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Posts tagged ‘Industrial Workers of the World’

Celebrating Joe Hill: 100th Anniversary, November 19, 1915, Part 2

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Joe Hill Roadshow, 100th Anniversary Tour

IWW Membership CardThe nationwide tour honoring the life of Joe Hill, presented by Crossroad Music, stopped in West Philadelphia on July 25. I just joined the I.W.W., Philadelphia Branch, and I’m now a proud, card-carrying member. This concert provided the opportunity to connect to the music of labor activism and to honor Joe Hill.

The previous post, Celebrating Joe Hill: 100th Anniversary, November 19, 1915, Part 1, provides a brief history of Joe Hill’s life and his association with the Industrial Workers of the World. 

The anniversary tour began in Chicago and will finish with their last concert in Salt Lake City. A complete listing of the tour dates is available at Joe Hill 100.com.

The Roadshow in Philly featured the folk duo Magpie, singer-songwriter Charlie King, and protest singer George Mann. Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner have been touring as Magpie since 1973, performing a poignant and lively mix of folk, jazz and blues. Charlie King sings and writes about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Pete Seeger described him as “one of the finest singers and songwriters of our time.”  Reference: Jon Bekken, Joe Hill Roadshow will be in Philly this Weekend.

Local Connection

John Braxton

John Braxton

West Philadelphia resident John Braxton joined the performers. John Braxton and I have a connection through Swarthmore College.  When I was active in the living wage campaign at Swarthmore, I met John when he spoke at one of our events in 2002. At the 2010 Commencement, the college president awarded John, Class of 1970, an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws for his labor activism and as co-founder of Philadelphia Jobs with Justice Coalition. In his address to the students, John said,

We face problems on a scale that we have never faced before — but they are solvable if we don’t ignore them. The solutions require building powerful social and political movements — and people do find a way to do that even in the darkest times. Today, we have the tools to guide this process more intelligently and nonviolently. The moral arc of the universe does bend towards justice — if we harness ourselves and help it to bend. 

Bekken’s article quotes John as saying, 

Today, when the gap in wealth and income between the richest and the rest of us is greater than at any time since the 1930s, it’s a good time to remember that Joe Hill worked for justice for all workers around the world. 

The Music

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John Braxton, Charlie King, folk duo Magpie (Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino) , George Mann

The evening performance began with the rousing, “The Preacher and the Slave,” a song Joe Hill wrote as a parody of the hymn, “In the Sweet By-and-By” and coined the phrase “pie in the sky.” The I.W.W. targeted the Salvation Army for satire because of their illusory promises to workers:   

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

The concert turned into a sing-a-long, as all the music is singable and many in the audience were familiar with the words.

George Mann sang, “Which Side are You On,” written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a union organizer for the United Mine Workers. Florence borrowed the melody from a traditional Baptist hymn.

Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Poor folks ain’t got a chance
Unless they organize

“There is Power in the Union,” another song by Joe Hill, who used the tune of Lewis E. Jones’ 1899 hymn, “There Is Power in the Blood.”

If you like sluggers to beat off your head,
Then don’t organize, all unions despise.
If you want nothing before you are dead,
Shake hands with your boss and look Wise.

Come, all ye workers, from every land,
Come, join in the grand industrial band;
Then we our share of this earth shall demand.
Come on! Do your share, like a man.

Before the song, George read a letter to the editor of Solidarity from Joe Hill.

Near the end of the program, audience and musicians joined in singing “Solidarity Forever,” a song sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Although the song was written for the I.W.W, other union movements have adopted the song as their own.

They divide us by our color; they divide us by our tongue,
They divide us men and women; they divide us old and young,
But they’ll tremble at our voices, when they hear these verses sung,
For the Union makes us strong!

A progressive union since its founding in 1905, the I.W.W. has been committed to anti-racism, and at its height, counted among its supporters radical and class fighters. One hundred years ago, Joe Hill understood and advocated for social justice. His songs stay in our political consciousness, encouraging and guiding us toward one big union for all.

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Celebrating Joe Hill: 100th Anniversary, November 19, 1915, Part 1

Joe Hill Watercolor

Original Sculpture, I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill, K.K., 2015

Poet Laureate of the IWW

Joe Hill, a Swedish born, American labor activist and songwriter, wrote union songs for his organization, the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.), popularly known as the “Wobblies.” The I.W.W., an international union, advocated direct action in the form of boycotts, strikes and sabotage. However, adversaries of the I.W.W., including some historians as well as industrialists, government officials, press and religious organizations perpetuated the idea that I.W.W. members were dangerous terrorists. Almost from the founding of the organization, their philosophy and tactics aroused intense fear and hatred by those in power. The I.W.W. garnered significant publicity during the western free speech movements of 1906-1917, resulting in hostility and fear directed toward them, unparalleled in American history.  I.W.W. positions advocating class conflict and revolution in provocative language that mocked societies’ sacred cows of patriotism and religion contributed significantly to officials’ concern about labor conflicts.

220px-The_Rebel_Girl_coverJoe Hill joined the IWW in 1910 and wrote songs to encourage his fellow workers to join in solidarity to fight for their rights. His songs were first published in the March 1916 edition of the Industrial Worker in the Little Red Songbook. During his lifetime, Joe wrote over thirty songs, including Casey Jones, The Preacher and the Slave, Dump the Bosses off Your Back, Rebel Girl and There is Power in the Union.

In a controversial trial, a jury convicted Joe Hill of murder. Despite appeals and international calls for clemency, the state of Utah executed Joe by firing square in on November 19, 1915. Professor Ron Yengich and his students have posted a website, The Joe Hill Project, on Joe’s life and the trial.

Writing in his cell, November 18, 1915, on the eve of his execution, Joe addressed his fellow workers,

My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kind don’t need to fuss and moan —
“Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.”My body? Ah, If I could choose,
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my last and final will.
Good luck to all of you.

Joe Hill, Remembered

Joe’s remains were sent to Chicago where thirty thousand people attended his funeral. Envelopes with his ashes were sent to I.W.W. chapters and supporters, and on May Day 1916, friends and members of his union scattered his ashes in every state and throughout the world. In 1988, an envelope seized by the United States Post Office turned up. Labeled as “subversive potential,” the envelop was left at the National Archives. Members of the I.W.W. in Chicago laid claim to the contents. Several stories in I.W.W. lore claim that theses ashes were then scattered. However, it seems that one bit of Joe’s ashes was not cast to the wind but rather held at the union headquarters. I was asked to make an urn to hold these last remaining ashes.  

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Urn for Joe Hill’s Ashes

Joe has been memorialized in folk songs, and Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Utah Phillips, Bruce Springsteen and Si Kahn have performed his songs.

Joe’s immortal words have been the rallying cry and inspiration to union and labor organizers ever since.

Don’t waste time mourning, organize!

Joe Hill’s songs can be played from this website, Songs of the Wobblies.

 

Sister Teresa Forcades at Red Emma’s in Baltimore

I follow Facebook pages for Red Emma’s and Sister Teresa Forcades and was so excited to read their recent joint posting:

Just announced!
Teresa Forcades, radical feminist nun, anti-austerity organizer, and advocate for an autonomous Catalonia

speaking at Red Emma’s the very next day. While I was in Barcelona, Spain, I attended an event, Women, Spirituality and Social Change, and met Sister Teresa (see post here), so to have an opportunity to see her again right in our neighborhood of the world, I wasted no time getting train tickets my son John, who writes for The Industrial Worker, and me to travel to Baltimore.

Red Emmas

Emma Goldman: Courageous Advocate for Worker Rights

Emma Goldman 1886  *Wikipedia

Emma Goldman 1886 *Wikipedia

Red Emma’s, a worker cooperative started in 2004, supports a bookstore, restaurant and community space and is “dedicated to putting principles of solidarity and sustainability into practice in a democratic workplace.” The namesake of the cooperative, Emma Goldman, a political activist known for her promotion of anarchism, is another woman I admire for her progressive views on women’s rights, prison reform, racial equality and right to organize our workplaces. Anarcho-syndicalism best explains my political philosophy where worker solidarity, direct action and worker self-management form the basis for encouraging workers to free themselves from the hierarchical systems of bosses and managers.

Several years ago, John, along with fellow members of the I.W.W.,  paid a pilgrimage to Emma’s final resting place, Forest Home Cemetery, in Forest Park, a suburb of Chicago. Emma had been deported years before her passing, but officials of the immigration office allowed her burial on U.S. soil. Other activists are buried nearby, so she’s in good company. 

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Teresa Forcades: A Crusader against Austerity and Leader of Protest Movements in Spain

Teresa Forcades at Red Emmas

Teresa Forcades launched a political manifesto to counter austerity measures by the Spanish government. The document calls for an independent Catalonia to carry out a more democratic and progressive agenda, including nationalizing banks and energy corporations and advocating for participatory democracy, ecological restructuring, and decent wages and pensions. Any progressive could support the reforms in this remarkable document. Manifesto

The program began when Professor Navarro from Johns Hopkins University introduced Teresa to the gathering. Teresa discussed many of the points in the Manifesto and the “Indignados” movement in Catalonia and Europe.

Introduction: Prof. Navarro

Introduction: Prof. Navarro

Teresa emphasized four principles necessary for success in making social change.

1. Reactivation from below. Change has to be brought about from the bottom up.

2. Avoid centralized leadership and control. People should not look for a savior. They must work together to foster diversity and unity without uniformity.

3. Stress the urgency. A large percentage of the populations lives in poverty (30% in Catalonia) and a significant number are living at the misery line (12% in Catalonia). The misery line represents the threshold of not even enough money to buy food and shelter.

4. Engage in revolution and do it again. The revolution is not over with a few reforms. Citizens must take part in decision-making. The constitution should be an evolving document as changes are needed for social reform.

discussion

Conversation

After the question and answer discussion, I talked with Teresa and introduced John. I invited her to come to Swarthmore College as I know the students would be inspired by her dedication to social justice. I never expected that Teresa would be visiting in our area, so I have great hopes that we will see each other again in the future.

Chicago Teachers: Progressive Unionism and Advocates for Education

On Saturday, November 17, representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union, Michael Brunson, Debby Pope, and Rolando Vasquez, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd  in Philadelphia about their strike in September 2012.

According to the mission statement of the union, which represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff, they by extension also represent students and families they serve. This is truly the goal of unionism: to consider the big picture in advocating for better working conditions and pay, progressive reforms in society and democracy the work place.

The union has addressed issues on charters, privatization and standardized tests. The union has also confronted the demonization of teachers and organized labor. In the past corporate-model school reformers dominated the discussion around issues of  accountability and standardized testing; Chicago teachers have focused on funding, poverty  and inequality.

Chicago teachers were successful because militant grassroots leadership from the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), guided the union membership in 2010 to build unprecedented community and parent support for educational reform.

Philadelphia schools have suffered drastic cuts under Gov. Tom Corbett and the confrontation continues over a radical restructuring and privatization plan advanced by the state-controlled School Reform Commission and backed by the powerful William Penn Foundation. In response, this past September hundreds gathered to found the Philadelphia Coalition for Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), a broad union-community coalition set to counter the Boston Consulting Group-drafted restructuring plan.  PCAPS asks for your advice by completing a public education survey to aid in developing a plan in which the citizens can contribute their ideas.

Video below features selected comments from the panel.

Social justice unionism, democracy in the workplace, shared leadership and responsibility are ideals shared by the Industrial Workers of the World. As the labor movement embraces these principles, mobilization will continue to grow and resist monied interests that obstruct educational reform.

Event Sponsors:  Labor Working Group (created during Occupy Philly) and the progressive Teacher Action Group (TAG).

Drawing Inspiration from the I.W.W. and the Free Speech Fights 1908-1917

The working conditions at the turn of the century placed workers under incredible hardships as they faced both health and safety risks on the job. At that time, half of all worker deaths occurred in two industries—coal mining and railroading. Around 1900 between 25-35,000 deaths and one million injuries per year occurred on industrial jobs. In the Pacific states a lumberyard or camp worker earned on the average 14 cents an hour with working hours averaging 61 per week. Employees had to sign a contract to waive all rights to damages in case of injury or death. Migratory workers depended on hopping on freight cars to follow employment opportunities across. Railroads estimated that 500,000 hoboes at any given time were attempting to board the trains. Migrant workers made up a large percentage of the 24,000 trespassers who were killed and 25,00 injured on the railway lines just from 1901 to 1904.

Understanding that the root of this misery rested in the capitalist system, workers established a new kind of labor union.  The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) believed in organizing all workers. Ahead of their time, the Wobblies refused to accept the society’s racial, ethnic and class prejudices and welcomed the most dispossessed into their ranks. They possessed a revolutionary spirit which provided the catalyst to create greater democracy through worker participation.

The I.W.W. organized the free speech initiatives to prove that direct action was the mechanism to stand up to the Establishment on labor rights. The system threw every weapon at the I.W.W., and the courts, police, newspapers, even encouraging mob rule. The politicians and industrialists formed alliances to protect their business interests and profits.

The public sometimes becomes confused with the rhetoric and propaganda of I.W.W. opponents who claimed that the organization despised the Constitution and rejected traditional American values and ideals. To understand this criticism it is important to differentiate between economic and political systems. Capitalism is an economic system, and the U.S. Constitution provides no support for any economic system. The I.W.W. rejected the elitist business interests of the capitalistic class in favor of workers. Elites labeled the I.W.W. unpatriotic because the membership refused to fight against their fellow workers in other countries. Translated: the I.W.W. is a bastion of democratic principles and follows an ethical philosophy of the highest calling: to join in solidarity with all workers and put an end to war.

 

 

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