Sunday, May 20, 2007

[Fwd: Blogging For LAWCHA]

The Following is a Forward From H-Labor. The text of my presentation
will be posted on the PA Website:

I had the great experience yesterday, Friday, May 18th, of participating
in a panel at the Labor and Working Class History/Southern Labor Studies
Association Conference, The Working Class and the Nation, at the Terry
Sanford Institute for Public Policy at Duke University

The experience was great because it was very different than academic
conferences as I remember them which I used to go to them(I haven't for
many years). My memories of academic conferences are of faculty playing
show and tell, often trying to position themselves in the academic
market place by identifying with some new academic fad while older
faculty meet old friends, stay away from the panels, and eat and drink.
Also, there are often people from the "association," trying to hit you
up for money as is everybody else.

While I had to pay for a limo to get to and from the airport to the
conference, even that was interesting because the Limo driver, a
friendly intelligent man named Woody was pleasant to drive with and very
very efficient. He also gave me a good price.

My day at the conference was what people on the left who write about the
Working class often say about the Working Class; that it is open,
passionate, warm and egalitarian. Nobody even tried to hit me up for
money. The people at the desk gave me all the material I needed and
steered me to the panels. I walked in on "Striking Politics" from the
Great War to the Great Society. And heard the last part of Jennifer
Brooks(Auburn) paper, "A dilatory Stratagem: Taft-Hartley and
Replacement Hiring in the Postwar South, 1948-1952." It was first-rate
as analytical history and thought provoking. There were competing panels
that caught my interest, one on prison labor and the attempted
unionization of prison guards, another on Civil Rights struggles in the
1960s and 1970s(since I teach a course on the history of the 1960s, that
was difficult to miss) but the importance of Taft-Hartley to both labor
history and the general postwar domestic political history of the U.S.
swayed me.

Jennifer's paper, which challenged the view that the use of replacement
workers was a tactic of the 1970s and suggested that Southern employers,
seen usually as the least sophisticated and the most reactionary of the
business class, may have developed tactics that were later used by their
more "cosmopolitan" Northern brethren, was followed by an excellent
paper by Liesl Orenic(Domincan University) on the U.S. Airlines Strike
of 1966. This paper challenged the conventional wisdom of a passive,
non-strike oriented organized labor movement in the 1950s and 1960s and
raised significant questions about labor and politics in the period.
Unfortunately, I missed Michael Pierce(University of Arkansas) paper on
the Poll Tac, Women's Suffrage and Fighting for Democracy in the Great
War but but the discussion that followed made me think that those who
had heard it found it thought provoking, as were chair and commentator
Mary Wingerd'(St. Cloud State U) comments on the presentations.

A Plenary Luncheon followed and low and behold it was free(modest but
still an answer to those who say there is no free lunch). The purpose
of the Luncheon was to present the Association's Distinguished Service
to Labor and working-class History Award to someone who really deserved
it David Montgomery. When I think of activists and scholars like David
Montgomery, and there aren't that many, I think as a political historian
of Eugene McCarthy's comment in his nominating speech for Adlai
Stevenson in 1960, "Do not desert this man who has made us all proud to
be called Democrats." David has made a lot of students and scholars
proud of labor history.

Michael Honey opened the proceedings with a Woody Guthrie anti-war song
from the early days of W.W.II, which given the present context was
appropriate. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, a distinguished historian who
deserves her distinction, followed with a warm perceptive commentary on
her experiences as a David Montgomery student and Leon Fink paid tribute
to David while asking him questions whose answers would fill libraries.
David's statement showed all that was and is good and great about
David, that is his eloquence, insights, and humor. As a coming
attraction for his later work, I might mention that he mentioned
something that blew my and many others minds, that is, pre W.W.I
"illegal" immigrants, crossing a river to find work and a better life by
breaking into a province of the Czarist Russian Empire!

Our Panel, "Backlash Against Labor History," went quite well I thought,
although I did go on pretty long until Alex Morrow, the Chair and LAWCHA
Graduate Student Committee member, gave me a paper that said Five
Minutes. My presentation was on the "Big Picture" and emphasized the
need for labor historians to engage in university and societal activism
in order to create both jobs and respect for labor history. Cindy
Hahamovitch was more specific in terms of what graduate students in the
field face and what they can do in the job market, while analyzing the
strengths and weaknesses of labor historians today. Roberta Gold, a
recent Ph.D. who, unlike Cindy and myself, could use a tenure track
job(and based on her presentation, certainly deserves one) presented
both the Big Picture and the more specific one in analyzing what it
means to be on the job market today.

Although the attendance was not overwhelming(our panel was competing
with two others, including Leon Fink and Bryan Palmer in a Roundtable
discussion of The Politics of Publishing Labor History, which I might
have gone to if I were not presenting a paper, myself, the Q and A was

These panels were followed by a series of workshops, Documentary and
Activism exploring the Links. I signed up for John Biewen of the Center
for Documentary Studies(Duke) presentation on Audio Documentary. Biewen
had worked for NPR for many years and presented really fascinating
material on both radio documentary and the work that his students have
done on contemporary issues, from audio tapes of the battle to win back
a Duke maintenance worker's job, to the aspirations of the high school
student son of Latino farm laborers. The workshop and the ensuing
discussion were both informal and very insightful on a wide variety of
questions concerning media ethics and production.

A reception at the Center for Documentary Studies followed with great
food and wine, but unfortunately, the clock struck 6:30 and Woody picked
me up to go to the air port( although I had, for the first time in my
thirty six years at Rutgers received funding to attend the conference, I
would be stretching it if I stayed more than a day).
I emailed Rachel Seidman that I would blog for LAWCHA and I was happy to
do it. I hope others blog for LAWCHA and discuss their experiences with
the conference.

--Norman Markowitz

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