LaborTalk for March 8, 2011

Cultural and Sports Programs Can Breed
Union Members’ Loyalty and Solidarity

By Harry Kelber

Imagine a symphony orchestra composed of union members offering a concert of classical composers to a public that has considered ordinary working people as uncultured and poorly educated. Couldn’t we develop such an orchestra from the many tens of thousands of unionists who can play a musical instrument?

We could have a labor chorus, jazz bands, string quartets, piano recitals and other musical events that would give union members a chance to display their talents and participate in competitions between locals.

We could do the same thing with painting and the visual arts, with prizes for outstanding performances. There are tens of thousands of amateur painters in unions, and most would be delighted at the opportunity to show their work.

What the AFL-CIO needs is a Department of Culture and Sports to organize the events. The interaction between participants will be helpful in solving one of the Federation’s long-standing problems: that members are not interested in union activities because they are often so boring. The intramural contests in musical and athletic performances will build both loyalty and solidarity.

Many Intra-Local Sports Contests in the 1930s

The same upbeat attitude can also be promoted by sports competitions. In the 1930s, there was rivalry between bowling teams, sponsored by local unions. There were intramural basketball leagues, with members turning out to cheer for their local union team. There were also tennis and ping-pong contests. There were plans for a “Field Day for Labor,” similar to the Olympics, but it never came off.

A union’s investment in uniforms and equipment would be small, compared to the millions that are spent on local and national elections. One of the best ways to build loyalty for the union is having its members identify with its sport teams.

Labor solidarity can be developed through competitions between local unions in various sports events. It is here where members from one union become acquainted with members from many other unions, and cooperation and solidarity have an opportunity to flourish.

Solidarity is especially important at a time when the labor movement is faced with serious crises.

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One fact worth remembering and repeating in Michael Moore’s speech to tens of thousands of people at the protest meeting in Madison, Wisconsin is that 400 wealthiest people have stocks, bonds, property, cash and net assets equal to that of 155 million people combined.

Isn’t it time for a change?—Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on March 11, 2011 and on our two web sites and on