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Updated
September 16, 2010

 

A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.


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September 16, 2010

The End Of Summer Picnic

The Labor Day Picnic in Menands is one of the few ways to observe the holiday locally

Labor Day is a politically incorrect holiday. As we all know, if you work with your hands and produce wealth then you are a failure. But if you live on the backs of the wealth producers and never get your hands dirty then you are a success no matter how miserable your life. Thus we are all supposed to turn up our noses at the day put aside to honor honest laborers.

Well, not everyone ignores Labor Day. Out in the Village of Menands, which is part of the suburb of Colonie, we have the annual Albany County Labor Day Picnic at Ganser Smith Memorial Park. About 20 years ago they moved the picnic out of the City of Albany following the tire tracks of aging union members who in turn followed trends and left the City.

Ganser Smith Memorial Park, Labor Day
Ganser Smith Memorial Park, Labor Day

The picnic is sponsored by the Capital District Area Labor Federation (CDALF) which is an umbrella organization for local labor federations. The CDALF tends to be mildly progressive, which often puts it out of sync with far-right concessionist labor leaders. Yet the politicians show up, the picnic represents a large and active part of the remains of the local labor movement.

The weather could not have been better. Ganser Smith Park is quite nice, a well kept older park with all the playing facilities. Train tracks run on one side of the park cutting off motorists from the main drag, and indeed a train did run through during the festivities blowing it’s horn. Trains bisect the village on a regular schedule although they don’t stop in Menands anymore for any reason.

Senator Neil Breslin At The Grill
Senator Neil Breslin At The Grill

Our State Senator Neil Breslin kept up tradition by manning the grill and flipping hamburgers and hotdogs like he does every year. Early on there was a bit of a breeze blowing smoke this way and that and Mr. Breslin had to keep moving around the grill to find oxygen. But eventually as the pavilion filled up with people and a line formed for the grill the breezes settled down and the Senator avoided smoke inhalation.

Senator Breslin is running for reelection, once again he had a challenger in this past Democratic Primary. Over the last 14 years hardly anyone has bothered to challenge him, but now that the State Senate is no longer the obstructionist plaything of Joe Bruno and the Republican Party there is sudden serious interest in Mr. Breslin’s seat. Still, this year’s candidate to unseat the Senator seemed to be running more on personal attacks than on issues.

As for Senator Breslin’s performance in office, a big clue is that the Hearst owned Times Union hates his guts. They attack him mercilessly with blown up trivialities and routinely suppress his successes because, believe it or not, they consider him “too Liberal.” And yeah, as far as the Hearst Rag is concerned his Primary opponent could do no wrong, which tells you all you needed to know about his opponent.

Real Musicians, Old Labor Songs
Real Musicians, Old Labor Songs

Plenty of other politicians dropped in, if you hold public office you can’t afford to ignore such a large voting block. Congressmen Paul Tonko and Scott Murphy made a stop during the day, This is interesting because Murphy has opposed pretty much everything that Mr. Tonko has supported. For example, there was Murphy’s enthusiastic efforts to undermine Single Payer Health For All and his famous reluctance to vote for the final watered-down worthless health bill. This is part of Murphy’s permanent record. He’s a dog and he’s dark blue.

Albany County Surrogate Court Judge Kate Doyle showed up, so did her primary opponent Helena Heath-Roland. I’m starting to pick up that Heath-Roland leans heavily on charm, the guys think she’s sexy and the women think she’s one of them. Unfortunately she forgot to charm me. Charming manipulators usually seem to sense that a lone nut like me is an automatic threat to their plans.

And other politicians and candidates dropped in. I spoke to the other Breslin brother who is not a judge, Albany County Executive Mike, and I spotted Howie Hawkins, the Green candidate for State governor. I’m sure there were more but hey, I can’t keep a tally on all of these guys.

While chatting with somebody I was surprised when Frank Commisso Sr. interrupted the conversation to shake my hand. I guess after all these years the big man’s decided that I’m inevitable and won’t go away. The Albany County Majority Leader arrived with embattled County Legislator Brian Scavo. For reasons puzzling to me, Frank Sr. has taken Brian Scavo under his wing and seems to be bringing him to events like this.

Frank Commisso Sr. Gets A Burger From The Senator
Frank Commisso Sr. Gets A Burger From The Senator

But Scavo, to his credit, was the only City of Albany politician to show up. In a way it’s kind of refreshing to see County politicians instead of the same old down home elected officials. But this reflects the fact that the people who occupy all the good union jobs, and the votes that go with them, no longer live in the City. For City politicians, this picnic is a waste of time.

Outside the pavilion this year was a large contingent of activist group tables, more than I’ve seen any other year. I think these tables are great, I look forward to checking them out and talking with the people running them at every public event I go to. And sometimes you get free stuff, not to mention all the dead tree handouts you’d ever want.

Bethlehem Neighbors For Peace Table
Bethlehem Neighbors For Peace Table

Prominent information tables this year included Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace (BNP) the very active peace and freedom advocates based in the suburbs. Time Warner Cable skulked around for a bit (they call themselves “YNN” now) gathering images for a one minute TV segment. But this being corporate TV they couldn’t show or explain anything worthwhile, instead they filled up about a third of their segment with long unclear shots of the BNP table. I call this sort of thing “vague filler.”

Muslim Solidarity Committee Table
Muslim Solidarity Committee Table

The most active table drawing the most interest was right in the middle, the Muslim Solidarity Committee. The Wife and some of her co-conspirators were ready to talk, you could feel the energy and the interest draw toward their table. I amused myself by watching the uncomfortable TV crews avoid the Muslim Solidarity table, these corporate foot soldiers know exactly what they are not allowed to show.

The only information table allowed inside under the pavilion was Labor Solidarity, manned steadily by (among others) historian and author Larry Wittner. Professor Wittner is most noted for his definitive history of the popular anti-nuclear peace movement in the 20th century. The general opinion is that he has demonstrated convincingly with his research that the popular anti-nuke movement has had a tremendous impact on public policy decisions both in this country and abroad.

Larry Wittner (standing at right) At The Labor Solidarity Table
Larry Wittner (standing at right) At The Labor Solidarity Table

So folks sat and ate under the pavilion, potluck contributions were encouraged and welcome. A series of musicians, live human beings playing actual musical instruments and vocalizing into a microphone, entertained with some of the classic labor songs of the 20th century. Later in the afternoon some of the labor activists took possession the mic and gave speeches about labor solidarity and such, nothing extraordinary.

Don’t get me wrong here, this is a great picnic which I look forward to every year, a really nice way to spend a late summer afternoon. And there are not very many ways to actually observe Labor Day as a holiday, the annual picnic is one of the few available. Like I mentioned earlier, I like to defy political correctness and observe occasions like this that I am not supposed to observe.

The problem I have with the Labor Day picnic is that it is too benign, it does not challenge the participant or present controversy. Yes, I know that arguments can spoil a nice picnic. And yes, I understand that this event is put on by a federation, that means that it’s a bad idea for organizers to bring up points of contention between member organizations.

Fred Pfeiffer Rolls Out The Raffle Tickets
Fred Pfeiffer Rolls Out The Raffle Tickets

The big national controversy at this moment is the decentralization of big labor. During the 20th century the once vibrant labor movement was co-opted into the hands of business owners by a process of centralization, through which subsidiary local labor organizations had to follow the dictates of the national organizations. Eventually local labor organizations became little more than mouthpieces of the ruling organization, the AFL-CIO.

As a result, most working people stopped caring or participating in union activities. This left labor unions vulnerable when the big push for corporatization of our society began during the reign of Ronnie Reagan. Under Reagan’s extreme anti-labor ideology, the unions shrank and became little more than outfits dedicated to preserving existing jobs. And everyone, union or non union, started to see their real wages fall. That’s Reagan’s legacy.

The old preservationist unionists left over from the last century are still nominally in charge of organized labor, and the federal government is doing all it can to prop up these easily controllable relics. But in the last five years we have seen the three biggest unions break away from the AFL-CIO demanding more autonomy. And recently the biggest and most progressive of these three, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been experiencing open rebellion at a high level inside the organization precisely over this centralization issue.

Corporate Content Providers Steal Some Visual Bites
Corporate Content Providers Steal Some Visual Bites

Meanwhile, the good, high paying non-government jobs have been disappeared by “supply side” ideology. Basically, the United State’s protective tariff wall put in place by Alexander Hamilton back in the late 1700s has been torn down. This wall used to protect our industries while allowing more wealth to enter our country than leave. It worked great, but now it’s gone and so is our wealth.

At the same time, in the 1980s China created a version of Hamilton’s tariff wall that collects wealth for their country. As a result China is getting richer and we are getting poorer. This is not rocket science folks. It’s merely a grand scheme by foreign corporatists to undermine and take for themselves America’s wealth, and much of that wealth is disappearing behind China’s tariff wall. The scheme is working great, as we can all see.

Free Apples For Health At The BNP Table
Free Apples For Health At The BNP Table

So most of the good jobs have been disappeared and the last few unionized good job holders cling desperately to their jobs and benefits. Those are the folks who attended this picnic, along with sympathizers and politicians. Other than a handful of little kids, there were very few people under 40 at this picnic in Menands.

And there were very few folks at this picnic who were not aging whites. Where were the low paid ethnic minorities that are forced to take ‘service” jobs? They are the real workers, the ones who are keeping the country running despite itself. These are the workers who are joining the SEIU, the fastest and probably the only growing union.

So the old unionists, some of the more progressive of whom were represented at this picnic, are dying off. That means the union traditions that made and maintain this annual picnic are dying off too. Man, I don’t want to lose this great picnic.

I’m told that there was no Labor Day parade this year for lack of money. What a clear indication of decline. Perhaps it’s time for the unions to become more confrontational, less accommodating, that way new members will line up to join. If that happens then maybe next year we’ll get some FBI infiltrators to attend the picnic.

Free Apples For Health At The BNP Table
The Obligatory Bouncy Bounce

 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have a lifelong bias in favor of unions because of the following two incidents from my childhood:

1) At the age of three I needed a life saving operation. Because the Teamsters Union health plan was so reliable the hospital brought in a surgeon who knew how to conduct the procedure on a three year old. Today I know that without the union health plan they would have let me die. Such things happen all the time to people living in my neighborhood.

2) When I was four, the Teamsters called a strike that lasted one day. As a result, our family moved statistically from poverty to middle class literally overnight.

So if you see me wince when you say something dumb like, “Oh, I hate unions, they’ve never done any good for anybody,” you’ll now know why I grimace. And I’ll think you’re an idiot for saying that.


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Comments:
If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!


Posted by:Legislator BRIAN SCAVO
Posted on:09/18/2010
Comments:
not embattled, but battle hardened ,a survior.
who continue's to help people, as a former union employee it was my honor to be there,.
Remember it's all about helping people and that's what democratic lawmaker Brian Scavo does!


Posted by:GH
Posted on:09/18/2010
Comments:
While I agree that the final health bill was "watered down", I disagree that it was worthless. The state mandates, while unfunded, are taken seriously by state governments--and I'm not talking so much about the politicians but the civil servants ("technocrats" and "bureaucrats") who really make stuff happen. The federal mandates give a certain amount of cover to the northeastern states to do what they've wanted to do anyway.


Posted by:Legislator BRIAN SCAVO
Posted on:09/21/2010
Comments:
Come to the labor parade this friday 9/24/10
at 6pm and then join us for the Labor picnic.
visit http://brianscavo7.blogspot.com


Posted by:justice
Posted on:10/03/2010
Comments:
history is repeating itself.....just like americans abused the innocent japanese after pearl harbor....now theyre abusing innocent Muslims.....abusing them, cutting their tongues in prison, why are americans doin this to innocent people? HISTORY is repeating itself!!!!!......when will people open their eyes?!!!


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