Fri 10/13 @ 7:30PM
Sat 10/14 @ 11AM
These are not good days for organized labor. Decades of demonizing by the wealthy and powerful have led to a widespread public belief that unions are a negative force in the economy, benefiting members at the expense of everyone else. (It doesn’t help when union leaders such as Cleveland Police union president Steve Loomis loudly defend indefensible behavior by members, taking the attitude that its members can never be in the wrong.)
In fact, it’s been shown that lifting union workers lifts all workers. Shorter workdays, the five-day work week, paid vacations and the minimum wage all resulted from the work of unions, and these benefits are now widely enjoyed by many workers. And don’t expect to fix income inequality with unions made powerless by “right to work” aka “right to work for less” laws and decisions coming from conservative courts.
Learn more about what unions have accomplished — things many of us take for granted today — at the 4th annual Cleveland LaborFest. This year’s theme is The Wobblies: A Tribute to the Industrial Workers of the World.
The two-day event starts Friday evening with the Wobbly Musical Roadshow at First Unitarian Church in Shaker Heights. Three musical acts long associated with labor and/or social justice movement will perform. (All three have Pete Seeger connections referenced in their bios so you know their credentials are in order!)
They include New Yorker George Mann, a former union organizer who performs both his own tunes and classic labor songs. He produced a CD series called Hail to the Thief! during the George Bush administration, which cries out to be re-done now. He also produced an Almanac Singers tribute CD in 2013 with Pete Seeger narrating, one of several compilations he’s produced, the latest about how war impacts human beings.
Charlie King is a musical political satirist whose songs have been covered by such folk luminaries as Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Chad Mitchell and Holly Near. In 2014 he won the Joe Hill Award from the Labor Heritage Foundation. Finally Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, who have been performing as Magpie since 1973 are not only singers and songwriters but also actors, playwrights and social activists dedicated to helping make a better world.
Sadly, as an indication of the graying of the labor movement, all are older baby boomers who have been performing for as long as a half century.
It’s a suggested donation of $20 or what you can afford. If you can’t afford anything it’s free. If you can afford more, the recipient, the nonprofit sponsoring organization, The Labor Education and Arts Project (LEAP), will be grateful. There will be refreshments and all are welcome.
Then on Saturday at the Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium downtown, speakers will talk about topics such as Philadelphia’s interracial Longshore Union, Women and the Wobblies, and the intersection of the Wobblies with the American Left and anti-radical laws, with Q&A sessions after each presentation. The day will kick off at 11am with a screening of the documentary film The Wobblies, featuring interviews with old-time Wobblies organizers. It’s free and open to all. Lunch will be served.