Harry Kelber
A tireless fighter for labor. He is, and will be, sorely missed.
The Labor Educator will continue with the same fighting spirit dedicated to Harry.



By Bennett Kremen | April 15, 2013

Tell me please, why's there a deafening silence going on while a Right-to-Work law (organized labor's deadliest threat) remains ominously in effect since it was imposed more than three months ago in the state of Michigan? This frightening silence in the voice of labor can only be described without exaggeration as a crippling illness. And I'm ashamed and embarrassed, as we all should be, thinking of the great Walter Reuther, the legendary founder of the Michigan-proud United Auto Workers of America, who if he were alive today would be storming Heaven and Earth and Hell itself defying this devastating attack on the rights of ordinary people.

So I'm asking again, why aren't we hearing an unrelenting hue and cry in a fight to the finish against this escalating war on the justice and well-being of hard-working folks everywhere? Surely the AFL-CIO, Change to Win and all the unions, representing 14,400,000 souls, with many millions of like-minded families and friends, should be able with this raw clout to urgently mobilize, if our union leaders had the will, legions of fair-minded citizens throughout America to stop this menace to all our freedoms lurking in these dark laws creeping now into Michigan. Decades and decades of economic and social peace are now in great jeopardy. Yet we're hearing virtually nothing about this nationwide, except perhaps in Detroit. Nothing!

Never should it be forgotten — and everyone should know — that these Right To Work laws, which stymie a union's basic ability to pay its way and survive, were developed in the Jim Crow South and, in effect, were a legacy of slavery. And then this contagion spread into the rabid red states of the West as well. But everyone knows, of course, that working people in Dixie earn less, live poorer and have a lesser political voice than the rest of the country until now .For more than sixty years, the union movements of the Middle West and Northeast and West Coast were proud of being free of this oppressive Right To Work tyranny. Sadly no more, though. Indiana went first, now Michigan and there are Tea Party governors drooling to spread the joy financed with countless millions from the likes of the Koch brothers whose thirst for union blood Dracula would envy.

But now we come to the saddest part of the story. Today, while I'm writing this column, the Right To Work law finally goes into effect in the state of Michigan in full force: mark this day, March twenty-eighth. And I'm eager to know how the major unions are getting out this disturbing information to the general public and why for the last two months I've barely seen one story in all the important national media on this historic event. So of course, I call the AFL-CIO Media and Communications Department in Washington, DC and, okay, I reach someone, informing them that I'm a reporter. And the first question I ask is:

"How are you all handling the press today on this Michigan thing?"

"Oh, we're not putting a lot of resources into that right now.

Try the Detroit office."

"Uh huh" I say, covering my shock. "Thank you ma'am."

But okay, let's give Detroit a shot.

"Hello, AFL-CIO."

"Yes, operator, could you please connect me to the communications department?"

"No one's there today, sir. They're all out in the field."

Goodness gracious, need I say more? The questions I asked at the beginning of this article are surely more than half answered now. All organized labor, Internationals and locals combined, spend millions upon millions in their public relations and press efforts — and are you surprised now that they're not getting much bang for their buck. A Tiddlywinks company wouldn't stay in business very long if their public relations were handled this way. You always have the phones covered in a crisis by someone who can field any question. But this is describing only half the problem. The other half I'm afraid is worse.

In my writings over the last forty years and as a union member and sometimes activist, I've discovered that many of our union leaders are actually insecure and don't feel comfortable with the press nor really understand its subtleties enough to feel confident in mounting original, daring press campaigns, relying instead on their paid bureaucrats to handle such a vital function in today's omnipresent media world. No, these leaders have to think for themselves creatively and courageously and develop long term, hard-hitting strategies. Without this, the hardening of the arteries afflicting organized labor can only get worse. For not much can be done without the public behind you. It's perhaps dangerously past due that the rank and file in every union press their leaders to get on the ball — or get out.

Bennett Kremen has written about labor issues for The New York TimesThe Nation and other publications and his latest book, "Savage Days Haunted Nights", is available at Amazon.com and Kindle bennettkre@aol.com

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