Hunter Gray / Hunter Bear - Organizer

[Mi'kmaq/St. Francis Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk]

AT OUR FAR UP HOME IN EASTERN IDAHO

                                                            CONTEMPORARY PHOTO BY THOMAS GRAY SALTER

 

LABOR, EDUCATION AND CIVIL RIGHTS [A COLLOQUY]  HUNTER GRAY/HUNTER BEAR  MARCH 25 2008 - COMMENTS, ADDITIONS

 

HUNTER BEAR:

I suppose two of the silver linings that have come out of the Rev. Wright situation are, [1] It should now be clear to just about everyone that Obama is a Christian; and, [2] It enabled Obama to give a great speech -- and spark constructive discussion well beyond even this country. [I hear this from people who live abroad.]

My own feeling is that most younger people -- say, under 40 at least -- are considerably different and far more open than some -- some -- of their elders when it comes to racial matters and social theology -- even if the latter is sometimes tagged "liberation theology". And even many "older" people aren't that hung up on those issues. I had to personally grin the other day when "somewhat older" Chris Matthews [MSNBC] "pled guilty" [as he put it] to being a "cafeteria Catholic."

Maybe I'm being overly sanguine, but I somehow think these Fox-mediamade- type-issues will fade for most Democratic voters, most Independents, and even for some hardshell Republicans. Those people who continue to fret and stew about these kinds of things would probably go to McCain anyway. In a toss-up, some Demos et al. may go initially to Hillary -- but it's clear her chances of getting the nomination are dimming daily.

The real issues and the need for resolution are becoming more urgent, day by day. McCain strikes me as genuinely old and with little creativity. I don't fault his inherent decency and personal courage but I really believe his lack of a realistic agenda on many fronts will soon become increasingly apparent.

One thing that troubles me much is the apparent inability -- Hell, failure -- of much of organized labor to run solid education programs for members and their families regarding racism and related matters.

Hunter [Hunter Gray] UAW, and a union member [various unions] since I was literally a kid.

 

SAM FRIEDMAN:

When you say,
One thing that troubles me much is the apparent inability -- Hell, failure -- of much of organized labor to run solid education programs for members and their families re racism and related matters.

I heartily agree with you--and would add their apparent inability to defend their members very well (and of course the two are related!
sam

 

STEVEN MCNICHOLS:

Actually, the AFL-CIO did run such programs under Civil Rights Department head Don Slaiman in the '60s and someone else (whose name I've forgotten) in the '70s. Slaiman held training seminars and conferences all over the country for union members and leaders as he never tired of telling everyone he met. It took a long time to turn that big AFL-CIO ship around, but when they finally did, the AFL-CIO galloped as hard as it could in the right direction at least for a while when I interacted with them.
 
Steven F. McNichols
268 Bush Street, #3602
San Francisco, CA 94104-3503
lawcenter@
 
 

HUNTER BEAR:

Dear Steven:
 
Thanks for the comment about the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department [and its Education Department] and Don Slaiman.  His colleague was George Guernsey.  Very, very inadvertently I am quite sure, you've given an old nerve in me a very modest scratch.  [This happens now and then in the course of discussions and I do have a thick skin. ]
 
And, directly or indirectly, ask a sometime professor a question and he will most likely still be answering it 45 minutes later.
 
But, to come to the point:  I think the AFL-CIO Civil Rights people [Guernsey and Slaiman] did, all in all, a pretty good job [as you have rightly suggested.] -- especially when the Southern Movement was riding high.  I should also add that the Industrial Union Department's Education dimension, under Russ Allen [a personal friend], did a fine job as well.  But as time passed, the priorities of many AFL-CIO internationals shifted:  more money to political action, less and less for direct outreach organizing, ever less for civil rights education and advocacy.  [Russ Allen and the IUD education dimension kept going much longer in that vein.]  There were and are all sorts of reasons for this:  the fading of the "old revival spirit," ever-narrowing "pragmatism," increasing reliance on Democratic Party friends.  [I, and a vast number of others, have written extensively about all of this.]  The good legacy of Russ Allen, Don Slaiman, George Guernsey and many others in "mainline" unionism still continues to a large extent but, in that context as in others, there's more to civil rights and social vision than the ritualistic observance of Martin Luther King Day.
 
The ouster of almost a dozen Left unions from CIO in 1949-50, all quite democratic, fiscally honest, visionary -- and very much racially egalitarian -- on charges of "Communist domination" -- was both poisonously symptomatic and poisonously causal with respect to the [declining] health and vigor of American and Canadian Labor.  Most of those unions were destroyed/absorbed via AFL-CIO and CLC raiding.
 
My strong "personal" beef with Guernsey and Slaiman was, frankly, that they were both unmitigated red-baiters who worried much about "Communism."  [Russ Allen quite deftly avoided that swampy turf; his wife, Donna, was a national leader against HUAC.]  Some critics attributed their concerns about "reds" -- long an AFL tradition -- to the sinister influence of the spiderish Jay Lovestone whose checkered career stretched across the political spectrum and to some extent the planet, eventually winding up on the right [even as he kept a base in the AFL wing of the Federation for a very long time.]
 
The late Southern writer and  labor activist, Al Maund, was a solid fighter whom I met when he was a key staffer for the International Chemical Workers Union, out of Akron -- but we had corresponded on occasion well before that.  Al was, for some years [during the worst of the Red Scare] the very capable editor of the Southern Patriot, the monthly newsjournal of the Southern Conference Educational Fund.  Most readers here are aware that I was the SCEF Field Organizer for a good spell in the mid-'60s, following our Jackson Movement.  [During my time with SCEF, Anne Braden edited the Patriot quite capably.]  Al Maund continued his association with SCEF, edited Labor's Daily out of Iowa, did some fine novel writing [e.g., The Big Boxcar and The International], worked in public relations for the Chemical Workers, and more. Al was an independent radical.  In the '50s, he determined that AFL-CIO, via Guernsey and Slaiman, maintained a wide-ranging "subversive list" of what they felt were "Communist" organizations and people. [Russ Allen, in the associated Industrial Union Department, never bought that.]  Apparently Slaiman and Guernsey disseminated this data selectively but widely -- which, along with much else -- targeted the quite independently Left Southern Conference Educational Fund.
 
Growing up in the Southwest, I noted very early on that every single worthwhile struggle for human rights was frequently called "red."  I've never -- ever -- worried about that.  But I've always been an independent soul, my idea of the good society includes a full measure of libertarian, material, and [if a person is so inclined] spiritual well-being.  I like the First Amendment and I believe unions should always be free to strike -- whether the targets lie in the private sector or the public. And I am my own kind of socialist.  Long before I went South, I was "red-baited" and it continued long, long thereafter in all sorts of struggle settings [and there are still wisps here and there right here in Idaho.]  I kept going, always have, and eventually even some critics came around. [The Old Wobblies often used the slogan, "We'd rather be called Red than Yellow" [no racial connotations, I add, for the info of the pc purists!]
 
 I should again reiterate that, as an American Indian and a Real Westerner, I never ask people any personal questions -- and I judge people by what they actually do, especially for social justice.  Got my Vision and Mandate from what remained of the old-time IWW and I'm indebted to the sterling examples of several  fine Mine-Mill organizers [some of whom had been Communists, some of whom hadn't] who taught me much about systematic, democratic, and egalitarian grassroots organizing.  I owe all of those people a great debt -- and many others who followed..
 
And I don't like "red-baiting." 
 
I should add that when AFT Local 189 [labor educators] left Al Shanker and the AFT, George Guernsey stayed with AFT. [Don Slaiman had passed away earlier, as I recall.]  I was with 189 for a good while.  When it merged with a more academic group into what became United Association for Labor Education, I was with that as a member for several years.  And I think George Guernsey was too, at that point. He, also, passed away several years go,
 
My faith in unions -- as here-and-now forces and as critical bulwarks for a free society -- remains very consistent. 
 
Well, thanks, Steven.  You've given me a fine opportunity to soap-box and let people know that I am still not yet in the Happy Hunting Grounds.
 
Our very best, amigo --
 
Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear] -- UAW

[And see http://www.hunterbear.org/salt2.htm

http://books.google.com/books?id=dAI7yeY67NYC&pg=PA90&lpg=PA90&dq=%22john+r+salter+jr%22&source=web&ots=Y-ziGqtBI5&sig=WaiBWkCDws-EbI5xEqXDcbI2N_M  ]

 

COMMENT:

DAVID MCREYNOLDS

I didn't know George Guernsey, so can't comment. Don Slaiman was a close associate of the
late Max Shachtman and notorious for sharing his Trotskyist hostility to anything that wasn't
"anti-Communist" enough.

David

MEMORIES:  AFL-CIO CONCERNS / OUR SUCCESSES  [HUNTER BEAR  MARCH 25 2008]

Thanks, David, for your Shachtman/Slaiman note.  Guernsey, I should add, was George -- not Ed. I realized my error very soon after I hurriedly wrote my missive and sent it off.] All of this, btw, is now a bit feathered out and finessed and a new web page at
http://hunterbear.org/labor1.htm

Although this "red tagging" could be occasionally galling, I've always just kept going ahead. In Mississippi, the late Claude Ramsey, the very long time President of Mississippi AFL-CIO, was a good friend and remained so for many years indeed until his passing. I always found most of the labor people everywhere just fine generally.

The North Carolina AFL-CIO was friendly, but there was an interesting effort to derail that. We had a large and historic multi-county civil rights and union labor conference scheduled for early March 1965 [in rural Bertie County, a setting described by a North Carolina state official as being somewhere in the 1700s.] Sprinkled throughout our hard fought SCEF-sponsored project setting -- the Northeastern Blackbelt -- were a number of potential union targets, the biggest by far being the JP Stevens Textile outfit at Roanoke Rapids in Halifax County. Among other things, we wanted to sow union seeds and, to that end, I contacted Mr Barbee, President of the state AFL-CIO, asking if we could get substantial quantities of union materials. He was delighted, readily agreed.

When I arrived at his office at Raleigh, Brother Barbee had several large boxes of union publications ready. He greeted me cordially -- but then -- then -- I saw a Cloud standing in the corner. He was a man around 50, dressed in a kind of not-spiffy suit, and he had the weathered face and mien of an older union official. He stepped forward, giving his name. President Barbee half-watched, still finding a few additional things for me.

"So you're with the SCEF," the Cloud said in a not exactly friendly tone.

"I am," said I -- and waited.

"Dombrowski still heading your outfit?" he asked.

"Sure is," said I. [Jim Dombrowski, New Orleans, was SCEF Executive Director. About a year before, when I was the featured speaker on the Southern struggle at a large multi-local [and not surprisingly most successful] gathering sponsored by the Arizona Mine-Mill Council, I'd been greeted warmly at the door by International Rep. Charles Wilson, a white Southerner [who had been at one point an International Vice-President of IUMMSW.] One of the first things he asked me was, "How's Jim?" They were old friends.

But this was not that.

"Jim's a very good friend of mine," said I. "And he always backs me up."

The Cloud's eyes narrowed. "He used to be with the CIO," he said, And then, in terse fashion, continued. "But he left us. Left us for the Wallace thing."

Confused for a split second, I could only connect "Wallace" with George Wallace -- who had much arch-seg support among our antagonists in the Blackbelt. But then I understood.

"Jim's a damn good friend of mine," I repeated. "And in 1948, I was 14 and starting my sophomore year at Flagstaff High, back in Arizona." [For younger readers, the reference point was the Henry Wallace Progressive Party campaign which ran counter to the CIO's "center/right" endorsement of Harry Truman.]

There was a lengthy pause. Suddenly the guy looked very tired. "That was a long time ago, I guess" said he. "For both of us." He smiled, shook hands, and finished with "Good luck". Brother Barbee looked at me, grinning, shrugged almost imperceptibly. With his help, I carried the boxes out to my vehicle.

Our Blackbelt Conference was a signal success: 1,043 people, mostly Black, some Indians, and a few whites -- from fourteen counties. Great array of speakers, with Ella Baker giving the keynote. Nigel Hampton of the Chemical Workers, with whom I still remain in contact, represented Labor; Clyde Appleton [currently on our BWB and Sycamore lists], sang and led protest songs. I did an organizing workshop, J.V. Henry met with the youth, and there were many other speakers. Started at mid-morn and went far into the night. Every piece of literature went out.

And we kept going.

It came a few years later, but via the changes wrought by our Movement, the J.P. Stevens Textile Mill at Roanoke Rapids was organized -- Blacks, Indians, whites -- and the great labor film, Norma Rae, immortalizing that success, was seen across the land.

Got to Keep Fighting -- Always and Forever.

Fraternally,

Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]

__________________________________________________________________

 

STEVEN MCNICHOLS:
 
The Don Slaiman I knew casually seemed like a pretty typical, gung-ho, mid-level AFL-CIO official. A nice guy with high blood pressure. Not much of a threat to anybody. Maybe he was a militant Trotskyist when younger.
 
___________________________________________________________
 
DAVID MCREYNOLDS:
 
Steven,
 
I knew Don (or Donnie, as he was referred to) only briefly. He was certainly not a militant Trotskyist by the time I knew
him - Shachtman had begun his long sad shift that ended with his support of the Bay of Pigs and support for the Vietnam
War, and, surprising for a man who had been opposed to Zionism in his more militant days, and Don Slaiman followed,
was a member of Shachtman's group, Social Democrats USA (which may still have a web site - they do, I just checked
it, and among other things they support the war in Iraq).
 
And yes, he was a cheerful guy and I would have guessed he had high blood pressure.
 
David
 
________________________________________________________________
 
STEVEN MCNICHOLS:
 
Very interesting. Although Slaiman and I were on good terms, we were obviously on opposite sides of the post-Atlantic City chasm--i.e., Lowenstein et al. against SNCC and MFDP.
 
Steven F. McNichols
268 Bush Street, #3602
San Francisco, CA 94104-3503
lawcenter@
________________________________________________________________
 
STEVEN MCNICHOLS:
 
Hunter: Your analysis corresponds with everything I know about the labor movement. (Not as much as you despite my master's in labor economics with Ray Marshall at the University of Texas.) Red-baiting is always disgusting and deplorable. Thanks for your insight. Steve
 
Steven F. McNichols
268 Bush Street, #3602
San Francisco, CA 94104-3503
lawcenter@


 

 
HUNTER GRAY  [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]   Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'
 
Check out our Hunterbear website Directory http://hunterbear.org/directory.htm
[The site is dedicated to our one-half Bobcat, Cloudy Gray:
http://hunterbear.org/cloudy_gray.htm
 
SEE MY COMBINED COMMUNITY ORGANIZING PIECES -- WITH MUCH NEW STUFF  HUNTER GRAY/JOHN R SALTER, JR [HUNTER BEAR]  SEPTEMBER 5 2004 -- AND WITH NEW INCLUSION:  THE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AS PRACTITIONER, TEACHER, WRITER AND STUDENT [HUNTER GRAY -- FEBRUARY 19 2008]  ALL OF THIS MUCH REPRINTED - PLUS MANY  NEW COMMENTS
http://hunterbear.org/my_combined_community_organizing.htm
 
Wobbly Mentor:  http://hunterbear.org/wobbly_mentor.htm
See Forces and Faces Along the Activist Trail: 
http://hunterbear.org/forces_and_faces_along_the_trail.htm

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