by Kevin Corley
Reviewed by Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News, Bloomington, Illinois
Posted with permission
Coal miners were once referred to as the “shock troops of labor,” hardened union members who were often shot at and not afraid to shoot back.
Coal was the fuel of 19th and early 20th century economic expansion. The work was dangerous and poorly paid. Coal miners, often in isolated rural communities, fought hard to build a strong union. There are battle grounds and disasters that still echo today– Virden, Cherry, Ludlow, Matewan, Herrin and numerous others.
Central and southern Illinois was a critical building block to the United Mine Workers’ success. Drawing all these stories together yet still making them vivid and real is a challenge for any writers. Retired Christian County high school teacher Kevin Corley has successfully done that in his new novel, Sixteen Tons.
Historical figures like Mother Jones and Matewan’s Sheriff Sid Hatfield appear, but Corley has woven together a diverse cast of characters– Italian immigrants, West Virginia miners, African-Americans and native born.
Together they do what families do– mature, get married and raise families.
Coal field hard realities continually interrupt their lives. There are mine disasters and grieving widows. There is World War I and the mass flu epidemic that followed. There are miners from central Illinois volunteering to help other miners, bringing them to Colorado, Kentucky and West Virginia to aid strikers.
Finally, the Illinois coal fields erupts in a war– not between the miners and the coal companies, but miner against miner, as union members dissatisfied with their national organization start their own union.
High stakes battles could easily overshadow character in a novel this far-ranging. Corley effectively creates individuals who are not cardboard cut-outs, but real workers with varied viewpoints. The women are just as vivid, showing families debating their risks and next move.
As a teacher, Corley soaked up stories of the Illinois coal fields, translating them into a readable novel of a recent past that should not be forgotten.
A Panel Discussion on McCutcheon and Citizens United Supreme Court Decisions
Rogalski Center, St. Ambrose University
518 W. Locust St., Davenport, IA
Thursday, MAY 29th:
7PM – 9PM
FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Moderated by Jim Mertens, WQAD
Davenport, Iowa, May 16, 2014 – Quad City Coalition for Democracy announces it will host a forum to discuss how recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance are affecting politics in America.
Sixteen states, including Illinois, have formally demanded that Congress take action to amend the US Constitution to undo the US Supreme Court’s decisions in McCutcheon and Citizens United. Close to 600 towns, villages, cities and counties have also made the ask. During the first weeks of March in New Hampshire, forty-seven town meetings called for a constitutional amendment.
In early April, thirteen Wisconsin communities voted overwhelmingly to call on their elected representatives to begin the amendment process. The US Senate will vote this year on a proposed constitutional amendment.
Is money the equivalent to free speech? Do corporations and unions have same rights as natural born citizens? How have these decisions affected politics in our community, especially in places like Coralville where an uninvited outside group spend thousands to affect the outcome of its 2013 City Council Election?
These and other questions will be addressed by our panel of speakers. We hope you will join us for what’s sure to be an engaging discussion on the hottest topic of our time: money in politics.
Ed Broders, President, Iowa ACLU
Christopher Whitt, Political Science, Dept., Augustana College
Maggie Tinsman, Policy Analyst, 18 year member Iowa Senate
Ken Sagar, President, Iowa Federation of Labor, AFLCIO
Ian Russell, Partner, Lane & Waterman LLP
Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography, edited by John Gruber
Center for Railroad Art & Photography
Railroaders exhibit, Chicago History Museum, through August 2015
By Mike Matejka, Grand Prairie Union News
High quality art and photography books abound – but when was the last time you saw one featuring workers?
World War II railroad workers are the focus in Railroaders, produced by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. An accompanying exhibit is on display at the Chicago History Museum through August 2015. More exhibit details are at http://chicagohistory.org/planavisit/exhibitions/railroaders
During the grim, early days of World War II, photographers were sent out to portray a determined nation, supporting its soldiers overseas. Incredibly vital were the nation’s railroads – before Interstate highways and with gas and rubber rationing, almost everything and everyone moved on steel rails. The railroads were in constant motion and facilities, workers and equipment strained for the war effort.
The Office of War Information dispatched photographer Jack Delano, who previously had photographed migrant farm workers in North Carolina, to portray the railroads. In 1942-43, Delano shot over 2,500 black and white negatives and 250 color transparencies. There were some pictures of locomotives and stations, but most featured every day workers.
The photographic portraits here are an incredible testament to hard work. In switch yards, locomotive cabs, roundhouses and cabooses, Delano found his workers, covered in soot and grime, their faces lined from years of outdoor labor. There is dignity in every photograph and together these images are an American patchwork quilt – immigrants and native born, male and female, multi-racial.
For five years the Center searched for descendants of the photographed workers. Through families, this book has recreated a life story: where these workers were born, what railroad they worked for, their union affiliation, their children and their homes. Many 1940s photographs are matched with a contemporary family photo by Delano’s son Pablo.
The exhibit is worth a trip to the Chicago History Museum. The book, with its stunning photographs and worker stories, can be read and re-read again. The book is beautifully crafted and extremely high quality. Most rare in this day and age, the book is printed in the U.S.A. in a union shop.
Average working people go to work daily and their labor creates and sustains our world. One’s job is not one’s life, but work helps define us. This book beautifully captures hard-working 1940s Americans and then constructs their story. Working people reading this will find themselves and their families, no matter their trade or occupation, reflected in this outstanding photographic voyage.
The photos in the book are public domain, having been taken under US Government auspices during World War II. To find a photo from this series, go to the Library of Congress website under Jack Delano and you’ll find many at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=delano%20railroad%20e
South Slope’s current CEO and Board of Directors have refused to respond to member (that means customers!) requests for basic information about 2014 Board nomination and election processes, annual meeting dates, and financial reports. Not only is this against the cooperative’s by-laws, it also limits customers’ ability to advocate for the services they deserve.
South Slope Cooperative by-laws require the Board to schedule an annual meeting of members for the purpose of electing Directors, passing on reports for the previous fiscal year and membership vote on other business of the cooperative. None of these requirements are being met.
The Cooperative’s Board of Directors is increasingly operating in the shadows. Why does this matter? When decisions are made behind closed doors, it’s bad for customers, bad for workers, and bad for competition in southeast Iowa.
Please sign the petition and add your name to the growing list of supporters for a transparent Board of Directors.
When Detroit became the largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy last year, it triggered a process by which all the city’s assets would be thrown out on the lawn like a foreclosed home whose contents would be pilfered through by neighbors and strangers alike for their potential value.
And as the objects that made the house a home are reassessed in this new shameful context, what was once considered essential – priceless, in fact – is now valued at pennies on the dollar to expedite the financial settlement so everyone can quickly move on.
Such is the context for the extraordinarily painful negotiations taking place in Detroit right now as the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection has become the city’s main bargaining chip for the billions of dollars in unfunded debt on pension and health benefits owed to current and future retirees. The publicly-owned collection includes Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance,” Rodin’s “The Thinker,” a self-portrait by Van Gogh, and Diego Rivera’s masterpiece mural depicting Detroit’s since-collapsed auto industry – more than 66,000 pieces altogether.
If accomplished, this will be the largest liquidation of public art in US history, and the most recent looting of art since Iraq’s Museum was vanquished in 2003.
Stealing art during moments of crisis is nothing new. In fact it’s the norm. This was sentimentally portrayed recently in George Clooney’s film, Monuments Men, in which a troop of loveable art historians are commissioned to protect and recover stolen art from the Nazis in the waning months of WWII.
But like any good art depicting a historic event, Monuments Men should have been a commentary on the present – a kind of plea to human conscience the way Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” was during the McCarthy Era. But it wasn’t.
Instead, Monuments Men was a pat on the back to the Good Americans for beating the Bad Nazis and Bad Russians. There was no subtext to help us understand the looting of both the public worker’s pensions and the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection taking place today by bankruptcy judges, lawyers, hedge fund managers, investment bankers.
It contained no metaphor for Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s unelected City Manager who was appointed by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder under the state’s controversial Emergency Manager law. “Everything is on the table,” Orr has repeatedly said regarding the negotiations.
To his credit, Governor Snyder has proposed a “Grand Bargain” that would maintain the art in the museum under the management of a private foundation and prevent its liquidation. However, creditors have accused Christies Auction House of low-balling the value of the art in the $816 settlement that would monumentally underfund the pension obligations.
And the discussion of salvaging the art at the expense of workers’ pensions has caught the ire of union leaders fighting to protect workers’ pensions. “The elevation of the city’s art above our hard-earned pensions and health care is unfair, offensive and elitist,” said Jeff Pegg, president of the Detroit Firefighters Association, reading from a statement signed by four labor leaders representing the public sector workers. “We appreciate the city’s art collection. But, stated bluntly: Art is a luxury. It’s not essential, like food and health care.”
So, in steps Financial Guaranty Insurance Company last Wednesday, which has asked the bankruptcy judge to force the city to instead sell all the Detroit Institute of Arts’ property (building included) to corporate buyout firms including Catalyst Acquisitions and Bell Capital Partners.
These negotiations are completely unprecedented, so it’s easy to forget that the monetization and liquidation of public art to ensure pensioners a dignified retirement is a most sublime corruption. We are expected to believe that the only option is to sell this art to fund constitutionally protected retirements.
Perhaps the acrimony caused by these insane negotiations will bog it down in so much red tape that people come to their senses and realize this entire bankruptcy is illegal, immoral, that the sale of the art that belongs to the people of Detroit is blocked?
Perhaps Congress will propose a federal bailout for the workers’ pensions, similar to the one they passed in 2008 to bail out the very banks who are now clamoring to get their hands on their very own Van Gogh?
Or perhaps Clooney will make another movie before he heads back to Darfur that more artfully depicts a public and cultural crisis of catastrophic dimensions?
[For background click here]
South Slope Cooperative Communications and Communications Workers of America (CWA) Ratified a New Contract
We are pleased to announce that South Slope Cooperative Communications and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have reached a collective bargaining agreement, effective through September of 2015. Members of the Union voted on Saturday, March 15, to approve a contract that includes wage increases, added flexibility, increased job security, improved vacation time, and a fully funded pension.
We believe the contract contains concessions on behalf of both parties and shows our combined commitment to excellent customer service in a highly competitive telecommunications environment. Our mutual goal is to ensure South Slope’s financial stability while continuing to offer quality jobs in our community. We remain focused on providing cutting edge telecommunications delivered with superior service to the Cooperative members.
South Slope Cooperative Communications
Meredith King, Marketing Director
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Kay Pence, CWA Staff Representative
If you had all the money in the world, which candidate or race would you spend it on?
Personally, I’d give an enormous chunk to Elizabeth Warren to launch her Presidential Campaign for 2016. I’d also give sizeable amounts to state and local women candidates of diverse heritages because, well, we have a white man problem. No offense to individual white men, of course, but even you gotta admit the stale, pale, male formula has become decrepit.
Of course, the recipients of my wealth would all be people who reflect my beliefs in an egalitarian society driven by compassion and scientific reason. Education would focus on the arts, culture and philosophy to mitigate the dehumanizing effects of modern technology. Above all, environmental preservation would be central to all decision making.
But me and my kind don’t have buckets of money to dole out to our wünder-candidates. And in our corporatist, finance-based, economic system, anyone with enormous wealth could only have gained it in ill-begotten ways that have exploited the environment and worsened social inequalities. Despite what Carnegie, Soros, Gates, et. al. want us to believe, their liberal fantasy of saving the world with money gained from wreaking havoc on it is rather idiotic and inefficient.
Since the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on PACs because money is equivalent to speech, it was only a matter of time before someone extended that same logic to the rights of individuals to unlimited political campaign spending.
Which brings us to McCutcheon v FEC. SCOTUS heard arguments last fall, and any day now they are expected to announce their decision in the case. Deciding in favor of McCutcheon – that his First Amendment Rights were violated by limiting the amount he could personally, directly spend on elections and candidates – would so completely upend campaign finance that yes, if I were Oprah rich, I could buy me a city council, school board or soil and water commission, possibly an Elizabeth Warren Presidency.
If SCOTUS maintains its absurd notion that money is speech, then yes, I agree, McCutcheon’s rights are being violated by any limitations on how he can spend it to talk to fellow voters. And he, like me, would spend it on supporting those who reflect his personal belief system.
But money is not speech, and corporations are not people. Money is a plastic concept reflecting power attribution, and corporations are its body. Money once was a piece of paper, or a chunk of metal in exchange for labor or stuff. But more likely these days, the concept of money is just data tracked by a computer, updated daily as markets – another ephemeral concept – ebb and flow in response to other data tracked by the computers.
If SCOTUS decides in favor of McCutcheon, then we will be living in the most cynical society that ever existed on the planet. The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde defined a cycnic with these words, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Money has become so central to politics that people are misremembering how to evaluate a candidate on his or her own belief system anymore. They vote emotionally, based on the intensity of fear broadcast by the money-bought campaign ads.
Which is why it is so important for you, if you still, perhaps naively, believe that democracy is worth fighting for, need to come out on the day the McCutcheon decision is announced.
In Iowa, events are already planned for:
Des Moines: West Steps of the State Capitol
Cedar Rapids: Federal Building, 111 7th Ave., SE
Iowa City: Clinton and Iowa Avenue, east of the Old Capitol building;
Davenport: Federal Building, 131 E 4th St
Visit this website to sign up or learn more about these and other events across the nation: moneyout-votersin.org/
Or find an event by zip code here: action.citizen.org
For a quick but pat explanation of McCutcheon: washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/supreme-court-takes-up-the-sequel-to-citizens-united/
Recently I saw an interview with former Florida Governor, Charlie Christ. Years ago I would have called Mr. Christ a flip-flop or pancake, referring to his changing of parties so many times. But I believe that interview enlightened me in two ways:
#1 Mr. Christ is an unapologetic jerk. I believe he should have informed Mr. Romney of his change of endorsement in 2008 or at the very least displayed some form of regret for not doing so.
#2 It is tough to go Independent because of a lack of infrastructure like there is for the Democrats and the GOP. And that is the part of the interview I would like to touch on. The fact that in this country we have to choose between one party that is in bed with Corporate America and the other that is constantly climbing out of bed just long enough to convince the rest of America that they are here to help us. We need more political parties in America.
When the Republicans do something we don’t like we vote in the Democrats, then the Democrats proceed to do the same thing the Republicans were going to do. The reason is that both parties realize more than ever that we only have two choices (for the most part), and that if they lose this time they will always have a 50% percent chance of winning the next time.
Mr. Christ did go Independent for a short period of time. However, one of his biggest complaints was that there was no infrastructure for Independents, and that made it difficult to run as one. But there is one group that does have the infrastructure, the money, and the people to start a third party in this country: UNIONS. Most unions have political delegates at each local. They also have people who are experienced in campaigning. They also know how politics work on a local level and in Washington.
Now the problem. It is both sad and hard for me to face this fact, but unions are drawn to Democrats like a moth to a flame. They know they are going to get burnt, but they don’t care because their line of crap sounds oh so good. But if the Democrats had been defending Labor with the same vigor that the GOP has been destroying it, we would not be at less than 7% membership in the private sector.
It seems to me Organized Labor wants the Democrats to fight their fight. But one thing I have learned is no one is going to argue your points the way you are. It’s like Organized Labor has been sitting around and waiting for a Superman to come out of the Democratic Party when they really should have been creating their own Superman or Superwoman.
I do want to make one point as I do believe there have been pockets of real help from the Democrats. However the two-party system only works for the two parties, and workers will never get properly represented by a system that only focuses on perpetuating itself. This is not only a call for just a Labor party, we need closer to four or five different parties, but organized labor is the only group that I know of that could potentially start their own party and succeed. I think it is time for Organized Labor to stop depending on those who are there to serve the interests of others.
Finally, I will leave you with this. UAW President Bob King said at a conference the UAW has no future without the South. I respectfully disagree with Mr. King. I don’t think organized labor has a future with its continued dependence on the Democratic Party and without creating a political party of its own.
On February 12-14, the men and women who assemble the Volkswagen Passat at a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will get to vote on whether or not they want the UAW to represent them and implement a Work Council. Work Councils exists at every other Volkswagen plant in the world except for those in China and the one in Chattanooga.
This election is meaningful on so many levels, not the least of which is that there hasn’t been a major organizing drive at a plant in the south since UFCW organized Smithfield in 2009 after a 16 year struggle there. But it would also be fascinating to see how the Work Council will work in the U.S. Though Work Councils are common in Germany, if the UAW/Volkswagen election succeeds, it would be the first Work Council established in the U.S.
Work Councils operate differently than how the majority of unions are organized in the U.S. A typical industrial or public sector union in the U.S. exists after workers democratically vote for a union to represent them. They elect the president and local officers, and the local unions’ delegates elect the International or council officers who then hire business managers who work with local leadership on the day to day business of unionism. This includes everything from bargaining a contract, holding labor management meetings and representing workers grievances.
The union (local workers with union staff) will then negotiate with management to establish a contract that covers wages, benefits and conditions of employment. They do not get to make decisions typically decided as management’s decisions, and most contracts usually start with a “Management’s Rights” clause laying out management’s rights to hire and make other decisions about how the plant/office will run.
In Germany, worker representatives serve in equal number as management on a council to make mutual decisions about how the plant will operate. This goes well beyond the U.S. model and may include such discussions previously categorized as “Management Rights” like what cars will be manufactured at what plants. Read more here and here
As UAW President Bob King describes it, “In Germany, work councils are a unique model of collaboration between workers and employers that simply doesn’t exist in the U.S. yet. Works councils and the German system of co-determination demonstrate how company management and a strong union can partner and thrive.” http://www.detroitnews.com/
UAW has declared that a majority of workers support the union, and Volkswagen, though not officially in support of the organizing drive, has neither launched an anti-union campaign like what you typically see during an organizing drive. Frank Fisher, chairman and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga said, “Volkswagen Group of America and the UAW have agreed to this common path for the election. That means employees can decide on representation in a secret ballot election, independently conducted by the NLRB. Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”
This should make for a non-controversial organizing. However, politicians and right wing think tanks are not allowing the organizing effort to go unchallenged. Tennessee’s Senator Bob Corker said Volkswagen would be a “laughingstock” for not fighting the union. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has been a constant critic claiming it will hurt the state’s economy. “I think that there are some ramifications to the vote in a terms of our ability to attract other suppliers,” Haslam told a regional newspaper’s editorial board.
Additionally, Center for Worker Freedom, an offshoot of Americans for Tax Reform the dark-money group headed by Grover Norquist, has reportedly bought radio ads and more than a dozen billboards in the area that are thinly veiled attempts to squash the effort using race and communist fears, an ugly regression of Southern stereotypes.
One of them has the words “United Auto Workers,” written in large black block print, but the word “Auto” is crossed out with what looks like red spray paint and replaced with the word “Obama.” Underneath it reads, “The UAW spends millions to elect liberal politicians, including Barack Obama,” and it directs you to a website: workerfreedom.org.
Another enormous bill board has a picture of a crumbling former auto plant and reads, “Auto Unions ATE Detroit…Next Meal: Chattanooga?” It also directs to the workerfreedom.org website where you are warned that “UAW Wants Your Guns.”
Yet another billboard refers to a Reuters article which claims, “almost every job lost at U.S. car factories in the last 30 years has occurred at a unionized company.”
But I prefer what Pete Seeger had to say about what happens when workers join a union:
That if you don’t let red-baiting break you up
And if you don’t let stoolpigeons break you up
And if you don’t let vigilantes break you up
And if you don’t let race hatred break you up
You’ll win. What I mean, take it easy, but take it
In Nov. 2011, Iowa Democrats held their annual Jefferson Jackson dinner, their biggest event of the year attended by thousands of party leaders from across the state. The keynote that year was Rahm Emanuel, the newly elected Mayor of Chicago, also former senior advisor for President Clinton and Chief of Staff for President Obama.
Touting his credentials, then-state party leader Sue Dvorsky said, ““Mayor Emanuel has proven to be one of the great advocates for Democratic values and middle class opportunity throughout his service in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, as a leader in Congress, and now at the helm of the great city of Chicago.” [Read full transcript of Emanuel’s JJ remarks here]
Dvorsky couldn’t have been more wrong in describing Rahm this way, but one could hardly blame her. Very little up to that time had been written that was critical of the wunderkind who emerged into the national spotlight during the Clinton years. Pundits may have rightfully described Rahm as a cuss-wielding, politically-savvy lobbyist and whip, but few actually surveyed Emanuel’s public service from the vantage point of the poor or of a working class person oppressed by Emanuel’s neo-liberal Democrat Party policies.
But if Emanuel was invited to the JJ dinner to raise money, as the JJ dinner is meant to do, then Rahm was their man. It was this ability that first attracted the attention of Clinton in the early 90s, and which is well documented in the recently published book, “Mayor 1%” by Chicago journalist Kari Lydersen. The thoroughly-researched portrait that emerges is not of a populist advocate for democracy and that elusive mythical thing, the “Middle Class”, but of a cunning and cut-throat power broker, representing the investment class with a disturbing detachment and growing inaccessibility to his Chicago constituents.
The book spans Emanuel’s rise to power from his childhood in the wealthy Chicago suburbs and ends with him rebidding then-union janitor jobs at O’Hare Airport from the barely livable wage of $15.45 an hour down to $11.90 an hour with a non-union mob-connected firm.
Do not mistake this book as a partisan political lambast, à la Ann Coulter. Rather, Lydersen’s training and decades of experience as a professional journalist with the Washington Post populate the pages of the book with heart-wrenching first-hand interviews and dozens of pages of citations.
As Lydersen states in the introduction, “Although this is a book about Rahm Emanuel, it is also a story about organizations – like the Mental Health Movement and the Chicago Teachers union – made up of regular people who are finding it harder and harder to secure basic rights including housing, health care, and a voice in their governing institutions.”
The book speaks for itself (order it online through the non-profit, progressive book publisher Haymarket Books). Some of the stories covered include:
- How Rahm Emanuel earned $18 million during two years as an investment banker between the Clinton and Obama years
- Was a key architect of NAFTA
- Established the Infrastructure Trust that proposes to finance and manage municipal projects by a non-elected board that raises money through complicated financial mechanisms rather than the traditional bond market
- Closed half of Chicago’s Mental Health Clinics and more than 50 Chicago Public Schools, almost all in black and Latino neighborhoods
- Waged a contract battle against the Chicago Teachers Union leading to a week-long strike – first in more than twenty years
- Passed constitutionally questionable city ordinance curtailing civil liberties during NATO Summit in Chicago.