2006-2007 Workshop Minutes

MINUTES OF THE 2006 -- 2007 PROGRAMS

 

Minutes:  Bay Area Labor History Workshop
September 17, 2006

A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader
Presenter:  Cynthia Taylor, at the Home of Celeste MacLeod

 Attendance: Jean Pauline, Sheila Lichtman, Celeste McLeod, Oscar Berland, Cynthia Taylor, Michael Taylor, Zeese Papanikolas, John Elrick, Ken Gleason, Bill Issel (recorder)

 Presentation:  Bill Issel introduced Cynthia Taylor, currently a lecturer at San Francisco State University.  She is the author of A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader (New York University Press, 2006).

 Cynthia began by explaining that her interest in civil rights history derived from teaching students and realizing the relative lack of attention to the role of religion in the development of the labor movements.  This is a point that she heard developed recently by Joseph McCartin, in a keynote speech at the AFL-CIO auditorium during the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Washington, D.C. 

 When she began work on her dissertation, she came across primary sources that suggested that the conventional wisdom about A. Philip Randolph’s atheism and anti-clericalism needed revision.  Her book, which derives from the dissertation, is a frankly “revisionist” study that argues for the importance of three religious “impulses” that informed Randolph’s work as a civil rights activists.  The first was African American Methodism, the second was Christian Humanism more generally, and the third was a “Personalist orientation” that also informed a good deal of white civil rights work from the 1940s through the 1960s. 

 Randolph’s activism developed from a foundation of critique that paralleled “the great Black religious scholarship of his times.”  Taylor’s careful reading of The Messenger turned up considerable evidence that Randolph’s point of view was never strictly an agnostic or atheist one; he advocated a progressive Christian social agenda and in common with many Black churchmen fought against, rather than accommodated to Jim Crow.  Even though Randolph did not formally join the African Methodist Episcopal Bethel Harlem Church until 1957, his work prior to that time was infused with religious content, according to Taylor.

 Discussion/Questions: Oscar Berland, Zeese Papinikolos, Ken Gleason, John Elrick all raised questions centered on the problem faced by all historians when attempting to explain the motivating forces of individuals in labor and civil rights work.  Even when individuals themselves (in this case Randolph) use the language of religion, how do we know whether they do so for pragmatic reasons (to motivate followers who are believers) as distinct from a genuine personal belief?  Celeste MacLeod suggested that motive aside, Randolph’s accomplishments were considerable and Taylor deserves credit for providing considerable evidence on behalf of the influence of religion, evidence that that previous historians have ignored.

Minutes: Bay Area Labor History Workshop
October 15, 2006

Jewish Communism and Garment Unionism in the 1920s
Presenter: John Holmes, at the Home of Bill Issel

Attendance: Sheila Lichtman, Celeste McLeod, Oscar Berland, Zeese Papanikolas, John Elrick, Ken Gleason, Don Watson, Steve Leikin, Bill Issel (recorder)

Presentation: Bill Issel introduced John Holmes, currently completing his dissertation in the History Department at UC, Berkeley. John’s presentation is based on an article to be published in the December 2007 issue of American Communist History.

John explained that Eastern European Jews and their descendants were the largest ethnic group within the American Communist Party (CPUSA) for most of its history. They were the European immigrant labor group best integrated into American society and the American labor movement, and simultaneously the group with the strongest ties to Soviet Russia. This powerful combination enabled Jewish garment unionism to become the bastion of communist influence in the labor movement in the "lean years" of the 1920s. Historians of American Communism have devoted remarkably little attention to the Jewish role in the CPUSA. The English-language historiography of Jewish American Communism as such verges on the nonexistent.

John’s talk was based on an article that focuses on the CP-backed left movement in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU)—the most important Jewish garment union. The Jewish garment unions, unlike the rest of the American labor movement, managed to stand up successfully to the anti-labor backlash of the early 1920s, creating a favorable atmosphere for rank and file garment insurgency. But this insurgency was isolated in a bureaucratized and demoralized general American labor movement. This isolation was the root cause of the bureaucratic degeneration of American communism in the late 1920s.

John explained that his analysis utilizes Arthur Liebman’s conception of American Jewish radicalism as a subculture—indeed a counterculture—originating from the Jewish labor movement but subsisting after its demise, and serving as a missing link between the pre-1917 socialist Jewish labor movement and later middle-class Jewish radicalism during the Great Depression and the 1960s. In an extensive and deeply researched talk, John explained in detail the history he uncovered in his research -- prodigious research indeed -- that will ensure that his work will contribute to returning the study of Jewish radicalism in general and communism in particular to its roots: to labor history, both American and international.

John ended his talk with several questions that his research suggests deserve attention. Steven Fraser described the "Protocol of Peace" in the New York cloak trade in the Progressive Era as the "dress rehearsal for the New Deal." If so, should the CP-SP civil war in the garment industry in the 1920s be considered the dress rehearsal for the post-WWII "red purge" in the AFL-CIO? Was the New Deal alliance between the Roosevelt administration and the CIO, which shaped American trade unionism as it currently exists, molded on the template of the "special relationship" between New York Governors Al Smith and FDR and Jewish socialist garment union officials like Dubinsky and Hillman? These questions deserve further study. But the story of the Jewish garment insurgency allows a preliminary conclusion about what happened to the CPUSA in the 1920s.

John’s research suggests that American Communism underwent a process of bureaucratic degeneration in parallel with that of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Certainly Soviet influence on the CPUSA helped accelerate this process. But the fundamental causes were internal. The communist-backed Jewish garment insurgency was isolated in a demoralized American labor movement, ossifying and shriveling in the conservative atmosphere of the Coolidge years. The Soviet Union in the 1920s went through a somewhat parallel process, on a much larger scale. The "reds" defeated the "whites" in the Russian Civil War, and the Communist Party consolidated its power in the early 1920s. But the isolation of the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution failed to spread to Europe as originally expected was the root cause of its Stalinist degeneration. Similarly, the isolation of the American Communist Party in the 1920s was the basic cause of its Stalinist degeneration.

Minutes:  Bay Area Labor History Workshop
November 19, 2006

Msgr. Joseph Munier’s Career as a Catholic Labor Activist
Presenter: Bill Issel, at the Home of Bob Cherny

 Attendance: Bob Cherny, host; Bill Issel, Carol Cuenod; Jack Coll; John Elrich; Ken Gleason (recorder)

 Presentation:  Following introductions, Bill Issel gave his talk, which was reformulated to include two persons, John F. Shelley and Bishop Hugh A. Donohue, who along with Munier were central figures in what Issel calls “the San Francisco Catholic Action Cadre.”  Issel asserted that while the term “cadre” is usually associated with the Communist Party (CP), it also an accurate description of those militant Catholics who opposed the CP because they did so in a deliberate and self-conscious fashion and were trained professionals prepared to take charge of the Church’s labor work and go on to train labor leaders and rank and file in the principles of Catholic social justice and labor organizing principles.  Issel first described the work of Joseph D. Munier, a 1909 San Francisco native who graduated UC Berkeley Phi Beta Kappa, was ordained a priest in 1937, and received his Catholic University doctorate in 1943.  He wrote a dissertation analyzing whether any of the pope’s recommendations for a cooperative commonwealth had been instituted to any practical degree within American economic life (and discovered that the answer was generally “no”).  Munier served eighteen years as a professor at St. Patrick’s Seminary, and he worked as a State Department consultant in West Germany, where he worked under Bishop Muensch to export Catholic Action from California to Bavaria and Bad-Wurttemberg.  This episode, one of many instances of Catholic activism during the military occupation of Germany by the U.S. Army, has never been described by historians.  Issel also described the work of Father Hugh A. Donohoe, editor of The Monitor, the official archdiocesan weekly for five years through 1947 (and later Bishop of Fresno), and John F. (“Jack”) Shelley.   Shelley was his IBT local president by 1936, AFL San Francisco Labor Council president by 1937, San Francisco’s only state senator by 1938, which he remained until 1946, U.S. congressman from the city from 1949 to 1964, and San Francisco mayor from 1964 to 1968.   

 Discussion/Questions:

   Jack described another Catholic activist, Fr. Raymond Feeley at USF.  Carol raises point about Church getting rid of Communists in AFL  Bob points out that Harry Bridges was raised a middle-class Catholic altar boy; says Prof. Anthony Bouscaren at USF was anti-Communist but not ideologist ala his employee Feeley.  Jack points out that Shelley while relatively conservative labor leader never Red-baited.  Issel says Shelley even defended someone who was Red-baited, and relates story by Sam Kagel that Shelley would not Red-bait even during Bridges trials, and was told by Jack Henning that he regarded Bridges as a personal friend.  John asks in tracing outcomes was Shelley’s Catholic stance apparent when he was an IBT rank-and-file member.  Issel says it was because it was based on Leo XIII’s encyclical designed to compete with Socialists’ critique and to support workers’ right to organize; says Leo’s encyclical’s support of need for institutional apparatus with the common good apparently seems at this point in the research to have developed further in San Francisco than anywhere else in US.  Bob congratulates Issel on his work, saying other labor historians are not now so interested in this subject, but may be in the future.  Jack references Clay O’Dell’s dissertation on 1960s Catholic social justice, including work of Edwin Keating, founder of Ramparts magazine.  Ken asks about American Catholic clerical leaders’ stands on whether New Deal and NLRA were too statist.  Issel answers that many Catholics thought that to be the case.  Donohoe, Munier, Shelley, and also Joseph Alioto were always on the left in interpreting social-justice encyclicals.  

         

Minutes, Bay Area Labor History Workshop
January 14, 2007 

Three Generations of American Communist Women: Charlotte Anita Whitney, Dorothy Ray Healey, and Kendra Alexander, 1919-1992

Presenter: Beth Slutsky, at the home of Susan Goldstein. 

 Attending: Oscar Berland, Lynn Bonfield, Carol Cuenod (recorder), Kim Davis, Richard Fallenbaum, Ken Gleason, Susan Goldstein, Bill Issel, Tom Ledd, Jess Rigelhaupt, Marda Woodbury.

Presentation: 

Beth Slutsky is researching Whtiney, Healy, and Alexander for her dissertation at UC Davis.  Whitney, Healy and Alexander represent three generations of American Communist women from quite diverse backgrounds–a white upper class family, a Jewish daughter of Jewish immigrants, and a black radical from Los Angeles.  Whitney was active during the 1920s and beyond, Healy began her work during the union organizing of the CIO in the ‘30s, and Alexander was active in civil rights work during the 1960s and 1970s.   The presentation focused on Kendra Alexander.

Kendra was born in 1946; her mother was white, her father black.  She became a civil rights activist in the 1960s and a Communist Party leader in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  In 1965, she went to Jonesboro, Louisiana to participate in the struggle for integration.  There she joined CORE and the DuBois Club, participated in Vietnam War protests and learned of the Communist Party role in the South.  In 1966 she joined the Party where she was attracted by the Party’s analysis that racial discrimination could only be resolved by attacking class inequalities.  Back in Los Angeles, Kendra married Franklin Alexander who was head of the DuBois Club.  There, during the time of the Watts riots, the Party had separate Black cells.  She became a member of the Che-Lamumba Club.  By 1969, Black Power was the dominant theme of protest, and Angela Davis emerged and developed strong ties to Kendra and Franklin Alexander.  Davis had been the victim of murder charges, but she was cleared in 1972 with the support of the Communist Party and Kendra Alexander.  The National Communist Party brought Kendra into its ranks and she moved to New York.  During this time, there was conflict between feminist leaders and the Party.  Gus Hall, admitted the Party neglected women but maintained that it was problems of class, not gender which sustained women’s inferior position.  By the 1970s, gender organizations such as CLUW were approved by the Party and the People’s World gave more attention to the problems of working mothers.  In 1992, Kendra left the Communist Party. It was a period of crisis for Communism as the USSR was dissolved and Eastern Europe was rejecting its Communist leaders and socialism.  Kendra was back in Watts, and she tragically died in a fire there in 1993. 

Discussion:

The impact of the 1992 crisis was compared to that which occurred in 1956 when Khrushchev denounced Stalin at the CP-USSR 20th Congress.  The party continued, but was gutted of its leadership in California.  It was puzzling that Black leaders–Davis and Kendra Alexander became members.  With Davis, the white National Party never recognized her as a member.

 

Minutes, Bay Area Labor History Workshop
March 18,  2007   

Multiethnic Australia and Labor History

Presenter: Celeste MacLeod, at the home of Don Watson and Jane Colman . 

Attending: Carol Cuenod (recorder), Ken Gleason, Bill Issel, Jeff Quam-Wickham, Jane Colman, Don Watson, Oscar Berland, Celeste MacLeod


Presentation:  Celeste MacLeod described the variety of dynamics that have contributed to making Australia a multiethnic society.  From the late eighteenth century, when Britain established a penal colony and dispatched convicts to Botany Bay and Sydney, and after the 1851 Gold Rush began, population expanded, tripling in the decades after the Gold Rush.  A labor shortage contributed to the "flourishing" of unions in the 1850s, including women garment workers, coal miners, sheep raisers, but especially among maritime workers.  MacLeod described a series of strikes, and asserted that they were generally unsuccessful; a court of arbitration and conciliation was established in 1905.  The first labor party was established in 1891, and unions received strong support from Irish Catholics, according to MacLeod, even before Pope Leo XIII issued his famous encyclical on labor and capital in 1891.  Immigration from beyond the British Isles dates to the 1920s, with the beginning of southern and eastern European immigration, with Italians eventually becoming the third largest population after the British.  In the immediate post-World War II years, assisted immigration was supported in order to build a larger national population, with the 1960s and 1970s featuring support for pluralism and diversity.  The return of a Labor Party government after 1972 meant increased support for more liberal immigration laws, and a variety of contests over assimilation have taken place since the 1970s.  

Discussion:  Discussion focused primarily on the question of how the eventual diversification of the Australian population relates to the history of labor in Australia.  MacLeod provided an interesting summary of recent developments, including a 2005 new labor law, which amounted to a rewriting of the national policy towards labor and unions.  She provided an informative review of the relationship between the history of unions and labor politics and recent developments including those involving  Kevin Rudd,  leader of the current opposition, the Labor Party, the role of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and the role of John Howard as Prime Minister in labor relations issues.  

Minutes, Bay Area Labor History Workshop
April 22,  2007   

"Con Le Nostra Mani" (With Our Hands)
Creating an Historical Photo Exhibit of Italians at Work in the East Bay, 1880-1960

Presenter: Kathleen L. Rogers, at the home of Ruth Fallenbaum & Zeese Papanikolas 

Attending: Carol Cuenod, Ken Gleason, Bill Issel, Don Watson, Jean Pauline, Maria Brooks, Ilse Goldman, Joe Blum, Richard Fallenbaum, Marda Woodbury, Louis Prisco, Ruth Fallenbaum, Zeese Papanikolas

Presentation:  Kathleen Rogers is the current president of the Association of Piemontese nel Mundo of Northern California, and she is a member of the Italian American Heritage Committee that produced the exhibit, which has now been mounted in several dozen venues in the Bay Area.  After describing her background as the child of immigrant parents and pointing out that the idea for the exhibit came from a local grassroots process, Rogers provided a three part talk focusing on creating the exhibit, the details of Italian immigration to the East Bay, and the photos that make up the exhibit.  With some funding from the National American Italian Foundation and the East Bay Italian American Federation, the nine person committee donated their labor and searched for photographs in private collections and then interviewed numerous contributors.  The goal of the project has been to document the role played by Italian Americans in literally building the East Bay communities, women as well as men, with photographs illustrating their working lives as well as their family and community settings.  Rogers described how Oakland became the number one Italian immigrant destination in California in the two decades after 1910, with initial settlement in West Oakland, followed by expansion into the Temescal neighborhood around 51st and Telegraph, and then later suburbanization beyond the city of Oakland to other locations in Alameda and Contra Costa County.  Rogers displayed several sections of the exhibit, with photographs providing a rich documentation of various work places, including  the Bilger Quarry where today's Rockridge Shopping Center is located and garment factories staffed by women sewing machine operators.  

Discussion:  A lively discussion followed the presentation, with questions raised and answered concerning union activity among Italian American women; the importance of such "from the bottom up" work at the grassroots, local, level; the importance of combining, as this exhibit does, visual documentation of history and oral history interviews that provide a sense of the personal dimension.  

 

Minutes, Bay Area Labor History Workshop
May 20,  2007   

Youth Speaks:  San Francisco City College Students' Labor History Projects

Presenters:  Bill Shields, Chelsea Dare, Jon Dakin, Ulises Parada at the Labor Archives and Research Center 

Attending: Carol Cuenod, Ken Gleason, Bill Issel, Don Watson, Jean Pauline, John Elrick, Doris Linder, Tom Brown, Rosa Shields, Marjorie Stern, Lynn Bonfield, Chelsea Dare, Ulises Parada, Jon Dakin, Catherine Powell, Bill Shields, David H. Williams, Susan Sherwood, Don Watson, Darren Gleason

Presentation:  Bill Shields, the Director of the Labor and Community Studies program at City College, introduced the day's program by describing the three primary constituencies of the program:  union members and specific unions (local 87 janitors and the county labor council for instance); students in the college vocational programs, such as hotel and restaurant workers, who have an interest in worker rights on the job and health and safety issues; transfer students looking for electives and students involved in "young activist training programs."  Today's program features three students from the "Who Built America" class, a course that fulfills the college's United States History requirement.  One of the assignments of the class involves reviewing labor-themed movies on VHS or DVD format; the program has collected a large number of such movies, and students screen the films and then produce poster exhibits of the sort that are used in academic conference settings that place the films in their historical and political contexts and assess their continuing relevance to labor and community studies.
    The three students introduced themselves; their backgrounds illustrate the diversity of the City College population.  John Dakin came to San Francisco from Schenectady, New York and spent 12 years in fundraising and management positions with Forest Forever; Ulises Parada is a custodian supervisor seeking expertise at City College that he can utilize in his job as he takes on more supervisory responsibilities; Chelsea Dare is a public health major with 20 years experience in the health care field who is taking labor-oriented classes in order to better understand the role of unions in her profession.
    Two films were reviewed extensively:  Chelsea reviewed the 2002 documentary "Labor Women" http://www.asianamericanfilm.com/filmdatabase/000508.html and John and Ulises presented a review of the 1979 feature film "Norma Rae."  http://movies.yahoo.com/shop?d=hv&cf=info&id=1800101705.  

Discussion:  A variety of questions from Jean Pauline, Catherine Powell, Lynn Bonfield, Ken Gleason, and Bill Issel followed the presentation, which ended at 3:10, and the meeting adjourned at 3:30. 

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