Author Randy Shaw
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Can labor organizing ever be properly described as “a discipline” — according to author Randy Shaw this is exactly what Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers accomplished. Shaw makes his argument in his latest book, Beyond The Fields, and in public appearances to promote the book.

NEW YORK — October 21 2010. On Thursday evening activist, attorney, and author Randy Shaw addressed a group of labor organizers and writers at the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education. The topic: the legacy of Cesar Chavez and the UFW. The occasion: a tour to promote “Beyond The Fields: Cesar Chavez, The UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.” Shaw is an eloquent, dynamic, and thoughtful speaker and this is one book tour that anyone interested in labor history — and organizing — should not miss.

Randy Shaw is Executive Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a non-profit, tenant rights organization in San Francisco that Shaw co-founded in 1980. Shaw also edits, an alternative — to the San Francisco Chronicle — online daily newspaper. In addition, Shaw has written three well regarded books on activism. His first volume, The Activist’s Handbook, is one of the top ten books in this reporter’s Goodread‘s library: it discusses the relationship activists must maintain with elected officials (electeds must regard activists with “fear and loathing”) and traces the long struggle of a strange alliance. Fighting together to keep a waste incinerator out of their Willamsburg neighborhood, Brooklyn’s Hasidic community put aside a long-standing — and mutual — distrust and allied with the Latino community to take on City Hall. And prevail.

An uncompromising commitment to winning the struggle, willingness to form unlikely alliances, keeping politicians at bay, and taking the long view are themes that inform all of Shaw’s work and Beyond The Fields is no exception.

Randy Shaw: The UFW was an “amazing incubator.”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Describing the work of the UFW and their legendary leader, Cesar Chavez, Shaw described how the Farm Workers redefined the labor union: tabling at colleges as a recruiting tool, winning struggles by elevating local struggles into national boycotts, digging in for long campaigns, “living off the land,” providing hands-on training for organizers, demanding dedication from — and offering meaningful work to — volunteers, taking principled positions against the Vietnam War and hiring women as organizers are just some aspects of the UFW approach that separated them from their counterparts in the AFL-CIO of the Seventies.

Shaw told the gathering at Brooklyn College that the UFW was the first union to table at campuses. And the point was not simply to hand out fliers. Organizers were expected to engage in “barking” — engaging students directly in conversation. And when a student signed up as a volunteer, that recruit got a phone call that same night. The volunteers were contacted immediately and consistently, were well trained, and were put to work.

The UFW gave fledgling organizers something that transcended good training and opportunities to grow — according to Shaw the UFW gave young activists “Something meaningful to do with their lives.” As a result young organizers were willing to work for $5 a week, to “live off the land,” to travel, to start a union office from scratch, to recruit a staff and organizers and to fundraise to support the organizing work. Shaw said that this sort of immersion training made the UFW an “amazing incubator” that produced very talented organizers — organizers who left the UFW but never left the movement. Many UFW trained organizers went on to work in UNITEHERE and other unions and to involve themselves in a variety of social justice causes. In effect, Chavez and the farm workers built a social movement. And they did this by turning labor organizing into what Shaw termed “a real discipline.” UFW-trained organizers could, and did, build unions and movements literally from nothing.

In the last three decades UFW alumni went on to organize coffee boycotts against the brutal government in El Salvador — with its death squads funded by U.S. tax dollars, to fight agribusiness — and win, to challenge the notion that pesticides didn’t harm the environment, and to stand up for immigrant rights.

The eventual decline of the UFW in the Seventies and Eighties should not be seen as the sole indicator of its effectiveness, Shaw said. Cesar Chavez became very difficult to work with, possibly due to emotional issues, and drove out most of the UFW’s top talent, according to Shaw. But, Shaw notes, the UFW must be assessed, not by its current membership numbers, but by its legacy.

And what a legacy it is.

In its heyday, the UFW was alone in hiring women — and making them officers. Shaw told a story of a 15-year-old woman who became a “boycott captain” — before she was old enough to drive a car.

In 1968, Chavez aggressively recruited organizers and used his recruits for voter outreach — providing a model that was adapted and adopted by Obama in in 2008.

The UFW pushed organized labor to change its position on immigrants. In 2000, the AFL-CIO dropped its long-held anti-immigrant stance and began representing undocumented workers.

A number of great organizers still working today got their start in the UFW – and the training they received served them well. Consequently, the diminished state of the UFW today is no measure of the union’s greatness. Its profound and long-lasting impact on the labor movement is the best quantifier of its success.

As Randy Shaw said, “You have to look at the big picture of what the legacy of the UFW is.”

One means of having a look at that big picture is to read Beyond The Fields. It is packed with great labor history, analysis — and near and dear to the hearts of organizers and activists: ideas. Many of the fascinating stories contained in the book could not be presented in a brief presentation.

For example: Cesar Chavez was an admirer of Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Cesar Chavez studied Mahatma Gandhi. And applied what he learned. In 1968, a UFW grape strike was faltering and some union members advocated violence against strikebreakers. Chavez responded by delivering a 90 minute talk on nonviolence and an announcement that he was going on a spiritual fast until the UFW affirmed its commitment to nonviolence.

Randy Shaw: “The initial reaction to Chavez’s decision to fast was mixed. Some of the more secular and radical UFW volunteers, who included those most critical of Chavez’s strategy of nonviolence, disdained the religious imagery of the fast. Saul Alinsky, whose Industrial Areas Foundation had employed Chavez as an organizer in the 1950s, told Chavez that his fast was ‘embarrassing’ to the IAF. Labor officials were reportedly incensed about the fast. Unions were accustomed to ‘beating up scabs’ as the best strategy for deterring strikebreakers, yet Chavez was ignoring this and instead engaging in what they perceived as a religious act.”

[ p. 85, Beyond The Fields ]

Bobby Kennedy was on hand when Chavez ended his fast — 25 days later — and famously offered the labor leader a piece of bread.

Reading Beyond The Fields, it becomes clear that there is much to learn from the successes and the failures of the UFW.

CLICK HERE to view Randy’s talk (NLN on Blip TV)
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

In a question and answer segment following his presentation, Shaw commented at length on the problem of how unions and other progressive organizations fail to deal effectively with dissent. Unfortunately, in many unions, any dissent is viewed with suspicion and the dissenter is regarded as not being a “team player.” This stifling of dissent and initiative is forcing organizers out at a time when they are most needed.

“When you have to be that homogenous you also then lose people who don’t want to be part of those organizations,” Shaw said.

Given that many unions once profited by borrowing a page or two from the UFW’s playbook now might be an excellent time for labor people to take a look at the rich history of that organization.

View Photos/Videos From The Event…

Kathy Kelly at a 2009 Debi Rose fundraiser
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

NLN has lost a friend: a fighter for single payer health care, a woman who died of lung cancer at age 50, a woman who was fighting to stop the banks from taking her house after she went broke paying medical bills, a woman who repeatedly pressured Congressman Mike McMahon to represent his constituents and not the insurance companies, a woman whose presence made a long struggle enjoyable for those who stood with her.


Kathy occasionally contributed reporting to NLN
(Photo: Kathleen Kelly / NLN)


NLN has lost a friend.


Kathy Kelly at a 2010 HCAN rally
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

If you believe that people should come before profits, that education should come before foreign wars, that health care serves our nation better than torturing helpless prisoners, that elected officials who describe themselves as “centrists” while maintaining a corporate voting record are more accurately characterized as opportunists — then you too have lost a friend.


Kathy Kelly squared off with Mike McMahon on a regular basis
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Her name was Kathleen Kelly. Kathy was a lifelong Staten Islander. She described herself as a moderate and was not a firebrand. But she was a community organizer who put people first and never seemed to tire. She will be missed.


Kathy Kelly interviewed by NY1 outside Mike McMahon’s office
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

NLN Articles mentioning Kathleen Kelly:

Health Care Reform: The Cure For Bipartisan Disorder?
“It’s Good To See So Many People Here…”
Activists Die-In For Health Care, Protest Outside McMahon’s Office
Looking For A Leader: Will The Real Mike McMahon Please Stand Up?
Public Option Protest At McMahon’s Office

Click Here To See Videos featuring Kathy Kelly


Kathy Kelly at a 2009 town hall meeting on health care reform
sponsored by McMahon
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)


Click HERE to read the obituary in the Staten Island Advance.


Kathy Kelly at a 2009 protest at Mike McMahon’s office
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

In the end, McMahon voted against health care – declining to even discuss single payer health care – but the struggle continues.

Posted by David McReynolds - October 6, 2010 | Book Review

Hans Keilson, now over a hundred years old and still alive in Holland, near Amsterdam, is so little known that the Wikepedia entry tells us almost nothing about him, except that he is Jewish, and of Dutch/German descent. After a favorable review of his work in the New York Times Book Review, I picked up the paperback Death of the Adversary, originally published in 1959. It is a haunting 208 page paperback.

We know, whether young or old, that Hitler came, Europe was eaten alive by war, and millions of Jews (and others) died in concentration camps or by execution squads in Eastern Europe. It is all so long ago now that we think of it as happening at one blow. One day the Jews in Germany were fully integrated into German society, held key posts in business and cultural institutions, and then, a day or so later, they were gone.

But of course that is not what happened. Keilson’s narrator is a young man – very young when he begins his notes. He is European in a way few Americans can understand (but perhaps this book will help them, for it is written “from inside the mind” of a young German). The narrator’s own Jewishness is never once mentioned, though before we are too many pages into the book we assume it. His nationality is not clear – quite possibly the narrator of this novel was meant to be Dutch, perhaps German. Even Hitler’s name is never used – only a single letter – “b”.

In the beginning of this novel the young man has heard about “b”, understands he has an intense following, grasps that he is an enemy. He has occasion once to hear his voice as he sits outside a hall where “b” is speaking. And once “b”, now risen to political power, drives in his car through the town, the streets crowded with the residents, eager to see him. And the narrator sees him, wonders at how such an ordinary looking man can hold such power

There is a surreal feeling to the novel. The politics of “b” are never discussed. The issue of Jews is never discussed. Yet by not doing so, by approaching things from his own angle, as the young man watching, we see what it was like to find the walls closing in. Of course it was never possible for the Jews to simply leave Germany. And why should they? They were fully integrated. The thought of the impending gas chambers was so unreal it didn’t arise. One lived there. One spoke the language. One had a job. Had friends.

Only gradually this friendship or that ends badly. A colleague, meeting the young man in the street, asks what they are supposed to do, should they form cooperatives of some kind in order to have work? Legal or medical associations of their own, as they are gradually excluded from those they had been part of? After all, these are the practical daily questions of life. Those who would eventually be taken to the camps could still travel by train, walk the streets, stop in the cafes for coffee or to play cards. They were — such an illusion — still free.

And so we begin to understand — in my case for the first time — how the horror which fell on Europe did not fall like a stone from the sky, but came like a mist, so fine one did not need an umbrella.

Toward the end of the book there is a deeply moving passage as he talks to his father, who is packing his rucksack. The father has it ready for the day when he and his wife will have to leave. The youth talks with his father about what to put in it — soap, aspirin, some cologne for his wife who has fainting spells and is revived by some dashed on her forehead. His father asks him not to mention the packing of the rucksack to his mother, as it will only worry her. His mother knows, of course, about the rucksack, and asks the son what the father is putting into it, to make sure there is some chilblain ointment as his circulation is not so good. The parents, each talking to the son, discuss what to put in this rucksack, neither parent willing to talk directly to the other for fear of worrying them.

The parents have packed a suitcase for him, not a rucksack, and it is sent on to a place where he will meet friends.

And he does leave, and join the underground, though this is not dealt with plainly or with drama. (In fact the author was active in the Dutch underground).

By the end of the book I realized how moved I was by watching this young boy, now a young man, experience the light mist which soon enough became a rain of blood. Sometimes a horror story becomes more powerful by avoiding all the obvious words. So with The Death of the Adversary.

(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On the morning of September 24 the FBI broke into seven homes and an office belonging to activists in the peace and justice community in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan. Subpoenas were handed to 11 people — the subpoenaed activists will have to testify before a federal grand jury — where they are not permitted to have a lawyer with them. The FBI claimed that they were collecting evidence — investigating potential “material support to terrorism” charges against the activists, based on the Antiterrorism And Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The FBI seized crates full of computers, books, documents, notebooks, cell phones, passports, childrens’ drawings, photos of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, videos, music CDs, photographs, checkbooks, cameras, and other personal belongings.

(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Activists in the peace and justice community as well as representatives from community groups and labor unions reacted strongly and promptly to what they consider an attack on their First Amendment right to free speech. A diverse group of Americans rose to defend their Constitutional rights.

(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

On September 28 there were protest demonstrations in front of federal office buildings or FBI offices in 32 cities across the U.S.

In New York protesters gathered at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. Foul weather may have kept some away but 200 joined the protest carrying signs that decried the attack on the American people’s right to protest endless wars — as well as the policies of the U.S. government in several countries such as Israel, Palestine and Colombia.

Charles Barron
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Representatives from many organizations spoke, as did New York City Council member Charles Barron, Freedom Party candidate for governor. All pledged to support those under attack and to fight this new level of political repression against those who express dissent against the policies of the Obama administration. One speaker after another declared that they will not be intimidated or silenced. They pointed out that the 11 people subpoenaed were not endangering the U.S., if they were they would have been arrested. The “material support” law is very vague and very malleable. It was pointed out that if the law had been in effect at the time of the fight against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980’s, people here who supported that struggle could have been arrested because the Reagan administration had listed Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as terrorists.

A second protest was held a week later, on October 5, in the same location.

Activists who received grand jury subpoenas will have to appear in October.

View Photos From The Event…

Posted by Fran Korotzer - | Film Review

Bob Carpenter of Veterans For Peace leafleting the movie
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On September 25 Veteran’s For Peace Chapter 34 sponsored a showing of the Emmy nominated documentary, The Good Soldier, at the Quad in NYC. The film, made by Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys, is the story of five combat veterans who fought in World War II, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, and the current war in Iraq. It begins with a quote from Dwight Eisenhower saying that he hates war, “As one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

First we learn why the men enlisted. There were economic reasons but they also thought about defending their country and fighting for freedom. They also describe how they felt when they first went into combat. Terrible fear eventually turned into a high after their first kill. In some it developed into a blood lust. That was not true of the oldest, the World War ll vet who fought in the “good war.” He was wounded in Europe a few months after he got there and was sent home. His story was very different. The experience, he said, ruined his life for decades. Revisiting the site where he was injured 40 years later proved to be very therapeutic for him.

As the other four vets told their stories with painful honesty, and described the things that they, as soldiers, had to do, it became very evident that the trauma of these experiences left a very deep scar. They had been taught to kill, that’s why they were there. But it all came back to haunt them and fill them with a deep sadness. It changed them as human beings, it changed their view of themselves, and it changed their understanding of the world.

The film concludes by describing how their experiences changed the veterans — and how they have used their new understanding, a true mental revolution, to change the world for the better.

Filmmakers and veterans discuss the movie
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

When the theater lights went on the filmmakers and two of the veterans, Perry Parks from North Carolina and Will Williams from Wisconsin, came forward to talk to the crowd and answer questions. Uys pointed out that some of the men changed immediately, right on the battlefield, while others took many years to reject war as a solution to anything. For Perry Parks it took a long time. He said that 15 years after the Vietnam War the Secretary of Defense admitted that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that brought the country into the war was based on a lie. No American ship was attacked there. Parks said that he realized then that the government “Doesn’t always tell the truth.” He said it is very hard to kill until one of your buddies is killed — then you want revenge. He is not opposed to soldiers, he is opposed to “The misuse of soldiers.” He added that he is a Christian and doing what he was taught to do as a soldier is against his religion.

Will Williams said he didn’t get involved in anti-war work until after 9/11 when he saw this country on the path to war again. After his own military service, his mind had been changing bit by bit. He learned that there was no attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, he read the Pentagon Papers released by Daniel Ellsberg, and he got angrier and angrier. On 9/11 he saw that “the seeds we had sown in that region had blossomed.” He quickly added that he was not justifying what happened and explained that he views terrorism as a way people fight by whatever means they have. “Because we drop bombs from 30,000 feet and don’t see the results, it doesn’t justify us doing it.” So after 9/11 he said, “This time I will speak out because I feel within my heart that it is the only thing that will save not only America but the world.” Further, “In a country that borrows as much money as it does to fund wars or to maintain bases throughout the world, if a portion of that money was spent in this country we wouldn’t have the social ills that we do have.”

He concluded, “One day we will have the greatest generation in this country, and that will be the generation that will refuse to go fight for corporate interests.”

A pie chart detailing U.S. military spending

The Good Soldier is an excellent film that shows the true face of war, where everyone is a victim. It is also a story of redemption. One of the veterans, former marine Jimmy Massey, is shown standing alone on the street carrying a sign that reads, “I Killed Innocent Civilians For The Government”. The Good Soldier is the story of extraordinary people who refuse to remain victims. They empower themselves and join with others to become a potent force for peace.