And the Pope said "Well, Mr. Romero, I am directing you to create a better relationship with the government of El Salvador."
So, (laughs), that was no longer encouragement from the top.
Rob Kall: Yes. And you say a page later in your book that you came away from this struggle with another conviction as well, that "Only local unions, not any national union, or federation of national unions, could be looked to for visionary energy and seeds of change."
Staughton Lynd: That's right. There was such a local union, at least one, here in Youngstown when we first came. It was Local 1462 of the Steelworkers. Above the union hall were written the words "Home of the Rank and File." The two men on account of whom my wife and I moved to Youngstown were President and Vice-President of the Local, and they put up a fight, but they lost. The mill closed, and we weren't able to re-open it.
Rob Kall: So, you're basically saying there are big problems with centralized unions and centralized activism, is that part of what you're saying about accompanying?
Staughton Lynd: Yes.
Rob Kall: Then there's hierarchy as well. Where does that fit in with accompanying?
Staughton Lynd: Obviously, the kind of self-organization that people create when they're in involved in a struggle that's built from below is likely to be a circle of people in which decisions, as much as possible, are made by consensus in which no one gets paid if they're paid at all much more than anyone else, and so forth. That is the kind of organization that, according to my research, and oral histories, and documents I've consulted, existed in the early and middle 1930s in the Labor Movement in this country. I think we've all had moments in our lives when we've been part of such a thing.
In the South, in the Civil Rights Movement, Stokely Carmichael says in his autobiography that "Consensus was not a Middle-Class fad, consensus was the natural thing to do when the consequences of your decision might get somebody killed"; and nobody was going to let that decision be made by another person for them. So I feel that both the early Labor movement in the 30s, and the Civil Rights movement in the deep South, especially in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, had this horizontal character. It was only when people entered into deals, gave away the right to strike, etc., etc., that you began to have -- you can describe it many ways -- but a simple way to describe a labor organization of the kind I have in mind is, nobody wants to go back to the plant floor, and so they brown-nose whoever is above them in the hierarchy, and when that person moves on, they entertain the hope of moving up.
Rob Kall: "Nobody wants to go back to the plant floor, and so they try to rise in the hierarchy," eh?
Staughton Lynd: You got it.
Rob Kall: I need to do a station ID.
This is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM sponsored by Opednews.com. I've been speaking with Staughton Lynd. He's been an activist for fifty-some [50+] years. He's the author of Accompanying: Pathways to Social change. We've been speaking about his experience since the time when he was director of Freedom Schools in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer.
You have a quote, Staughton, in your book, that I think really nails some of the problems of current activists: "Too often, Left intellectuals gather together and ask each other, 'Now, how can we attract workers?' When workers show up, they're a minority. The culture and vocabulary of the meeting have already been established by Middle Class Conveners, and the workers soon leave." I have seen this! I'm not just a radio host, I'm an activist, and I've seen this happen: where you've got a whole bunch of people who are making six figures talking about how to help all the people who are out of work, or out of health insurance -- that doesn't work. I think it gets back to accompanying. If you want to help people you have to go to them! That's what you're saying at the core.
Staughton Lynd: We had an entity in Youngstown that we called "The Workers' Solidarity Club," which functioned as a parallel Central Labor Union, and by that I mean this: in every community there is a so-called Central Labor Body in which there are delegates from all over the union scene in that particular community. But because the whole bureaucratic apparatus has got arterial sclerosis, that's also true of the central labor body, which is supposed to give strike support. The strike starts in July, and by the time you get any help from the central labor body, snow is falling.
So our idea was, "Well, we don't have a lot of money, we don't (initially at least) have a lot of people, but: we are going to create a time and a place where workers who are on strike, or an individual who feels that he or she has been unjustly discharged, can come and get help." And we did that. We had no bylaws, we had no officers, we had no dues, and we won some pretty big strikes in the Youngstown area, the Mahoning Valley of Northeast Ohio; so I don't think I'm just blowing smoke, or talking about something that I haven't experienced. I think I'm talking about something people can do if they want to enough.