Monday, December 08, 2008

A Resurgence of Things Past

The winds of political fashion are not so whimsical as those that blow the hemlines of the apparel industry up and down, but they are more enduring and significant.

About two months ago, an online personality at the writers community This Is By Us, who goes by the handle of Xigent, took the time to watch a video presentation of "Vedette Does La Danza."

Among other interesting and kind things Xigent had to say about this musical/spoken word collaboration with Omar Torrez, was "Attendance to performances like these will really pick-up considerably during the coming Depression, you'll see."

What seemed a light-hearted quip about our nation's dire economic circumstances turned out to be prescient. Daily plays at the "Vedette Does La Danza" My Space page have jumped considerably of late.

"Vedette," the novel from which all this musical material is drawn, is essentially the tale of young flamenco singer's engagement with anarchists (of the kind pictured) who assume control of the town in which she lives at the Spanish Civil War's outset.

It is full of direct action politics including an attempted takeover of a rich bullfighter's ranch, the declaration of free love in an Andalusian village, collectivist experiments, and atheistic tropes, all of which left the highway scribe sitting, in literary terms, where he sat for years regarding things political...

... way outside.

Back in February we posted "highwayscribery on Super Tuesday" a full-throated endorsement of then-Sen. Barack Obama.

There was nothing novel in this. Since he was old enough to vote the scribe has backed the leftish guy in the Democratic Party primaries (Ted Kennedy '80, Jesse Jackson '84 and '88, Jerry Brown '92) only to suck it up, hold his nose and pull the lever for the likes of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and yes, Bill Clinton, in the general elections.

Then a weird thing happened. the scribe's first choice won the nomination and then, to his complete and enduring shock, the general election.

Clearly something had changed in the American psyche, which is very closely linked to its wallet. So much so that sales of "Vedette" actually began to pick up. They are not mass sales, but they are much better than zero and unlike anything enjoyed before.

Which brings us to the sit-in by union factory workers in that city du jour, Chicago.

Monica Davey of the "New York Times" reports that some 250 workers at Republic Windows and Doors have begun to stage a sit-in of the type favored by Vedette's comrades, after learning their jobs were being terminated... with three days notice.

There are class rumblings in all this that are related to the ever-growing distance between rich and poor in this country.

For some 30 years now it has been fashionable to declare the antagonism between classes an historical oddity substituted by dreamy soft-sells like the Bush administration's short-lived "ownership society" or the popular "team concept" of industrial relations hatched in Japan and imported to American projects like General Motor's "Saturn."

Not that class warfare is a good thing or its termination undesirable, but the unrelenting greed of international capitalist class did everything it could to fan the dying embers and now we've got the desperate poor resenting the extremely well-heeled across a divide once occupied by the conflict-absorbing middle-class.

The result is events like the Chicago sit-down, which is a plant takeover by any other name, where the workers, according Davey's piece, are not buying claims the decade's-old company is in financial straights, "and they suggested that it would reopen elsewhere with cheaper costs and lower pay."

There's ample precedent for this thinking, of course.

Which brings us back to the President-elect. There has been some hand-wringing of late in progressive circles as Obama casts about for people with experience in the business of government and settles upon a number of Clinton holdovers.

But asked about the plant takeover in his hometown, rather than dredge-up tired bromides about the rule of law and imply police action in private property's defense, here's what Obama said:

"The workers are asking for the benefits and payments they have earned. I think they're absolutely right and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across the economy."

As a long-time and professional observer of labor relations in the United States, the scribe can assure you that Obama's position represents change of the most dramatic kind.

How important are his pronouncements?

President Bush made it clear that whatever you have at the top, such as disdain for democratic traditions, you have throughout the government, and ruling cliques the nation over.

And so, picking up on the President-elect's position, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) said the state would do no more business with Bank of America until it restores credit to Republic Windows and Doors.

Davey is doing a nice job of covering the sit-in, but she may lack experience covering American labor.

the highways scribe, who does not, can tell you that the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America - "UE" to those in the know - are an old and radical left-wing union thrown out of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1950s for its alleged communist ties.

the scribe covered their convention some 20 years ago, a time of yellow-dog contracts and picket-line retreat everywhere, and was quite taken aback at one UE leader's threat that, "We can and will do economic harm to any employer who thinks the Bill of Rights ceases to apply once one of our members passes through the factory gates."

Later, the delegates at that same convention enjoyed an address from a leader of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union , which shared a like pedigree, and whom spoke on "The Meaning of Left-Wing Unionism," fondly recalling the rate of syndical affiliation during the "New Deal."

"It was a thing to behold," he waxed nostalgiac.

The resurfacing of such groups and sentiments are the kinds of things that happen when the powerful lord too much over those who have not, pry away hard-earned things, and back them into corners.

This Is By Us, by the way, is closing February due to lack of advertising revenue.

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