Memorial Day Massacre by Christian Sullivan

[At this year’s commemoration of the Memorial Day Massacre, an annual event sponsored by steelworkers who help us remember the history of our working class, high school student Christian53851b99d6e88.preview-620 Sullivan read his award-winning, very perceptive essay. What I found particularly useful was the author’s consideration of what is different today. Things are indeed different, fundamentally different, and it is exciting to see young people grappling with what this change means.  — Lew Rosenbaum]  

Memorial Day Massacre  by Christian Sullivan

“On Memorial Day, May 30, 1937, police opened fire on a parade of striking steel workers and their families at the gate of the Republic Steel Company, in South Chicago. Fifty people were shot, of whom 10 later died; 100 others were beaten with clubs,” a quote by Dorothy Day from her book Selected Writings summarizing the events of the Memorial Day Massacre. There is no doubting that date was one of the worst tragedies in Chicago history, and nothing can justify the actions of the police officers, press, and steel companies involved during, and after, this horrific incident occurred. There were a number of causes and aftermaths of this event, and these valiant steelworkers should be an example to workers of the modern day of how important and powerful labor unions truly are.

To understand the causes of the Memorial Day Massacre, one must understand the way businesses think. When it comes to the production of a product, the profit of the company is based on how much money and resources are put into making said product versus the amount of money they bring back selling said product; the smaller the production fee, the larger the profits. One large production fee is the salary of every worker and employee who help in the making of the product. In the business world, the smaller their employees’ salaries are, the better the company’s profits. At the same time, as executives at higher pay, they don’t want to lower their own, regardless of how gross or unfair it may be. The only other way for them to increase profits would be to raise the prices of their goods and risk upsetting the consumer, which could potentially lead to lesser profits and loss of business to lower priced competition. With that being said, we can now better understand the cause of this massacre that took place outside of the Republic Steel Company.

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), previously known as the Committee of Industrial Organization, was an organization that heavily encouraged and aided the unionization of workers in industrial jobs such as the steel industry. CIO was quickly succeeding in the creation of a steel workers union, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), even being recognized by one of the largest companies in the steel industry, U.S. Steel, which was notoriously anti-union beforehand. They signed a contract with SWOC, promoting the act of “collective bargaining,” the negotiation of terms and treatment between companies and employees. Many other large and small steel companies signed this same contract, recognizing the union and agreeing to negotiation; yet, six companies, known as “Little Steel” still refused to accept the unionization of steelworkers, one of these companies being Republic Steel.

In the business world, unionization equals less profit. If companies are to maximize profit, they must be in full control of wages and treatment of their workers, otherwise, they must sacrifice profit for the health, well-being, and fairness of their employees; therefore, collective bargaining was out of the question for any company looking to make the most money they possibly can. Allowing collective bargaining and unionization forces a company to recognize the power and say its workers have in its business, disallowing them to continue taking advantage of them.

As such, Republic Steel continued to refuse any dealings with SWOC, resulting in mass protest in order to hurt production to the point of forcing Republic Steels hand into union acceptance, as done with many other opposing steel companies before it. SWOC planned a march to the Republic Steel company and a peaceful picket; however, Republic Steel, already knowing about the picket, set up a police blockade outside of its company gates. When the march reached its destination, they were immediately confronted by the police. With the peaceful picketers refusing to give in, several officers drew their guns and began firing into the crowd, killing 10 innocent civilians and injuring 30 others whilst they were fleeing. Other police officers drew their clubs and brutally beat several other protesters, permanently disabling nine of them, and severely injuring another 28. That was the Memorial Day Massacre.

Press and media tended to be completely bias, supporting the police side. Any footage of

image089

The New York Times called the demonstrators a “mob.”

the massacre was held from the public in order to prevent “mass hysteria.” Not a single police officer was convicted of a crime and any evidence that could have shown the use of excess force was hidden from the public eye. The story was even morphed by police and media, claiming that the protesters carried weapons and were under the influence of drugs.

As aftermath, protest was completely changed for the future. As mass gatherings and pickets often lead to violence, injury, and sometimes death, it became a lesser focus of organized unions. Instead, unions began focusing a lot more on legal action and communication with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in order to make safer, more concrete change. After just five more persistent years, those who had given their lives that fateful day in front of the Republic Steel company no longer did so in vain. Legal actions with NLRB caught the attention of the Supreme Court, and all remaining steel companies included in Little Steel were forced by national law to unionize, showing that unions can succeed and can do so through the system. It showed that unions had the power to change things for the better, whether it be through protest in a field or plea in the courtroom.

As years went on, that feeling of power was reduced. The decline in labor unions in the past 50 years is in no way a natural one. Companies, as well as the government, have been purposely trying to decrease the popularity of labor unions. Companies have armies of lawyers looking for loopholes in contractual obligations, and government, mostly those of the Republican Party, have been doing what they can through congress to legally decrease the amount of power labor unions withhold. On top of all of this, companies who do not want to deal with the fair pay and treatment of union workers are simply outsourcing their jobs to other countries where unions have no power and displacing American citizens from jobs in the process. All of this is adding to a mental effect on American citizens that unions are no longer powerful enough to change anything. People no longer believe in unions’ abilities to protect them from the unfairness of large companies, some even blaming them solely for the loss of jobs in America. Even though our problems remain the same, the unions protecting us from those problems have grown weaker and less numerous.

Today, people are still facing the exact same problems the steel workers were back in 1937: unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, and unfair pensions; however, unlike back then, companies and government know what to do to get around labor unions. Labor unions game has not changed, but the companies’ has. At the same time, union support as fell so greatly, that even old tactics are not being implemented for change. No one believes they can make a difference, so they often do not try. Places where simple picketing and court actions would work are not even making the attempt. Taking a lesson from the steelworkers of the 1930s may not fix some of the more complex issues in bigger businesses nowadays, but it still has untapped power in some work places. People are just simply too disheartened to use them.

None of this means organized labor is beaten, defeated, dead, or gone; simply outdated.

20150621_171938_resized.jpg

Roman Villarreal’s sculpture, a tribute to Chicago steelworkers, dedicated in 2015 in Steelworkers Park

Union power needs a revamp. They need to come up with new ways to picket, new ways to negotiate, and new ways to combat unfairness. As companies update their ways of avoiding union power, unions need to update their ways of checking companies. All of this is made even harder by the fact that sometimes even our own government is suppressing the unions and the public is losing faith in organized labor. Unions need to update their ways, show people they have the power to equalize employer/employee relations again, and show them that becoming an active union member can make a difference. All of this could be made much easier by having a government that will also support union power and push bills in their favor rather than against. None of this is possible overnight. This is a process that will take years to happen and, as with all things, will not happen at all without people taking action to make happen.

In all, the fact that unions have power at all is a thing to be thankful for, and we owe a great debt the CIO, SWOC, NLRB, and every group, union, and national association that keeps workers from unfair treatment and pay as best they can today. Sure, we may not ever be as successful as our predecessors who worked toward work force equality and fought and even died for us, not only in the Memorial Day Massacre, but in every protest, movement, or event. The Memorial Day Massacre was a tragic incident, and from it came one of the most important strength our generation need to make it in this country, a stronger, more active labor union. Now it is time to rejuvenate it and strengthen it just as they did. How? We will not know until we make the effort to figure it out as a whole, together, as a union.

 

 

On Reading the “Anthology of a Thousand Poets” Ho Chi Minh

ho-chi-minhOn Reading the “Anthology of a Thousand Poets”

Ho Chi Minh

They used to sing of nature’s charms –
hills, streams, mists, flowers, snow, moon, and wind.
Today, a poem must have steel.
A poet must learn to wage war.

Burying Caesar On The Ides of March, 2016

I wrote this poem in March, 2015, at the time of a hotly contested mayoral race in the city of Chicago.  The incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, faced off against Jesus (Chuy) Garcia, who came closer than anyone might have imagined he would.  I wrote this in the hope that he could stop the Caesarian, imperial juggernaut of Emanuel.  Garcia lost,  Emanuel won a second term, and now, in the election season 2016, Emanuel is facing a crisis precipitated by a coverup of police killings and now on the eve of a teachers strike that could dwarf the 2012 strike in significance.  So I think, on this Ides of March, which also happens to be a primary election day, the poem is even more appropriate, when racist vitriol is being used to divide further an already historically divided working class; and when a vote for an incumbent state’s attorney is a vote rewarding outright fascism; and when one candidate has introduced into the election vernacular two phrases which I hope will outlive this campaign: billionaire class and political revolution.  (This poem is part of a collection, Seed of Revolution, published last July.  The chapbook is available for $10).

 

Burying Caesar

by Lew Rosenbaum

 

“I have come to bury Caesar

Not to praise him.”

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Julius Caesar

So spoke Mark Antony

At the great man’s funeral,

And then proceeded to extol

Caesar’s virtues for the remainder of his monologue,

Until he roused the Roman masses

To avenge Caesar’s murder.

Antony ignored the rebellion

Brewing near Galilee.

He could not speak yet of the crucifixion,

Still a half century to come,

Of a poor carpenter, a fisher of men.

 

Now it’s the day after the Ides of March

I HAVE come to bury Caesar.

Really.

 

Caesar, upon his death,

Bequeathed to each Roman citizen

The sum of seventy-five drachmas.

Our Caesar, fearing the anger of

Chicago workers, dangled a carrot,

A minimum wage raise to thirteen dollarsth-4

Per hour in four years.

In FOUR YEARS!

Oh yes. I have come to BURY Caesar.th-3

 

Our gentle Caesar,

In his penetrating recognition

Of our anxieties,

Pledged to improve our mental health services. . .

By closing half the Chicago clinics.

At the disarray in the public schools,

He wept tears of pure gold

That ran rivulets into the pockets of

His honorable charter school cronies.

Then he crossed the Rubicon,

Embarked on a forced march to

Shutter more than fifty schools.

I tell you

I have come to bury our honorable Caesar.

 

Had Brutus and Cassius, both honorable men,

Stabbed their Caesar on the South Side of Chicago,

His murder might have been averted,

Or so some Romans say, lamenting his fate.

I say not so, for Chicago’s Caesar

Stood fast opposing a trauma center

Which might have staunched the flow

From those unkindest cuts of all.

 

I come to bury Caesar,

Not to praise him.

Nor will I lend my ears

To those who sycophate at his feet,

Paint pictures that can never

Obliterate the blood he has let.

 

I come to bury Caesar.

I come to elect Jésus.

It’s Not the Same River — Lew Rosenbaum

It’s Not The Same River   by Lew Rosenbaum

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus, 535-475 BCE

“We are all related” – Lakota prayer

Ninety-six percent of water on earth is saline.

The water swimming in my cells,

The water that bathes my cells,

The water coursing in my bloodstream,

All of it is saline.

We cannot drink salt water.

 

Aquifers make up thirty percent of the four percent that is fresh water.

Lying deep beneath the arid desert,

Beneath the flat Midwestern plains,

Beneath the big-sky buttes of Montana,

Beneath the putrid oil wells of the Texas panhandle.

California almonds drink this water when people cannot.

Nestlé bottles what the people may not drink.

 

The amount of water used to supply the world’s golf courses

Is the same as the amount that could supply all the world’s people.

Japan had 23 golf courses before World War II.

They found their error

And built three thousand courses.

An anti-haiku.

 

Lake Huron is the third largest fresh water lake on earth.300px-Saginawrivermap

Flint, Michigan, lying near the shores of Lake Huron,

Started using Flint River water instead.

(It takes its name from the Ojibwe language, when the river ran pure).

But river water flowed past the industrial factories

That built Flint, and discharged chemical waste

Turning clear water a muddy brown,

Infected with retch-inducing odors,

Cancer-causing chemicals and corrosive salts

That leached lead from the pipes in lethal doses.

When people showered,

Water brought rashes and pain to their bleeding skin.

 

Sixty percent of the human body is water.

We humans need water more than we need food.

Why do capitalist private profiteers get to drain our aquifers?

Flint is a lesson and a call to wake up.

No one can make the babies come back,

But we can have clean, free water for all

By ending the rule of private property

That protects golf courses and

Preys upon the lives of our people.

We are all related.

 

Nelson Peery: Why Is African American History The Heart of American History?

Portrait of David

Illustration from The Future Is Up To Us, Portrait of David, painting  by Diana Berek

This is the beginning of Black History Month, February 1, 2016, and I think it’s appropriate to quote from Nelson Peery’s The Future Is Up To Us:

WHY IS AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY THE HEART OF AMERICAN HISTORY?

To suggest such an analysis is bound to make the majority of eyebrows arch upward. African Americans have always been looked upon and treated as if they were at best on the periphery of our coun- try’s history. Their being marginalized in the social and economic sense reinforces this outlook. Nevertheless any serious inquiry into history will show that the control, manipulation and exploitation of the African American was at the heart of every major and most of the minor decisions of state prior to the Civil War, and a good many of them afterwards.

Let’s start at the beginning. For a number of ideological and political reasons, the American colonies resisted African slavery, pre- ferring to populate the New World with European indentured ser- vants. In the Caribbean, the plantation and slave system was being fine-tuned. There, unheard-of fortunes were accumulated on the basis of the most reckless expenditure of human life known to history. A goodly portion of the colonies’ economic intercourse was servicing the slave system of the Caribbean. The colonies were never discon- nected from African slavery. It was not some inopportune landing of a Spanish ship carrying twenty African captives that inaugurated

African slavery in the colonies. As the capitalist system evolved from the slave trade and the Caribbean plantations, capitalism became firmly planted in the colonies and slavery was its inevitable result. Every colony had slavery, and none of the colonies, north or south, could have accumulated and economically moved forward without the brutal working to death of the slave.

Rudimentary capitalist agriculture—that is agriculture for the market, rather than consumption—never reckoned with ecology or preservation of the land. This is especially true of cotton culture. The solution was the constant westward motion for virgin land. I often laugh at these falsifiers of history who wave the flag and talk about the westward move of liberty. In fact, it was the westward move of slavery. Two examples that come to mind are the removal of the five

“civilized” (i.e., slave-holding) Indian tribes from their native lands to the Oklahoma Territory. The “Trail of Tears” is an indelible moral condemnation of U.S. state policy for the expansion of slavery. The Indians suffered terribly on that journey. Can you imagine the con- dition of their African slaves?

The other instance was the annexation of Texas and later the war against Mexico and the ripping-off of half her national territory. There was no other reason for this expansionism but the promulga- tion of slavery. The westward march of liberty is a joke.

Most people understand that the Civil War was fought over the African Americans’ condition as slaves. Few realize that Wilson probably would not have been elected if Blacks were able to vote. Certainly, Roosevelt would not have won his third term without a solid African American vote. This goes for Truman and a number of presidents who changed the political direction of the country.

Take a look at the body of law developed around the control of labor. Every single one of these oppressive laws had their foun- dation in the control of the African American. If we go beyond the written law it is easily seen that the control of a disjointed working class was achieved through uniting the white worker and capitalist to exclude the African American.

In the realm of culture, if it weren’t for the African Americans we would still be dancing the minuet. At the heart of American cul- ture beats the culture of the African American people. They would not have created this culture if not for the isolation, brutality and segregation that lies at the heart of the African Americans as a people. Eleanor Roosevelt put it quite well when she said that apart from the culture of the Indian, the culture of the African American is the only American culture. Clearly everything else was an ethnic culture brought over from the old world. The other aspect is, it is becom- ing a world culture. Every time I’ve gone abroad, I’ve been shocked by the breadth of the assimilation of this culture into French, British, Egyptian—what have you—popular culture.

So when we say that the African Americans are at the heart of American history, we don’t mean to imply that they were in control of that history. The sad fact is that up until the integration period, con- trolling and manipulating the Black ten percent was the way to con- trol the white majority. This is the only way we can make sense of a history that gives the world the most exalted visions along with the most brutal and callous exploitation and destruction of human life.

The Fabric of Memory

The Fabric of Memory  by Lew Rosenbaum

I’ll make a sweater for you, she said.
Can I design it? I replied. A broad smile spread across her dark features,

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Anna and Greta, mother and daughter, ca 1945

She nodded, told me to block it out on a grid.
Taking a sheet of graph paper, I applied pencil
To the squares, picturing king and queen,
Rook on either side, outlines of the features
In forest green and ruby red on a white background.
Below the figures a row of squares stand on point,
Diamonds with a splash of opposite color in their centers.

She said it was a difficult design; her fingers twirled
Needles and yarn so that each day, on my return home
From school, I’d measure the changes and
Guess how much longer I’d have to wait.
When I ran into the snow, took it for a ride
Down the hill across the street on my sled,
I gloried in the warmth that embraced me with its tight weave.

That was sixty years ago. I just unearthed this fabric
Of my memory out of the drawer from where I heard it calling,
Held it up to remember the snow-whiteness of the yarn
Now aged, much as my hand that holds it, now
More leathery, marked with brown spots.
The figures now set on yellowed woven strands
And I remember the long yellowed whitish hair that dangled
From her head, woven into braids on good days, in her last years.
The cold wind swirls around my head on that slide down the hill
And numbs my gloved fingers and the snow sprays on my tongue
As the runners turn sharply, and all that and more
The sweater in my hands calls up.

As I feel this I look at the sweater warming me now,
A loosely knit garment with a plain dark green back and
An abstract, almost Mondrian style front design and think
Of the nimble fingers that made this for me, a different pair
Of hands, my sister’s hands, born of the woman of the chess sweater.
Some of what warms me this year comes
From the smile I see as I slide into it, the twinkle in her eyes.
We talked as we sat in her dining room
Mining memories, straightening past misunderstandings,
Sharing music, writing, art, history
And all that I absorb from the language of the fabric.

Something like this grips me as,
When I turn in for the night, I warm my feet
With old socks, where my heels erupt from cavernous holes that
Long ago stripped the fibers of the yarn. I have no working
Knitted socks any more; yet I hang onto these because,
Well, they work well enough for my bed time purpose,
But also again I think of who made them for me,
And I alternate using them, so none will feel slighted.

In this new year I am surrounded by, I rejoice in gifts,
The physical gifts that offer their utility, new or old, more or less.
But there is more. They conjure out of separate realities
The community that we are together, past and present.
I worry though. When I am gone, who will remember
The sweaters and what they mean? When the sweaters
Disappear into dust, what happens
To the love from which they were made?

Grasp the New World In Birth by Lew Rosenbaum

Grasp The New World In Birth

Lew Rosenbaum

Just imagine! Seventy years, comrades,

Seventy years!

We need to celebrate anything we can

We Are All One People by Diana Berek

We Are All One People by Diana Berek

At any time.

Mao said that.

Don’t you agree?

When I was young,

I knew when birth happened.

Pain, blood and water.

A nodal line marks a leap

From one quality to another.

Nine months earlier,

The magic code of our species’ history

Caught in capsules of sperm and egg,

Re-combines.

Isn’t that a “Birth” day?

Later, through pain, blood and water,

A screaming, spitting mammal flays the air with all four limbs

Breathes air for the first time,

Struggles toward independence. Human?

Open that bottle, fill those glasses, drink up.

Tell me, what does human mean?

Watch the child grow,

Burst through boundaries,

Incorporate the parameters of its surroundings,

Every furry touch, strawberry taste, furtive look

Inscribes an indelible neural circuit

Recreates a virtual external world.

When do we jump from recording,

Begin to see the pictures related,

Begin to ask big questions,

Begin the quest that sex provokes

Strive to transfer our version of the code?

Rites of passage celebrate

Another, a double edged kind of birth,

The birth of a consciousness

Of a possibility to continue species.

Why don’t we start our count of when we are human

From the date of our own passage from tadpole to frog?

Browning had his bishop order a tomb.

His bishop ruminated on his inglorious past,

His clerical competition, pride of place after death.

For him all was debauchery, all was over.

But wait. We’re not done yet.

At 13 I’m not done learning. Formal schoolingsc00039808

Opened vistas to scholarly disciplines.

At 23 I crossed the Tehachapi Mountains,

Learned from farm workers about grapes

And exploitation and health for the poor.

At 27 a Cuban peasant taught me about cooperation.

At 30 a Black bricklayer

And a Chinese-Norwegian artist

Introduced me to Marx.

At 50 I married a Bolshevik painter.

Those are births too.

Another bottle? Fill those glasses,

Tell me now what you think.

Why do we focus on emergence from the womb

And ignore the stages on the journey,

The conscious quest to understand

And transform society?

With you and me,

Our child-ness is the caterpillar of our social being.

Together, humanity thrashes to break out

From its own cocoon

Cast off its own chrysalis of unconsciousness

Emerge at the end of capitalism fully human.

Marx said that.

Drink deep, with me, that dry, heady amontillado and dream of Poe.

Edgar Allen Poe, author of

Edgar Allen Poe, author of “A Cask of Amontillado.”

I would embed our own Fortunatos in a wall of their own making,

Thus end the rule of that perverted class that destroys our world.

I am seventy years old today.

I am not done yet.

We are only as old as the child’s imaginative

Grasp of the new world in birth.

(after a poem by Robert Browning,

“The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church”

http://www.bartleby.com/42/669.html )

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