point in history may be a lot more important. AFL:-CIO has been developing forms of organization aimed at political mobilization. WORKING AMERICA is a federation sponsored membership organization that anyone can join-and now claims 3 million participants. A recent development is STAND UP FOR OHIO-a facebook page aimed at mobilizing resistance to the efforts by Gov. Kasich to attack worker rights and standards-some 150,000 people have signed on to this site in recent weeks. Some central labor councils in various cities are experimenting along similar lines-i.e. creating a membership base not restricted to those who belong to established unions, but who want to connect to direct action and electoral campaigns aimed at social justice and ‘defending the working middle class."
2. In their negotiation strategy, unions are beginning to see the need to give voice and priority to the needs of the wider community, not just their own immediate wages and conditions. So the auto union is beginning to frame their goals to include influencing the kinds of vehicles they are building-and whether these meet the needs of consumers and of the environment. Teachers have begun to see that they can and must take leadership in fighting for educational quality and defining the ways their teacher members can be made accountable in partnership with parents. Public employee unions should be setting highest standards for public service, leading in sustaining a work culture that serves the people.
3. There are now more than 200 WORKER CENTERS providing support for rights of low wage and immigrant workers, dealing with individual grievances and workplace issues, and providing assistance for worker organization and mobilization which appear inhospitable to old style union organization.
4. National leaders of major unions-private as well as public sector-are clearly speaking the language of ‘social movement unionism'. Leaders like Richard Trumka (now head of the AFL-CIO) and Bob King, president of the UAW, actively acknowledge the fact that national labor laws are broken, and that labor action can no longer be constrained by them. They claim to be fostering member participation and the development of a young generation of union activists. And they claim to be seeking real alliance with wider community based movements.
5. Beneath such striking shifts in the stance of national labor leaders are efforts to promote local strategies of class struggle. A significant case is the effort by Steve Lerner, legendary organizer of Jobs for Justice, and then one of Andy Stern's right hand people in SEIU, advocating mass mobilizations targeting banks and demanding renegotiation of mortgages. Lerner is arguing that the basic strategy of the labor movement-to disrupt employers' capacity to conduct business as a way for workers to get leverage-can be extended to target banks so that communities and debtors can get some fairness. Lerner's ideas have been given much publicity by Glen Beck (defining them as the latest socialist plot to destroy America), and not much in the left media.
These ideas and experiments suggest the possibility that overt class struggle has begun. We could sense that mood in NY at the Triangle Fire observances, where a very diverse array of voices, representing global as well as US based worker organizations, spoke quite clearly in a language of ‘class' (without at all neglecting particular ethnic identities and traditions). It was inspiring in this regard to see young Latino, African-American and Asian performers and activists connecting to the historic struggle of Jewish and Italian garment workers, and defining that history as their own.
Share your thoughts (State St is the great street in Santa Barbara)
Tags: class struggle, labor unions, labor strategy, Steve Lerner, richard Trumka
Tonight our annual pre-pesach musical seder on the air, features a lot of ways to ask the four questions, sopme acknowledgement of how Egypt's meaning this year has changed, and a good deal of music that takes off from but remakes tradition.
culture of protest thurs 4/14/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Dick Flacks here...sociology professor emeritus at UCSB. Budget cuts mean that I can't continue my annual course on political sociology. Maybe a blog will be a space for me to continue to ruminate and pontificate. And maybe (as a veteran teacher on these matters) I can offer some ways of thinking about what's happening nationally and locally that will be useful, as we struggle to make sense of the tortured complexities of these times.
I've been a leftwing activist for more than 50 years. What we've been struggling for all these years is full democracy--to increase the opportunities for people to have real voice in the decisions that affect them. Step by step over these years we've made some gain...but it is a long march, and one that never ends. The big barrier to democracy in our society is the concentrated power of corporations. At the same time, democracy is undermined by the felt powerlessness of people in their daily lives--the persistent belief that our problems are only our own personal concern. It's a strong cultural theme--such individualism--constantlly reinforced by mass media and everyday circumstance. But the current big crisis of the economy maybe makes it more possible for more people to understand that we've got to have social reform and economic reform. So my writing here is aimed at helping us figure out what to think and act on that so that we can hope for new democratic possibilities. WE'll be talking about the local and the national.
The blog name comes from an old labor union hymn:
Step by step the longest march can be won. Many stones can form an arch...singly none. And by union what we will can be accomplished still. Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.
For 27 years I've had a weekly radio show on KCSB (91.9 fm. www.kcsb.org) It's called the Culture of Protest. It's comes from my fascination with music and social movements. I collect 'political' and 'protest' music and that's what we play each week (Thursdays 6-7 pm). So sometimes here we'll share and talk about that.
I'm worried about one thing about the blogosphere. And that's the way that some people use the blog comment space for anonymous nastiness. I'm sick of the kind of political blather that assaults the motives of others, and sees dark conspiracy behind every thing one doesn't like. This kind of stuff is helping to poison the political atmosphere. So I'm going to strive for a civil tone to whatever interaction may happen on this blogsite.