NB Politicus

Art Perry’s Fighting Spirit and Boundless Optimism Will Not Be Forgotten

Posted in In Memoriam, labor by nbpoliticus on August 13, 2016

New Britain’s and SEIU’s Art Perry died this week after an extended and brave battle with cancer at the age of 63.

I knew and will not forget Art as a union organizer of fighting spirit and boundless optimism through too many political and union organizing campaigns to count. He worked at it for 34 years mostly for District 1199 and from 2004 to 2011 as political director for SEIU’s 32BJ – a period of inspiring and successful union drives at public and private employers on behalf of janitors who won better wages and working conditions for the first time.

In New Britain Art Perry, with Susan McKinley Perry, always has been here for progressive candidates and working people,  mostly winning and sometimes losing, but always standing up for fairness and social justice. “You are who you hang with,” he quipped last year. And Art Perry was one of us in the labor movement and progressive politics in New Britain.

Art Perry (right) in the New Britain delegation at a Democratic State Convention (Gerratana photo)

Art Perry (right) in the New Britain delegation at a Democratic State Convention (Gerratana photo)

In 2011 Art joined the CT Labor Department in the commissioner’s office where he applied his organizing skills to public policy and allocating resources to job creation and workplace rights. Notable has been Art Perry’s work to bring the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program to Connecticut. JAG is a national non-profit working with state-based organizations delivering supports and interventions to help “most at risk” young people stay in school, get to college and obtain sustainable jobs.  Says Liz Dupont-Diehl, the JAG-CT Director: “Art was the heart and soul of Jobs for America’s Graduates, Connecticut. It would not exist without him. He worked tirelessly to bring this program to CT and it has already touched hundreds of young people.”  The JAG program has been established at New Britain High School and in other communities in Connecticut since it began.

 

At Democratic dinner: from left Alton Brooks, Emma Pierce Susan McKinley Perry and Art Perry (Gerratana photo)

At Democratic dinner: from left Alton Brooks, Emma Pierce Susan McKinley Perry and Art Perry (Gerratana photo)

There are sure to be many war stories and remembrances of Art’s work and life in the days ahead that will let Susan, Art’s sons and family know that they are not alone in their sorrow. “To many people he was a mentor, a leader and a walking vacation if they needed,” posted his son Joshua Perry. “To our family he was an individual of never-ending wisdom, subtle smoothness, and a provider of the deepest love you could find.”

I am better for having known Art Perry because he was able to instill some of that  fighting spirit and boundless optimism in me.

John McNamara

 

 

 

 

Remembering 4/4/1968: 48 Years Ago On Monday

Posted in 1968, civil rights, labor by nbpoliticus on April 3, 2016

By John McNamara

So far the campaign of 2016 — thanks mainly to Donald Trump and his cohorts in the GOP field –is a disturbing reminder that any progress achieved on civil and voting rights made over the last 60 years is threatened.  The Supreme Court’s recent ruling weakening provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 and various moves to make it harder to vote in states and localities are real and present threats to that progress.  The campaign is also bringing home the importance of a strong labor movement if  income inequality is to be reversed.

This reality was not lost on members and friends of the Mary McLoud Bethune Club on Saturday April 2nd. They gathered in the rain for a 48th Anniversary Celebration on the anniversary of  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. And it will never be lost on those of us of a certain age who won’t forget why King went to Memphis.

Originally posted in April 2007

I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968. Thirty nine years ago today the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

That week day, like many others in my senior year at Lynn English High School, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts to punch in for the evening shift,  earning some money before entering Boston University in the fall.

The news spread quickly that Thursday evening that King was dead.

It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on “outside carriage control”.

The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation. Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many of us to become active in politics and protest.

New Britain's Alton Brooks at the city's MLK Park with members and friends of the Mary McCloud Bethune Club on April 2nd. (Photo courtesy of Brian Riley)

New Britain’s Alton Brooks at the city’s MLK Park with members and friends of the Mary McLoud Bethune Club on April 2nd. (Photo courtesy of Brian Riley)

There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday in January every year, but not so much is ever said on this anniversary of the day he died.

It’s worth remembering on April 4th and throughout the year why King was in Memphis on a day I don’t forget.

By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement.

In Where Do We Go From Here? King opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” — when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.

King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying:

“So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions.

King’s campaign for striking sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. That is worth remembering most from the day he died.

Updated from April 2007  http://nbpoliticus.blogspot.com/2007/04/39-years-ago-today.html

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Labor Day 2015: When “The Saturday Night Club” Remembered The Rise of New Britain Unions

Posted in labor, Local History by nbpoliticus on September 7, 2015

 By John McNamara

The New Britain Saturday Night Club, founded in the 19th century,  is an organization of professionals, industrialists, educators and the civic-minded whose members regularly gathered for some home-grown culture and education. None other than the “Learned Blacksmith” Elihu Burritt was a member starting in 1875 .  The longstanding group is kind of a Rotary Club gathering regularly  for  social and intellectual discourse.  The Club is still in business and members meet half a dozen times a year to continue the tradition. The Community Foundation of Greater New Britain still maintains a New Britain Saturday Night Club Fund “to support a legacy for culture, education and economic development.”  

Bill Weber, a prominent attorney and civic leader in the city for more than 50 years, and member of The Saturday Night Club,  shared with NB Politicus  a labor history paper presented  at the Club in 200.   A brief history of unions, Weber’s observations trace the city’s labor movement back to the 19th century and on to the build up and decline of those unions and the people who made it happen.

Labor Day 2015 is not a time to be nostalgic about the struggles of the last century to organize factory floors that turned New Britain into a “union town” with its many  thousands of factory jobs.

On this Labor Day the union movement is gearing up with 21st century strategies to fight right-wing attacks, organize white- and blue-collar workplaces with unionization in the private sector at single-digits. Income inequality,  thanks to new union organizing,  the Presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders and the leadership of Elizabeth Warren, may be moving the political debate in the direction it needs to go.

It’s not nostalgia, however, to make labor history a prominent part of what a new generation should know about New Britain’s past and what grandparents and great grandparents did and fought for to make decent livings and attain income security.

This year a new Connecticut law was enacted to make  the labor movement a part of what school districts should consider in setting social studies and history curriculums.  “Without the contribution of organized labor and the sacrifice and courage of union activists, the average worker, even the average non-union worker, would have many fewer rights and benefits in employment,” Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven) said last May when the bill passed. “We owe it to the children of Connecticut to teach them about these extraordinary contributions so that they might have an understanding of this critical component in American history.”  It’s the kind of curriculum that’s needed in the city for school kids to appreciate where they live.

Attorney Bill Weber’s Saturday Night discourse, “The Excitement of The Times” back in 1991 barely scratches the surface of this epic time in labor history. But Weber knowledgeably recounts who some of the key players were — a “greatest generation” of New Britain union organizers mainly from the militant and trailblazing United Electrical & Radio Machine Workers (UE) who shop by shop fought resisting employers and turned the city into a “union town.”

Detail from Taylor Map.

Detail from Taylor Map.

The build up of New Britain’s labor movement and the start of industrial unions go back 83 years to FDR’s New Deal.  The UE, the United Auto Workers (UAW) of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the International Association of Machinists (IAM)  of the old guard American Federation of Labor would at their post World War II peak  represent many  thousands of workers in the shops of Landers, Frary & Clark, Stanley Works, American Hardware’s Russell & Erwin, Corbin Screw, P & F Corbin and Corbin Lock divisions and Fafnir Bearing.

Attorney  Weber went further  back to the 19th century when the Saturday Night Club was just getting started to trace  the city labor movement’s beginnings.

Two dueling preachers, engaging in some class warfare from the pulpits, may have fueled the  struggle for good wages and working conditions in the 19th century. Weber recalled a chat with the Rev. Jim Simpson, a  former pastor of First Church, who speculated  “the beginnings of labor unrest and organization in New Britain hark back to the split of the South Church from the First Church. He suggested that the sermons of the Reverend Smalley were often directed at the industrialists of that time for their treatment of their workers and the conditions in their factories. Smalley’s efforts on behalf of the workers together with his opposition to slavery precipitated the industrialists leaving the First Church to form their own Church, today’s South Church.”  A case of class warfare in the pews.

Attorney Weber’s brief history noted the formation of The Molders Union in 1860 and following the Civil War the “10 Hour League” as tradesmen won a shorter work day at Russell & Erwin.  “As the manufacturers moved from skilled labor to mass production with semi-skilled and unskilled labor, the labor movement gradually died out and the Molders Union disbanded.” Not until 1915 did “low wages” and “long hours” spur  the IAM into action and the drive for unions was on again only to be slowed by “red raids” by state police arresting organizers from the “Communist Labor Party” in a first wave of redbaiting that would ultimately damage and divide organized labor.

“Everything changed with the Depression,” observed Weber of the watershed year 1932. ” Healthy young men who wanted to work could find no work. One person explained that he was at the top of his class at New Britain High School and believed himself to be far brighter than those of his classmates whose families could afford to send their children to college. But for him there was neither college nor a job. With the election of Franklin Roosevelt and with the advent of the New Deal, the passage in 1933 of the National Industrial Recovery Act (or NIRA) and the passage in 1935 of the Wagner Act, the strength of law backed a worker’s efforts to organize a labor union. “Many of the individuals that I interviewed and who were involved in the early labor movement in New Britain, stated that (and I quote them) “the excitement of the times in Washington was felt in New Britain,” according to Weber.

In 1934, federal law protecting the right to organize,  the first industrial union of the Depression formed at Landers, Frary & Clark. Collective bargaining began for semi-skilled and unskilled workers as the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) took off in many factory towns. That “Landers Independent  Union” would go on to affiliate with the UE and Local 207 was born in 1936. Recounted Weber: “This marked the beginning of an effort to organize all of the industries in New Britain. It is interesting that this drive was carried out by New Britain’s own home-grown cadre of organizers most of whom were under 25 years of age and many of whom were members of the Communist party.”

Early on, the chief organizer for the UE in New Britain was Mike Petanovich who faced beatings from company “goons” and went on to fight in WWII never to return to the labor movement after the war.  Others — familiar to many retirees — followed including Nick Tomasetti who would go on to be elected to the Legislature  Other UE organizers noted by Weber included Joseph Salwocki, James Wilson, Dan Dragone, Ira Shyer, Robert Barrows and Laddie Michalowski.

“The local UE leadership developed a plan to start organizing all of New Britain’s industries on a factory by factory basis. It was decided to organize the factories out of the Landers local including the remaining divisions of Landers. The organizers went to the various industrial plants in New Britain and handed out leaflets calling for workers to attend a meeting. Six to twenty people showed up from most plants with the exception of Stanley and New Britain Machine. Stanley and New Britain Machine were particularly difficult for the leadership to get workers to become involved in organization efforts because Stanley and New Britain Machine were friendly with their workers and had better working conditions than the other employers.”

The UE’s organizing drive continued to be stymied at Stanley and eventually the American Federation of Labor’s  IAM led by Jack Aguzzi won the first contracts at Stanley that remains a global hardware brand where just about every product line is manufactured somewhere else. “Organizing efforts at Stanley were not successful until May, 1945 when the International Association of Machinists was recognized as the employee bargaining unit” and Frank Rocco became “the youngest elected president of an IAM local” after his military service in the war.

The other CIO union,  the United Auto Workers, broke through in 1943 with a bargaining unit at  Fafnir Bearing Company. The UAW’s Tony Bracha credited Marty Greenberg as one of the organizers who organized workers forcing Fafnir to finally recognize the union.

Just as federal labor law during the New Deal empowered the UE to organize the factories, the post-war  Taft Hartley provisions of the Wagner Act and the travesty of red baiting took out the UE as the union for most of the city’s  industrial workers.  The union that turned New Britain and other towns in New England  into  “union towns” gave way to  the UAW and IAM,  both of which maintained a strong and militant labor movement for better wages and working conditions in the post-war era.

By 1991 when Attorney Weber gave his Saturday Night Club talk he noted the toll taken by industries going global for cheaper labor and offshore plants saying the city “has become a town of union retirees.”

But unions and the labor movement still figure prominently in the life of the city not only among retirees, but among the thousands of residents who still belong to a union and appreciate how important organized labor is to the city’s heritage.  Happy Labor Day.

 

 

 

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What Would a 21st Century Rev. King Be Saying and Doing in 2012?

Posted in civil rights, economy, labor by nbpoliticus on January 15, 2012

Our national day to remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is an opportunity to focus and ramp up the political debate in 2012 on “saving the middle class” and addressing “income inequality” that has been, from all reports, getting worse since the early 1970s.

Over the last year “Tea Bag” politicians, lavishly funded by unlimited corporate money, have sought to make the income gap worse, launching an unprecedented assault on the public sector and collective bargaining.

Tune in to any Republican Presidential debate for the latest ways and means to maximize income insecurity for working and middle income Americans. Or listen to the likes of Boehner and McConnell as they trash the very moderate moves of Obama to mitigate income inequality and preserve a social contract so vital to a free society.

So what would a 21st Century Martin Luther King be saying about all of this?

From his splendid words and many deeds we already can surmise that he would be leading a moral charge to “occupy” every city and town on behalf of the 99%; he would be working with others to close the gap in incomes and establish a level economic playing field.

Most certainly, Rev. King would be lending his voice to an organized labor movement that over time has been shrinking in direct correlation to the falling incomes of most Americans.

Proof of what he would be saying now comes with remembering what he was doing during his last hours on this earth.

4 April 2007
I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968, the day the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. 
That week day, like many others in my senior year at Lynn English High School, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts to punch in for the evening shift, earning some money before entering Boston University and its College of Basic Studies in the fall of 1968.
The news spread quickly that Thursday evening that King was dead. 
It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on outside carriage control. The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation. Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many to become active in politics and protest. 
There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday. But not so much is said on this anniversary of the day he died. It’s worth remembering on his January holiday, April 4th and throughout the year why King was in Memphis on a day I will never forget. 
By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement. In his book Where Do We Go From Here? King opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” — when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. 
The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.
King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying: “So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” 
Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the AFSCME union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions. 
King’s campaign for striking sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. 
That is worth remembering most from the day he died.

Remembering Rev. King and the Labor Movement – Again

Posted in civil rights, labor, state government by nbpoliticus on April 1, 2011

Ultra-conservative radio host Dan Lovallo was distorting the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. the other day.  He joined a caller in bashing labor unions by objecting to unions’ honoring and remembering King for his strong support of organized labor generally and public employee unions specifically.  It’s all part of Lovallo’s and his drive-time competition’s (Former Public Employee John Rowland)  steady trash talk against many who work in the public sector.  Lovallo’s distortions aside, the anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination on April 4th is a sad and irrefutable reminder that King gave his life for both civil and economic rights, especially the right of public employees to bargain collectively. In this season of attacks against labor rights in the public sector Rev. King should be remembered for his close allegiance with labor. It’s something if you are of a certain age you don’t forget:

04 APRIL 2007

39 Years Ago Today

I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968. Thirty nine years ago today the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. 

That week day, like many others in my senior year in high school, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts to punch in for the evening shift earning some money before entering Boston University in the fall. 

The news spread quickly that Thursday evening that King was dead. It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on outside carriage control. The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation. Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many of us to become active in politics and protest. 

There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday In January every year, but not so much is being said on this anniversary of the day he died. It’s worth remembering on April 4th and throughout the year why King was in Memphis on a day I will never forget. 

By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement. In Where Do We Go From Here? King opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” — when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.

King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying: “So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions. 

King’s campaign for striking sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. That is worth remembering most from the day he died.

from  http://nbpoliticus.blogspot.com/2007/04/39-years-ago-today.html