Saturday, May 10, 2008

Union Square

video from pseudo-intellectualism 1/22/08
Last week I was in Union Square and I noticed the informative sidewalk installations that ring the square. I photographed most of them and supplemented them with other union square historical images. To complement them for a movie, the images needed relevant audio I struck gold when I found a great online play about labor history on wbai's site. The above encompasses the play's introduction.

Marching to Union Square: A Labor Play by Dorothy Fennel
Radio show produced by Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg
Marching to Union Square is about the birth of the modern trade union movement in New York City. The script is based on historical material, including speeches and memoirs, from the first Labor Day parade—held on September 5, 1882—subsequent Labor Day parades, and the 1886 mayoral campaign of Henry George, labor's candidate. Much of the action takes place in Union Square, and evokes the loud and colorful labor marches that attracted huge numbers of spectators. For a brief time in the 1880s, NYC activists tries to organize an independent labor party that could unite people of diverse backgrounds around a uniquely working class political platform. There was no better place to do this than Union Square. To express this vision in words and music from that era, the actors in Marching to Union Square recreate some of the key moments that contributed so much to Union Square's reputation as labor's home, and as the place where working New Yorkers came to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly.
Actors: George Drance, Arthur French, Todd Griffin, Mary Neufeld
Musicians: George Mann (guitar), Ginette Van Der Voorn (keyboard)
Chorus: Members of the NYC Labor Chorus, directed by Ginette Van Der Voorn

Irving Hall, Gardiner's Hall And Bernsteins

from pseudo-intellectualism 12/15/07 The map shows the 1903 location of the two halls mentioned in the news' reports about the Newsies (see below for the mention of Gardner's Hall) The movie even includes a Irving Hall as a site location. The question is would the Newsies go shopping at Bernstein's which was nearby :). The ad is from 1959
Had I known about the meeting I would have gone, since I lived at 76 Suffolk.
Here's the Tribune article about the meeting:
"Newsboys Form a New Union Elect a Man as Leader and Will Divide City Into Districts.August 3, 1899 There was a rally of newsboys at Gardner's Hall, at 21 Suffolk Street, last evening, to organize a new union and elect new officers. Abraham Lippman, who has a newsstand at Canal and Essex Streets, called the meeting to order. He is a grown-up man, and for some time he ran the meeting much to the disgust of Simon Levy, who was trying to wedge in a word without success. After some skirmishing the boys accepted a suggestion of Lippman's to have a full-grown man for a President, and elected James G. Neill, fifty years old. President Neill, in making his inauguration speech, said that the price maintained by some of the evening papers virtually imposed a tax on newsboys and newsmen, and the latter could not transfer the tax to the public as other dealers did the war tax. Mr. Neill suggested that all union boys should wear badges, and become affiliated with other labor organizations. He proposed that the city should be divided into districts and send delegates to a central union. The meeting adopted Mr. Neill's suggestions.Other officers were elected as follows: Vice President –"Racetrack" Higgins of Brooklyn; Secretary – Abe Cutler;Treasurer – Dave Ruben of Bleecker Street and the Bowery;Sergeant at Arms – "Yellow" Simon Levy. John Masin was elected head Captain, and will select his district Captains. A floral horseshoe was sent by William Reese, the colored lemonade seller in Printing House Square, for the best orator of the day. It was won by George J. Fabian."

The Internationale

from pseudo-intellectualism 7/15/06 I was lucky to catch this late last night on wnet:"In 1871, an ex-mayor named Eugene Pottier wrote a set of lyrics that called for the working masses to throw off the shackles of their oppressors. Later, a French factory worker, Pierre Degeyter, added a new melody and "The Internationale" spread rapidly through France and then Europe. The song was translated into dozens of languages and quickly became a rallying cry for communists, anarchists, and socialists worldwide. During a number of strikes, "The Internationale" unified workers of different nationalities and diverse cultural backgrounds. The song often served for multiple causes, from labor rights to the defeat of fascism in Spain, but after becoming the official anthem of the Soviet Union in 1917, many associated "The Internationale" with communism under Joseph Stalin. Slowly, though, new versions and interpretations of the song began to appear, revitalizing its connection to radical movements worldwide. The students sang "The Internationale" in Tiananmen Square, and folksinger Billy Bragg added new lyrics in the late '80s. The Internationale mixes multiple interviews with folksinger Pete Seeger and others with rare archival film footage."
I combined a midi version of the song, the English version of the lyrics, and images from Spanish Civil War posters found on orpheus.ucsd (Visual Front) to make this karaoke slide show of the Internationale

LES Triangle Victim Map

from pseudo-intellectualism 8/11/05 I created this map to give a historical LES context to Ms. Joseph's class project on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Victims. I utilized a very unique map created by John Tauranac as the base. Ms. Joseph had used the historical fiction title , "East Side Story," along with archival information from Unite's (the former ILGWU) web site, ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/. Her students wrote stories with characters placed back in time with that era. They also made posters protesting working conditions simulating what the shirtwaist workers did in the 1909 strike. They brought much of this material with them as special guests of the UFT's District Representatuve, Donna Manganello, to the annual commemoration that takes place at the site of the fire. Their work was recognized by the President of Unite, Bruce Raynor, and they had the honor to be invited onstage for the official ceremony. Portions of this were broadcast locally on ny1.com.

Triangle Follow Up

from pseudo-intellectualism As mentioned previously on 8/8/05 posting; Ms. Joseph's fifth graders at the Triangle Shirtwaist Commemoration sponsored by Unite on March 26, 2005. Here's a clip from ny1.com where you can see a group of students with their work on stage. Mr. Maltese is referring to the following information from David von Drehle's recent book on the Triangle Fire: http://www.groveatlantic.com/grove/wc.dll?groveproc~misc~2620
MALTESE, Catherine, asphyxiation/burns. 35 Second Ave. Identified on December 18, 1911, when her husband, Serafino, finally recognized one of her possessions. Mother of Lucy and Sara. Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire, p. 204.
MALTESE, Lucia “Lucy,” 20, asphyxiation/burns. 35 Second Ave. Identified by her father Serafino. Sister of Sara, daughter of Catherine. Multiple newspapers, March 27.
MALTESE, Rosaria “Sara,” 14, asphyxiation/burns. 35 Second Ave. Identified by her father Serafino. Sister of Lucy, daughter of Catherine. Multiple newspapers, March 27.

Pauline Pepe: Triangle Fire Survivor


from pseudo-intellectualism 8/6/05
The victims of the triangle fire, NYC circa the era of Witch of 4th Street, were mostly Jewish and Italian. Here's a story about it from the Kisseloff book. The image shows the damage and the factory owners.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire 2

video
from pseudo-intellectualism 12/13/07
A slide show I did in 2001 with fourth graders about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. They had just read "East Side Story" and then we researched where some of the victims lived.
Some lived within a few blocks of Knickerbocker Village. Nettie Rosenthal lived at 105 Monroe Street (between Market and Pike). She was 21 years old. Another victim lived at 55 Pike Street and another at 177 Cherry Street
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the largest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York, causing the death of 146 garment workers who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. It was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until September 11th, 2001. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers in that industry. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building, also known as the Asch Building and as the Brown Building, survives and was named a National Historic Landmark.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

video
from pseudo-intellectualism 12/13/07
The powerful segment of the New York documentary that dealt with the shirtwaist fire
Also a more complete list of the KV vicinity neighborhood victims, along with their ages, of the fire. There were 146 in total. Source, Cornell University

Fine And Dandy

video
from pseudo-intellectualism
This was originally posted on Pseudo-Intellectualism on 1/29/07: I went to hear author Katharine Weber speak about her new book "Triangle" at the East End Temple. It was excellent, but an unexpected surprise was finding out that Katharine Weber is Kay Swift's grandaughter! Swift was an accomplished musician and composer as well as a musical historian. Many folks know her as George Gershwin's main squeeze. Here's a musical review of the event.
Kay Swift composed Fine And Dandy. The lyrics were written by her first husband, James Warburg

Please forgive this platitude
But I like your attitude
You are just the kind i've had in mind
And never could find
Honey, I'm so keen on you
I could come to lean on you
On a random bay
Give you your way
Do what you say
Gee, it's all fine and dandy
Sugar candy,
When I've got you
Then I only see the sunny side
Even trouble has its funny side
When you're gone, my sugar candy
I get so lonesome, i get so blue
But when you're handy
It's fine and dandy
But when you're gone
What can I do?

There Once Was A Union Maid

video
from pseudo-intellectualism 12/28/07
I resuscitated this old slide show from 2002 that had triangle shirtwaist images for the google video player. Images are bad, but the songs (2 versions) still rouse the spirit. You can download a better version here
Union Maid by Woody Guthrie

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys come 'round
She always stood her ground.
Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union.
Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die.
This union maid was wise to the tricks of company spies,
She couldn't be fooled by a company stool, she'd always organize the guys.
She always got her way when she struck for better pay.
She'd show her card to the National Guard
And this is what she'd say
You gals who want to be free, just take a tip from me;
Get you a man who's a union man and join the ladies' auxiliary.
Married life ain't hard when you got a union card,
A union man has a happy life when he's got a union wife.

Friday, May 9, 2008

March to Save Our Healthcare: Part 2

video

March to Save Our Healthcare: Part 1

video I personally filmed this as well as part 2
5/9/08: NYC Union members fight to prevent GHI-HIP from converting to a for-profit company & jeopardizing the health care of 4 million policy holders, including 500,000 NYC workers (93% of the workforce) & retirees. Mainstream politicians & union leaders support the change, hoping to benefit from the nearly $3 billion windfall profits of such a sale.

Mike Quill

video
from youtube user smransom51

Mike Quill of the Transport Workers Union debates Congressman Hartley on the rights of public employees to strike

from wikipedia
Michael J. Quill (1905–1966) was one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expanded to represent employees in other forms of transit, and the President of the TWU for most of the first thirty years of its existence. A close ally of the Communist Party USA for the first twelve years of his leadership of the union, he broke with it in 1948. He drove his former allies out of the union.
Quill had varying relations with the mayors of New York City. He was a personal friend of Robert Wagner but could find no common ground with Wagner's successor, John Lindsey, or as Quill called him "Linsley", and led a twelve-day transit strike in 1966 against him that landed him in jail. However, he won significant wage increases for his members. He died of a heart attack three days after the end of the strike.
Quill was born in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry, Ireland. He claimed to have been a dispatch rider for the Irish Republican Army from 1919 to 1921 while still a teenager; then a member of the IRA itself in the Irish Civil War that followed. By one account, he robbed a bank to raise funds for the IRA. Quill worked as a carpenter's apprentice, then a woodcutter after the end of the Civil War. He moved to the United States, following his brothers, Patrick and John, in 1926. In New York City Quill first lived with his O'Sullivan cousins in upper Manhattan.
Quill's account of his activities in Ireland were, however, subject to change over the years. Quill attributed his bad hip variously to a bullet lodged there after he was shot by the Black and Tans or to an accident in which he "fell off a mountainside"; he also admitted to others that the condition had dated from his childhood. Quill was also prone to exploiting his Irish background, particularly when in front of the heavily Irish-American membership of the TWU; as more than one observer noted his brogue got thicker the longer he was away from Ireland and particularly when he was on stage or in front of a microphone.
After working a series of odd jobs in New York, he went to work for the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) later that year, first as a night gateman, then as a clerk or "ticket chopper". Moving from station to station, Quill got to know a large number of IRT employees, while using the quiet of the late hours to read labor history and, in particular, the works of James Connolly. The name that Quill and others chose for their new union was, in fact, a tribute to the Irish Transport and General Workers Union led by Jim Larkin and Connolly twenty years earlier.
That union grew out of a unique mixture of two revolutionary traditions: the Irish insurrectionary history of Connolly and the IRA and the Communist Party. The IRT was, in fact, filled with veterans of the recent Troubles in Ireland, to the point that some jokingly referred to it as "Irish Republican Transit". All of the founding members of the TWU belonged to the Clan na Gael, a secretive Irish organization, and the first discussions of forming a union took place across the street from a Clan meeting.
The other factor, the Communist Party, supplied organizers, operating funds, and connections with organizations outside the Irish-American community. Two Trade Union Unity League organizers, John Santo and Austin Hogan, met with the Clan na Gael's members in a cafeteria on Columbus Circle on April 12, 1934, the date now used to mark the foundation of the union.
The CP was at that time in the last years of its ultrarevolutionary Third Period, when it sought to form revolutionary unions outside the American Federation of Labor. The party therefore focused both on organizing workers into the union and recruiting members for the Party through mimeographed shop papers with titles such as "Red Shuttle" or "Red Dynamo". The new union appointed Tom O'Shea — who would later become a witness against Quill before the Dies Committee — as its first president, assigning Quill a secondary position.
Quill proved to have more leadership potential than O'Shea, however. He was a persuasive speaker, willing to "soapbox" outside of IRT facilities for hours, and capable of great charm in individual conversations. He also acquired some renown after an incident in 1936, in which some "beakies", the informants used by the IRT to spy on union activities, attacked Quill and five other unionists in a tunnel as they were returning from picketing the IRT's offices. Arrested for inciting to riot, Quill came off as a fighter in his defense of the charges, which were eventually dismissed.
Quill was closely associated with the Communist Party from the outset, but proved rebellious as well. When the Third Period gave way to the Popular Front era, Santo and Hogan directed O'Shea and Quill to abandon efforts to form a new union and to run instead for office in the IRT company union, the Interborough Brotherhood. Quill denounced the plan vociferously, to the point that he was nearly expelled from the union. Quill came around, however, by the next party meeting and began attending Brotherhood meetings — while still recruiting workers there to joint the TWU.
Given the level of surveillance, and consistent with the conspiratorial traditions of Irish political movements, the union proceeded clandestinely, forming small groups of trusted friends in order to keep informers at bay, meeting in isolated locations and in subway tunnels. Those few workers, such as Quill, who were willing to accept identification as union activists also spread the word about the new union by handing out flyers and delivering soapbox speeches in front of company facilities. After a year of organizing, the union formed a Delegates Council, made up of representatives from sections of the system.
In the meantime the new union continued its patient organizing campaign, conducting a number of brief strikes over workplace conditions, but avoiding any large-scale confrontations. That changed on January 23, 1937, when the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT) fired two union members at the Kent Avenue powerhouse plant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for union activity. The union launched a successful sitdown strike two days later that solidified the union's support among BMT employees, helped lead to its overwhelming victory in an NLRB-conducted election among the IRT's 13,500 employees later that year and helped bring thousands of other transit employees into the union.
The TWU had joined the International Association of Machinists in 1936 in order to link itself to the AFL in 1936. The union severed its relations with the Machinists and joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations as a national union on May 10, 1937. Quill had already replaced O'Shea as President of the union, while Santo became its Secretary-Treasurer.
The union soon faced challenges within, as dissidents within the union and the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists outside it challenged the CPUSA's dominant position within its officialdom and staff. The CP at that time had almost complete control over the union's administration and CP membership was necessary both to get a job with the union and to rise through its ranks. Former allies such as O'Shea attacked Quill and the CP, both in the publications of rival unions, such as the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees, and in testimony before the Dies Committee.
Quill and the union leadership gave their opponents all the ammunition they needed by following the changes in the CPUSA's foreign policy, moving to a militant policy after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939, then coming out against strikes after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Quill shrugged off most of this criticism from outside, haranguing the Dies Committee when it attempted to question him, and disposed of his internal critics by bringing union charges against more than a hundred opponents.
The union faced more serious challenges at home as Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia threatened to revoke the union's status as representative of the employees of the IRT and BMT when the City bought those lines in 1940. Quill had cooperated with LaGuardia when the former ran, successfully, for City Council in 1937, as a candidate of the American Labor Party. In 1940, however, both LaGuardia and Quill became bellicose opponents of each other, with Quill calling a bus drivers' strike that served to demonstrate the union's power if challenged while LaGuardia came out in opposition to collective bargaining, the closed shop and the right to strike for public employees.
The invasion of the Soviet Union changed the Party's opinion of strikes. It is simplistic, on the other hand, to treat this change in strategy as solely the result in the change in Comintern policy. Throughout his career Quill preferred to threaten strikes as leverage to calling them and provoking a decisive test of strength. In addition, the union leadership had reservations in 1941 about the depth of its support among the general public and the employees of the IRT and BMT, many of whom believed that civil service protections gained as employees of the City made union representation less critical. National leaders of the CIO and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration intervened in 1941 to avert a subway strike with an ambiguous agreement that preserved TWU's right to represent its members, even though the City continued to deny it exclusive representation.
The pressure on CP-led unions intensified after the end of World War II. These pressures fell especially hard on the TWU: the government arrested Santo for immigration law violations, and began proceedings to deport him. At the same time, Quill found the CP's political line increasingly hard to take, since it required him to oppose a subway fare increase that he considered necessary for wage increases in 1947, while the CP's support for the candidacy of Henry Wallace threatened to split the CIO. When William Z. Foster, then the general secretary of the CPUSA, told him that the party was prepared to split the CIO to form a third federation and that he might be the logical choice for its leader, Quill decided to break his ties to the CP instead.
Quill applied the same energy to his campaign to drive his former allies out of the union that he had during the union's organizing drives of the 1930s. He was able to enlist the City, in the form of Mayor William O'Dwyer, in his support, winning a large wage increase for subway workers in 1948, that cemented his standing with the membership. After a few inconclusive internal battles, Quill prevailed in 1949, purging not only the officers who had opposed him, but much of the union's staff, down to its secretarial employees.
Unlike some others, such as Joe Curran of the National Maritime Union, "Red Mike" Quill remained on the left within the labor movement — albeit in a political atmosphere in which the boundaries had shifted drastically during the Cold War — after his split with the CP. Quill was the most vocal opponent within the CIO of its merger with the AFL, attacking it for "racism, racketeering and raids". He and the TWU were early supporters of the civil rights movement and Quill was one of the first in the labor movement to oppose the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
Quill and the TWU became even more important figures in New York City politics in the 1950s. He was a key supporter of Robert F. Wagner, Jr.'s campaign for mayor of New York and became a lightning rod, based on his radical past, for Wagner's Republican opponent and unfavorable press attention. While the union repeatedly threatened to take the subway workers out on strike, it managed to settle with the Wagner administration short of a strike on each occasion.
The TWU did not have the same relationship with the administration of John V. Lindsay, a liberal Protestant Republican who had rebuked Quill shortly before taking office in 1966. Lindsay decided to take on the TWU, provoking a twelve day strike. The world's largest subway and bus systems, serving eight million people daily, came to a complete halt. The City obtained an injunction prohibiting the strike and succeeded in imprisoning Quill and seven other leaders of the TWU and the Amalgamated Association, which joined in the stoppage, for contempt of court.
Quill did not waver, responding at a crowed press conference: "The judge can drop dead in his black robes!" The union successfully held out for a sizeable wage increase for the union. Other unions followed suit demanding similar raises.
Ironically, it was Quill, who dropped dead at age 60, three days after the union's victory celebration. He had an initial heart attack when he was sent to jail for contempt. He was interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, NY, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral (New York), his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.
He was first married to Maria Theresa O'Neill, who predeceased him, and had a son, John Daniel Quill (named for Quill's own father). His second wife, who survived him, was Shirley Quill.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

May Day Celebration In England

video
from youtube user workersunited

A 15 minute film celebrating international workers day.
May Day has been celebrated in London since the 1880's. The march has traditionally started from Clerkenwell Green -- the heart of an area noted for its radicalism in the late and early 19th centuries. In 1890 London's first full May Day March progressed from the Green, organised by the London Trades Council in conjunction with 28 radical clubs and many trade unionists.
As ever this years march was a unique mix of trade unionists, workers from many international communities, pensioners, youth, students, political organisations and many others in a show of working class unity.
Filmmakers and Unison members Hazuan Hashim and Phil Maxwell captured the last two May day marches and have produced a short film using archive material as well as contemporary comments from trade Union members and leaders.
The film showcases the banners of the march, the diversity of its participants, humour and music. Often ignored by the mass media the filmmakers wanted to make the values embodied in the traditions of the march accessible to a wider audience. To this end the film has educational, entertainment and historic value.
As well as capturing icons of the movement (Jack Jones and Tony Benn) the film shows the international nature of the event as well as the contribution of ethnic minorities and women; in short the film celebrates the wide ranging membership of a confident and modern trade union movement and its traditions.

General Society Of Mechanics And Tradesmen 2


This shows where the original location of the General Society was (on Broadway near City Hall) The building is a later structure on that site
A screenshot from my own google map version of New Labor History sites (intended to compliment and enhance Tamiment's work in progress

General Society Of Mechanics And Tradesmen


General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen On November 17, 1785 in a tavern at Pine and Broadway, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen was founded as a mutual benefit society. A library, clubhouse, bank, and school were later established for the use of apprentices, mechanics, tradesmen and their families. The Society moved to its present location at 20 West 44th Street in 1898.
A screenshot from my own google map version of New Labor History sites (intended to compliment and enhance Tamiment's work in progress

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Teamster Local Spearheads Mayday Protest Of NYC Housing Cuts


from the local 237 web site

Local 237/NYCHA members are stretched to the point of collapse, and residents of public housing – 500,000 citizens of NYC – are threatened with destruction of core services.
Teamsters Local 237 Rally at City Hall to Stop NYCHA Cuts – Thursday, May 1st, 12:00pm at City Hall. During the last eight years, the Bush administration has slashed the budget for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) by $611 million. As a result of the latest cuts announced by Bush, NYCHA has now announced it may be forced to lay off 190 more employees. Local 237/NYCHA members are stretched to the point of collapse, and residents of public housing – 500,000 citizens of NYC – are threatened with destruction of core services. Teamsters Local 237, representing 8,000 employees of NYCHA, has called a rally to spotlight the Bush destruction of public housing in NYC. Show your solidarity by supporting our Local 237 brothers and sisters at this rally!

Norma Rae: Ron Liebman's Speech

video
from american rhetoric

Warshovsky: On October 8th, 1970, my grandfather, Isaac Abraham Warshovsky, age 87, died in his sleep in New York city. On the following Friday morning, his funeral was held. My mother and father attended. My two uncles from Brooklyn attended. And my aunt Minnie came up from Florida. Also present were 862 members of The Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the Cloth, Hat and Cap Makers Union of America -- also members of his family.
In death, as in life, they stood at his side. They had fought battles with him, had bound the wounds of battle with him, had earned bread together and had broken it together. And when they spoke, they spoke in one voice and they were heard. And they were black and they were white and they were Irish and they were Polish and they were Catholic and they were Jews -- and they were one. That's what a union is -- one.
Ladies and gentlemen, the textile industry in which you are spending your lives and your substance, and in which your children and their children will spend their lives and their substance, is the only industry in the whole length and breadth of these United States of America that is not unionized. Therefore, they are free to exploit you, to lie to you, to cheat you and to take away from you what is rightfully yours -- your health, a decent wage, a fit place to work.
I would urge you to stop them by coming over to Room 31 at the Golden Cherry Motel and pick up a union card and sign it.
Yes, it comes from the Bible, according to the tribes of your fathers: "Ye shall inherit." But it comes from Reuben Warshovsky: Not unless you make it happen.
Thank you.

Norma Rae 2

video
from occams razor

Second Viewing: Norma Rae (1979)
1979 was a year when modest sleeper movies won big. Two of them occupy special places in my heart, perhaps because at age 22 I was in transition at the time. I was just out of college, underemployed and nearly broke. I also was not sure what I was going to do with my life. Breaking Away spoke to my underwhelming transitional feelings toward my new adult life. Dennis Christopher, who played the biker Dave Stoller in Breaking Away, had an uncanny physical resemblance to me. In addition, he exuded all my early 20’s awkwardness. Norma Rae, starring Sally Field as the unlikely union organizer Norma Rae Watson, spoke to my feelings of disempowerment while I worked as a vastly underpaid retail drone at a local Montgomery Ward.
Sally Field plays a young and attractive mill worker whose personal life is in something of a shambles. She has two children, one out of wedlock. She and her kids live with her parents, who also work at the mill. Norma is the epitome of poor white southern trash. She is seemingly destined to cater to dysfunctional married men looking for a quick orgasm for the price of a steak dinner. Things slowly change when a union organizer named Reuben (Ron Liebman) arrives from New York. He is charged with the likely futile task of convincing the workers of the mill in this hot and sticky Southern town to unionize. In part because Reuben is forced to take a room at Norma’s favorite No-Tel motel their lives begin to intersect.
In Norma Rae, Director Martin Ritt very well captures the poverty, ugliness, hassles and facelessness of the working class. Most of the extras appear to be local townies. Sally Field seemed an unlikely choice for this part since she had hardly shaken off the typecasting from her Flying Nun days. Yet from the start, she feels like one of the townies. Norma Rae lives in a mill town in the very Deep South, an area known for its hostility toward unions. Blacks and whites work together at the mill, but racism lingers close to its surface. Virtually everyone has working class poverty and their job at the mill in common.
Sally Field won Best Actress for her role as Norma Rae Watson. Throughout much of the movie, she would seem an unlikely choice, since there is little in her acting that comes across as particularly noteworthy. It is only as Norma Rae is increasingly exposed to the stresses of being a union organizer that, much as a locomotive builds up a head of steam, we discover what Sally Field is capable of. It is hard not to be dazzled by her explosion of deft acting in the final fifteen minutes of the film. If you have seen the movie, you will know the scene. It is one of these great scenes in Hollywood cinema. I suspect Sally Field won the award principally for this scene, and yet she also shines in more measured scenes in the film’s denouement.
An impossibly young Beau Bridges (well, it is 28 years old) plays her husband Sonny. Ron Liebman playing the union organizer Reuben is really the film’s principle supporting actor. Steeped in the New York City culture, Reuben gives Norma Rae a perspective of the world outside her insular southern town where she has lived her life. Regular exposure to Reuben’s intellect and passion begins to rub off on Norma Rae. He provides a means for her to tap her restless spirit for a greater good and thus give her a way to surmount her troubled past.
In some ways, Norma Rae reminded me of Dazed and Confused, but only in the sense that both films caught the sleepy southern town of the 1970s with eerie precision. As you might expect from its academy awards, Norma Rae is a much better movie. Both movies though seem populated with common folk rather than the buffed, skinny and overly pretty types Hollywood typically throws at us.
If you hunger for a powerful human story you should consider renting Norma Rae, whose message about the ability each of us have to rise above ourselves is timeless. I do not think any other movie since the classic It’s a Wonderful Life has told this story as well. Had I thought about it at the time, I would have added Norma Rae to my list of must see movies for progressives.

Norma Rae 1

video
from wikipedia

Norma Rae is a 1979 film which tells the story of a woman from a small town in the Southern United States who becomes involved in the labor union activities at the textile factory where she works. It stars Sally Field, Beau Bridges, Ron Leibman, Pat Hingle, Barbara Baxley, Gail Strickland and Noble Willingham.
The movie was written by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch, and was directed by Martin Ritt. It is based on the true story of Crystal Lee Jordan. It was marketed with the tagline "The story of a woman with the courage to risk everything for what she believes is right."
It won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sally Field) and Best Original Song (for David Shire and Norman Gimbel for "It Goes Like It Goes"). It was also nominated for Best Picture and for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. The film was also nominated to the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and Field was awarded Best Actress for her performance.
Norma is a minimum-wage worker in a cotton mill that has taken too much of a toll on the health of her family for her to ignore her Dickensian working conditions. After hearing a speech by New York union organizer Reuben, Norma Rae decides to join the effort to unionize her shop. This causes dissension at home when Norma Rae's husband Sonny assumes that her activism is a result of a romance between herself and Reuben. Despite the pressure brought to bear by Management, Norma Rae successfully orchestrates an election to unionize the factory, resulting in victory for the union and presumably capitulation for the demands.

Matewan 20 Years Later

video
from youtube user wvfilmmaker

In the twenty years since John Sayles made the film 'Matewan', many things have changed for the people involved and the towns it centered around.

Matewan 4

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The big shootout scene

Matewan 3

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A fallen striker is eulogized

Monday, May 5, 2008

Matewan 2

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The background events for the movie and the trailer

Hold The Fort: Labor Heroes

video
image sources: better world heroes, americans who tell the truth, northland poster
music from the Folkways' Collection of Classic Labor Songs

HOLD THE FORT
We meet today in freedom's cause
And raise our voices high.
We'll join our hands in union strong
to battle or to die.
CHORUS:
Hold the fort for we are coming.
Union men be strong.
Side by side we battle onward.
Victory will come.
(Repeat after each verse)
See our numbers still increasing.
Hear the bugles blow.
By our union, we shall triumph
Over every foe.
Fierce and long the battle rages,
But we shall not fear.
Help will come whenever needed.
Cheer, my comrades, cheer.

Notes: from workers' union
Written by Philip P. Bliss, the song has an interesting history.
The title comes from a famous incident of the American Civil War. In October, 1864, when Union troops were trapped in a fort at Allatoona Pass, near Atlanta, General Sherman sent a message which was signalled by flags from mountain to mountain: "General Sherman says hold fast. We are coming." Despite heavy attacks, the men held the fort until Sherman's army rescued them.
A certain Major Whittle, who had served with the Union forces, told this story at a Sunday School meeting in Rockford, Illinois, in May, 1870. In the audience was Philip P. Bliss, a well-known singing evangelist. Inspired by the story, that night Bliss wrote a gospel hymn with the following refrain:
"Hold the fort, for I am coming!
Jesus signals still.
Wave the answer back to Heaven -
By Thy Grace we will'.”
Soon it was published in sheet music and became one of the songs used by Ira D. Sankey, an evangelist and gospel singer. In 1873, he introduced it in Britain during a revival tour. It appeared as the first song in his collection of Sacred Songs and Solos which was published in London in 1875 as a result of requests for the songs he had popularised there. Toward the end of the nineteenth century it was parodied by the British Transport Workers Union who used it in their hard-fought battles for recognition.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Knights of Labor had also realized the militant quality of the song. In the 1880's, when the Knights reached their peak of seven hundred thousand members, they were singing:
"Storm the fort, ye Knights of Labor,
Battle for your cause;
Equal rights for every neighbor,
Down with tyrant laws!"
This version may well have found its way to England where the Knights had a number of local assemblies, and influenced the Transport Workers when they came to write their own much better version. It in turn also crossed the Atlantic, getting back to the United States where the Industrial Workers of the World, also know as the ”Wobblies”, took it up, and ever since it has been a standard union song.

Matewan 1

video
from youtube user SCODgreenhood

The 1912-13 events at Paint & Cabin Creek are known as the first of the Coal Mine Wars of West Virginia. There was a march of 5,000 miners in 1919. Then the Matewan Massacre in 1920 led to the shooting of Chief Hatfield. The only movie made about this was filmed in 1987 by John Sayles. Finally with the help of Mother Jones and Bill Blizzard, apx. 15,000 armed miners attacked apx. 1,500 Company thugs, State Police, & 2,000 U.S. Military units in the Battle of Blair Mountain. The "RedNeck Army" (named for red cloth around their neck) surrendered when the U.S. Air Force threatened to bomb them.
In 2005, the West Virginia Archives and History Commission voted unanimously to recommend to the National Park Service that 1,600 acres of Blair Mountain be included on the National Register.
Coal mining companies and nearby landowners promptly sued to overturn the nomination. The Sierra Club moved to join the suit, and in May 2006 a West Virginia judge granted the Club's participation. That same month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Blair Mountain battlefield on its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Places. The United Mine Workers union also came out in support of the National Register listing because of its importance to the labor movement. Bibliography:"When Miners March", William Blizzard, "Thunder in the Mountains"; Lon Savage, "WV Mine Wars"; David A. Corbin

Democracy Now: The NYC Transit Strike 12/2005

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from the prelinger archives

Democracy Now! Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Headlines for December 21, 2005 Mayor Bloomberg Condemns New York City Transit Strike, MTA Workers Hold Firm-A Debate on the New York City Transit Strike

John L. Lewis: 1919

video
from the prelinger archives

JOHN L. LEWIS LEADS MINERS' FIGHT IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
In November, 1919, Acting President John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers led 600,000 miners in a five week strike that crippled the bituminous coal industry and the nation as well. The strike was in direct defiance of a court injunction against such action and Woodrow Wilson denounced Lewis as a dictator. This was John L. Lewis' first clash with a United States president; he missed battle with no other president from then on up to Eisenhower.
On December 11, President Wilson and Attorney General Palmer presented Lewis with a proposal that would send the miners back to work: a 14% wage increase (they were getting $2.00 per day) and a commission to work out other questions in the dispute such as hours, health and safety standards. Lewis accepted immediately and the men returned to work, proving their loyalty to their country, he said. Attorney General Palmer commended Mr. Lewis for his wise and patriotic action.
The coal operators, however, charged Palmer with surrender and said that he feared a terrible situation if the government had been forced to jail the miners. A Congressional Committee decided to investigate the strike.
When John L Lewis retired 40 years later, in 1960, the coal miners wages had risen to $24.25 a day, the shanty company towns had been obliterated, safe and health standards had reached a new high. He said to the miners on his retirement: "I hope that each of you will believe through the years I have been faithful to your interests...that each of you will grant me an honorable discharge in approval of my work."

Where There is a Will... There Will be a Living Wage

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from the prelinger archives

Where There is a Will... There Will be a Living Wage
Throughout history, women and men in the labor movement have struggled to gain power in an economy that often seems to work against them, placing profit over people. For the past hundred years, the United States has seen great strides in workers’ rights, from the formation of unions, the eight-hour workday, child labor laws, and the creation of a minimum wage. Despite these gains, there exists a growing population of working poor, people who work full-time jobs, yet are unable to meet their most basic needs, including housing, food, child care, health care, and transportation. As traditional tactics and union influence become less effective, workers and advocates of workers’ rights are creating new and innovative strategies, which are being implemented in movements for a living wage.

Union Protest Of Walmart: 2000

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from prelinger archives

500+ Workers, students, community and anti-sweatshop activists, Jobs with Justice, SEIU, Teamsters, UAW, and many others converge on the Hadley, MA WalMart for a day of protest against globalization and WalMart in solidarity with the protests in Prague, 9/26/00.
Protest features a sweatshop fashion show, with filmmaker and USAS activist Michael Burns on the mic, Karl X reads a Robert Burns poem, Tom Taafe on the dismantling of affirmative action in higher education, Smith College radical cheerleaders, banjo playing folk singer, and a rainbow at sunset. Long live the people's republic of Amherst!

Unions Rally 2004

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from the prelinger archives

"…power in a union" "Stop the race to the bottom" is a union call for international solidarity. Unions rallied as part of NYC anti-World Economic Forum discussions and marches (Jan. 31-Feb. 4). The short documentary features interviews, speeches and music from labor organizers and activists from across the globe

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Deadline 1946: Part 1

video
from the prelinger archives
How left-wing labor unions engaged in political activism to combat corporate influence on the U.S. Congress in the years following World War II.
Producer: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)
Reviewer: Steve Nordby - 4 out of 5 stars - March 13, 2004

Subject: Not the history you get in school
At one time, labor unions were not so in line with big business and big government that they actually tried to promote the idea of helping democracy and produced films like this. We get a history of the collusion between business and government, and a great feeling of loss that FDR is no longer in the White House. The fighting spirit of unions in this film is completely absent from post-Reagan America. 16-20 minutes into the film the interconnection of supposedly different big businesses and the concentration of weath is illustrated. The collusion of the government with international business and industry under Nazism is equated to the "American Century". (Those interested in how those these ideals not only survive but occupy the highest levels of the US Government 2001-2004 should check out the "Project for a New American Century" http://www.newamericancentury.org/)
In part 2, we hear how Churchill diverted an invasion of Nazi-held France so that troops could be sent to suppress a democratic uprising against the Greek Royal family. Injunctions are cited by a union official with a heavy accent as a tool companies use to have the police power of the state break strikes. Footage of police beating up strikers in Philadelphia is the highlight. The result was a win for labor, but only to be followed by business counterattack. We are told it will become a company town, state, nation "and ultimately" BANG (illustration of an atom) war!
Ends with a patriotic call to democracy at the Republican president Lincoln's memorial.

Reviewer: Christine Hennig - 4 out of 5 stars - January 8, 2004
Subject: Death to the Scary Octopus of Big Business!
This film, made by the electrical workers union of the CIO in the late 40s, gives the other side of all those pro-business films also made during that time. It criticizes big companies like GE for cutting paychecks after the war, ostensibly because they could no longer afford to pay wartime wages. However, the unions research showed that production and labor costs to the company had actually gone down and that the pay cuts were done to increase profits. But it goes a lot further than just that issue, pointing out how American big business is getting bigger and bigger and more and more powerful. It also points out the links big American companies had with Axis companies during the war, and equates big businesses dream of an American Century with the Nazi goal of world domination. The answer is shown to be participating in strikes and voting the union ticket. This is actually pretty scary to watch, because Im sure things are ten times worse now in terms of big business dominating government. Of course, its hard to tell without doing your own research how accurate the film is, just as with the pro-business films of the periodits obviously meant to be propaganda. It is a fascinating account of union political views of the period. It also has lots of great propaganda graphics, including smashing fists and a giant octopus to represent big business. And theres a memorable, though somewhat puzzling, scene to represent the concept of 31 million dollars (how much of Americas assets are controlled by Morgan interests): They dont just talk about laying that much money in $100 bills end-to-end; they show a guy discovering the line of bills on the sidewalk and trying to pick them all up. A memorable film overall.
Overall Rating: ****.

ILGWU And The Signing Of Anti-Communist Clause: 9/3/1947

from the nytimes

Read this doc on Scribd: ilgwu-9-3-47

Cigar Makers Strike: 5/1/1884

from the nytimes

Read this doc on Scribd: cigar-1884-2

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