Tag Archives: laborfest

Let’s Catch Up!

13 Jun

Dear Reader,

If you have been a follower, I must apologize for my absence since last November.  There have been several projects in the works.  You will learn of two of these here, while a third I must remain quiet about as it is in the prototype stage.

First, I will be speaking at Treasure Island Museum on Saturday, June 23rd, beginning at 10:30 a.m.  This is one in a monthly series called Little Island, Big Ideas, and my third address at this venue.  This will take place in the lobby of Building One and is free of charge.  You can also enjoy TreasureFest (formerly Treasure Island Flea) following the lecture.  There is a low admission fee.  The flea market offers live music and food truck fare.  The topic is as follows:

Halliburton’s Final Dare: Sailing the Pacific to the GGIE

Of the many ways to travel to the Golden Gate International Exposition, crossing the Pacific Ocean in a Chinese junk could have been the most unusual.  Nothing seemed beyond adventurer and writer Richard Halliburton’s spirit of “impulse and spontaneity.”  He had already circumnavigated the globe in an open cockpit biplane and swum the length of the Panama Canal.  Now, having built the Sea Dragon in a Hong Kong at war with Japan, he and his companion Paul Mooney embarked, intending to arrive at Treasure Island with much fanfare – but never did. His ill-fated trip is seen within the context of the Pacific war and the Exposition’s theme of trans-Pacific unity, positioning Halliburton as a gay man who shaped his own unique trajectory.


Noel Sullivan Papers, BANC MSS C-B 801. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Second, LaborFest‘s 25th annual month-of-July programming is soon upon us.  I will be leading a walking tour with fellow historian Gifford Hartman on Saturday, July 21st, at 10:00 a.m.  We meet at One Market Street.  The event is free.  Here is a description of the tour:

Tom Mooney and the Preparedness Day Bombing Walk

During this walking tour, we visit several sites, which were integral to the unfolding of events following a bomb explosion on Steuart Street at Market Street on July 22, 1916. With fervor building to engage the United States in the war in Europe, businessmen in San Francisco embraced the cause, while labor leaders and the left denounced it. With the bomb killing ten people and wounding forty, no clear culprit was identified. But, two figures from the left, labor organizers and anarchists Tom Mooney and Warren K. Billings, were framed for the murder of the victims and spent many years in prison before being released. On this tour, we learn not only about the war between business and labor and open and closed union shops, but also about the divisive issues of American aggression in the Pacific region and against Mexico, crusading and yellow journalism in the city of San Francisco, and the mood of the country regarding World War I. The tour lasts approximately two hours. David Duckworth is an art and cultural historian, having lectured widely, including at California Institute of Integral Studies, Free University, LaborFest, New York University, Popular Culture/American Culture Association, and Treasure Island Museum. Gifford Hartman is an adult educator, labor trainer, working class historian, and has been a rank-and-file militant in various industries (some organized by the SEIU and ILWU, and other non-union shops) and presently works in the unorganized precarious education sector.


To see the full calendar of events, visit: http://www.laborfest.net/wp/2018-event-index/

And then serendipity arrived recently.  I have a group of drawings on view at Hayes Valley Art Works.  The group exhibition opened last Friday evening as a “pop up” event and will continue for two or so more weeks.  All but one of the drawings have appeared at this blog.  The garden site is at Octavia Boulevard between Oak and Lily Streets.  There is a large industrial cargo container that serves as the exhibition space.  Their hours are Friday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Monday, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  You can learn more about the garden at: https://hayesvalleyartworks.org/

I hope to see you in the near future!

LaborFest 2016

6 Jul


Lisa Hori-Garcia in Mr. Babbit costume following performance of Schooled at Dolores Park, San Francisco, on July 4th.

My first time watching a San Francisco Mime Troupe performance!  What an incredible experience.  Gifted performers, witty script, and plenty of entertainment with dialogue, song, sight and sound gags.  Watch out for your local school district’s takeover by private corporations.  This is one of the lessons from Schooled.  This can be applied broadly since the current mantra is that privatization creates efficiency and costs less.  Mr. Babbit, as we see above, repeats the mantra of Efficiency! throughout this engaging performance.  But if people were truly paying attention, instead of digging from their pockets through tax payer dollars, they would know that privatization only increases costs and expands inefficiencies.  Oh well, who really wants to know?

Besides Hori-Garcia’s role as a character modeled after Republication presumed nominee Donald Trump in the current presidential election cycle, this actor packs a punch!  Rotimi Agbabiaka also presented a stellar performance with a voice that soars.  You can still see performances of this relevant musical comedy, visit http://www.sfmt.org/schedule/.

This performance on Fourth of July was part of LaborFest’s earliest listings for the month of July 2016.  You can find out about our full schedule at: http://laborfest.net/.  I will be co-leading a walking tour of San Francisco with Gifford Hartman on the 100th year anniversary of the horrific Preparedness Day Bombing of July 22, 1916. This event led to the conviction and imprisonment of two innocent labor organizers, Tom Mooney and Warren Billings.  Join us at One Market Street at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 23rd, to learn about the combating forces between San Francisco business and San Francisco labor, imperialist and anti-imperialist forces, and many other opposing viewpoints that were the backdrop for this event.  On Sunday, July 24th, I will contribute to a panel on how horrific events, such as the Preparedness Day Bombing, lead to political suppression in our country.  This event will be held at ILWU Local 34 Hall, 801 2nd Street, next to AT&T Park, beginning at 10:00 a.m.


Extraction Exhibition Schedule

28 Jun

macphee_forestJosh MacPhee. Forest, 2011. Woodblock print, 10 x 15 in.

As curator, I invite you to this year’s LaborFest exhibition Extraction.  It will actually be spread out between two institutions: International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 34 Hall and Unitarian Universalist Society.

LaborFest participates in the 100th year commemoration of the Ludlow mining strike in Colorado, better known as the Ludlow Massacre.  This strike in the Southern Colorado coal fields lasted from September 1913 to April 1914 and represents one of the bloodiest strikes in U.S. history.  To help commemorate this important moment in labor history, LaborFest and ILWU Local 34 host an exhibition of art works on the broader theme of Extraction.

Man’s relentless extraction of the earth’s resources for the purpose of creating fuel, without environmental stewardship, is a strong focus in this show.  Likewise, the human body viewed as the site for extraction, whether in terms of energy, strength, endurance, or will, receives similar focus.  Works countering the destructive mandate of the extractive processes transforming the world with visions of just relationship between human consumption and human and earth integrity are also present.  Artists include Marlene Aron, Philippe Barnoud, Sherri Cavan, Mike Conner, Louise Gilbert, Graphic Arts Workshop (San Francisco), Justseeds Artists’ Collective, Josh MacPhee, Emmy Lou Packard and Diego Marcial Rios.

Viewing dates and times: July 1 through July 12, 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, ILWU Local 34 Hall, 801 2nd Street; next to AT&T Ball Park. The ILWU parking lot is at the intersection of 2nd and King Streets. Free.

poole_minerdiptychMarcia Poole. Miner, 2014. Diptych.

A smaller group of works on the theme of Extraction will be shown at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin Street at Geary Street, from July 2nd to July 31st.  Artists include Attila Cziglenyi, Marcia Poole and Diego Marcial Rios.    Besides hosting the Extraction exhibition works, the Church has organized a group of works by artists who are members of unions.  A reception for the artists will be on July 20th, Sunday, 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m.

For other viewing times in the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Starr King Rooms, call the Front Desk, (415) 776-4580, Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

For further information about these LaborFest events and many other LaborFest events for the month of July, please visit: http://www.laborfest.net.


4 Oct

Call for Work for an Exhibition on the Theme of Extraction

Next year LaborFest will participate in the 100th year commemoration of the Ludlow mining strike in Colorado, better known as the Ludlow Massacre.  This strike in Southern Colorado coal fields lasted from September 1913 to April 1914 and represents one of the bloodiest strikes in American history.  To help commemorate this important moment in labor history, LaborFest will host an exhibition of art works on the broader theme of Extraction.  Submission of art is sought for a possible exhibition at The Emerald Tablet in North Beach, San Francisco during the month of July 2014.

From earliest man’s extensive deforestation of the world for the purpose of creating fuel, extraction of the earth’s resources without environmental stewardship characterizes man’s efforts still today.  Witness mountaintop removal and fracking, or ocean trawling, processes which leave in extraction’s wake widespread environmental destruction and no thought for earth cycles of replenishment.  Likewise, the human body can be viewed as the site for extraction, whether in terms of energy, strength, endurance, or will, as today’s governmental and global corporate entities seek to extinguish workplace health and safety standards and workers’ unions or seek out human populations willing to perform labor who cannot rely on safeguards for health and safety nor compensation for a living wage.

Work is sought which addresses Extraction in any of its features: systemic, historically continuous, unsustainable, destructive, and/or dehumanizing.  Work is also sought that counters a negative view of the extractive processes transforming the world with visions of a just relationship between human consumption and human and earth integrity.  Please send three to four digital images in .jpg format and a short biographical statement to David Duckworth via duckdiva@yahoo.com.  Include textual information for the following: title of work, medium, date of execution, dimensions.  All submissions must be received by November 15, 2013.

For more information on the Ludlow Strike, please visit the post “Tents I”, dated January 13, 2012, at the blog dpduckworth.com.  Or refer to either Scott Martelle’s Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West (Rutgers University Press, 2007) or Zeese Papanikolas’s Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre (University of Utah Press, 1982).  For information on LaborFest, please visit laborfest.net.  For information on David Duckworth’s background in curating exhibitions, please visit the Curriculum Vitae page at dpduckworth.com.

duckworth_short_tales04_negDavid Duckworth. Untitled, from the series Short Tales from the American Landscape, 2008. Scanned pen-and-ink drawing, 9 x 12 in., with digitally manipulated positive-negative reverse.

Solidarity Across Borders

24 Jul

kurihara_triangle_fire_draft1Hiroko M. Kurihara. Preliminary digital design for quilt, Take a Number.

LaborFest 2013 Art Show, “Solidarity Across Borders”

This year’s LaborFest art exhibition covers the struggles of workers not only in the Bay Area, but also globally, including garment workers and the struggle to defend their lives, health, and safety.  Whether the struggle for health and safety over one hundred years ago at the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City, or today’s life-threatening conditions in Bangladeshi sweatshop mills — both connected through the display of Hiroko M. Kurihara’s quilt piece, Take a Number — art is a powerful vehicle to convey the contradictions inherent in production and consumption as workers attempt to bring justice to their lives.

This exhibition features the work of Philippe Barnoud, Carol Denney, Nikos Diaman, Hiroko M. Kurihara, Peter Max Lawrence, Charles Lucke, Doug Minkler, JoAnneh Nagler and Martin Webb.  Additionally, a display of photographs from around the world capture May Day actions in 2013.

Join us at International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 34 Hall, 801 2nd Street, at King Street, next to AT&T Stadium, San Francisco (parking available at the union hall).

Opening Reception: Friday, July 26, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Featuring the music of Carol Denney and Friends.

Additional viewing hours: Saturday, July 27, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; Monday, July 29, 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Tuesday, July 30, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Exhibition curated by David Duckworth.  For further information, please consult: http://www.laborfest.net

LaborFest Kicks Off With Incredible Events

13 Jul

Niles Canyon with Kevin - 6 July 2013 090

Author standing in front of image of Jess Robbins, cameraman, Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, Niles. Mural by Laura Ramie. Photograph by Melinda Gould.

I thank Melinda for the impromptu photo session at the home of Rena and David Kiehn in Niles.  We only had a few minutes before a screening on Saturday evening of A Corner in Wheat (1909), The Cry of the Children (1912), and the feature film, The Whistle (1921), starring William S. Hart.   This was my first opportunity to view the mural the Kiehns had commissioned artist Laura Ramie to paint.  My great-uncle Jess, pictured here,  is one of several historic figures along a wall behind the Kiehn house who were important  in the development and operation of the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, including film’s first matinee idol cowboy, Gilbert M. “Bronco Billy” Anderson.  In 1907, Anderson and George K. Spoor had created the company in Chicago.  By 1912, Essanay set up its West Coast shop.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum today honors this early history.  Weekend screenings of silent film not only include Essanay features, but films from other companies as well: http://www.nilesfilmmuseum.org/index.htm.  David Kiehn is a resident historian who authored a book on Essanay’s history, Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company (Farwell Books, 2003).  Ramie’s mural can be seen in its entirety at: http://www.ednapurviance.org/specialevents/lauraramie_nilemural.html.  The artist also maintains a blog at: http://lauraramie.com/blog/?p=59.

This was LaborFest’s first year to collaborate with the Museum.  On Saturday and Sunday, we also engaged excursions on the Niles Canyon steam train, another first in our twenty-year history of presenting events on labor and culture.  The train ride is a lot of fun.  The history of trains in Niles Canyon dates back to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Steam locomotives were in operation from the 1860s to the 1950s.  As with LaborFest and the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, the operation of these trains is entirely a volunteer effort.  Information on Niles Canyon Railway schedules can be found at the Pacific Locomotive Association website: http://www.ncry.org/.

Since our theme encompassed railroading and labor, what better way to culminate the weekend than a Sunday matinee screening of the feature length film, The Iron Horse (1924), directed by John Ford and starring George O’Brien.  This film commemorates the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.  But beware histories embedded in films.  One of the intertitles during the film explains that White labor was not available for rail construction, so Chinese laborers were employed.  But, in fact, Irish American labor had first been employed.  The decision of these workers to strike led to the hiring of Chinese immigrant workers, who were considered hard working and docile.  Docile they were not as they eventually struck as well.  I may have counted two Chinese “extras” in this film.  Otherwise, White actors in “Chinese face” portrayed Chinese workers.

On Saturday at the Museum, Laurence H. Shoup’s lecture on the 1894 Pullman strike in California covered enough ground to correct any misconceptions about the building of this railroad.  Shoup is the author of Rulers and Rebels: A People’s History of Early California, 1769-1901 (iUniverse.com, 2010).  Still, one must understand narrative in the context of its times.  The Iron Horse is an engaging drama with a grand structure.

My thanks go out to the entire staff of the Museum for their time and effort in helping shape this programme.  We were able to draw entirely from their archives; the choices were germane, provocative, and entertaining.  Rena Kiehn, the Museum’s public relations director, was indefatigable in coordinating communication between the three volunteer organizations, creating copy, and publicizing the events.  Melinda Gould, who as an event attendee happened to be on hand with a camera, took photographs under the challenge of intense, direct sunlight.

Finally,  mention should be made here of the screening of the U.S. premiere of Ken Loach’s documentary, The Spirit of ’45.  Shown at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco on Friday evening, this LaborFest event enabled an American audience to visit the immense changes that occured in Great Britain following the closing of World War II.  One of the film’s respondents, Dot Gibson, chair of the National Pensioners’ Convention, was on hand to introduce the film and take questions following.  With their economy in shambles, the British people bravely moved to nationalize health services, mining, transportation, utilities, and housing.  They succeeded in this and maintained these entities and services until the era of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  The film also explores the insidious dismantling and privatization that followed.

For more information about LaborFest events through the end of July, please visit: http://laborfest.net/.

The 19th Annual LaborFest

7 Aug

The Present Is the Past: Occupying the Commons, July 30, The Green Arcade, San Francisco. Photograph by Steve Zeltzer.

It was fun and hard work for the Organizing Committee putting together nearly eighty events for the month of July.  But the process is collaborative and many of these events are actually organized by individuals not on the committee.  This year’s theme was Occupy, Past Present and Future: Lessons of the Past for Labor Today.  Presenting on the last day of programming, the evening before the closing party, I spoke on three events from unemployment activism and labor history that show us precedents for the ways in which the present Occupy Movement has utilized public space for political redress: the industrial armies of 1894 marching on Washington; the Ludlow, Colorado tent colony during the southern Colorado coal fields strike of 1914; and, the Bonus March on Washington in 1932.  It was standing room only at Patrick Marks’s bookstore.

One of the anecdotes I opened with involved a conversation between two people from Ukiah, California, who walked past the Occupy SF encampment on Market Street in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a site in use since early fall 2011.  Dan was engaged in a conversation using his cell phone about company projects.  Alma, his wife, and I were accompanying him to a local stationery store to purchase office supplies for the project where I am temporarily employed.  We passed the camp, which is separated from the bank by a pedestrian throughway along the sidewalk and metal barricades at the bank’s portico edge .  One couple struck me especially, a woman who was topless being held by a man, both swaying gently where they stood.  I later thought of Paul Cadmus’s egg tempera painting What I Believe (1947-48), based on E.M. Forster’s essay of the same title; “Love and loyalty to an individual can run counter to the claims of the state.  When they do ― down with the state, say I, which means that the state will down me” (see http://weimarart.blogspot.com/2010/10/paul-cadmus.html).  In this painted idyllic vision of humanity, an area is taken up by individuals in peaceful assembly; the heterosexual couple to the right just beyond the grave could have been the couple Alma and I spotted that morning.

The woman’s nudity shocked Alma.  Once Dan was finished with his business call, Alma asked him if he had seen what we just passed.  He said no and asked who these people were Alma described.  Alma replied, I don’t know, some homeless people.  If the two of them had known that they passed an Occupy site, Dan would surely have derided the camp and its inhabitants.  In a conversation I had with a cafe owner in my neighborhood about the incident, Brian told me that homeless people do join the camp because they will not be harassed by the city’s recently passed sit/lie law.  Brian probably speaks with some accuracy because he is host to a number of homeless people at his cafe, many known by name and present on a regular basis.  He is a very generous person allowing people in whom other business owners would keep out.

The anecdote prompted some people at the bookstore slide lecture to defend the Occupy Movement.  While the momentum of the movement seemed to peak as municipality after municipality across the country found ingenious ways to dismantle encampments situated in public space, the tactics have shifted.  Thus, today, occupation is alive and well, such as the occupation of an Oakland elementary school by volunteer teachers, parents, and students following the closure of five school sites by that city.  The parents were expected to ship their children to charter schools and they are not happy with that.  Nor should anyone else be when it comes to privatization.  Privatization is only the encroachment of corporate business in the public sector, rewarding a few individuals with captive markets.

The peace activist A.J. Muste observed in 1962: “We are now in an age when men will have to choose deliberately to exchange the values, the concepts of ‘security,’ and much else which characterizes contemporary society, and seek another way of life.  If that is so, then the peace movement has to act on that assumption, and this means that the whole picture of our condition and the radical choice must be placed before people―not a diluted gospel, a program geared to what they are ready to ‘buy now.’ ” (quoted by Nat Hentoff in Peace Agitator: The Story of A.J. Muste [New York: The Macmillan Company, 1963]).  I embrace ongoing political protest and the occupation of public space.  The work is not over.

Parade of Pain

17 Jun

Untitled, from the series Short Tales from the American Landscape, 2008. Pen-and-ink on Bristol paper, 9 x 12 in.

“Parade of Pain” is a term journalist Thomas Ewing Dabney, the former Financial Editor for the New Orleans States, introduces in a chapter of the book, Revolution or Jobs: The Odenheimer Plan for Guaranteed Employment (New York: The Dial Press, 1933).  Three years into the Great Depression, Dabney wrote this piece of boosterism advancing a proposal of Sigmund Odenheimer to increase general employment.  The numbers of unemployed were staggering.  Four million were without jobs at the beginning of 1931 with that number doubling by the end of the year, representing a truer number of twenty-four million when factoring in the number of dependents (ftn. 2, pg. 27).  Efforts to address the problem had been ineffectual.  In 1930, with 2,429,000 unemployed, President Herbert Hoover appointed a Committee on Unemployment.  The presiding Colonel Arthur Woods, former committee chairperson under President Warren G. Harding’s Conference on Unemployment from 1921-22, created a proposal for “a billion dollar highway-reforestation-public works development” (96-7).  When the number of unemployed hit the ten million mark in 1931, Hoover put  Walter S. Gifford, President of American Telephone & Telegraph, at the head of a newly created Unemployment Committee, who served for one winter season.  Gifford favored private business expansion over any new public works projects (see quotation p. 98).  Curiously, projects earmarked from the $332,000,000 voted by Congress in fall 1932 for emergency measures included: 1) $1,500,000 improvement to Chanute Field, Illinois (later Chanute Air Force Base), 2) $55,000 improvement to Charleston navy yard, and, 3) $130,000 improvement to Boston navy yard.  None of these projects were deemed necessary by either the War Department or the Navy Department.  According to Dabney, all construction in 1932 dropped to half of the 1931 output (100).

By the time unemployment reached 11,420,000 in February 1932, Congress created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).  The first action taken by the RFC was the “shovelling [of] money into the banks, and into Big Business, to pay off the banks and bolster bonds” (100).  Between February 2 and November 30, banks received $806,750,000, the greatest portion to a few large institutions — $90,000,000 was awarded to the Chicago Central Republic Bank and Trust Company (also known as City National Bank and Trust) a few days before bank board member, Charles Dawes, resigned as head of the RFC, while Amadeo Giannini’s San Francisco-based Bank of America received $64,000,000.  “Half a billion” went to railroads, and smaller amounts were doled out to crop-marketing organizations and farmers for crop production.  Of the $146,535,000 earmarked for construction projects, and thus, job creation, not a dollar was put into effect by the end of 1932 (for statistics, see pp. 101-3).

These large amounts of money, for their day, mean nothing without translating that legislated funding into actual benefit to the lives of ordinary people.  Dabney cites the case of Louisiana, the first state in the Union to receive unemployment-relief loans.  There the day’s pay was set at a maximum of $1.50, with four days the maximum number of days for the work week.  Total wage could not exceed $6.00, and that was limited to one person per family, no matter the size of the family.  Average employment was one and a half days a week.  The Mississippi bridge at New Orleans was the first such public works project under this funding.  The wage-rate on that job was 25 cents an hour, with a ceiling on hours worked at 30 per week.  Thus, the maximum a worker could receive was $7.50 per week (105-6).

Odenheimer was the president of Lane Cotton Mills in New Orleans.  He had been with the company for forty-six years.  During Odenheimer’s studies at University of Karlsruhe, in Germany, he came under the spell of socialism, perhaps suggesting, for Dabney at least, an unusual concern for the plight of the worker on the part of an employer.  He was a firm capitalist, though, during his rise in American commerce.  Early in his career, Odenheimer invented a cotton bagging made of cotton fiber at a time when the “jute trust” had doubled the price of its product.  By obtaining a patent and then offering the right to manufacture this product to others without royalty, he managed to defeat the jute trust.  He continued to innovate and engage the cotton industry in new methods of manufacture and distribution.  He was one of the few cotton manufacturers to weather the onslaught of the Great Depression.  Odenheimer first proposed his idea on unemployment at an Association of Commerce luncheon in November 1932.  Simply put, he sought an amendment that would authorize Congress to legislate on hours of labor.  With a congressional “Hours of Labor Commission,” any employer with, say, five or more employees would not be allowed to exceed a total number of hours per week, determined by the Commission on an economically dynamic scale (137).

While distributing worker hours to those unemployed by scaling down hours held by those employed seems simple enough, Dabney chose to stay clear of “the economic riddle”: “…foreign debts, business cycles, tariffs, debtor-and-creditor nations, budgets, the farm situation, the gold standard or armaments” (17).  Dabney cites the collapse of purchasing power as the cause for the crash of 1929, with too much invested in profits and new capital investment and too little in wages, or consuming power.  The author uses a frequently recurring equation that results in the phrase “purchasing-consuming-producing power” (70).

While it is true of this nation’s history that workers have always had to bear the brunt of recurring cycles of national depression since 1817, the idea, inherent in Dabney’s argument, that production and consumption are factors of unlimited quantity when unharnessed, does not accord with the concurrent history of corporate profit motivation.  Louis Adamic provides a set of questions of what profit motivation produces in the cycle of manufacturing and distribution in his book, Dynamite: A Century of Class Violence in America, 1830-1930 (London: Rebel Press, 1984; first published in 1931 and revised by the author in 1934).  In looking at racketeering and sabotage, two elements that rose hand-in-hand with industrialization in the nineteenth century and had been professionalized at the time of his writing, Adamic asks from the workers’ point of view:

“…have not [the capitalist class] laid waste the country’s national resources with utter lack of consideration for their human values — forests, mines, land and waterways?  Did they not dump cargoes of coffee and other goods into the sea, burn fields of cotton, wheat and corn, throw trainloads of potatoes to waste — all in the interest of higher incomes?  Did not millers and bakers mix talcum, chalk and other cheap and harmful ingredients with flour?  Did not candy manufacturers sell glucose and taffy made with vaseline, and honey made with starch and chestnut meal?  Wasn’t vinegar often made of sulphuric acid?  Didn’t farmers and distributors adulterate milk and butter?  Were not eggs and meat stored away, suffering deterioration all the while, in order to cause prices to rise?” (205)

Adamic relates the case of the Pacific Northwest Lumber Trust and the demand for lumber in 1917.  After the entry of the United States into World War I, the demand for lumber in various industries skyrocketed.  In consequence, lumber companies took advantage by boosting their prices: “…some increased them from $16 to $116 per thousand feet in a few days, and before the end of 1917 were selling spruce for government airplanes at $1200 a thousand.  And most of that spruce could not be used for airplanes.”  By comparison, workers’ wages increased only slightly where strikes were successful in coercing employers into raising wages (168).

The corporate landscape is the same today, witness oil spills destroying natural ecosystems, fracking for natural gas polluting natural water tables, or factories and mining polluting natural waterways.  The profit motive in manufacturing has not changed.  When pressed or when seeking to maximize profit, corporations have simply moved operations overseas where concerns for environmental degradation and worker health and safety do not exist.  I recommend viewing the film, Last Train Home (2009), directed by Lixin Fan, which documents the movement of 130 million Chinese workers during New Year to reunite with their families only several days out of the year.   It is heart rending with its focus on the cumulative effects upon the individual worker and the dissolution of family.  Or, come to see the screening of Dust: The Great Asbestos Trial (2011), directed by Niccolo Bruna and Andrea Prandstralle of Italy, in its San Francisco premiere on Friday, July 6th.  Besides exploring the “first great criminal trial” against asbestos manufacturers, which opened in Turin in 2009 and resulted in convictions in 2012, the film offers a look at the plight of asbestos-related work in India and Brazil.  For further information on this and other LaborFest events for the month of July, visit: http://www.laborfest.net.  A booklet for the complete programme is also available around the city, including The Green Arcade bookstore, 1680 Market Street at Gough.

Revolution or Jobs is still a useful guide to the economic landscape of the early years of the Great Depression.  Through this reading, one finds a palpable sense of the scope and detail of human misery from the time.  It was a time when people believed revolution could happen.  Adamic shows how the press only reported on unemployment and hunger when, starting in 1930, communists organized hunger demonstrations and parades, which often resulted in mounted police riding down upon demonstrators and clubbing them, causing much bloodshed.  It was the bloodshed which made headlines.  And it was those headlines that gradually forced Hoover to publicly acknowledge the seriousness of the unemployment problem.

Bread and Roses Exhibition on View at LaborFest Website

29 Mar

The January exhibition of art at International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 34 Hall, celebrating the one-hundredth year commemoration of the Bread and Roses strike of Lawrence, Massachusetts, has moved to a virtual location: laborfest.net.  If you did not have a chance to visit the art in January, you can see it now.

Melanie Cervantes, San Leandro, and Chris Crass. United For Justice, Not Divided By Racism. Print. Courtesy of Melanie Cervantes. DignidadRebelde.com. 

An Evening of Music at ILWU Local 34

16 Jan

Child Labor III, 2012. Pen-and-ink on Bristol paper, 9 x 12 in. After Lewis Hine. Collection of Steve Zeltzer and Kazmi Torii.

In commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the Bread and Roses textile workers’ strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 34 hall was host to a lively evening of music and poetry.  Carol Denney presented several of her songs on American class and culture with a vibrant voice.  Denney shared with us her song “Have Yourself a Slice of Occupy,” which the artist has combined with collaged images from Occupy Berkeley and Oakland sites in a voice recording video clip that can be viewed and heard at YouTube: http://youtu.be/_WlSOkadPaw.  The lyrics to the song appear below.

Have Yourself a Slice of Occupy, a ragtime salute by Carol Denney 11-8-2011

we are having quite a slice of occupy
hot, fresh, wild, delicious occupy
stir it up a nice hot cup of occupy
share it with your friends and neighbors
taste the fruit of all your labors
be the first one on your block to occupy
wind it up and set your clock to occupy
tell the cops and tell the mayor
you’ve become an occuplayer
have yourself a slice of occupy

grab your tent and screw the rent come occupy
join the slackers and the hackers occupy
meet the folks who lost their homes
meet the folks who never owned one
meet the folks down to the bone you’ll
find you’ll never be alone
grab a sign and join the line at occupy
admit you’re the 99 and occupy
if your tent don’t get reception
change your channel of perception
have yourself a slice of occupy

don’t you love the great outdoors
there’s no bureaucracy
but your meeting might be endless
it’s democracy – you gotta love it

don’t be late no need to wait just occupy
have yourself a heaping plate of occupy
hop on your bike and be the mike at occupy
the rich are going to miss the fun
but afterwards we’ll all be one
lose your frown and dance around at occupy
boot the blues and make the news at occupy
this ain’t no occupy in the sky
and there’s more to occupy than meets the eye
come have yourself a slice of occupy
(we really mean it)
have yourself a slice of occupy

You can also catch online her performance of another song she shared on Wednesday, “Song of the Wealthy Man,” which was presented as part of a Revolutionary Poets Brigade performance at Mythos Gallery in Berkeley on July 22, 2011: http://youtu.be/5yO4qgqx0aE .  This is a good time to consider Denney’s commentary on what the Wealthy Man thinks of the common man, especially since the Republican presidential candidacy is a complete chorus line of wealthy individuals.  Should one wonder, then, that current Republican attempts to relax child labor laws are happening a century after the Progressive Movement brought the ills of child labor to the attention of America?  Or that Newt Gingrich, one of the chorus line, advocates relaxation?  I suppose, if “vulture capitalist” had been sincerely lobbied by this chorus at No. 1 contender Mitt Romney.  At Harvard University, Wealthy Man Gingrich proposed doing away with laws that would prevent children in poor neighborhoods from being put to work, and on December 10th, 2011, the same puffy professor proposed putting New York City high school students to work as janitors.  In Maine, the state Restaurant Association lobbied for a law, sponsored by Republicans Debra Plowman and David Burns, that would allow an increase of total weekly hours for teenagers from 20 to 32.  The legislation as passed increased the number of hours to 24.  But please note that teenagers are allowed by law to be paid as little as $5.25 per hour, $2.25 less than the state’s minimum wage.  In Wisconsin, another legislative act of grace conferred upon teenagers the ability to work more than 24 hours per week during school session and more than 50 hours per week during summer break, this thoughtful enactment inserted into an amendment to the state’s budget bill in late June by Republicans Robin Vos and Alberta Darling.  A state Grocers Association spokesperson is quoted by Holly Rosenkrantz as saying: “It wasn’t like [our members] were trying to overwork these kids or create a sweatshop…”  Of course not.  But we can guess that the initiative is to drive down wages, just as the Maine legislation enables employers to do (see Rosenkrantz, “Taking Aim at Child Labor Laws,” Bloomberg Businessweek [January 11, 2012; http://www.readersupportednews.org/news-section2/320-80/9381-taking-aim-at-child-labor-laws; accessed 1/14/12]).

We were also energized on Wednesday evening by singer/songwriter Hali Hammer, social justice singer/songwriter David Rovics, both with driving voices and uplifting messages, the magnificent Rocking Solidarity Chorus, labor poet Alice Rogoff and a song from poet Mary Rudge.

Note on drawing: Working as an investigative reporter, Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) documented working children at employment sites and home between 1908 and 1924.  More than 5,100 photographic prints and 355 glass negatives, along with records of the National Child Labor Committee, a non-profit organization that advocated for child labor reform, were given to the Library of Congress in 1954.  The following caption for the photograph upon which the above drawing is based appears at a website for Hine’s photographs, http://www.lewishinephotographs.com/: “All in photos worked (even smallest girl and boys) and they went to work at (noon) 12:45. Some of the following boys and girls mey [sic] be 14, many are not. John Gopen, 189 Elm St. Joseph Stonge, 73 King St. Billie Welch, 178 Union St. Tim Carroll, 310 Salem St. Michael Devine, 64 South Broadway. Jacob Black, 15 Bradford Bl. Binnie Greenfield, 281 Park St. Andrew Pomeroy, 76 South Broadway. Louis Gross, 39 Myrtle St. Arthur Davois, 244 Salem St. Joseph Latham?, 165 Willow St. Salvatore Quatirtto, 48 Union St. Sam Gangi, 82 Pleasant Valley St. These two boys were about the youngest of the boys, others nearly as young. Location: Lawrence, Massachusetts. Date Created/Published: 1911 September. LOC original medium: 1 photographic print. Picture of child labor by Lewis Wickes Hine.”  Ayer Mill may be a misattribution on my part.  If anyone has better information, please notify me so that a correction can be published.

My thanks to Summer Brenner for notifying me of the Rosenkrantz article.