by Bill Onasch
A regular timely WIR will soon follow but today I’m going to indulge in more than a little retrospection and celebration. It was fifteen years ago today that KC Labor—kclabor.org—went public on the World Wide Web. Don’t miss the greetings from readers at the end.
From No to Low Tech
In 2000, I had about fifteen years of experience in word processing and desktop publishing and had even connected early to pre-WWW CompuServe through a 600 baud modem on a Commodore Plus 4. But I had absolutely no training in Hyper Text Markup Language programming or graphic design—a deficiency still sorely evident.
I took the easy way around learning by selling my soul to Bill Gates, using Microsoft’s Front Page. It was simple using it to create web pages without knowing the underlying computer code. Stuart Elliott, who put together the Kansas Workbeat site for the Wichita central labor body, was generous and helpful with advice. I managed to acquire just enough technical skill to be really dangerous.
Ultimately, I paid the price for expediency when Microsoft pulled the plug on Front Page. I was left with thousands of files created with proprietary Front Page extensions and even experts were uncertain what would happen if I tried to convert them to another program. Now updating pages has to be done through a tedious editing of HTML on the server using the Microsoft browser. That’s why I today do almost everything new through supplemental WordPress and Google blog apps–and the old Front Page created site stands as essentially an archive.
The target audience was and remains as broad as the proverbial barn—the working class. Not the amorphous, largely mythical “middle class.” Not the AFL-CIO’s “working families.” The site aimed for all those identified in Solidarity Forever who “without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn!” Our readers range from those described by the BLS as “marginally attached to the work force” to tenured academics earning six figures.
The mission was simple: Educate, Agitate, Organize around a wide range of topics—and projects—in the interest of our class. We identified with the proud heritage of American working class struggle, led by the likes of Eugene V Debs and Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, A Philip Randolph and Farrell Dobbs, Tony Mazzocchi and Jerry Tucker.
Also embraced was the maxim Worker Solidarity Knows No Borders! We opposed war and corporate Globalization. We defended the right of workers to migrate as freely and secure as capital.
From the git-go, we sought to integrate environmental issues in to the workers movement around the principle of Just Transition. As the global warming crisis steadily worsened we adopted the masthead slogan For Class & Climate Justice!
While staunchly pro-union, KC Labor made clear it wasn’t part of the union bureaucracy with the declaration on our banner of being an “unofficial, non-commercial site, based in Kansas City, created and maintained by volunteer labor.” To emphasize our independence no grants or paid advertising are accepted—free will donations from appreciative readers is the only source of funding.
I was fortunate to find some expert collaborators early on. I didn’t have to look beyond my home for one–my wife, Mary Erio. Mary not only has an impressive string of initials, such as MS, PE, CIH, and CSP after her name; she has worked as a consultant on workplace safety, health and environmental issues for twenty-five years and has long done the monthly feature Safety First on the Heartland Labor Forum radio show. She graciously agreed to be the site safety editor. She has also served as chief critic of the webmaster—usually spot on.
Doug Bonney, who was a top notch labor lawyer before assuming his present job as counsel for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri has so far provided 23 articles on labor law issues that are grouped together on our Know Your Rights page–among the most visited sections of the site.
Between these two pillars we started building a wide array of what we call our resource pages–essentially link directories with some introductory remarks of our own, on topics such as unions, solidarity campaigns, Globalization, health care, Social Security, immigrant rights, labor history, labor culture and more. Though no longer regularly updated, these pages still exist. Not all of them can be accessed directly from the home page but the Google search box has an option for finding just about everything on the site lurking below.
Posting links to news stories of interest to working people from both commercial and movement sources has been a big part of what we do since Day One. Today these appear on the Labor Advocate blog, updated by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.
I’ve also done some on the scene reporting. In the Kansas City region this has included the 2006 Goodyear strike in Topeka; numerous transit issues; the 2011 We Are One events and some of the biggest Fast Food strikes and demonstrations in the nation, fighting for 15 and a Union.
Pushing limited budget constraints, I’ve been able to report back on a number of national stories—several national level meetings of the Labor Party, the founding of the South Carolina Labor Party, and delivering a keynote speech a few years ago at a state convention of the Ohio Labor Party. I also spoke at an innovative 2007 Labor & Sustainability Conference sponsored by the now disbanded Ford UAW Local in St Paul; wrote about three commemorations of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes; and attended several Labor Notes Conferences–setting up KC Labor tables with literature and buttons at the last three. I made it to one national gathering of Jobs with Justice and the Memorial Tribute for Jerry Tucker. And I found time during a Chicago honeymoon with my new bride to observe a national convention of a union to which I once proudly belonged—the UE.
The biggest scoop was the first story to be posted about the founding of US Labor Against the War at a conference I attended at the Teamsters 705 Hall in Chicago January, 2003. That article was picked up by Labour Start, AlterNet, PortSide, and Labor Standard as well.
Before my Front Page problems, the more substantial articles were posted on our Labor Advocate Online section where they are still stored. Now they will appear on our WordPress application, just like the Week In Review. The WIR has been a regular feature for about twelve years.
KC Labor has also provided web space for worthy projects such as the Kansas City Labor Party (now again Labor Party Advocates); KC Labor Against the War; and the Alliance for Class & Climate Justice.
Face to Face
Although battered by commercial exploitation, generic trivial pursuit, and a fair amount of straight up crime, the Internet is clearly a major acquisition of human civilization. Unprecedented power of information and communication is now readily available to most workers. We are considering adding some video content to KC Labor—perhaps even some video conferencing.
But still nothing in cyberspace—certainly not misnamed “social media”–can top corporal gatherings for truly “interactive” exchanges of ideas and experiences. In my opinion, face to face is the best format to learn and decide. KC Labor has sponsored, or co-sponsored a number of conferences, forums and celebrations including:
Labor and the Law, June 2001
Worker Rights at Home and Abroad, March 2004
The Future of the Labor Movement, April 2005
New Crises, New Agendas, April 2009 (in partnership with Labor Notes Troublemakers)
The biggest of our May Day celebrations, May 1 2011
We are particularly proud to have helped bring in Amjad Al-Jawhary of the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions of Iraq in 2004, and sharing him with the local antiwar movement for a big rally on the first anniversary of the invasion. We will always cherish the memory of the late Jerry Tucker speaking in 2005. Other prominent out of town guest speakers included Donna Dewitt, President Emeritus of the South Carolina AFL-CIO; Labor Party National Organizer, now Coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Health Care, Mark Dudzic; Ed Bruno, architect of numerous union organizing successes big and small for UE and the NNU; Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes; Adam Shils, an NEA teacher and familiar face and voice at Chicago area picket lines and demonstrations; Christine Frank, former coordinator of the Twin Cities Climate Crisis Coalition; and veteran labor activist and historian hailing from St Paul, Dave Riehle.
Nor did we neglect local talent such as Judy Ancel, director of the labor studies program at UMKC; Kelley Dull, who as president of AFGE Council 171 was in the thick of the fight against Bush administration attacks on DoD employees; Trent Bell, former president of the KC chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; embattled KC AFT teachers Anne Pritchett and Cris Mann; fellow ATU 1287 activists Brad Fischer, Molly Madden and Tony Saper; Dr Fred Lee, UMKC economics faculty and spokesperson for the IWW; Molly Barlow and Shawn Saving in Jobs with Justice; and Richard Mabion, now a Clean Air Ambassador for Earth Justice.
And though we haven’t yet coaxed him in to making a speech, I want to give special recognition to Jeff Humfeld, a retired Carpenter who has always pitched in to build the projects of KC Labor.
I also want to acknowledge our volunteer correspondents who from time to time supplied important news and commentary we wouldn’t normally see—Traven in Vermont; Andy in Brooklyn; Jerry in Cleveland; Larry in Detroit; Gordon and Rod in Vancouver; Ann in Oregon; Kathleen and Tom in Los Angeles; and George in Tucson. And I will always miss three who have passed—Bob Mattingly in the Bay Area, Gary Kennedy in Dallas, and Bob Mast in Detroit.
While it’s my name and mug shot you see in the Week In Review there have been dozens around North America who have contributed effort and money to sustain the KC Labor project. Attached below are some anniversary greetings from appreciative readers.
Like everyone, I have no idea of how much useful time I have left on this distressed planet. But with your support—and a little help from Social Security and Medicare—I plan to use whatever time that may be to soldier or stumble along with KC Labor in the fight for class and climate justice.
That’s all for this week.
Some Anniversary Greetings
* I did not know anything at all about class struggle until I was nearly 40 years old. After a lifetime of minimum wage jobs, I lucked out and ended up with a job that paid well enough that I could survive working a mere 40 hours per week. With all my newfound free time, I decided to go to college. I took the labor studies courses taught by Judy Ancel and ended up starting the Greater Kansas City branch of the IWW. KC Labor was the first other organization I reached out to when we formed out branch and I was thrilled and surprised to receive a very warm welcome when we attended the KC Labor May Day event that year. Bill’s unwavering support has been a constant source of inspiration to me. I truly can not thank KC Labor enough for being nice to me and setting the tone for my ongoing organizing efforts.
GKCIWW Delegate, IWOC Chair
* Bill Onasch is a rare breed who thinks for himself and can express himself skillfully and with panache. For over fifty years he has kept to the moral high ground. Thank you Bill!
From a California reader who signed as Uncle Tom
* I have been faithfully reading kclabor.org for 15 years now. Brother Onasch has been a voice of integrity and a champion for justice. He always has something interesting to say. I’m looking forward to his coverage of the next 15 years. Let’s hope he will chronicle the great awakening of the U.S. working class. As our mutual friend Tony Mazzocchi once said, “If you look at the history of American workers, you’d think they’re in a sleepy lagoon, and then all of a sudden there is an explosion.” Here’s to adding fuel to that fire. In Solidarity,
Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Healthcare
* Congratulations to Bill Onasch on this, the 15th anniversary of his Week in Review bulletin.
In the judgment of this reader, Bill has no equals in the field of labor journalism. He combines an incisive analysis of the burning issues confronting the labor movement today — and the working class as a whole — with an easy to read, down-to-earth writing style.
Whoever is not accessing kclabor.org is missing out in understanding the crisis we face today and what must be done to overcome it. We wish Bill many more productive years and an ever expanding readership base at a time when we so urgently need his messages and the talent he brings in delivering them.
Jerry Gordon, Cleveland
* I regularly read, appreciate, forward bits of your Week in Review to other labor activists, and brazenly plagiarize from your work for my radio commentaries. Your advocacy for a worker led just transition to climate justice is particularly valuable. Solidarity,
Traven Leyshon, part of leadership team of the Vermont AFL-CIO and Vermont Workers Center
* For years a friend in Seattle told me I should be reading Kansas City Labor. Now I like the Midwest fine but I put it off, concentrating on the pacific northwest where I work and struggle. But one day I took her advice and found out that KClabor.org is an opening to the world and the important working class struggles that are everywhere. I cannot start my day without perusing the the links to news articles that entice me – or my weekly dose of Bill’s view of the world with a little humor thrown in – much needed these days.
* Just read your as-always-excellent WIR and was pleased with your remarks about the Exxon-Mobil Refinery explosion. Not surprisingly, Dave [Campbell] has organized some very creative responses, like a wonderful demonstration that dumped horse manure on the Exxon-Mobil lawn. At the striking refinery, Tesoro, we’ve brought in members of the Occupy Wall Street Illuminator Collective (and their equipment) to project demands upon the refinery tanks. To see videos of the demonstrations at both refineries and still photos of the gigantic projections on the tanks, go to the Facebook page called United Steelworkers 675.
* The struggle is not over Brother.
Javier Perez, Executive Vice-President Amalgamated Transit Union
* Brother Bill,
For fifteen years, KCLabor has been a role model for me, showing how to stay grounded in my specific community while being aware of the systemic dynamics that shape both the challenges and the possibilities that we experience. And, whether I am looking locally or globally or exploring the intersections between these spheres, I have been continually prompted by KCLabor to think critically and analytically. As I develop my new project, the East Side Freedom Library (see http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org), a center for the history of working people in Saint Paul, Minnesota, I continue to find inspiration and direction in KCLabor. Thanks, Bill!
Executive Director, East Side Freedom Library
St Paul, Minnesota
* Happy 15th KC Labor
May you continue to grow, prosper, and your ideas spread like wildfire.
As far as we are concerned, you have been politically spot on, and we have enjoyed both reading and sharing your output these many years. You and your writings are a rare voice as a working class commentator, educator, and organizer, not often heard, but sorely needed.
Thank you, Bill.
Rita S. and Joan S.
* Dear brothers and sisters,
It’s no secret that these are difficult time for trade union activists. Wherever one looks the employers are on the offensive. We’re going to need three things to turn this around: a broader social and political perspective, a good sense of exactly what’s happening inside the trade union movement, and a sense that fight back and struggle are actually possible.
The KCLabor website provides all three of these qualities. The Week in Review provides an excellent broad overview of the week’s events. Written from the viewpoint of a humorous and affable curmudgeon (not too great a stretch for the author!), the WiR is invaluable. Its emphasis on the need for class independence and a workers solution to the great environmental crisis stand out.
The daily news summary is an outstanding source for the other two factors, knowledge of the broad trends in labor and reporting on the the fightbacks that do occur and even sometimes win.
Congratulations on the anniversary! Many more!
* Thank you for the Daily Digest every day and your Week in Review and occasional extras.
It’s a very helpful orientation on what’s going on in the world day to day. Glad you’re not taking retirement “to the next level” You’re doing a great service!
Co-Managing Editor, Labor Standard
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