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Tidbits - February 21, 2013

The life and work of Jon Fromer; Readers comments on Movements Making Noise; Eslanda Robeson; Roots of Poverty; Gangster Bankers; Climate Rally; The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy; three NYC events - Film Screening - Nothing But A Man; Book Party for Henry Foner; China in Revolt: A Roundtable; video announcement - Building On-The-Job Organizing Networks

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The life and work of the singer/songwriter/activist Jon Fromer

The life and work of the singer/songwriter/activist Jon Fromer was celebrated in San Francisco February 16. Fromer died January 2 at his home in Mill Valley, Ca. About 600 people participated in the deeply moving program at the First Unitarian Church which featured well-known journalist Belva Davis who worked with Fromer at television stations KRON and KQED, singer/songwriters Holly Near and Bernard Gilbert, cultural worker Francisco Herrera; improv artists and comedians Diane Amos and Chris Pray; the Freedom Song Network; pianist Ramon Lazo and the Vukani Mawethu Choir, and was addressed by Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO). Those in attendance were welcomed by Fromer's wife, labor and community activist Mary Fromer and stepson Mark Mackbee, and his brother and nephew David and Reed Fromer. The program closed with the singing of one of Fromer's best known compositions "Gonna Take All of Us" which can be viewed at:
Frances Fox Piven opened her recent article ("Movements Making Noise, Portside, Feb. 12) with this assessment:
"American political history . . . can also be told as the story of the great protest movements that periodically well up from the bottom of American society and the impact these movements have on American institutions. There would be no founders to memorialize without the Revolutionary-era mobs who provided the foot soldiers to fight the British; no films about the quandaries of Abe Lincoln during the Civil War without the abolitionists and the thousands of runaway slaves; no Labor Day to celebrate without the sit-down strikers; no Martin Luther King to beatify without a movement of poor blacks who defied the Southern terror system."
But towards the end of the article, she offers a seemingly contradictory final observation:
"Most of the movements of the past seem to have been fueled by simple grievances, or at least the participants were quieted by responses to such grievances -  by wage increases, for example, or protection of the right to vote."
The "protection of the right to vote" as a response to "simple grievances" must refer to the Civil Rights Movement.  What other movements might she consider to have been fueled by "simple grievances" -  The Women's Liberation movement?  The working-class movements of the 1930s and 1940s?
Piven continues with her concluding remarks:
"Maybe all great movements also have a strong utopian streak, but the utopian - and anarchistic -  themes in contemporary movements stand out. Occupy doesn't issue demands because it doesn't want to dicker, because it doesn't believe in dickering for half a loaf. It sees itself as a movement creating a new society. And we hear echoes of this hope again and again in many other contemporary movements."
"If we step back and contemplate the quandaries in which we find ourselves, this utopianism may be something we should treasure. . . To save ourselves, we need more than jobs or higher wages or more progressive taxes. We need to reimagine our collective life so that it doesn't depend on producing more and more stuff for more and more people, which is what most of our ideas of progress have usually been about. I don't know whether it is possible to expunge our obsession with economic growth, but if it is, I suspect that only a cultural transformation fueled by the utopianism of contemporary movements can do it."
Piven's diagnosis and prescription is problematic. The reason that the Green Parties in Europe (as in the United States perhaps) have not had great success is that they are advocating this very kind of "utopian cultural transformation" that Fox would like to see.  Many of us on the left would like to see such a transformation.  Unfortunately, it is a utopian dream, at least at this moment, because it's just not where large numbers of people are at.  Maybe, through the building of movements, we will someday get to that point.  But for now, successful movement building will have to continue to focus on those "simple grievances" Piven's seems to trivialize.
Occupy cannot (or should not) be placed in the category of "great movements" - if that is indeed what Piven meant.  Occupy petered out much too soon to qualify. While Occupy struck a mass chord with its messages and creativity, it failed to create sustained mass involvement.  Occupy's failures were in large measure due to the very strong influence of anarchism and other left utopian strains. Too many left ideologues today are leaning towards the reliance upon utopian paradigms to perhaps jumpstart a movement for radical structural change (for example, the noted left sociologist Erik Olin Wright's book "Envisioning Real Utopias").  Mass movements, even those that have produced revolutionary change, have never been built around utopian visions. The vast majority of people, at least in today's real world, are simply not interested in utopian schemes.
Marc Beallor
This interview is not complete. There is no treatment of Eslanda and Paul's collaboration with WEB DuBois and others on the creation of the Council on Africa [correct name?] in the 1940s, an organization from which sprang a lot of subsequent decades of activity, especially as concerns solidarity movements with the fighters against Portuguese colonialism, for the liberation of Zimbabwe.....and the end of apartheid in South Africa. The end of capitalism-imperialism-neocolonialism remain on the agenda. 
Gary Hicks
The roots of poverty actually go back to the founding of the United States.  Call me wrong, but it is slavery and the cotton fields that created the money structure that we now live with.  This has absolutely nothing to do with Adam Smith's visions of free markets.  There are no free markers. All you gotta do is look at Walmart to understand that this isn't a free market.
And let's get real about Marco Rubio's identity with immigrants.  The Cuban immigrants were granted "one step" status.  To ask Mexican and Central American people who have been living here and working here to pay fines and back taxes, learn English, and then go the back of the line is disgusting and inhumane.  I live in California and this was their land first.
Just to add, Obama's call for early childhood programs,  It's already on the books.  It's called CDC and it started during WWII for women who worked in the war industry,  It's a great program for kids and working parents and it needs to be funded again.
Claire Carsman
If drug use was decriminalized then there would be no dealer profits for banks to launder.
Margie Bernard
I am delighted so many people got out and opposed the pipeline, which I also oppose. I am a little concerned that this may be an easy issue for people as it is another country making the proposal. I would be happier if at the same time as protesters opposed this pipeline they also opposed the coal-fired plants in the east, as they also produce a lot of carbon.
Laurel MacDowell,
I know its tempting to consider the temp explosion as part of a plot to destroy unions, and I am sure that is a factor in the thinking of corporate forces. However, its also possible that the evolving characteristics of work and the overall division of labor has some objective features that have undermined long-term "jobs", and thus the "temporary worker" may be a fundamental, perhaps irreversible change in the organization of work in an increasingly service-based economy. Further, there are many implications arising from automation in an "advanced" economy, but one is certainly the long-term decline in manufacturing as a fraction of the workforce, and a tendency toward a rising proportion of human vs fixed capital in many firms. As technology makes fixed capital inputs more pervasive, and their outputs every cheaper through economies of scale -- they too, like the giant financial firms, or bridges, or lighthouses, become "too big or important to fail", and thus their freedom to wreck markets must be constrained: they become closer and closer candidates as "public goods".
I have always wondered why labor organizations cannot spawn worker-owned, or shared, contracting enterprises as the most practical entry into the temporary labor market. Its not a comfort zone, I know, since it would involve managing a labor market, and thus competition. The old hiring halls did this in a way -- maybe there is an updated version that would work...good project for some labor economists to analyze and dig into.
John Case
Interesting - maybe there are some experiences from co-op movements that are germane. Is there a model of a co-op worker owned employment agency that could enforce standards etc and protect temp workers. Remember all temp work is not equal, some pay well and some pay shit.... And maybe the experience of day labor organizations would be informative.
Scott Marshall
Hiring halls are possible but mush more difficult the less skill is required. Of course, employers have worked long to de-skill as much labor as possible. I would not be quick to bury manufacturing. It is coming back big time in the non-union South--new volkswagen plant in Chatt, TN, new Kia and Hundai plants in Bama, new re-tooling of the Saturn plant to handle all GM models so they can do all the overage. Collective bargaining in all the transplants requires long, patient global work which is how Freightliner Trucks 5 plants and Thomasbuilt Bus organized. More and more American businesses are complaining about worker skills and shipping problems.
Stewart Acuff
This just in... The filmmaker is in the house (so to speak).
Michael Roemer, director of the internationally acclaimed film, Nothing But a Man, will join NWU/NY Chapter members and friends (via telephone) to discuss the making of this American classic this Saturday, February 23, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the National Writers Union offices at 256 West 38th Street.
The discussion will take place after the screening. Curious minds and lovers of great cinema are especially welcome!  Light refreshments will be served.  Please RSVP to
National Writers Union (NWU) New York Chapter
256 West 38th Street, New York - 212.259.0279 ext. 7
Student activist in the 1930s, organizer, labor leader, songwriter, trouble maker - Henry has contributed irreverent, unexpected songs and poems for 75 years.
Henry is one of the best organizers I ever knew -- but I didn't know til now what a good verse writer he was. - Pete Seeger
Tamiment Library, New York University Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, 10th Floor
Co-sponsored by Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives/Tamiment Library, NY Labor History Association, and Jewish Currents.
FREE.   More information - Rachel Bernstein 212 998-2637 -
Sunday, March 17, 2013
4:00pm until 6:00pm
The Murphy Institute
25 West 43rd Street, 18th floor
Eli Friedman, Cornell University
Anita Chan, University of Technology-Sydney
Chris King-Chi Chan, City University of Hong Kong
Elaine Sio-ieng Hui, University of Kassel, and others
Moderated by Seth Ackerman, Jacobin magazine
Over the past few years, millions of Chinese workers have been striking for better pay and working conditions - and many have been winning their demands. This activity - especially against a background of labor defeat in the developed world - is both stunning and largely unexplored. This Roundtable will provide an opportunity to learn more about what is happening in China. Based on his article "China in Revolt" in Jacobin magazine, Professor Eli Friedman will give depth and detail to the strike wave, with particular attention to the question of contemporary trends that will influence the future of Chinese labor politics. Commentary will be provided by several leading China labor scholars, all drawing from extensive research. The discussion is intended for activists, academics and practitioners.
Co-sponsored by: Jacobin Magazine
Now in our Labor Studies Dept: Building On-The-Job Organizing Networks. a 45-minute video of a workshop conducted by CCDS's Paul Krehbiel at the 2012 Labor Notes Conference in Detroit. Krehbiel draws heavily from his own experience as a union organizer. To get regular updates, be sure to 'Like' us at 
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Carl Davidson