Great Union Organizing Songs for Labor Day


Billy Bragg singing with 'Cotia Pit folk group at Durham Miners Gala, a 120-year-old festival in which mining communities from all over County Durham (the largest coalfield in Britain; there have been 218 pits in Durham County over the years) march with banners and bands to the centre of the town 2004.

Billy Bragg singing with ‘Cotia Pit folk group at Durham Miners Gala, a 120-year-old festival in which mining communities from all over County Durham (the largest coalfield in Britain; there have been 218 pits in Durham County over the years) march with banners and bands to the centre of the town 2004.

New Orleans     There used to be a bumper sticker saying “Unions:  The People Who Brought You Vacation.”  Unions definitely brought us all Labor Day.  There were years of giant parades, now largely in the United States something for San Francisco, Chicago, and maybe New York City, while the rest of the world celebrates May Day for workers’ solidarity.   In New Orleans when I was Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO we brought back the Labor Day picnic which has now endured more than 15 consecutive years.  Not the same, but at least it’s something.

            But for too many it’s just a welcome day off, a turn of the calendar marking the rush of school buses hitting the streets and leaves getting ready to fall.   For us it’s a chance to remember the importance of unions, and even more, union organizing, so let’s hear it in the words of the great Woody Guthrie, the classic Ballad of Joe Hill, and then Billy Bragg from Britain, a modern union troubadour.

Union Burying Ground

by Woody Guthrie

I see they’re lowering a right new coffin
I see they’re letting down a right new coffin
Way over in that union burying ground

And the new dirt’s falling on a right new coffin
The new dirt’s falling on a right new coffin
Way over in that union burying ground

Oh, tell me who’s that they’re letting down, down
Tell me who’s that they’re letting down, down
Way over in that union burying ground

Another union organizer
Another union organizer
Way over in that union burying ground

A union brother and a union sister
A union brother and a union sister
Way over in that union burying ground

A union father and a union mother
And a union father and a union mother
Way over in that union burying ground

Well, I’m going to sleep in a union coffin
I’m going to sleep in a union coffin
Way over in that union burying ground

Every new grave brings a thousand new ones
Every new grave brings a thousand members
Way over in that union burying ground

Every new grave brings a thousand brothers
Every new grave brings a thousand sisters
To the union in that union burying ground

The Ballad of Joe Hill

by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me:
Said I, but Joe you’re ten years dead;
I never died said he.
I never died said he.

In Salt Lake, Joe, Great God, said I,
Him standing by my bed;
They framed you on a murder charge,
Said Joe but I ain’t dead;
Said Joe but I ain’t dead.

The copper bosses framed you Joe
They shot you Joe said I;
Takes more than guns to kill a man,
Said Joe I did not die.
Said Joe I did not die.

Joe Hill ain’t dead he says to me,
Joe Hill ain’t never died;
Where working men are out on strike,
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.

And standing there as big as life
A-smiling with his eyes.
Said Joe, what they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize!

From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill - 
Where working men defend their rights
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

(repeat first verse)

There is Power in a Union

 by Billy Bragg

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses way, sir

The union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a union

Now I long for the morning that they realize
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers, who cannot organize
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a union

The union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters, together we will stand
There is power in a union


Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie

Remembering Labor on Labor Day

IMG_1710New Orleans       I’m not sure whether I’ve ever driven through Warren, Monticello, and Dermott, Arkansas, but being in Little Rock for KABF and various business, gave me a chance to go visit a Labor Day picnic with Local 100’s great members in Warren.  The food was great and the solidarity stunning, but driving on to New Orleans later in the afternoon got me thinking in this time of the 1% about how important it is that we keep hearing voices celebrating the virtues and struggles of working.  Here are four.

Working Class Hero by John Lennon

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
Till you’re so crazy you can’t follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There’s room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me
If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me

                                 Factory by Bruce Springsteen

Early in the morning factory whistle blows
Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes
Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light
It’s the working, the working, just the working life

Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life
The working, the working, just the working life

End of the day, factory whistle cries
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes
And you just better believe, boy, somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight
It’s the working, the working, just the working life
Cause it’s the working, the working, just the working life

                          Workingman’s Blues #2 by Bob Dylan

There’s an evenin’ haze settlin’ over town
Starlight by the edge of the creek
The buyin’ power of the proletariat’s gone down
Money’s gettin’ shallow and weak

Well, the place I love best is a sweet memory
It’s a new path that we trod
They say low wages are a reality
If we want to compete abroad

My cruel weapons have been put on the shelf
Come sit down on my knee
You are dearer to me than myself
As you yourself can see

While I’m listening to the steel rails hum
Got both eyes tight shut
Just sitting here trying to keep the hunger from
Creeping it’s way into my gut

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

Well, I’m sailin’ on back, ready for the long haul
Tossed by the winds and the seas
I’ll drag ‘em all down to hell and I’ll stand ‘em at the wall
I’ll sell ‘em to their enemies

I’m tryin’ to feed my soul with thought
Gonna sleep off the rest of the day
Sometimes no one wants what we got
Sometimes you can’t give it away

Now the place is ringed with countless foes
Some of them may be deaf and dumb
No man, no woman knows
The hour that sorrow will come

In the dark I hear the night birds call
I can feel a lover’s breath
I sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the hall
Sleep is like a temporary death

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

Well, they burned my barn and they stole my horse
I can’t save a dime
I got to be careful, I don’t want to be forced
Into a life of continual crime

I can see for myself that the sun is sinking
How I wish you were here to see
Tell me now, am I wrong in thinking
That you have forgotten me?

Now they worry and they hurry and they fuss and they fret
They waste your nights and days
Them I will forget
But you I’ll remember always

Old memories of you to me have clung
You’ve wounded me with your words
Gonna have to straighten out your tongue
It’s all true, everything you’ve heard

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

In you, my friend, I find no blame
Wanna look in my eyes, please do
No one can ever claim
That I took up arms against you

All across the peaceful sacred fields
They will lay you low
They’ll break your horns and slash you with steel
I say it so it must be so

Now I’m down on my luck and I’m black and blue
Gonna give you another chance
I’m all alone and I’m expecting you
To lead me off in a cheerful dance

I got a brand new suit and a brand new wife
I can live on rice and beans
Some people never worked a day in their life
Don’t know what work even means

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

And finally one for President Obama

              Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man) by Randy Newman

We’ve taken all you’ve given
But it’s gettin’ hard to make a livin’
Mr. President have pity on the working man

We ain’t asking for you to love us
You may place yourself high above us
Mr. President have pity on the working man

I know it may sound funny
But people ev’ry where are runnin’ out of money
We just can’t make it by ourself

It is cold and the wind is blowing
We need something to keep us going
Mr. President have pity on the working man

Maybe you’re cheatin’
Maybe you’re lyin’
Maybe you have lost your mind
Maybe you’re only thinking ’bout yourself

Too late to run. Too late to cry now
The time has come for us to say good-bye now
Mr. President have pity on the working man
Mr. President have pity on the working man


Taking the Poor Door to Extremes in London

Tower-Hamlets-20140820-01167Warren, Arkansas       Recently we discussed the potential evolution of the so-called “poor door” housing programs implemented by developers trying to segregate one-percenters from affordable housing units in their complexes in New York City.  I warned that Mumbai offered a potential case study in how such lack of integration could lead to rebuilding substandard housing next door to marble façade high rises in the name of slum renewal.  Now that ACORN is organizing in London it didn’t take a New York minute for me to hear from one of our organizers there that London has already doubled the ante in developing poor doors and housing segregation.

            The Guardian jumped on the “poor door” issues over the last several months, finding cases as extreme as the entrances to affordable housing units in poorly lit back alleys back by the garbage cans.  The segregation is complete down to the bike racks, postal boxes, and of course separate rubbish bins, as they call them there.

            Developers, required to have such units, go to slick extremes in making their cases for segregation from these reports.  Some lay the blame on the fact that there are separate housing associations that manage the joint tenancy for the affordable units, and claim these housing units “demand” separate entrances so that common space fees are less.  One developer made a flat statement, unsubstantiated from what I could tell, that allowing the poorer tenants to enter through the front doors and fancier lobbies would amount to “cross subsidization,” whatever that might be, and “was illegal.”  Clearly, that’s a ludicrous statement on its face.

            In Mumbai I mentioned how elevators were frequently shoddy and unusable so quickly evolved into giant vertical garbage receptacles.  Well, in London, same-same, almost.  Tenants in some of the segregated housing talked about regular breakdowns of their “lifts,” leaving them with a nine-story walk-up climb to their units.  Hey, let’s be fair, Judy Brown, the tenant who walked up nine stories to her flat was quoted in the Guardian also saying that they had told her,

“When both the lifts weren’t working they did say that if you were pregnant, had a health problem or a baby in a buggy you could use the main entrance,” she said. Otherwise, the tenants said, they were “locked out” of the main lobby.

How big hearted can they be, huh?

            On the good side in London any new development is required to provide a portion of affordable units, as opposed to the voluntary program in New York City and the non-existent program in many other cities still at the beck and call of any developer with a line-of-credit and the willingness to make a political contribution.

            Though it’s also clear that the developers in London have the whip hand as well, and see the requirement to provide affordable units as the start of negotiations, not as a prerequisite, even to the extent of blaming the victims, the very poorer tenants they are forced to accommodate for their own segregation:

“…developers are obliged to provide a set proportion of affordable homes when they draw up a new project, but they are often able to negotiate this figure down with local planners. Some provide the cheaper homes in separate blocks, but in a single structure development the affordable homes are often on separate floors – with separate entrances, lifts, car parks and even rubbish bins, so that upmarket apartment buyers have no contact with those occupying the social housing in their buildings.  In some cases, developers have even used the fact they need to provide separate doors and lifts to argue against putting affordable homes on the same site as their premium apartments. Planning documents for the 56 Curzon Street development in Mayfair show that the developers told the local council “that on-site provision of affordable housing would result in significant design inefficiencies due to the need for separate entrances and building cores”.

            Mayor De Blasio of New York City is committed to breaking down the poor doors.  Mayor Boris Johnson of London, frequently mentioned as an outside shot to replace David Cameron as Conservative prime minister material says poor doors are hunky-dorky with him.

            Sounds like we can keep our eyes on London to see an evolving case study on how this residential segregation of the rich from the poor accelerates the path to Mumbai and economic apartheid.


Nine Years after Katrina

Lower 9th Ward before and after

Lower 9th Ward before and after, credit to Ted Jackson at

Little Rock       Perhaps the best news in the nine years since Katrina has been that we have not faced another devastating hurricane, as the city continues to struggle to rebuild.  We had a bit of problem a couple of years ago in 2012, but not so severe that it forced widespread evacuation or extensive damage.  Every year that we can get past Katrina is another gift.

            Surveying the changes over nine years isn’t easy.  Many of the positives come with big, fat “buts.”

            Like the fact that population in the metro area is now 93% of what it was before the storm, but in the city itself we are only 78% of where we were before Katrina.  The Census Bureau estimates New Orleans’ population at 378,715 compared to the 2000 Census population of 484,674.  That’s still 100 grand down, and that’s not good.

            We’re growing, yes, but people still can’t find their way home, especially African-Americans.

The Census Bureau estimated 99,650 fewer African Americans in 2013 compared to 2000, but also 11,494 fewer whites and 6,023 more Hispanics. African-Americans still represent the majority of the city’s population at 59 percent, down from 67 percent in 2000.

All of which means we are becoming more diverse, even while we have so many “missing New Orleans.”  We gained 44,281 Hispanics and 6,564 additional Asian residents. The Hispanic population in the metro spiked 76 percent between 2000 and 2013, a rate greater than the nation’s 53 percent growth.

            So the city fathers that wanted a “whiter” city, didn’t get their wishes, even though their policies barred return for so many.  They also didn’t get a richer city because of their continued programs.

            According to The Data Center’s figures:

While the poverty rate in the New Orleans metro declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 15 percent in 2007, it then increased to 19 percent in 2012, such that it is now statistically unchanged since 1999. In New Orleans itself, the 2012 poverty rate of 29 percent is also statistically the same as 1999 after falling to 21 percent in 2007.   Like the overall poverty rate, child poverty in Orleans Parish and the metro area dropped in 2007 but has since increased to its 1999 levels. In 2012, the child poverty rate was 41 percent in the city and 28 percent in the metropolitan area, both higher than the U.S. rate of 23 percent.

No small reason for the continued poverty and stalled return continues to rest on the problem of inadequate and unaffordable housing, because of the double whammy of first the storm and then the recession which rolled back credit availability and made home reconstruction unaffordable for many low-and-moderate income families.  Rents soared after the storm and continue to be sky high.  The Data Center finds that “36 percent of renters in the city paying more than 50 percent of their pre-tax income on rent and utilities in 2012, up from 24 percent of renters in 2004.”

The beat goes on like that.

We did better on jobs and jobs on recovery after the storm than many cities in the recession, but the jobs didn’t pay diddling, especially when so much of the income went for housing.  Higher education is lagging, especially for African-American men, and the charter school experiment has not moved the needle on failing schools.  New businesses are up, but so are sales tax revenues and other taxes servicing a smaller population, so many of these businesses are marginal.  We have more bike lanes and bike trails but can’t seem to fix the potholes in the streets.

Here’s the story in New Orleans.  We’re going to make it, but every day is still going to mean a struggle over a bumpy road.  We’re going to come back somehow and we’ll welcome all the new people, but we can’t escape the heartache for people we miss, who still can’t make it home.


Tea Party Hijacking Immigration Fight and Setting Up Showdown


Steve King Credited to M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Little Rock       There’s something about the dog days of summer that seem to bring the crazy out.  Unfortunately we’re seeing this once again in the Congressional cloakroom resurgence of the Tea Party representatives, even as the Tea Party’s electoral and public support plummets, and once again the bone their gnawing is the crippled immigration system.

You know it’s out of hand when someone like Carlos Gutierrez, a former Commerce Department secretary under former President George W. Bush says,


“When you put Raúl Labrador, Steve King and Michele Bachmann together writing an immigration bill, there’s damage done, no question,”


He was referring to the fact that far right, conservative Congressman Steve Scalise, Republican from Louisiana, and the newly elected #3 in the Republican caucus opened the door and let his fellow whacks have a shot at modifying the bills being crafted to deal with the humanitarian crisis of Central American children fleeing to the US border for safety from conditions in their home countries.  As reported in the Times,


The changes opponents sought were subtle: clearer language showing that the bill was raising the bar on granting asylum hearings to unaccompanied children at the border, and a more explicit bill phasing out Mr. Obama’s executive order granting legal status to some immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, an order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.


Regardless, Mr. Gutierrez said, political damage was done. Complexities of immigration law that slip by most of the American news media remain front and center on Spanish television, where news figures such as Jorge Ramos advocate immigration overhaul positions, he said. And little-known lawmakers like Mr. King and Mr. Brooks are not so obscure among Latinos.

Just days after helping write the House’s only immigration policy bill of the year, Mr. Brooks made waves again when he spoke of a “war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party” to the conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham. Mr. King was caught on tape grabbing the arm of a young immigrant who grew up in Arizona and was granted legal status by the president’s order. “You’re very good at English, you know what I’m saying?” he told the immigrant, a graduate of Arizona State University.

Mr. Gutierrez said: “We have destroyed tens of thousands of young lives, people who don’t speak Spanish, who have lived their whole lives here, who want to be productive members of society, and now Steve King is rewriting DACA? I just think that is a real shame.”

On the other side of the aisle we now have Senator and Republican presidential aspirant, Mark Rubio, threatening that they may try to stand in the way of any movement by President Obama to address either the border crisis or the broken immigration system, by refusing to approve the budget this fall, if the President takes action, essentially promising another painful government shutdown.  The GAO estimates the financial costs of this last Republican charade as $17 billion dollars.  There is now a waiting list in immigration courts of over 375,000 cases.  There are millions of families caught betwixt and between.  Arkansas Democratic Senator Mark Pryor and others in tight races for November are pleading for the President to do nothing until after the mid-term elections for their sakes, even though the President has promised action soon, and could lose the Senate then, even further damaging any opportunity for change.

Once again currying to the right wing radicals and lack of political leadership is creating legislative and political gridlock and putting a chokehold on widespread human rights issues effecting millions as well as the entire character and global position of the United States as a beacon of freedom and justice.  It’s hard to embrace good policy options when the choices are either the devil or the deep blue sea, but that’s what the Tea People and their allies are forcing, and this looks like a bluff that simply has to be called.


Please enjoy Herb Albert’s Sneaky, thanks to KABF.

New York’s “Poor Door” Could Lead to Mumbai’s Slum Sister Developments


Dallas   So-called voluntary inclusionary zoning in New York City allowing private developers to add more density and receive tax breaks in exchange for constructing a certain number of affordable housing units has led to controversy, as the city tries to make the program mandatory for new developments and as developers exploit loopholes that allow segregation of the affordable units from the luxury spaces. Separate entrances around the block or down the street have led to talk of a “poor door” increasing discrimination and inequality for those with lower income as the city continues to evolve as the playground and precinct of the rich.

To be clear the affordable units are income based at around $50,000, so this is a long way from section 8 or public housing. Advocates of affordable housing are disagreeing about the impact of the income segregation. Some are of the “any port in a storm” school and ready to accept anything the developers want to do, as long as they build some affordable units in a city desperate for such housing. Others, including thankfully the Mayor’s office, are clear that they will close the loopholes in the original ordinances that allowed for such segregation.

For my part I can’t get my mind out of Mumbai as I hear and read about this issue. In Mumbai the Bombay Municipal Corporation for a number of years has had a housing scheme that couples slum clearance with affordable replacement housing and usually luxury condos and apartments constructed by private developers, so it is possible to imagine how unit and income segregation can, and perhaps will, evolve. Real estate in Mumbai, like New York City and many other cities, is at a premium especially closer to the central districts. A private developer can win permission to build in areas where there are slums if they are willing to clear the slums and construct replacement housing at 200 meters of so for the existing residents. The rest of the footprint allows for construction of high rise luxury housing, literally side by side or across the street from each other.

It is amazing though to visit some of these developments even two or three years after they are constructed. Physically the contrast is immediate in Mumbai. One is a soaring tower of marble and glass and the other will be five or ten stories of box-like construction already discoloring and deteriorating. Visiting families inside means a 10-story walk-up. The elevators, once broken are unrepaired and frequently become garbage receptacles. Where in one area the grounds and entryways are immaculate in the other there is no plan for maintenance and upkeep. The materials and construction are shoddy and substandard. The letter of the housing scheme is followed but not the spirit. In Mumbai it is easy to see what the BMC was trying to do in killing two birds with one stone and a private developers’ money, but it also easy to see what happens once the developer washes his hands, collects his money, and is gone as well.

In New York the allowance seems to be that the affordable units can also be in “the same community,” meaning at a distance from the higher rent district. Clearly, building codes have to be met, which is also technically the case in Mumbai, but there’s no evidence that cheaper materials and construction would not be permissible. The whole business model for private development is for the developer to cash out and get out as quickly as financially feasible. It is unclear in New York how long term maintenance might be handled, especially in the segregated, affordable units.

As a matter of not only public policy, but logic, the more integrated the affordable housing is with the rest of the units, the greater the likelihood that the social benefits will inure to all residents and that the collective good of the common housing will be protected and maintained. We may need affordable housing at any price and at any place possible, but without full integration of the units, the future will look like Mumbai with gated highrises permanently attached to sister slums, rebuilt vertically, rather than horizontally.

This is not about pool and gym privileges. This is about the need to build an integrated, equitable community with public dollars and incentives, and the chances of achieving these goals for everyone is through the same door and sharing the same spaces, not separation and segregation.