by Bob Roman
When the AFL-CIO Convention met in Los Angeles this last October,
most of the press reports covered the Convention's endorsement
of Al Gore's candidacy for President. It is understandable. The
sight of hard nosed labor leaders twisting their faces into smiles
for a gentleman who has periodically knifed them- well, it does
make a story, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it means that some of
the more important and more interesting developments at the AFL-CIO
Convention were not widely covered.
The labor federation continues to develop a multi-faceted strategy
for building both the AFL-CIO as an organization and building
the labor movement as a social movement and as a political movement.
It might not pay off next year. But there is a real potential
here for a radical change in U.S. politics, even if it is something
so modest as our politics coming to resemble the European industrial
The AFL-CIO continues its effort to make workers' rights the
civil rights campaign of the new century. There are a number of
elements to this, but one of the more important is developing
links between the labor movement and the religious community.
One of the activities surrounding the Convention was touted as
the "first-ever joint conference" between religious
and union activists. This conference cosponsored by Chicago's
National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. In fact, it
was not the first such conference but another step toward scaling
up the scope of an ongoing project. (See
November - December, 1997, New Ground #55, Page 8, "Jobs
with Justice 10th Annual National Conference").
Indeed, Chicago has served as a laboratory for much of this
work. The Chicago Federation of Labor, for example, has made the
"Labor in the Pulpit" project (See July
- August, 1997, New Ground #53, Page 1, "Connecting
Faith and Work") its Labor Day activity for some years
now. Each Labor Day, labor speakers are invited by congregations
of all faiths to speak on how work and justice are connected.
Now this practice is spreading across the nation.
This building of the labor movement as a social movement is
also the reason for the prominent role played at the Convention
by the AFL-CIO's "constituency" organizations such as
Pride at Work, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Coalition
of Labor Union Women, etc., as well as programs such as Union
Summer. And if the language of "working families" doesn't
quite have the same intellectual appeal as the "labor theory
of value", it does have very much the same appeal to justice.
While most of the media attention was focused on Gore's endorsement,
the AFL-CIO was holding its "Third Annual Conference for
Union Members Holding Public Office". Union members have
held elective office for almost as long as there have been unions
in the U.S., but it is only recently that Labor has begun to systematically
track just who these people are and, more importantly, bring them
together. In this way, even though these are people elected on
all manner of ballot lines, the labor movement is taking steps
toward actually functioning as if it were a political party.
These are still baby steps. The AFL-CIO is planning to boost
the number of union members in office from 1,500 to 2,000 in (of
course) 2000. Yet this is still a very small number. Consider
that in Illinois alone there are well over a thousand units of
local government, most of which are governed by officers that
are elected rather than appointed. But it is a project that could
snowball. Look for individual state federations to start holding
The AFL-CIO's New Alliance project is among the more obscure
aspects of its strategy for the new century. It certainly doesn't
make for a good story. But when the AFL-CIO re-emphasized organizing
and political action, it found that the very institutions one
might expect to coordinate and maintain these efforts, the state
and especially the county central labor bodies were often just
barely functioning. Aside from the usual bureaucratic stuff us
lefties love to whine about, local central labor bodies are frequently
quite poor. There is the almost universal problem of not all unions
in a locality actually affiliating with the central body. Not
all AFL-CIO union locals in Chicago, for example, are members
of the Chicago Federation of Labor. And then there are some places
were the 1950s merger between the AFL and the CIO was never quite
finished on the county level.
The AFL-CIO intends to "remap and revitalize" its
state and local federations, and it has set up a fairly detailed
process by which these institutions will be reformed. On institutional
and staff levels, it seems to be a very participatory process
intended to result in local labor federations that are at least
big enough to support three full time staff and have the affiliation
of basically all the AFL-CIO union locals in its jurisdiction.
By itself, this organizational reform would not amount to much.
But if the other aspects of the AFL-CIO's strategy work reasonably
well, including yet another increase in the resources devoted
to organizing, the federation will have in place the institutional
framework to maintain and amplify these successes.
The AFL-CIO is also continuing to develop projects in job training,
in coordinated "social investment" of union pension
funds, in education, in communications and research. None of these
programs directly challenge the primacy of Capital, but all of
them are to some degree subversive of it. For a good overview
of the 23rd Convention, go to the AFL-CIO's website: http://www.aflcio.org.
by Bill Dixon
As a rule, abrupt and dramatic changes in U.S. foreign policy
do not usually bode well for Third World countries (just ask anyone
living in Panama, Iraq, or Sudan). But for once this rule was
happily broken on September 30 when President Clinton pledged
the U.S. to total debt-forgiveness for many of the world's poorest
The movement for Third World debt-relief has gained enormous
prominence recently, in large part thanks to a shrewd and visionary
campaign mounted by Jubilee 2000, an international coalition of
religious, aid, and human rights groups devoted to the issue.
With active organizations in fifty countries in Latin America
and Africa as well as in Europe and the United States, Jubilee
2000 has proven that grass-roots activism can indeed make an international
impact, even against the high powers of the IMF and the G7.
The fight for debt-relief is far from won. Clinton's pledge
must still be approved by Congress, and the rest of the world's
major economic powers have yet to commit to total debt-forgiveness,
let alone follow through. Still, the heady success enjoyed to
date by Jubilee and its millions of supporters across the globe
raises important questions about what comes next. Sooner than
we may dare hope, the question may well change from whether there
should be a new multilateral program of debt-relief to how it
comes about and with what strings attached.
Jubilee's greatest achievement so far has been in transforming
the issue of Third World debt from a faraway economic abstraction
into a real-life morality play. Jubilee's biblical symbolism,
made all the more powerful by the involvement of thousands of
religious activists, obviously plays a crucial part in this message.
The turn of the millennium marks a "Jubilee Year" in
which, according to the Old Testament, all slaves should be set
free, all land returned to its rightful owners, and all debts
But the Judeo-Christian rhetoric would hardly resonate so forcefully
were it not for the brutal facts of the debt burden. Many countries
spend nearly half of their GDP on servicing their foreign debt,
money which should be used on vital needs like education, health
care, and food. In Mozambique, debt payments exceed the entire
health budget. One study by UNICEF estimates that debt-driven
cuts in medical funding resulted in the deaths of over fifty million
children during the 1980s. The UN reports that if the money currently
spent on debt payments were instead put directly into aid programs,
seven million children would be saved from disease and malnutrition
within a year.
This obscene process, which demands that poor countries cut
back on their poorest citizens in order to pay banks and wealthy
foreign governments for loans that can never be repaid, has been
at work throughout the developing world for the better part of
twenty years. The difference now is that public consciousness
in the North has awakened to this outrage, prodded by formidable
organizing and some very high-profile endorsements, including
the Pope, who apparently has made the campaign a political priority
for the Vatican.
The international scope of the campaigns themselves has also
been crucial to Jubilee's success. In the U.S., on Good Friday
of this year, more than a hundred demonstrators surrounded the
offices of the IMF in Washington, D.C. In Britain last year, seventy
thousand people formed a human chain around a G7 meeting in Birmingham.
In Brazil last August, more than a million protesters took to
the streets to protest the IMF's debt policies. In Africa last
month, finance ministers from seventeen debtor countries signed
a demand for debt-relief and endorsed the Jubilee campaign.
As the consensus builds for writing off the debt, larger questions
loom ahead for the future of poor countries under globalization.
Two leading lights of world capitalist opinion, the London
Economist and the London Financial Times, for example,
both hail the cause of debt-relief but insist that there must
be a catch.
Noting that much of the debt was accrued through corruption,
bad policies, and rampant military spending, the Economist
wants some way to "lock-in good behavior" before new
loans are given and old loans are forgotten. Forget about the
complicity of European and U.S. banks and governments in said
corruption, arms races, and economic mismanagement. Debtor countries
by definition cannot be trusted.
The Financial Times goes further. Debt-relief should
happen only if debtor governments agree to set in stone free-market
reforms and keep governments out of the way of foreign investors.
Otherwise the debt burden should stand, in order to force uncooperative
states into submission.
This is more or less the same idea behind the IMF's Highly
Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program, which extends some debt-relief
in return for strict, market-driven reforms. Jubilee as a whole
is critical of the HIPC program, but divided on how to change
it. So, Jubilee focuses on general principles instead of specific
policies, such as greater power for debtor countries in international
lending decisions, greater transparency and accountability for
the IMF, etc....
These are excellent principles. In order for them to become
realized in practice, however, the powerful coalition and commanding
moral legitimacy that Jubilee has amassed internationally must
somehow survive the success of the campaign for debt-relief. The
movement must then turn toward the more complex and concrete issues
How can Third World nations organize aid, investment, and trade
without folding to multinational corporate profiteering, a major
cause of the debt crisis in the first place? If Jubilee 2000 can
make this leap, then the movement stands a fighting chance of
shaping the millennium well past Y2K.
by Harold Taggart
The Campaign for Better Health Care is capitalizing on the
latest public outcry for responsible and affordable health care.
CBHC, a coalition of nearly 300 grass roots Illinois organizations
including Chicago DSA, has several town hall meetings, events
and legislative contacts planned over the next several months.
High on the CBHC list of objectives is meetings with Dennis
Hastert. CBHC would like anyone who lives in the 14th Congressional
District, which includes DeKalb County, Aurora and Elgin, to urge
Hastert to hold a local meeting(s), and if possible accompany
CBHC members to any meetings.
Several town hall meetings have been scheduled, all of them
on a theme of "Let your Voice be Heard! Medicare Reform (Not
Deform)". The first meeting was on Thursday evening, November
4th. It was co-hosted by UAW Local 588 and held in their union
hall at 21540 Cottage Grove Av in Chicago Heights.
Another town hall meeting is scheduled for November 12th from
2:00-4:00 p.m. at the Fairview Heights Public Library at 10017
Bunkun Rd in Fairview Heights.
On November 11th, CBHC is holding an "Ask the Candidate"
forum at the Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Av. in Chicago
from 7:00 -9:00 p.m. Invited speakers are candidates for the 1st
Congressional District, Congressman Bobby Rush and State Senators
Barack Obama and Donne E. Trotter.
For Nov. 15, CBHC has scheduled a meeting with the Illinois
Department of Insurance to learn more about the Department's role
in regulating health care plans. The meeting will be held at 160
N. LaSalle St. room N-505 and begin at 10:00 a.m.
CBHC urges everyone to join the rally on Tuesday Nov. 9th.
CBHC is one of numerous co-sponsors organizing the event that
will center around the need for a national health care plan to
replace the current national health care plan which is "Don't
dare get sick!". The rally begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Kluczynski
Federal Building on Dearborn between Adams and Jackson.
CBHC will celebrate its 10th anniversary at its annual conference
December 2nd and 3rd. The meeting will be at the Congress Hotel.
Movie and TV director, author and social commentator Michael Moore
will be one of the guest speakers.
For further information on any of the above events or to register
a complaint about your health care experiences, call 312-913-9449.
To ask questions about health care, call the CBHC Helpline at
The goal of CBHC is to get an affordable, responsible, high-quality
health care system for the United States. However, its leaders
believe that objective probably is in the distant future. Consequently,
it is concentrating on a grass-roots step by step steep climb
to a national health care plan.
The U.S. health care system is a gold mine for the pharmaceutical,
insurance and provider corporations. It costs over $1 trillion
per year, more than twice that of any other nation. An exorbitant
25% goes to administration. Another amount estimated up to 25%
goes to fraud and unnecessary procedures that do nothing but enrich
the doctors or clinics that recommend and perform them. These
corporations are not going to give up their wealth source without
a sickbed to sickbed struggle. We must unite to overwhelm them
now or face a long exhausting battle that they could win. Again.
by Ben Doherty
On October 8th, segments of Chicago's gay communities participated
in the largest political demonstration since the days of ACT UP
and Queer Nation in the early nineties. The Chicago Anti-Bashing
Network (CABN) organized this march and rally to coincide with
the anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a white gay
college student, in Wyoming last year. The demonstration was endorsed
by Chicago DSA.
CABN was formed in 1998 after a well-publicized rash of bashings
on North Halsted Street in Lakeview, the commercial epicenter
of Chicago's white gay community. The organization has given support
in similar crises to other communities: the killings of LaTonya
Haggerty and Robert Russ; the lynchings and attempted murders
of Jewish, Asian, and black women and men by avowed fascist Benjamin
Smith. CABN's attention and actions have been focused not only
on drawing attention to the problem of hate crimes but also to
the lack of enforcement of the laws that would stiffen penalties
against offenders who commit them.
The organizers of CABN have found that Chicago police officers
are sometimes reluctant to consider a crime as a hate crime in
their reports, even if the victim explicitly states that she believes
that the crime was motivated by hate. Worse still, some police
officers refuse to report the crime at all, as in the case of
a woman who was assaulted at the Argyle CTA train stop in Uptown
in early October. The march and rally on October 8th was the culmination
of over a year's worth of organizing around these problems.
Of course, there was resistance to the march from within Chicago's
own gay communities. A group of Latino activists best summarized
the general contrary opinion of the march in letters to the editors
of the major LGBT publications in Chicago. First, they claimed,
the march was not inclusive of queer women, transgendered individuals,
or people of color. Similarly, they objected to the event's location:
Boystown. More importantly, however, and probably their strongest
objection to the march was the fact that it seemed to be motivated
by the death of Matthew Shepard. They claimed that this reinforced
a "hierarchy of victimhood" where a problem captures
the attention of the media and more importantly the mainstream
(white and mostly male) gay community only when the problem affects
one of their own, such as a gay white male like Matthew Shepard.
The way these claims were presented, however, was problematic.
CABN had been having weekly open meetings for over a month when
these activists came out with their disputes. Their problem with
the location borders on cliché these days. Any queer demonstrative
action that takes place in Boystown is deemed a sort of privileged
gay white male form of "acting out", of parading their
having "arrived" politically and socially and especially
economically. Yet all of the diverse and inclusive Queer Nation
and ACT UP marches that these activists and other complainants
hold in hopeless, nostalgic esteem were located in exactly the
same place years before when the climate was slightly different,
less apathetic. Instead of bringing these issues to the leadership
of CABN or attending a planning meeting for the march, they chose
to attack the march from without and to offer no suggestions for
remedy. Since their platform was not against the fact of the march
happening at all, their criticisms were merely antagonistic rather
than constructive. The issues they raised point at a need to build
coalitions with other queer communities of color, but these activists
took no initiative of their own to force that to happen while
openly admitting that they were in a position to do so.
The march and rally was a success, but a smaller one than CABN
had predicted. Estimates put the attendance around 1,000, but
expectations were twice that. Very little media outside of the
gay press covered the event. Most of the participants were white
and male although there was a significant presence from black
communities and quite a few women. The lack of women at the event
can easily be attributed to other events for queer women that
happened elsewhere in Chicago at the same time.
The speakers at the rally showed a good attempt to be representative
of victims of queer bashings: two transgendered women, one African-American,
the other white; a state representative, Larry McKeon; a pornographic
film star; and a handful of other men of various colors.
What would have had to be done to make this an more inclusive
and diverse march? Perhaps the people who felt excluded by the
scope of the march needed to be courted and wooed more strongly.
Maybe they wanted a larger role in the formation of the march
from the very beginning, from the point at which the march was
conceived. Hopefully next time when queer people need to employ
direct action to have their demands heard, those who feel excluded,
but not so excluded that they are not informed, will seize that
opportunity to change the scope of queer politics as they happen
rather than whine, stay at home and do nothing.
The plan called for a three-pronged march to the Federal Plaza
at Adams and Dearborn. It didn't quite go as planned.
The march was a protest against the death sentence against
Mumia Abu-Jamal who was convicted of killing a cop in Philadelphia.
Mumia, an award-winning journalist and former Black Panther, has
been on death row since 1982.
Mumia's defenders claim he was denied the right to choose his
own attorney, witnesses against him were bribed and intimidated
and friendly witnesses were threatened or concealed from the defense.
Judge Sabo, historically partial toward the police they claim,
ran the trial like a kangaroo court.
Saturday, September 25th, was a perfect day for a march. The
sun was shining and the temperature was in the sixties and lower
seventies. The State and Lake prong was comprised of middle-aged
to older protesters, all white. The protesters marched in a circle
outside ABC studios, chanting and passing out flyers. A Chicago
Police Department patrol wagon was parked visibly and ominously
a few yards away in the center of State St. facing south. Soon
after the 11am appointed rally time the number of protesters doubled
then doubled again.
A speaker criticized an ABC news report that claimed Mumia
had only a small cult following. The report ignored vocal support
from unimpeachable sources like Amnesty International and individuals
like Nelson Mandela. After the speaker enumerated the infractions
of justice in the Mumia case, the protesters embarked on the first
leg of their assigned march route south on State Street to Adams
As the group neared Adams Street, it encountered the 11th and
State Street prong. The 11th and State Street prong largely consisted
of very young, zealous and loud marchers. In their youthful enthusiasm,
they broke ranks, spilled out into the streets and ran toward
the more sedate group. They urged everyone to move into the streets.
The youths made the mistake of believing the cherished Constitutional
First Amendment right of "... the people to peaceably assemble,"
meant they had the freedom to assemble "and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances."
The Chicago police live by another law or not law. Like rats
from flooded sewers, dozens of police swarmed from their lurking
places, forced those in the streets back on the sidewalks and
began bullying and threatening anyone who tried to step back into
the streets. Seeing the need to demonstrate that freedom actually
is conditional, they pounced on several youths, handcuffed three
of them and drove them away in a patrol car. No Miranda Rights
were given according to those near the incident.
By now, the march route had no perceivable direction. The momentum
of the two groups merging, turned the march back north on State
Street and away from its destination. The police intervention
turned it again so that it was headed east on Monroe toward Michigan
At this point, parade organizers and the police got together
and decided to cooperate. To the credit of the police, they began
doing what they do best: control traffic. There were about 300
marchers at this point and the number seemed to increase constantly.
Perhaps the police decided the better part of valor was to get
this crowd to its destination as quickly as possible.
Adrenaline was flowing now and the chants were louder. The
piercing, yet melodic alto and soprano voices of the young women
rose distinctly above the hubbub of all the other chanters. Finally
the wayward group was united at the Federal Plaza with the third
prong that had originated at Van Buren and Clark.
Nearly 400 people listened to various speakers plea for justice
in the justice system, elimination of the barbaric and shameful
racism and discrimination that pervades our society and a cessation
of police brutality. A roll call revealed that over 20 organizations
were represented at the rally.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has exhausted the legal
process at the state level, and Governor Ridge has signed his
death warrant. Governor Ridge signed this death warrant knowing
full well that Mumia would be filing for a new trial in a matter
of days, and the death warrant would be stayed. This is the same
thing he did in 1995 when he signed a death warrant just before
Mumia filed a petition for a new trial in the state courts. It
is a political step designed to mislead people and pressure the
Up to this point, all hearings have
been in the Pennsylvania state court system and presided over
by Judge Sabo. Sabo routinely denied motions for discovery and
denied subpoenas for key witnesses sought by the defense. While
Judge Sabo's actions were reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court, Mumia supporters have not considered that venue much more
friendly that Judge Sabo's court.
Thus a hearing in federal district court
be Mumia first real opportunity to have the evidence heard and
reviewed. It will also be Mumia's last opportunity to present
the evidence and witnesses denied by the Pennsylvania court system.
After the federal district court, all higher federal appeals courts
will only review transcripts; they will not hear any new evidence.
Mumia Abu-Jamal's case has been assigned
to federal district judge William Yohn, Jr. Judge Yohn is not
required to grant Mumia a hearing. He could simply read the Pennsylvania
trial transcripts and issue a ruling. In fact, the 1996 Effective
Death Penalty Act is specifically designed to discourage federal
courts from reviewing and overturning death sentences handed down
in the state courts.
For this reason, Mumia's defenders are
encouraging people to write letters to Judge Yohn on Mumia Abu-Jamal's
behalf, requesting that new hearing be held. They are asking that
the letters be sent in care of Mumia's lawyers: Mr. Leonard Weinglass,
6 W. 20th St, Ste 10A, New York, NY 10011.
Regardless of what judge Yohn does,
it will be appealed by one side or the other. And the process
will move much more quickly in the federal courts than in the
based on a Prison Radio internet post
by C. Clark Kissinger
by Eugene Birmingham
A standing room only crowd of hundreds, mostly De Paul University
students, heard DSA Honorary Chair Cornel West deliver the 2nd
Annual Frederick Douglass Lecture at St. Vincent DePaul Church
on October 14. Entitling it, "Race, Justice, and Freedom
in the 21st Century", he described the obvious problems of
racism, market mentality and class division. Wealth in so few
hands will lead eventually to social collapse. West illustrated
his points by tracing the history of Afro-American struggle, including
the roles of Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and George Washington Carver.
Not so obvious are the issues he called tradition and what
it means to be human. People live in their own worlds, choosing
the tradition which defines for them what it means to be human.
Lacking is a sense of life as a whole, in which all participate.
The question demanding an answer is whether or not our understanding
of being human has what it takes to deal with classism and racism.
The challenge is to become race transcendent, by which he means
not denying racism, but working through it to moral connection
at the human level. Our tradition of choice must be put second
to becoming human. He did not define "human" in a few
words, but left the implication that it means what all people
have in common, practiced by a sense of self-respect and self
love which allows us to give and receive respect and love to and
from others. That is a challenge for both the powerful and the
West concluded that he is neither optimistic or pessimistic
about the future, but hopeful. If enough of us reject the tradition
based on race, class and other personal goals, and choose instead
the tradition of a common humanity, emphasizing equality, respect
and love, there is hope for its achievement. The past tells us
it is never easy, but always possible. The lecture was, in part,
sermon, preaching hope to the choir: hope that a human future
is possible, though not inevitable, for those willing to dedicate
by Will Kelley
WCFL: Chicago's Voice of Labor, 1926-78. by Nathan Godfried, Chicago: University of
Illinois Press, 1997. 390 pages, $19.95 softcover
Even before moving to Chicago I was aware, albeit vaguely,
of the existence of WCFL-AM. Then one day in the late 1970s, while
I was scouring the record bins of resale shops, I found a gem:
WCFL's Big 10 Summer Gold. With a sticker that said STEREO, and
announcing that "WCFL is Chicago," it was a gold mine
of top forty hits from the mid- to late sixties: The Turtles ("Happy
Together"), Tommy James and the Shondells ("I Think
We're Alone Now"), The Soul Survivors ("Expressway to
Your Heart"), The Association ("Cherish"), Sam
& Dave ("Hold On, I'm Coming'"), and more! With
photographs of the air staff, including Joel Sebastian, Dick Biondi,
and others, all wearing sweatshirts that prominently featured
the WCFL logo, it was a product of a time and place that deserved
to be remembered. I've never had the heart to get rid of it. It
was only later, when I was doing research that involved broadcast
radio, that I discovered that WCFL stood for Chicago Federation
It was staggering to realize that the Federation had once owned
a broadcast outlet but then unloaded it at about the same time
I was buying the record. How could a labor organization, with
so few outlets for disseminating the message of the labor movement,
have neglected such an outlet and eventually have abandoned it?
Now, at last, Nathan Godfried's WCFL: Chicago's Voice of Labor,
1926-78, has appeared to try to answer the question.
There are two distinct approaches to histories such as these;
first, as documents that are concerned to set the record straight,
and second, as readable narratives. As a document, WCFL is invaluable,
and for everyone who is interested in the history of media it
deserves a place right next to Susan Douglas's Inventing American
Broadcasting, 1899-1922. Taken as a narrative, its value depends
on whether the reader is involved in one of the constituencies
that might find valuable lessons in the debates that are described
in the text. For those who have a little patience, WCFL will be
tremendously useful; for everyone else, it might be better to
let someone else take what needs to be learned from the text,
and go from there.
As a narrative WCFL risks being boring. Nearly three-fourths
of the narrative is given over to the founding of the station,
the years from the initial idea in the early 1920s to the consolidation
of a new radio format a decade after the death of Edward Nockels
There is a reason for this, though. It turns out that WCFL
was a fluke, a product of stubborn men who insisted that labor
be given a place at the table and were not shy about demanding
what they thought was their due. John Fitzpatrick and Edward Nockels,
President and Secretary of the Chicago Federation of Labor, were
not afraid of doing what they thought best on behalf of the Midwest's
working men and women. Even at that, they were able to pull a
chair up to the table at the last minute of the brief period in
which the broadcast spectrum was being carved up and served to
those who could make a claim to being a diner.
It took a lot of gumption to insist that WCFL be allowed to
exist. A great deal of the narrative describes, in detail, just
what that gumption consisted of. Nockels, in particular, struggled
to fend off mendacious mushmouth coming from the National Association
of Broadcasters, actions of the federal government that would
have crippled the station, and the insidious effects of commercialism.
This made it possible for WCFL to be, by 1930, one of two "alternative"
radio stations in the nation. Even then, though, WCFL was making
compromises in order to survive.
Then Nockels died. Fitzgerald himself had other, more pressing
concerns. The result was a shift in emphasis and, after World
War II WCFL became a cash cow. As Top 40 radio rose WCFL took
advantage of this to draw down money for the Federation. Then
when, as a result of the rise of FM radio, the cow ran dry, the
Federation sold it. And that was the end of the Voice of Labor.
The lessons that can be drawn from Godfried's work point in
a number of different directions, and come mainly from the wealth
of historical ironies that flow from the narrative.
Nockels argued that the electromagnetic spectrum should not
be considered private property but a valuable public resource.
This is an argument that has yet to be won. Just a few years ago
the Cato Institute prepared and published a paper arguing that
the electromagnetic spectrum could, and should, be apportioned
like real estate. Congress has been sympathetic, and at this time
the FCC treats licenses like private property in all but name.
Nockels also argued that labor could not rely on stations owned
by private enterprise to provide labor an outlet for its message.
History has shown this to be nothing but the bitter truth.
Nockels further argued that stations could only provide the
necessary independent voice if they made themselves free of commercial
influence by depending on the voluntary contributions of listeners
and supportive institutions. Judging from the history of WCFL,
there is a lesson here for every "public" station engaged
in abandoning its heritage in the name of "enhanced underwriting"
that does everything but permit explicit product comparisons and
"calls to action" or, in the terms of broadcasters,
is only a hairsbreadth away from simply "buying time."
There is a lesson, too, for anyone who has been watching with
concern as the Pacifica Foundation, once known as "first
amendment radio," has increasingly fallen under the control
of social elites who seem to have been so long in the company
of MBAs that they think like financial analysts rather than the
directors of an institution with a mission. It appears that the
only not-for-profit commercial stations to withstand the insidious
effects of commercialization are those, like WFMT, where the mission
of the institution is intrinsically connected to the content of
Finally, Nockels argued that ordinary people were better served
by a large number of small stations, which would then be forced
to respond more directly to their communities, than by a small
number of large stations. As recent industry mergers have increasingly
homogenized the mass communications media, in many places virtually
eliminating local content, this claim also appears to have the
weight of history on its side.
Now, though, the only ones left to carry the message are a
scrappy lot trying to revive "community radio." They
have been having a terribly difficult time having an impact because,
aside from occasional coverage on public radio or a column in
the newspaper, they can't find an outlet for their voices. No
voice means no constituency and no organizational resources, and
that means no political power to affect legislation or regulation.
At least with the rise of the internet they can post their positions
for anyone who has access to it.
The use of the internet by advocates for "community radio"
raises, then, the last lesson to be learned from WCFL: are the
same mistakes going to be repeated all over again?
All in all, then, a worthwhile book. There is one point where
the reader might be warned to be careful. The AFL is cast in an
almost entirely negative light. There might not be enough sensitivity
on the part of Godfried to the delicate position in which the
AFL found itself in the crucial years of the 1920s. That question,
though, should be left to readers who have enough historical memory
to make up their own minds. It does not detract from the overall
value of the book.
At a time when corporations are once
again fighting over the best way to carve up a new communications
technology, will labor be able to do more than play catch-up?
Several unions, such as the CWA, already have a significant presence
on the World Wide Web, with a full and easily accessible, if somewhat
bland-looking, array of material to help educate anyone who might
direct their web-browser to the spot. Even the AFL-CIO has a reasonable
site, even if it does seem to have been pitched at the level of
a high-school student. There is plenty of information out there,
at sites like Unionweb, the IGC's Labornet, and Union International
Systems. Just providing information, though, isn't enough to keep
labor from another "me-too."
This is where Workingfamilies.com
may help. The AFL-CIO has contracted with iBelong to establish
a program designed to give everyone affordable access to the internet.
The AFL-CIO and iBelong have projected that internet services
and payments for a home computer, with financing extended by the
AFL-CIO, should cost no more than a total of $30 per month. By
trying to establish an independent present on the internet, it
looks like the union movement will not only help people who might
otherwise not be able to afford access to the internet, it is
also trying to secure for itself the kind of stable access to
members that it has never been able to guarantee through the corporate-controlled
print, broadcast, and cable media.
But as a communications will this be
any different than the monthly magazine that union members often
toss directly into the trash today? Perhaps. The AFL-CIO expects
to establish an ability for families to easily take action on-line,
with links to legislators, regulators and others. Interactivity
may make a real difference.
Any one interested in contacting Workingfamilies.com
may submit a form through their web site or call 800-826-8288.
by Gene Birmingham
The Future of American Progressivism,
An Initiative For Political and Economic Reform, by Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Cornel West,
Beacon Press, Boston, 1998.
Unger is professor of law; West, of philosophy, both at Harvard
University. The book emphasizes three main points: what is right
with America, what is wrong with America, and a proposed direction
What is right is called the American religion of possibility,
with its corollary, the willingness to experiment. What is wrong
is the limiting of these qualities to the world of the individual
and private business. If Americans were to apply the religion
of possibility to their collective life, along with their willingness
to experiment, basic problems could be solved. Three periods of
American history illustrate the possibility of progress through
public experimentation: the foundation of the Republic, the Civil
War and Reconstruction, and the New Deal. All were born of public
crisis. Once those crises were resolved, in however limited fashion,
America returned to a private approach to possibility, as both
recent conservatism and neoliberalism so painfully illustrate.
The religion of possibility has been poisoned by racism and
classism, by a narrow-minded conception that public morality springs
almost entirely from self-reliance and self-improvement, and by
a reluctance to experiment with its institutional life similar
to its experimental approach to private life. "It is not
enough to rebel against the lack of justice unless we also rebel
against the lack of imagination," say the authors.
The challenge for progressives of any stripe ("socialism"
is not mentioned) is not to do battle with capitalist assumptions,
but to be willing to confront "the anti-experimentalist attitude
toward the institutional arrangements of the United States. Such
a confrontation is precisely what American progressivism must
achieve today if it is to address the unresolved problems of the
Two quotations will challenge socialist thinking: "The
work of American progressivism today is to democratize the market
economy and energize representative democracy.... It rejects the
simple contrast between governmental activism and free enterprise,
not because it wants to have a little of each, but because it
insists upon having more of both." The final chapter, titled,
"American Progressivism Reoriented", lays out seven
experiments which suggest concrete ways of applying progressive
thought and action. One that sets socialist minds to spinning
is the advocacy of a consumption tax, "as through the so-called
comprehensive, flat rate, value-added tax" to be preliminary
to a second stage, steeply progressive tax. Does that get our
The challenge of Unger and West for socialists as I see it
is whether we push for a program defined as socialist, or whether
socialism itself really has become more a spirit of human equality
and fairness, looking for new methods and means to achieve its
goal. Unger and West call for the latter, creative thinking to
address a world which has concluded that socialism in any form
is simply out of date.
The failure of Socialism can be attributed to the right and
the left according to James Weinstein. Weinstein, founder and
publisher of the progressive Chicago periodical In These Times,
addressed an overflow crowd October 17 at the Ethical Humanist
Society in Skokie. The left claimed that Russia represented socialism,
according to Weinstein. The right agreed that Russia represented
socialism and asked if anyone wanted that type of life.
The failure of Socialism thus can be attributed to the blind
dogmatism of the left as much as to the ceaseless assaults from
the right, Weinstein believes. He is elaborating on this theme
in a book he is writing tentatively titled Whatever Happened
to Socialism? He is having difficulty constructing the final
chapter, he admitted, when asked for his predictions about the
future of socialism.
Based on the questions and comments that followed, the audience
was composed largely of socialists or socialist sympathizers.
There were non socialists in the crowd, however. One example was
a gentleman who commented that capitalism was a prerequisite to
democracy. Weinstein quickly refuted that claim. By coincidence,
he responded, capitalists were attempting to shatter the static
feudal system at the same time Enlightenment democratic movements
were attempting to break the same rigid system. There is no connection
between democracy and capitalism, Weinstein emphasized.
Weinstein astutely fielded all types of questions and demonstrated
a broad and deep knowledge of socialism and its history. He retired
some months ago from his positions at In These Times. His
book should be a valuable tool for all leftists.
compiled by Bob Roman
Detroit DSA's Douglass/Debs Dinner, held Sunday October 24
at UAW Local 1264, was a rousing success. 450 people jammed into
the hall to honor Nate Gooden, Director of UAW Region 1, and Saul
Wellman, legendary Detroit activist. Bill Fletcher, assistant
to John Sweeney, was the featured speaker, pinch-hitting for Barbara
Ehrenreich, who had to cancel due to a schedule conflict, and
Horace Small spoke for DSA. Jerry Deneau, Secretary-Treasurer
of the Graphic Communications International Union, presented the
award to Saul Wellman.
Clips were shown from the "Passing the Torch" film
Judy Montell is making about Saul, including an amazing interview
with the prosecutor who put him behind bars in the "Michigan
Six" Smith Act Trial in 1954. The program chairs were Elizabeth
Bunn, UAW vice-president and DSA member, Gerald Bantom, UAW Region
1A director, and Detroit City Council member (and DSA member)
MaryAnn Mahaffy, who presented a testimonial resolution to Gooden
and Wellman. David Green, Detroit DSA chair, led off the program
with a detailed statement about why DSA and socialism remain relevant
today. --Ron Aronson via DSANet
The October 22nd 4th Annual National Day of Protest to stop
police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation
brought to together between 300 and 400 people for a noon time
rally and march. As is typical of lunch hour downtown demonstrations,
maybe half again as many people participated in total. The demonstration
was endorsed by Chicago DSA and a small delegation of us attended.
It was a lively, orderly, well planned event. Participants were
predominantly young and people of color. The protest may have
been satisfying as a cry of pain, but it's not clear that it had
much to do with the actual politics of the situation.
At its national convention in mid-October, the Socialist Party
USA nominated David McReynolds for President and Mary Cal Hollis
for Vice-President. David McReynolds, of course, is a peace activist
long associated with both the socialist movement and the pacifist
War Resisters League. He was the SPUSA presidential candidate
in 1980. Mary Cal Hollis was the party's presidential candidate
in the 1996 election and is a special education teacher in Colorado.
David McReynolds is advocating a four point campaign, consisting
of comprehensive healthcare for all citizens, a maximum wage of
four times the minimum wage, an end to the policy of imprisonment
for non-violent crimes, and peaceful spending priorities starting
with an immediate 50% cut in the U.S. defense budget.
The SPUSA, although still quite small, has doubled its membership
in the past five years and has a number of new locals. In 1996,
Ms. Hollis was on the ballot in 5 states. This year they are hoping
to be present in 20. For more information, go to http://www.sp-usa.org.
The Illinois Labor History
Society's annual dinner is Saturday, November 13th. At this
dinner, they will be inducting Joyce Miller, the first woman to
sit on the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO, into their Union
Hall of Fame. It is particularly apt this year as the Coalition
of Labor Union Women had its 25th anniversary this year and they
had their annual convention here in Chicago this past Labor Day.
The Society's Dinner will be held at the Midland Hotel For additional
information, call the Illinois Labor History Society at (312)
The Preamble Center was planning upon holding a conference
in Chicago from November 12 through 14. It was intended to help
develop some degree of coordination between the various campaigns
challenging corporate globalization. They canceled the conference.
In the words of Reverend Terry Provance, the Director of the
Preamble Center's World Economy Project:
"Several considerations led us to make this change. First,
although we have received very positive support from many persons
and organizations with which we have had contact in the past several
months, we interpreted that support as interest and commitment
to attending the conference. Unfortunately, we do not have enough
representatives coming to the meeting to make it a cooperative
strategy discussion among campaigns and constituencies.
"When we began our planning in the spring, we did not
anticipate that the World Trade Organization gathering in Seattle
would become so important and popular. Many people are planning
to attend the WTO Ministerial and can not attend another meeting
two weeks prior. Perhaps a strategy meeting after Seattle would
be better suited for many purposes."
The video which the Preamble Center had hoped to premier at
the conference, "Global Village or Global Pillage?"
will still be available by mid-November. Copies cost $25 and are
available from the Preamble Center, 1737 21st St NW, Washington
DC 20009. For more information call Matt Siegel at (202) 234-0981.
After a slow start, indeed after some false starts, the City-Wide
Sweatshop Coalition (CWAS) is getting in gear. A coalition of
several Chicago groups, including the UofC Young Democratic Socialists
and Chicago DSA, CWAS has made its focus a campaign against sweatshops
Among their first actions will be a "Car Caravan Against
Sweatshops". This will begin at 1pm on Saturday, November
13th, from the Jewel - Osco parking lot at Milwaukee and Ashland
in Chicago. A rally is being planned for shortly after Thanksgiving.
For more information, call Joan Axthelm at (773) 684-0736 or
email email@example.com or call Harold Taggart at (847) 676-8530.