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Category: Politics & Activism

New boxed set from Utah Phillips

Utah Phillips

If you’re a folk fan, a progressive, a worker, or just someone who loves great music and storytelling, you need to check out Starlight On The Rails, the new boxed set from folk singer and raconteur Utah Phillips.

Here’s a link to the album at the iTunes Music Store, and here’s Chris Nickson’s review from the All Music Guide:

Utah Phillips has become an American folk institution — or is that an anti-institution? A former union organizer, he might not be well known in the greater scheme of music, but he’s certainly worth this four-CD, 61-track box set. What makes it especially fascinating is the fact that each of the cuts is accompanied by Phillips’ reflections on the pieces, whether performed by him or others. He’s as much a raconteur and philosopher as songwriter. With its mix of live, studio, and unreleased performances, it justifies calling itself definitive, whether on the topical “Talking N.P.R. Blues,” which excoriates not only the corporatization on public radio, but also the attitudes of the FCC. He can be funny, he can be serious, but whatever tack he takes, he makes his point concisely and effectively. He’s lived a hobo’s life, been there and done that, a symbol of America that’s fast disappearing, a time where the ideas of Mark Twain helped define a growing nation. He’s known the drifters, the characters, the politicians. Some he’s liked, some he’s loathed. But along the way he’s lived and acted for his conscience and written some fine songs, such as “Yellow Ribbon” and the title cut. For anyone who’s a fan of his work, this is a must-have purchase. But even for those less familiar with his canon, it’s a vital peek into America as it was, and in some small corner, still is. Hopefully he’ll be around for many years to come, remaining an inspiration to a younger generation of troubadours, celebrating people and loudly criticizing what needs to be criticized. (© 2005 All Music Guide)

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The land beneath our feet

Chris Clarke has a very interesting interview with Ward Churchill on his blog. Most of the interview is about Native American issues, and at one point, Churchill makes a very arresting comment about implementing a progressive agenda on land you stole from someone else:

“You can take all the progressive agenda items you want, including environmentalism and ecology, OK? The movement to combat sexism, the movement to combat racism, the movement against oppressive class structures, all of it. And if in the end, you come up with a scenario in which all of those goals are suddenly realized, do you know what you end up with? You end up with a society that is still predicated fundamentally in colonialism. It would still be a colonial society because it would have been implementing these relations, however progressive they may seem on their face, on somebody else’s land without their permission. You’ve still got an imperialist culture. You’ve got a culture that will reinvent all these forms you thought you just combated and destroyed. You gotta deal with the fundamental issue first and work out from there. You gotta lay a foundation for a different social order, a different social consciousness and all the rest of it. And the place to begin that, of course, is in relation to the land.”

Sometimes I agree with Churchill, and sometimes I don’t. I must admit, though, that I’d never really considered this particular point before. What do you think? You can click on Submit A Comment right below this message to add your thoughts.

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Ogden police protect and serve … anti-union bosses

OGDEN, NY — Security guards bully workers. Workers call police to protect them from guards. Police arrive and hassle workers. Security company turns out to be owned by the brother of one of the cops. That cop is also moonlighting as a security guard. Welcome to Ogden!

The Ogden Police are routinely called to the picket line at Caldwell Manufacturing, where the workers have been on strike since August. Ted Boucher, owner of Caldwell Manufacturing, brought in scabs to staff the production lines, and he also hired guards from C.O.P. Security to direct the cars out of the parking lot as the workers marched across the entrance. That the workers are legally entitled to picket in that spot is of no consequence to the guards who enforce Caldwell’s anti-union policies.

Recently, the C.O.P. Security guards have been roughing up the strikers. Security guards have knocked down workers. Just days ago, one of the guards shoved a woman with both hands. In the face of this escalation, the union (IUE-CWA Local 331) has begun calling the police on their own behalf. But when the police arrive — even when they’ve been called by the union — they immediately bypass the workers and head straight for the guards to get the story. Turns out that one of the security guards is Sergeant Dale Barton of the Ogden Police Department. That’s right, he works for C.O.P. Security and for the police force the workers depend on to protect them from C.O.P. Security. Better still, Dale Barton’s brother is Rick Barton – the president of C.O.P. Security.

Why are the workers on strike? Because Ted Boucher, the owner of the company, decided not to bargain in good faith with the workers. He was censured by the NLRB, and he has appealed that ruling.

As Joan Collins-Lambert wrote on her blog Work Related: “The strike at Caldwell is about something more enduring than tomorrow’s paycheck. It’s about a union’s right to exist, and about a company’s obligation to bargain in good faith with its union workers. Among other things, Caldwell management wants to remove union security clauses in the collective bargaining agreement, and eliminate dues check-off. In other words, it wants the union to commit suicide.” That about sums it up.

So Boucher appealed, and the union workers reluctantly but unanimously decided to strike.

Last Thursday, Sept. 29, was a typical afternoon on the line. The most belligerent of the rent-a-cops, whom I’ll call Dom, shoved another worker today. The cops showed up and immediately pulled aside one of the strikers, keeping him in the back of a patrol car for about 30 minutes before letting him go. I talked to the cops, and told them that if anyone needed to be removed, it was Dom, not the worker. I pointed out that Dom consistently bullies the workers, while the police do nothing to protect the workers’ legal right to picket. The cop was nonresponsive.

Later in the afternoon, a woman pulled up beside one of the police cars to talk to the officer inside the car. Seeing a golden opportunity, I immediately began making fun of the officer over my megaphone. When the woman left, the officer — Lockwood by name — rode up to me and accused me of slandering his wife. I said it was in fact him I was yelling at, and I told him he should be ashamed of himself for protecting the “rights” of Ted Boucher over the rights of the workers. The workers surrounded me as Lockwood and I argued back and forth for a few minutes, until I got bored and walked away.

When it was time to go home, I did what everyone else before me had done and made a perfectly safe u-turn on the road to get back to the main highway. Within seconds, Lockwood was behind me with his lights flashing. One of my coworkers was in the car with me, and we were laughing uproariously as Lockwood approached the car to write me a ticket for “making an illegal u-turn on a curve.” He wrote up the ticket and held it in the window of my car. I took out my pad and pen and asked him for his name. “It’s right there on the ticket,” he said, but I took my time writing it down anyway. “I have an emergency call,” Lockwood protested, “take the ticket.

So a company breaks the law, is censured, and then appeals, forcing its employees to take their fight to the street. The police support the company, taking sides against their neighbors. There’s a serious conflict of interest at work in Ogden, and it’s directly harming the workers on the picket line.

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Abundance Cooperative Market

I’ve wriiten before about Abundance Cooperative Market, Rochester’s only shareholder-owned cooperative grocery store. It’s a fantastic place, and a wonderful model of how cooperative economics can work. Now I’m running for the board. If you want to know more about why I’m running, check out my campaign flyer. Thanks!

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