[sixties-l] Labor and the 60s Left

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Apr 02 2001 - 18:49:31 EDT

  • Next message: John Johnson: "Re: [sixties-l] Fwd: * True colors"

        Date: Sat, 31 Mar 2001 19:23:58 -0500
        From: portsideMod@netscape.net
    Subject: RE: SDS FILM 'LABOR & THE LEFT'

    Labor and the 60s Left - discussion sparked by Lemisch review of SDS

    [In response to the Jesse Lemisch review of the new film on SDS, there
    has been considerable discussion on the H-Net Labor History Discussion
    List <H-LABOR@H-NET.MSU.EDU> . Below are some of the responses which
    draw on personal experience, review of historical materials and documents,
    related to the relationship between the 60s Left, mainly the "New Left,"
    and the labor movement. Postings are in the chronological order in
    which they appeared on the H-LABOR listserve. - Moderator]


    1. From: Joe Torre <bg21908@binghamton.edu> (March 26)

    It seems to me that there is a profound relationship between labor and
    SDS. It was after all the UAW that sponsored Port Huron and, at least in
    part, Cleveland ERAP. Reuther et al did this, I think, in the true spirit
    of liberalism -- the same spirit behind Reuther's "Model Cities" and,
    incidentally, the same spirit behind Johnson's War on Poverty, his Civil

    Rights efforts and, tragically, the Vietnam War. The question then is,
    what was the relationship between workers and their largely middle-class
    hopes and aspirations, the dreams and aspirations of Reuther and the UAW
    and Johnson liberals, and the more radical aspirations of SDS and Saul
    Alinsky-type (and trained radicals) -- who unambiguously hobbled the
    "liberal" efforts on numerous fronts (especially Office of Economic
    Opportunity efforts in Syracuse and other Community Action Programs) in
    hopes of igniting more profound change? Or, put another way, what was
    the relationship between liberalism and radicalism in labor and other social
    movements? Where does something like the Dodge Revolutionary Union
    Movement (DRUM) fit into all of this? Some of this speaks, I think, to
    the continued tension between liberalism and radicalism often found on
    H- Labor discussions.

    Joe Torre SUNY-Binghamton


    2. From: "Albert V. Lannon" <avlannon@sfsu.edu> (March 26)

    H-Labor might be interested in knowing that Marvin Rogoff and I are in
    the midst of co-writing an article on the antiwar movement in the labor
    movement in the late '60s, early '70s. I was the ILWU's Washington
    Representative and Marvin worked for the EEOC after years with the ILGWU
    and IUE. Through circumstances we ended up working together virtually
    full-time for several months putting together a national Labor for Peace,
    only to have to rein in it in when it became too narrow, a function of
    the ill-fated Alliance for Labor Action UAW-Teamster alliance. Our
    article looks at earlier efforts to build a labor peace movement and
    their problems, the birth of Washington Labor For Peace with a full-page
    anti-war ad in the Washington Post, working with
    Senators McGovern and Cranston to take it national, and the final
    creation of Labor For Peace in 1972. The story has not, to our
    knowledge, ever been told, and since we were there, we thought we'd tell it.

    Albert Lannon, Laney College, Oakland, CA


    3. From: "Scott Shuster" <scottshuster@msn.com> (March 26)

    As to whether a discussion of the new film on SDS belongs on a radical
    list as opposed to a labor list, where does one frame of reference stop
    and the other start? If one is talking about the relationship of
    radicals to the labor movement, such a discussion might appropriately
    belong on either list. My experience in SDS was that a discussion of the
    relationship between radical politics, the labor movement and working
    class was ongoing and frankly endless, the influence of C. Wright Mills'
    skepticism about labor as an agency for social change not withstanding.
    Radical activism in the labor movement took on both a subterranean and
    less than self conscious manifestation in the decade or so after the
    passage of Taft-Hartley and the marginalization of an organized left
    presence within the labor movement. Nevertheless, there was something of

    a parallel development between rank and file workers movements and the
    civil rights movement during the late '50's and early '60's, while each
    movement had little knowledge of or contact with the other. Harvey
    Swados alluded to this phenomenon in his seminal 1956 essay, "The Myth
    of the Happy Worker." While the civil rights and antiwar movements of the
    period were much more publicly visible, by the mid 1960's, rank and file
    labor movements in alliance with secondary leaders had managed to topple
    the administrations in half a dozen major international unions and exert
    a public presence in several others. Such shake ups in the structure of
    organized labor could hardly go unnoticed by the New Left, given its
    affinity for "participatory democracy." Beyond that, several "Old Left"
    tendencies, such as PL, the Dubois Clubs, the YSA and the IS, though
    usually at odds with each other, always had a presence in New Left
    circles and constantly reoriented the public discourse within the New
    Left in the direction of the working class.

    One of the more peculiar ironies of the New Left was, that despite its
    ideological rejection of what Mills characterized as "the labor
    metaphysic," many of its adherents ended up as union staffers, not to
    mention academic labor historians and sociologists.

    Gabe Gabrielsky, Shop Steward, HERE Local 54


    4. From: James Barrett <jrbarret@uiuc.edu> (March 26)

    a good short summary. This generation, as a result of the work you have
    in mind, continues to stick out as the years pass, not least in academic
    circles where they have changed the way we look at history.

    Jim Barrett


    5. From: Melvyn Dubofsky <dubof@binghamton.edu> (March 27)

    Let me give you another interesting take on the relationship between
    SDS, the student left, or whatever you want to call it, and labor and trade
    unionism. In the summers of 1980 and 1981 when I taught NEH summer
    seminars for labor leaders (such things actually existed funded by the
    feds before Reagan), I discovered that a number of the younger "labor
    leaders" (really low level local officials) had come directly out of the
    student left, SDS included, and after its collapse moved into trade-
    union service. Not only that but in such unions as SEIU, AFCSME, and
    even the UFCW they found a protective haven that enabled them to pursue some
    of their social objectives. The relationship between labor and the
    student left was fraught with tension and at times open conflict but also
    often with cooperation and coalition. I remember an antiwar meeting at
    the Chicago amphitheater in the mid-1960s whose speakers included
    Staughton Lynd (I don't remember whether or not Jesse Lemisch was
    there), a leader from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and another from the
    Butcher Workmen and Leather Workers.

    And apropos James Barrett's comments, he gives too much credit to the
    impact of his cohort on higher education. Much of what they brought to
    academe was already in gestation and or had birthed before they arrived.

    Over here David Montgomery, Herb Gutman, Al Young, Natalie Davis,to name
    only a few, represented an older generation. The same was true in England
    where E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, Richard Cobb, and
    even Asa Briggs had altered the way history was conceived and done. Jim
    might even consider the undergraduate experience of his colleague at
    Illinois, David Roediger, who was partly shaped as an historian by
    historians at Northern Illinois U., most of whom were pre-SDS and
    pre-1960s. Let's concede that the 60s reinforced changes already underway
    but let's not ignore some of the grayheads and graybeards.

    Jesse is right, the legacy of the 60s is extraordinarily mixed and
    ambiguous. Look at today's column in the Washington Post by Thomas
    Edsall on voting trends over the past 30 years for some of that ambiguity.

    Melvyn Dubofsky Distinguished Professor of History and Sociology
    Binghamton University, SUNY


    6. From: "NORMAN MARKOWITZ" <MARKOWIT@cac-gen3.rutgers.edu> (March 27)

    As someone who teaches a course on the culture of the 1960s but hasn't
    yet seen the film that Jesse Lemisch critiques(I use a variety of films,
    from Dr. Strangelove and Medium Cool, to Berkeley in the 1960s and
    Remembering Mylai, to capture the period, along with a variety of texts,
    including the really fine collection edited Alexander Bloom and Wini
    Breines, Takin it to the Streets) it is useful, I think, to look at the
    what the society was before the sixties began as an historicial period (I
    see 1963 as its beginning) and what the society was when it ended as an
    historical period(I see the 1974-1975 as its end). In most ways, SDS
    wasn't, as I see it, that important. Its anarchic approach and the
    enormous diversity of SDS chapters made it less a coordinating force(in
    the tradition, I would argue of the CPUSA in the 1930s) for the anti-war
    movement, and the movement to democratize campus life, but an expression
    of those mass movements. The Civil Rights/Black Liberation/Black Power
    movement, the Womens Rights/Women's Liberation movement, the Anti-
    War/Anti-U.S. imperialism movements, the anti- corporate/consumer
    /environmental/ecological movements, along with the "counterculture" are
    what is important, about the period because they did change the way
    large numbers of people thought about life, the way they interacted with
    each other, and, in a significant way, through civil rights legislation,
    environmental protection legislation, even the elimination of the draft
    and the lowering of the voting age, law. That we have lived for a
    generation in a sort of anti-1960s, in which right politicians have run
    against the 1960s the way Southern white supremacists ran against
    Reconstruction, and in regard to politics and economic policy, a
    rightwing crusade, appeased by Carter-Clinton Democrats, against all
    forms of economic regulation and social legislation,can't be blamed on
    1960s activists or movements. While labor was largely the missing link in
    the 1960s(there were movements like DRUM and the League of Revolutionary
    Black Workers in Michigan, and rank and file radical currents) how, in a
    period in which the living standards of workers, in regard to social
    incomes and money incomes, reached their peak, how could the Meany AFL-
    CIO leadership over organized workers have been effectively challenged,
    since, if it was ever delivering the goods, it was then. Campaigns to
    organize white collar workers, farm workers, etc, did advance in a major
    way and, in my experience, a great many activists now work fulltime for
    the trade union movement and often push progressive politics, as against
    the stereotype of activists becoming either yuppie stockbrokers or yuppie
    radical professors.The cold war liberal democrats, who moved to the right
    in the 1970s in response to international economic changes and their
    refusal to organize the unorganized low income non-voters outside of
    American politics and the AFL-CIO leadership, who refused to endorse
    George McGovern in 1972, objectively taking the position, Better Nixon
    than McGovern, and continued to refuse to organize unorganized workers,
    even when it became clear that postwar gains were being lost rapidly
    after the middle 1970s, had the power that radical activists never had,
    and stuck to pre-1960s policies as those policies led to political
    disaster and disaster for the trade union movement. Since the issues
    and struggles of the 1960s are ongoing and unresolved, neither self-
    congratulation, nor flagellation, self or otherwise, should be taken too
    seriously by students of history

    Norman Markowitz


    7. From: Frank Koscielski <ac2668@wayne.edu> (March 27)

    Albert Lannon and others interested in the Labor Movement and the Vietnam
    War might want to look at my book, Divided Loyalties: American Unions
    and the Vietnam War (1999, Garland) recently reviewed in Labor History.

    Frank Koscielski Wayne State University


    8. From: Kevin G Boyle <kboyle@history.umass.edu> (March 29)

    I've enjoyed reading the exchanges about what "we" did in the sixties.
    (I put "we" in quotes because, personally, I didn't do anything in the
    sixties.) I'm really interested in how labor unions and working people
    related to the social movements in the era and I've learned a lot from
    reading the postings. I wonder, though, whether the time has come to
    move beyond the effort to fit labor and the working class into the standard
    story of the sixties (that is, to say how they related to SDS or SCLS or
    NOW). Perhaps we also need to look at how working people experienced the
    decade on their own terms: in factories and office buildings, in their
    neighborhoods, in their families, in their churches, at the Moose Lodge.

    Maybe if we look at that perspective, we will get a whole new history of
    the 1960s, one that isn't centered on SDS at all. In other words, maybe
    the time has come to do for the history of the 1960s what historians in
    the 1960s taught us to do with the past, to rewrite it from entirely new

    Kevin Boyle


    9. From: Jefferson Cowie <jrc32@cornell.edu> (March 29)

    Kevin Boyle's posting struck me as particularly important. Decentering
    Berkeley, Columbia, and Ann Arbor, and examining blue-collar communities
    on their own terms will be the only way to understand the sixties "in
    factories and office buildings, in their neighborhoods, in their
    families, in their churches, at the Moose Lodge." Bravo.

    Going one step further, I suspect that "the sixties" as we're describing
    them (questioning of authority, upheavals in gender and race relations,
    the war) didn't really happen in those places IN the sixties. I would
    argue that these issues did not hit most blue collar communities until
    the seventies and did so in different and unintended ways. The many
    questions posed by the New Left were done so in the midst of a successful
    economy, but most working people struggled to come to terms with those
    issues in a different, and shrinking, world of economic opportunity.
    The search for lofty goals such as participatory democracy, authenticity,
    legitimacy of authority, and racial equality seemed very different under
    the weight of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.

    Interestingly, the seventies (unlike much of the previous decade) did
    see a resurgence of workplace issues (from federal legislation to strike
    activity to commercial pop culture), but when the answers came, they
    were not pleasant.

    Jeff Cowie


    10. From: "John Beck" <beckj@msu.edu> (March 29)

      AND VIETNAM (1993, UNC Press) to anyone's list to read for understanding
    of what "we" did in the 1960's. Working class communities, though
    fractured in their views, were united in their contribution of the
    majority of foot soldiers in the Vietnam conflict -- a fact which
    contributes to any context of protest, the student movement and the
    union movement in the 60's and 70's.

    John P. Beck, Labor Education Program Michigan State University


    11. From: "Pam Brunfelt" <p.brunfelt@thor.vr.cc.mn.us> (March 29)

    I agree with Jeff Cowie that in many ways the movements of the sixties
    bypassed some working class communities. I believe that that was
    certainly the case on the Mesabi Iron Range, where I grew up in the
    sixties. I remember engaging in some debates about Vietnam while in
    school, but otherwise the anti-war activity was very limited. Some
    people would argue that the other social movements such as Civil Rights
    and Women's Liberation have still not occurred here. I personally
    believe that the impact of the former has had almost no effect here
    because the minority population is still miniscule, and racism is a
    continual problem. The latter, however, has had a wider impact in
    business, in the mines, and in government.

    The reason's why places like the Mesabi remained backwaters as the tidal
    wave of social change occurred elsewhere needs to be explored. Perhaps
    Iwill get to it one day.

    Pam Brunfelt History Instructor Vermilion Community College, Ely, MN


      12. From: Heather Thompson <hathomps@email.uncc.edu> (March 29)

    I have enjoyed the "What we did in the Sixties" postings tremendously.
    It seems to me that the insightful discussion which has unfolded on this
    topic really shows how useful thinking about 60s radicalism and labor
    together can be. As several have pointed out, trying to link SDS to the
    labor movement as traditionally defined is not easy but I, like Kevin
    Boyle and Jeff Cowie, want to suggest strongly that we break out of that
    mold anyway. If one begins to look at workers in the late 1960s and
    1970s more as they really were, rather than as pop culture imagines all of
    them to be--the white Archie Bunker hard hat war-supporter--we see a very
    different picture of this era emerging. Young African American workers
    and white workers from factories in Detroit to New Jersey to Atlanta to
    rural Lordstown Ohio were fighting the War in Vietnam, oppressive
    management, sexism, racism, etc., etc. (not to mention engaging in
    dramatic protests and wearing long hair!) at the same time that many of
    their co-workers (and oftentimes their union leaders) were swinging
    rightward. If anyone is interested, I delve into some concrete examples
    of this in a recent article that I wrote for Mid-America called "Another
      War at Home: Reexamining Working Class Politics in the 1960s,"
    (September 2000).

    Heather Thompson Department of History University of North Carolina at


    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Apr 02 2001 - 21:32:40 EDT