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Helen Keller

Capital Blight: The Yellow Unions' "Green Coalition" Blues

By x344543 - September 21, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In a recent In These Times article, Rebecca Burns laments that the recent announcement by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka to "open up the labor movement in order to regain political (sic) clout" by partnering with progressive NGOs, such as the Sierra Club, NAACP, and Council de la Raza, has not been well received by more conservative elements within the federation, namely the building trades.

“Giving people a seat where they have governance, and they don't represent workers--that was a bridge too far for lots of folks," Building Construction Trades Department (BCTD) union President Sean McGarvey told the (Wall Street) Journal. McGarvey, whose union has been a strong backer of the Keystone XL Pipeline because of the jobs it will create, also said that the Sierra Club’s attempts to dissuade the AFL-CIO from issuing a resolution supporting the pipeline last year “just highlighted the audacity of people in the radical environmental movement trying to influence the policy of the labor movement.”

There are so many problems with that statement (from McGarvey and Burns alike) it's difficult to know where to begin.

McGarvey's claim that Keystone XL Pipeline is being opposed by people in the "radical environmental movement" (and his identification of the Sierra Club of all organizations as being the leader of it) is absurd. The very idea that the Sierra Club is the leader of the "radical" environmental movement, or even radical at all is nonsense. The big NGOs opposing the project include Corporate Ethics International, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, 350.org, National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Action Network, and as we have pointed out, these groups are anything but radical. Furthermore, Over 1,000,000 individuals have gone on record as opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, and it's highly unlikely that they're all "radical" in any sense, and don't get me wrong, it would be nice if they were, but I'm a realist! Does McGarvey understand that many of these people are union workers? Would McGarvey also include the growing number of unions who've gone on record opposing Keystone XL?

One might want to ask McGarvey to what extent the building trades themselves represent workers, because the evidence suggest that for the most part, they represent the capitalist class more than anything else. He also doth protest too much, because those so-called "radical" environmentalists, for the most part are fixated primarily on Keystone XL and ignoring the other pipelines--such as the Bluegrass Pipeline, Enbridge's Line 9, Transcanada East, and others--a strategy which Barack Obama might use to expedite the latter. Fortunately, the real radical environmentalists (who're not beyond criticism, certainly) are focused on those and doing quite well at fighting them.

In any case, McGarvey has little to worry about, because what Trumka is proposing is hardly anything close to a meaningful Blue-Green alliance and is, more likely than not, going to be more old wine in new bottles, namely building coalitions to keep the labor movement (and the progressive NGOs) firmly tied to capitalism and the Democratic Party. If the AFL-CIO's combined efforts with the Sierra Club et. al. amount to anything more than intensified lobbying and get-out-the-vote (for Democrats--and even occasionally Republicans) it will be a huge surprise.

The Rich, Radical Life Of Helen Keller

Andy Piascik - The Indypendent, January 28, 2012

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Travel north from Bridgeport, Connecticut through Fairfield to Sport Hill Road in the small, upscale town of Easton and you eventually come to Helen Keller Middle School. Go west a few miles to the other side of Easton and you can see the house where Keller lived from 1939 until her death in 1968. If you don’t know the house’s location, however, you’ll never find it, for there is no stone or plaque marking the spot even though Keller lived there longer than anywhere else.

That there’s no marker at the house is a bit surprising, for there was a time when Keller was one of the most famous people in the world, better known even than presidents and kings. Circa 1920, she was perhaps the second most recognizable Westerner on the planet behind only Charlie Chaplin—also a radical who, like Keller, used his brilliance to speak for the unrepresented.

Born in 1880 in Alabama with sight and the ability to hear, Keller lost both senses at 19 months due to disease, most likely scarlet fever or meningitis. Her parents were of some means, and she was thus spared institutionalization, the fate that befell thousands of blind and deaf working-class children of the time. As a young girl, Keller developed a homemade sign language that she used to communicate with those close to her. Treatment options and educational opportunities were few, however, and her quality of life was minimal. Despite the love of her devoted but heartbroken mother, Kate Adams Keller, Helen lived much like an untamed animal.

In 1887, an extraordinary young woman named Anne Sullivan traveled to the Keller home to be her teacher. Severely visually impaired herself, Sullivan’s early life was something out of Dickens or Engels. Orphaned at a young age, she had lived for many years in a Massachusetts institution alongside mentally ill adults who often preyed on the children in their midst. Staff were abusive and apathetic, and the facility was little more than a holding cell which few left alive. Sullivan later recalled that fewer than a fifth of the children there lived to adulthood. Among other horrors, she watched in agony as her younger brother slowly died of neglect despite her best efforts to protect him. Thereafter, she burned with a determination to ensure that other children would not share his fate.

Just 20 years old when she arrived in Alabama, Sullivan began a remarkable relationship with Keller that lasted five decades. In a few months of incredibly intense work, Sullivan drew on teaching techniques she had barely just learned and helped Helen find herself. And the self she helped Helen find contained one of the greatest hearts and minds of that or any other time.

Shocked members of the scientific and teaching communities studied Keller and Sullivan’s innovative techniques. Medical experts were put in the awkward position of having to explain why so many of the great minds of the time had been so thoroughly upstaged by an undereducated woman with a will of iron.      

Some sought to portray Keller’s situation as an unfortunate but ultimately holy burden delivered from on high. Philanthropists pressed in, looking to turn her story into a drawing room freak show. Had she acquiesced and remained polite, virginal and respectable, Keller could have become part of the high society scene. But Helen was having none of that. Although she did for much of her life live, in part, off the largesse of several capitalists, she refused to allow herself to be run up anyone’s flagpole to wave as a testament to the good intentions of the well-to-do. Instead, she spent the rest of her long life standing up for the trod upon.

Helen Keller: Why I Became an IWW

An Interview, written by Barbara Bindley, New York Tribune, January 15, 1916

I asked that Miss Keller relate the steps by which she turned into the uncompromising radical she now faces the world as Helen Keller, not the sweet sentimentalist of women's magazine days.

"I was religious to start with" she began in enthusiastic acquienscence to my request. "I had thought blindness a misfortune."

"Then I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.

"Then I read HG Wells' Old Worlds for New, summaries of Karl Marx's philosophy and his manifestoes. It seemed as if I had been asleep and waked to a new world - a world different from the world I had lived in.

"For a time I was depressed" - her voice saddened in reminiscence- "but little by little my confidence came back and I realized that the wonder is not that conditions are so bad, but that society has advanced so far in spite of them. And now I am in the fight to change things. I may be a dreamer, but dreamers are necessary to make facts!" Her voice almost shrilled in its triumph, and her hand found and clutched my knee in vibrant emphasis.

"And you feel happier than in the beautiful make-believe world you had dreamed?" I questioned.

"Yes," she answered with firm finality in the voice which stumbles a little. "Reality, even when it is sad is better than illusions." (This from a woman for whom it would seem all earthly things are but that.) "Illusions are at the mercy of any winds that blow. Real happiness must come from within, from a fixed purpose and faith in one's fellow men - and of that I have more t+han I ever had."

"And all this had to come after you left college? Did you get none of this knowledge of life at college?"

"NO!" - an emphatic triumphant, almost terrifying denial - "college isn't the place to go for any ideas."

"I thought I was going to college to be educated," she resumed as she composed herself, and laughing more lightly, " I am an example of the education dealt out to present generations, It's a deadlock. Schools seem to love the dead past and live in it."

"But you know, don't you," I pleaded through Mrs. Macy and for her, "that the intentions of your teachers were for the best."

"But they amounted to nothing," she countered. "They did not teach me about things as they are today, or about the vital problems of the people. They taught me Greek drama and Roman history, the celebrated the achievements of war, rather than those of the heroes of peace. For instance, there were a dozen chapters on war where there were a few paragraphs about the inventors, and it is this overemphasis on the cruelties of life that breeds the wrong ideal. Education taught me that it was a finer thing to be a Napoleon than to create a new potato."

"It is my nature to fight as soon as I see wrongs to be made right. So after I read Wells and Marx and learned what I did, I joined a Socialist branch. I made up my mind to do something. And the best thing seemed to be to join a fighting party and help their propaganda. That was four years ago. I have become an industrialist since."

An industrialist?" I asked, surprised out of composure. "You don't mean an IWW - a syndicalist?"

"I became an IWW because I found out the Socialist party was too slow. It is sinking into the political bog. It is almost, if not quite, impossible for the party to keep its revolutionary character so long as it occupies a place under the government and seeks office under it. The government does not stand for the interests the Socialist party is supposed to represent."

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