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Labor Law For the Rank and Filer Review

UE Local 170


This small but powerful volume serves two purposes, as the subtitle suggests. The most pressing and obvious need this book fulfills is as an admirably concise primer of labor law — which the publisher ensured was updated literally to the moment it went to press.

Originally published in 1978, and later revised in 1982, the new edition is easily worth the modest price, even to the most experienced shop steward, for its summary of current labor law, including the most recent interpretative rulings.

Chapter 1 provides a list of resources for legal research, including the publications of BNA, as well as materials available on the Internet such as Lexis and Westlaw. Chapter 2 presents an analysis of the legal basis for workers’ rights as found in American jurisprudence, with a summary listing of those rights (p. 20) and their statutory sources.

Chapter 2 contains discussion of specific legislation relating to workplace governance, including the Norris-LaGuardia Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Taft-Hartley Act, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Chapter 4 is comprised of an extended treatment of workers’ rights, supplemented with numerous legal citations, which is, nevertheless, clearly explained for the non-lawyer. There is a particularly useful discussion of Weingarten — the worker’s right to representation at any interview where there is a reasonable belief that disciplinary action could result. Similarly, public sector workers are treated to a concise but informative explanation of their free speech rights in light of the 2006 Supreme Court ruling known as Garcetti.

The perspective that informs and underlies the early section of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer comes to the fore in chapters 5 and 6. The working assumption throughout this book is that labor law affords limited, not to mention continually shifting, protection to the wage-earner.

The conclusion to be drawn is that workers must inevitably look elsewhere than a strict reliance on legal and judicial remedies to combat injustice on the shopfloor. Far more gains can be realized by concerted direct action as a unified and determined rank and file.

The extended discussion of ‘solidarity unionism’ in the book’s concluding chapter is an articulate critique of the business unionism that has put workers at the mercy of legislative and procedural means that are invariably dominated by the interests of management.

As a result, the enduring value of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer is not so much the analysis of current trends in labor law, valuable as that is. The practical usefulness of this book owes more to its unrelentingly critical take on American labor law itself.

In this respect, the book echoes some of the best of recent historical scholarship, such as James Gray Pope’s research proving that rank and file activism — rather than the efforts of politicians, judges or even union officials — had more to do with concrete gains in workers’ rights and power in the early days of the New Deal NLRA. Pope was, appropriately enough, an advisory reader for the authors’ manuscript of this book.

This slim volume draws on such a recognition in order to put into our hands a do-it-yourself manual for everyday struggles over working conditions. As such, it confirms the fundamental insight that has been the guiding principle that distinguishes UE from those unions that deviate from rank and file control.

Lynd and Gross are to be commended for developing a useful resource not just for shop stewards, but for every wage-earner engaged in the struggle to improve the condition of working people.

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Labor Law for the Rank and Filer


By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review

Romantic though it seems, the life of labor organizers and unions is messy. Most everyone is familiar with the firings for union organizing from which many a motion picture has borrowed from as grist. But such high drama can easily be avoided by bosses who understand the law and manipulate missteps to their advantage. No doubt corporate attorneys are able to advise their clients to thwart organizing while staying within guidelines. And then there are confused organizers who do not grasp the subtleties of labor issues, let alone their own rights, which can further damage the process. With such forces at play, it is a wonder labor organizing happens at all. Enter Labor Law for the Rank and Filer: Building Solidarity While Staying Clear of the Law by Staughton Lynd and Daniel Gross, an essential book for anyone interested in worker activism and doing so in a way that stays unruly while protecting employees.

There is plenty for those interested in labor organizing to be excited about. Lynd and Gross explain the most recent body of law in an easy to understand way. Practical wisdom beyond the law books abounds here as well. In some cases, that practicality is a cold glass of water to the face in terms of reminders. Lawyers and judges are not necessarily (and not historically) friends of labor, the authors caution, and though it is tempting to scuttle mediation, shop stewards and other means, non-litigious methods often serve workers better. They illustrate that point with plenty of examples of company employees applying unique and media-savvy techniques for getting corrective action while staying out of court. Lynd and Gross brand this one of the hallmarks of what they call solidarity unionism.

Solidarity unionism is an intelligible idea that might be distilled down to labor taking less of a defensive position and instead being proactive in addressing its own needs, with splashes of anti-globalization ideas thrown in. The concept of solidarity unionism, as one in which worker involvement ensures day-to-day workplace activities are equitable to labor, offers many stimulating opportunities. How is this organizing model applied longterm? How does one ensure it is sustainable when inevitable tensions and conflicts within the working class occur? Lynd and Gross present an intriguing vision that seems ripe for further application and exploration.

It is all but impossible to address this book without acknowledging the stature of co-author Staughton Lynd. Lynd has dedicated his life to political struggles; he directed the Freedom Schools in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer and led or was actively engaged in countless union drives on the way to becoming one of the most distinguished labor attorneys in the United States. He penned Labor Law over 25 years ago, and this edition’s fresh approaches breathe new life into Lynd’s manifesto, as much Saul Alinsky as it is Joe Hill.

Ticking in at just over 100 pages, Labor Law throws together elements of legal advice, agit-prop and Organizing 101 as a challenge to the way we look at unions and labor activism. One can only hope workers and supporters are listening to words so thoughtful.

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Re-Forging the Working Class

A Review of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer: Building Solidarity While Staying Clear of the Law
By Andy Piascek
The Indypendent
June 5, 2009

The popular wisdom on the Left and in the labor movement is that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed in 1935, was a great boon for workers. The passage of the NLRA, or Wagner Act, with its provisions that made it legal to organize, join unions, bargain collectively and strike, is commonly portrayed as a huge victory that workers and unions unanimously supported. The true story of this law, however, is more complex.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Communist Party, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations opposed the NLRA, as did prominent labor radicals like A.J. Muste. More important, so did many rank-and-file workers. They were concerned the NLRA was that it would curtail many of the initiatives of the rank and file, and that it constituted government ratification of a status quo heavily weighted toward business. To a large extent, what they foretold has come to pass.

In a new, expanded edition of Labor Law For the Rank and Filer: Building Solidarity While Staying Clear of the Law, Staughton Lynd and Daniel Gross examine the NLRA and other major laws that impact workers: how and why they came into being, the ways they’ve been interpreted (and often misinterpreted), and how laws with positive aspects like the NLRA are actually double-edged.

The authors don’t pit working class activity and the law against one another, but rather suggest how workers can utilize the law to supplement the former. In doing so, they point to important ways that workers can take the lead in re-building a real movement.

Given the dead end at which the union part of the labor movement currently finds itself, the re-issue of Labor Law For the Rank and Filer is especially timely. Whole forests of trees have given their lives to the creation of books and papers about labor’s crisis, yet working class self-activity barely registers in the discussion. We cannot expect labor executives and their allies to lead the charge to, say, eliminate no-strike clauses when they’re as hostile to wildcat work stoppages as any boss.

It is precisely around this kind of issue that rank and filers need to strategize, and it is to discussions of these issues that Lynd and Gross contribute so much. Activist, attorney and historian Lynd has been telling the rank-and-filer’s story and explicating “from the bottom up” strategies for many years. He authored the first edition of Labor Law For The Rank and Filer in 1978, which was printed by Singlejack Books, a small publishing house founded by longshore workers Stan Weir and Robert Miles. The book’s publication cost Lynd his job at a prominent Ohio law firm that represented unions. Gross, a member of the IWW, plays a prominent role in the Starbucks Workers Campaign and founded Brandworkers International.

The new edition contains extensive discussion of solidarity unionism, a form of labor organizing in which workers, whether members of a union or not, do their own strategizing. The authors present many scenarios in which workers, rather than consulting a lawyer, can legally resist employers. They also cite actions that can be taken by workers, when necessary, without the consent of the union.

The recent occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago by members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America is a powerful reminder of another point Lynd and Gross make: workers can push the limits of the law and win. Occupying a factory has been illegal for 70 years, yet none of the Republic workers was arrested, let alone prosecuted. The key is sticking together and winning the support of the local community.

Another story that Lynd and Gross tell is of organizing efforts in workplaces where no majority or exclusive representative exists. The goal is not to collect membership cards and affiliate with a national union, but to stand together to better control the terms of work. As a member of one such organization says, “There is no point on which we cannot enforce concessions and some sort of de facto bargaining if we are strong enough.”

This is the spirit that runs through Labor Law For the Rank and Filer, and it is the spirit that can galvanize a new working class movement. There is rich history for us to mine and many currents surging below the surface, largely out of sight, but capable of bursting forth at any time. Like good organizers, Lynd and Gross present insights that are extremely valuable for both the short-term and the long run.

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Dandelion Risotto and Meatless Mondays

Vegetarian MythBy Graham Hill
The Huffington Post
May 12, 2009

Former vegan Lierre Keith in her recent book The Vegetarian Myth posits that the search for a kinder, gentler world is not necessarily only the province of animal activists and vegetarian/vegans.

Keith believes that "factory" farming in all its forms is cruel, wasteful, and destructive. Industrial agriculture - which is barely 50 years old - is more to blame for planetary problems such as ecosystem destruction, she says, than meat eating per se.

Keith fairly successfully makes the case that vegetarianism is not necessarily virtuous.

Yet simply peering at our beliefs and at industrial ag systems - and swine flu is making us do that a little more closely - doesn't, of course, entirely answer the question of what to have for dinner...tonight.

Keith argues for sustainable food systems with mixed farming and moderate (grass fed) meat eating. In practice, that argument - that industrially-produced soybeans are no panacea - still means more Meatless Mondays and fewer Mickey D's.

In order to further our commitment to sustainable, local eating, there is also something else we can do. Something that will help the global, and our local dinner menu. Wild food foraging.

Right now, it's spring in most of the Northern Hemisphere, and that means the foraging is starting to get good. At least if you ready to try dandelions.

The yellow heads are poking up on roadsides, between the cracks of the sidewalks and probably even in your victory garden.

Instead of considering them a pesky weed spoiling the front yard, we might view them as part of our next meal. Collected dandelion leaves, which look a little like arugula, can be eaten in salads or quickly blanched and doused with balsamic vinegar.

The dandelion heads can also, surprisingly, be made into a sunny yellow risotto. (Later in the summer, you can dry the roots for a not-too-delicious ersatz coffee or a liver-cleansing tonic tea).

Try it for your next Meatless Monday.




Real Cost of Prisons in Changing Lives, Changing Minds

rcpLessons in the Real Cost of Prisons
By Jordan Beltran Gonzales
Changing Lives, Changing Minds



This anthology combines three engaging and educational comics with dozens of letters and testimonials from readers. Fewer than 100 pages yield a thorough breakdown of how America’s economic and social addiction to imprisoning Black, Brown, and poor people for particular behaviors has spiraled into an epidemic of mass incarceration. Through vivid black-and-white images, well-researched background information, and case studies of women and men in context, readers gain vital knowledge and access to progressive networks that will transform this crisis.

Today, more than 2.3 million women and men are currently locked up, while more than 5 million people also endure state surveillance and a multitude of legal and social obstacles while on parole or probation. One of every 32 adults is in this matrix. One in five children of women who become incarcerated will directly witness their mother’s arrest. Half of all women in prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their families. This book represents an urgent struggle for our present and future generations.

To combat this hydra of racialized drug policies, greed and exploitation of prison towns, and the skyrocketing rates of incarceration of women, a coalition of writers and artists offer models of popular education and share their visions for drug treatment, harm reduction, and justice reinvestment. The task of critical storytelling and teaching about life-and-death issues in this social movement is a careful balance, which the writers and artists achieve admirably. In each comic, readers find alternative solutions to prisons as we currently know them, learn about organizing successes, and gain feedback of how to teach teachers and how to train trainers.

Editor Lois Ahrens is also the founder and director of the Real Cost of Prisons Project, which creates popular educational materials by justice policy researchers, artists, and people directly experiencing the impact of mass incarceration. In the preface, Ahrens emphasizes the importance of this book’s access and usefulness across all audiences. In fact, the comics are direct products of the Real Cost of Prisons Project educational workshops about public health, popular economics, and progressive reform and abolition. Potential readers span elementary schools through colleges, community-based organizations, medical and mental healthcare providers, legislators and voters, and people directly surviving inside.

In the introduction, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Craig Gilmore compel readers to translate knowledge into action. This book helps us understand “how the system of mass incarceration permeates our lives, who is paying the costs of that system and the many ways the system is vulnerable to people who put their thought and effort into organizing to shrink it.”

The first chapter, “Prison Town: Paying the Price,” by Kevin Pyle and Craig Gilmore, explains the economic greed and political collusion inherent in the siting of prisons. Case studies across the U.S. reveal environmental injustices, racism in English-only and anti-immigrant business and legal maneuvers, and the destruction of local economies, all stemming from prison towns’ misnamed “community development projects.” Following this chapter are eye-opening testimonials, in which one program director applauds this comic through “the complexity that is rendered through a few deceptively simple strokes of a pen.”

In “Prisoners of the War on Drugs,” Sabrina Jones, Ellen Miller-Mack, and Lois Ahrens highlight the relationships across drug policies, racialized perceptions of crime and criminality, and, after incarceration, limited access to social services and educational opportunities. Five case studies present an individual person’s life context for a momentary decision. This context is necessary for readers to understand the persistence of institutional racism and barriers for people of color and, in particular, women and mothers. Alternatives to New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws and California’s Three Strikes Law include programs in harm reduction, which reduce the harmful effects of drug use on families, and justice reinvestment, which supports jobs, housing, quality schools, and youth programs.

The final chapter, “Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and Their Children,” by Susan Willmarth, Ellen Miller-Mack, and Lois Ahrens, exposes the subjective and violent enforcement of drug laws against women, specifically low-income women of color. Five individual women’s stories show how poverty, access to life chances, police targeting, and court sentencing have usurped hundreds of thousands of women’s reproductive rights. This comic’s closing pages feature excellent alternatives to jail through the theme “Change Is Possible.”

As an instructor of Ethnic Studies College Writing, I attest to the effectiveness of these comics. With the goal of critically informing my high school students about the prison industrial complex and the built-in tracking in our high school to college pipeline, I have challenged students to teach each other key themes and terms from the comics. Their group presentations were phenomenal, and far more impressive than my typical college students’ work! They took ownership of the process of recidivism and the injustice of mandatory minimum sentences, as well as reflected the ever-important sense of agency and social responsibility to affect this same system that is targeting our low-income communities of color.

My students have often told me that they have felt validated and affirmed to finally identify a name, a theory, and a matrix of issues related to their life experiences. These comics urge us to remember that we are not alone, either in our struggle or in our imagination for something better. Teaching with the Real Cost of Prisons Comix has been one of the most meaningful experiences I have had as an educator. I absolutely recommend this book as an assigned text in courses that bridge issues of media, American Studies, social justice, critical thinking, educational inequities, and the cross-cutting themes of gender, race, and class. Our potential for learning is limitless, and there is no time more urgent than now.

Jordan Beltran Gonzales is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. He teaches courses in critical thinking, U.S. counter-history, research methods, and academic survival with high school and college students. He believes in justice through education, home-cooked food, and live music. Your words are welcomed at jgonzo@berkeley.edu

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Real Cost of Prisons in the Monthly Review

rcpFeel the Real Cost of Prisons
By Paul Buhle
Monthly Review 2008

This remarkable book is the political proof and artistic expression of what has become a key movement for prisoners in the United States.  As a book, it is beautiful and genuinely entertaining in its own right, the veritable launching pad of a new artistic/political press.  As an organizing tool, it is perhaps a great deal more.

Comic art fans will probably know the names of the artists already.  The three are associated, long since, with World War 3 Illustrated, the annual comic of artists committed to struggle against war, ecological devastation, and the gentrification of their own neighborhoods.  Sabrina Jones, graphic biographer of modern dancer Isadora Duncan, seems on the verge of iconic status.  Susan Willmarth and Kevin Pyle are fellow tillers in the fields of art and politics, known best for works reaching out to young people.

They and the scriptwriters of these stories grew into the role of prison condition chroniclers.  As Lois Ahrens explains in her introduction, she set out years ago to explore the dread meanings of mass incarceration on a scale that overwhelms even the numbers of the Russian gulags and assorted Siberian exiles going back to Czarist days.  And more profit-producing!  The numbers of prisoners -- which leaped forward in the Reagan years from a few hundreds of thousands to millions, eventually soaring to an astonishing 2.3 million men and women, one in every 32 adults in jail or on parole -- stagger the imagination.  How did it happen?  What does it mean?  Ahrens' initial work, producing small-sized comic books and a Web site that allowed anyone to download comic-educational material, placed her in the little-understood comic art world of activists for literacy, health education, welfare rights, and associated causes, adopting comics to their own purposes for the very pragmatic reasons that their constituents could read comics . . . and learn from them, in ways that no other medium could allow them.

Ahrens advanced her cause and her understanding through workshops where she and her collaborators did more listening than speaking and were driven further into research.  She and Ellen Miller-Mack, a nurse-practitioner and anti-prison activist, began to write scripts for comics.  They hardly needed to dramatize the truth; the facts were melodramatic enough.  The comic books, inexpensively produced, sold out almost immediately -- they were not only appreciated but needed.  Dozens of prisoners became their own spokespeople, telling stories that artists could bring to comics.

Kevin Pyle draws "Prison Town: Paying the Price," about the ways in which the struggling economy of blue-collar America becomes wrapped up in the necessity for more prisons and more inmates.  Sabrina Jones treats the drug issues in "Prisoners and the War on Drugs," the drugging of the economy and society many times over, with the close attention to the intertwined histories.  Susan Willmarth's "Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and Their Children" is, if possible, more heart-wrenching that the other tales, with more information and insight on the subject than a studious New York Times feature and a lot more empathy for the victims, too, the combination which makes the truth revealed in it all the more damning for the system that benefits from the suffering doled out to those who can least effectively resist.

Quite a package, all in all, and a promising start for PM Press.

Paul Buhle, currently a lecturer in history and American civilization at Brown University, is author or editor of twenty-seven books on radicalism, labor, and popular culture, including five volumes on the films of the Hollywood blacklistees. Most recently, he coedited Wobblies: A Graphic History (2005) and The New Left Revisited (2003), winner of an American Library Association's Choice Academic Book Award. He has written for The Nation, Times Higher Education Supplement, The Guardian, and the Journal of American History, among others. He founded the journal Radical America (1967-95), the Oral History of the American Left project (New York University), and the Community and Labor Oral History project of Rhode Island.

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PM Press talks to AlterNet en masse

Former Black Panther "There Are Political Prisoners in America as Well"
What an Irish hunger striker and a former Black Panther can teach us about prisoner resistance.
By Emily Wilson
AlterNet
May 26, 2009

 

Prisons are, or can be, places to raise political consciousness, says Dennis O'Hearn, the author of Nothing But an Unfinished Song, a biography of Bobby Sands, the 27-year-old who died leading a hunger strike in Long Kesh, a prison in Northern Ireland. A new movie about Sands' final days, Hunger, recently won an award for first-time filmakers at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sands, who was serving a 14-year sentence for possessing firearms, demanded the right to be treated as a political prisoner, says O'Hearn, who appeared at an event about political prisoners in San Francisco with Andrej Grubacic, a professor of sociology at the University of San Francisco and the co-author of Wobblies & Zapatistas: Conversations On Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History, and Robert Hillary King, one of the Angola 3. King spent more than 30 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in 2001, and he has written a new autobiography about his experiences, From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King.

King says he, like Sands, became an activist in response to the oppression in prison.

"Prison is another way to perpetuate slavery," King says. "They're connected. A lot of people think legality and morality are the same thing, but they're not. Prisons are immoral."

While in Angola, a Louisiana prison built on a former slave plantation, King joined the Black Panther Party, with the other two members that make up the Angola 3, Herbert Wallace and Albert Woodfox. King says they felt morally obligated to do something about the conditions in Angola, considered in the 70s the worst prison in the country.

"There were 72 of us in a space made for 40," King says. "There were rats, roaches and horrible food. There was a system of sexual slavery that was accepted. Just because you're in prison doesn't mean you're not a human being."

King says because he, Wallace and Woodfox tried to organize other prisoners, they were seen as threats to the administration and framed - he for the murder of a fellow inmate, and Wallace and Woodfox for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller. They were kept in their 6 by 9 cells for 23 hours a day.

In spite being separated, King says they talked to one another from cell to cell and kept trying to educate themselves and others. He says their efforts led to changes in how prisoners were fed. Officials had been sliding the food under the door or leaving it outside in the hallway. King said this was dehumanizing and through hunger strikes got the prison officials to cut a hole in the bars to slide plates through. Also, King says, once they became politically conscious, they resisted the guards' standard anal searches. They filed a writ and the court ruled in their favor that these searches were unjustified.

"There are many parallels between Bobby Sands and Robert," O'Hearn said. "The strip searches and the inhumane conditions."

Like King, Sands and his fellow prisoners communicated with one another even though they were locked in separate cells. O'Hearn says they told stories, sang songs and learned the Irish language orally.

"It's so important the joy of the struggle, not just the hardship of struggle," O'Hearn said.

Grubacic, an anarchist from the Balkans, says he is interested in how people organize themselves in prison. From his co-author on Wobblies and Zapatistas, Staughton Lynd, Grubacic learned about the Lucasville 5, a group that took over a prison in Youngstown, Ohio, for 11 days. The group was made up of black militants and members of the Aryan Brotherhood, who spray painted slogans such as "Convict race" on the walls of the prison.

"Some of the most beautiful examples of American democracy are not found in and around the White House, but in Lucasville," Grubacic says. "Convicts developed a system of democracy to fight for a different world."

The discussion focused on political prisoners was part of a week of events discussing various revolutions throughout the world in 1968 and the legacy of those movements. O'Hearn, who along with the biography of Sands, wrote the introduction to Grubacic's book, said prison activists were part of the shift in perspective in the 60s.

"The old idea was wait till you overthrow the state and take power," he said. "But in the 60's social activists felt the important thing was to create kind of state they wanted."

Ramsey Kanaan founded PM Press, the publisher of King's book, From the Bottom of the Heap. He says King's experiences as a Black Panther are an important part of the struggles of the 60s.

"Talking about '68 is kind of a metaphor," he says. "Sixty-eight was part of a river that didn't appear out of nowhere and didn't disappear into nowhere. Prisoner struggles are part of that stream."

Kanaan points out that the prison population in the U.S. has more than tripled since the 60s.

Rose Braz, director of Critical Resistance, which advocates for prison reform, says prison is a way for the state to crack down on dissent.

"I think the reality is the U.S. has used prisons as a catchall response to social and economic problems," she says.

The way to change that is not just to talk to people with different points of view, but to listen as well, says Grubacic. Grubacic says he and others from the university in Belgrade, who opposed the former president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, went to talk with factory workers in the south who supported Milosevic.

"We exchanged ideas, we exchanged skills and experience," he says. "Listening is a political tool. This is the way to build a movement."

Robert Hillary King: "There are political prisoners in America as well."

Robert Hillary King went into Louisiana’s Angola Prison in 1970, accused of armed robbery. He was sentenced to 35 years, and after escaping, eight more years were added on to his sentence. For most of his time at Angola, considered one of the worst prisons in the nation, he was in a 9 by 6 cell for 23 hours a day. While he was there, he, along with Herbert Wallace and Albert Woodfox, created a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. Known as the Angola 3, the men were all given life sentences: King for allegedly killing another inmate, while Woodfox and Wallace were accused of killing a prison guard. Woodfox had a hearing at the beginning of March to decide whether to uphold a federal judge’s ruling overturning his conviction. The court may take between four weeks and six months to release a ruling.

King was exonerated in 2001. After being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, he now lives in Austin, TX, where he continues to work for Wallace and Woodfox’s release and travels widely to speak about prison conditions. He recently came out with a book about his experiences, From the Bottom of the Heap. Alternet’s Emily Wilson caught up with him when he was in San Francisco speaking on a panel about political prisoners. 

Emily Wilson: How did you get a life sentence at Angola?

Robert Hillary King: They were locking up all the so-called black militants and in 1974, on the tier I lived on which was called B Tier, an inmate was killed in self-defense by another inmate and they indicted 11 people. It was a blanket indictment. A couple of weeks later it was down to two people and I was one of them. Without any corroborating evidence I was found guilty. They accepted the inconsistent testimony of an individual who made up his testimony, was given a gun, and issued a transfer to minimum status within the prison. They got him to say I participated. They also got another individual to say I participated, but his testimony was impeached within the first trial. 

Both of them went home and subsequently returned to prison and they contacted me to say they wanted to set the record straight, and they had lied. The one who had impeached, the warden had prepared his testimony for him and, the other person just took advantage by implicating me because the warden wanted him to implicate me, and I was found guilty and given a life sentence. 

EW: Why did you first join the Black Panther Party? 

RHK: The Black Panther Party articulated things for me I really couldn’t at the time. I began to feel alienated from the system. I had taken it for granted like everybody else that there were civil rights in this country and I was protected by these rights and I was naively believing that despite the fact that I had witnessed racism and discrimination all of my life. I still had hope and belief and belief in the ideas of the system. 

After coming into contact with the Black Panther Party and some of their ideology and not having been able to articulate some of what they were saying but feeling it, I felt kinship and it was easy to adopt some of their ideology, which I felt was pretty humanistic.

I was in prison when I first heard about it. I was in the New Orleans Parish, and I had just been given a 35-year sentence. I heard about them, but it wasn’t until I escaped and was recaptured that I came into contact with the Black Panther Party. I had heard about them, but I did not know they were in New Orleans. Some of them were arrested in a so called shootout and they came in and they placed a couple of them in the tier I was being kept on, so I began to find out more and more about the Black Panther Party. Of course there were people saying the same thing long before the Black Panthers, but I really didn’t hear it. You know, the protests, the Freedom Riders, people trying to acquire the right to vote, civil rights, all of these things eventually connected, but I was not able to connect the dots until I heard the Black Panther Party, so I was attracted. 

EW: How could you organize and create a community in prison? 

RHK: Herman and Albert were responsible for that; I give them all the credit along with some others in the Black Panther Party. They started political education classes and started passively protesting the work conditions, which were 17 hours a day. They tried to hold political discussion and political education classes that would instill hope in the prisoners. It was a passive protest. You know, work stoppage and food stoppage. Not eating any food or not serving food in the kitchen so that they could get the attention of the administration. 

Herman and Albert were the ones who initiated going on the yard and holding political discussion with other inmates. When I came on, Herman and Albert were in the cells and we continued to teach political education classes from the cells and to educate ourselves and people on the tier.

We would talk from cell to cell or write thing up and make fliers. We had access to people who were in minimum custody so we would get on the good side of them and get them to bring fliers down the walk. We were not only able to communicate between ourselves on the tiers, but we were able to reach out to people in surrounding areas as well. 

EW: What are some of the things you accomplished? 

RHK: We were able to do some things like change the practice of how they fed us. We engaged in not eating; we staged a hunger strike. We had tried to negotiate with prison officials stating that the way they fed us was dehumanizing and unsanitary and we felt it should be upgraded, but we were told this was the way they did it and this was prison. We understood that but being political conscious and aware,  we began to see things and recognize that just because we were in prison did not mean we were not human beings, so we took a different approach to how we were treated. We decided to go on a hunger strike and it took 18 months, but eventually they stopped feeding us in that manner. 

What they were doing was throwing it under the door or sliding it under the door, and sometimes they would leave it outside the door. Flies and rats and roaches and everything else ran through it. They began to cut food slots in the bars for us, and actually now all over prison they cut food slots. 

Another thing they were doing was engaging in dehumanizing body cavity searches that served no criminological purpose. We decided to change this practice, so we decided not to submit. In other words, we wouldn’t refuse a shake down. I would raise my hand, raise my feet, open my mouth and so forth, that is OK. But I was in the cell 23, 24 hours a day sometimes, and we did not come into contact with anybody, and we had to go through an anal search just out after being handcuffed. It was illogical. So we decided if they wanted a body cavity search, they had to force us. 

But a writ was filed and the 19th District Court ruled in our favor that a routine anal search was unjustified and that was stopped. And as a result of people struggling and the Black Panther Party coming into the prison, there was a federal oversight of the prison for like 25 years. It was relinquished only about 1998 or 2000 by a federal jury. The prison was considered in 1972 one of the worst prisons in the nation. 

We made some changes, but the idea was not to beautify or make prisons more livable. The ultimate goal was to get Herman and Albert and myself out of prison. The bar has always been raised to that degree.

EW: You say in your book prison is a continuation of slavery. Why do you say that? 

RHK: I don’t think the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. It just made a transition from one form to another. It was considered legal to own slaves but even thought it was legal to own slaves it wasn’t till people began to see the moral repugnance of owning slaves, that things changed, till there was a moral outrage. I see the difference between legality and morality. Some people think if something is legal, it’s moral, but that’s not so. A lot of people can be legally guilty but morally innocent. People can be legally innocent of a crime and legally innocent and can go to their death. 

With this mindset, legality seems to take precedence over morality. I began to make an assessment of the 13th amendment and the wording of it and it just seems to be poppycock. You know, “Slavery and involuntarily servitude shall not exist on these shores” and people say “Well, the 13th amendment abolished slavery.” Well, no, not so. You have to read the rest. It says unless of course, if you have been duly convicted of a crime. 

EW: How did you keep going locked up for 23 hours a day? Were you confident you would get out some day? 

RHK: I hoped that I would get out. Also I felt that I could die in prison. It went beyond hope. I did some things to activate my release. I got into the law and I kept my own case alive, and subsequently Herman and Albert’s. They were closing doors within the legal system, and even though I felt the legal system was hypocritical, I also knew there could be some legal loopholes, and so along with Herman and Albert we kept hammering at it. We looked at our cases, I read Albert’s transcript and my own transcript, and we got some people on board who had heard about the case as a result of Albert getting a new trial. Some activists got others involved, and it took a while, but Albert should be getting out of prison at some point because all the evidence against him has been undermined. And whatever happens in Albert’s case should happen in Herman’s as well because they are linked. 

EW: What is it you are doing now for prison reform?

RHK: I’ve been to five different continents and over a dozen countries talking about the Angola 3 case and trying to make a connection that prison America is really slavery. There are political prisoners in America as well. I was in prison for 31 years for a crime I didn’t commit, 29 in solitary. I think it’s incumbent on me to try to do my best to try and expose the things I saw and witnessed. I kind of see the connection of not just Herman and Albert and our struggle, but I believe the struggle of people generally and the struggle of African people. I think there’s a connection. and the connection runs deep. In my book and in my lifestyle, I’m trying to show the connection runs much deeper than the eye can see. I hope people will get to see the system and how it really operates.

Emily Wilson is a freelance writer and teaches basic skills at City College of San Francisco.




Angola 3 Events In New Orleans


The case of the Angola 3, Black Panthers unjustly framed and isolated to stop their succesful organizing for improved prisoner conditions, stretches back over the past 37 years. While Robert King was exonerated in 2001, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox remain unjustly imprisoned, and their cases are now at a critical juncture in the final push for freedom. As men who have spent more time in solitary confinement than anyone else in the nation, in a prison that went directly from slave plantation to jail without changing any of its ways, their struggle must be our struggle. 


Join us in the effort to free Herman and Albert, and all political prisoners.

Public Events


Tuesday, May 19: 4-6:00 PM
- Book talk and signing with Robert King & Orissa Arend, as well as Malik Rahim, Jackie Sumell, Lance Hill, Carolyn Kolb and Lawrence Powell. Amistad Research, Center, Tilton Hall, Tulane University

Wednesday, May 20: 7:00 PM - Free the Angola 3 and All Political Prisoners: Strategies, Insight and Wisdom, at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans.

Join panelists Robert King, the only freed member of the Angola 3, author of From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King. Malik Rahim, cofounder of the Common Ground Collective, former Black Panther, community organizer on protection of the environment and rights of prisoners and their families, founding member of the coalition to free the Angola 3. Jackie Sumell, artist and co-creator with Herman Wallace of “The House that Herman Built.”

Historical context for the A3 story set by Lance Hill, PhD, Carolyn Kolb, PhD, and Lawrence Powell, PhD. Moderated by: Ted Quant, Director, Loyola's Twomey Center for Peace through Justice.

Friday, May 22: 6:00 PM - Book talk and signing with with Robert King & Orissa Arend, Community Book Center, 2523 Bayou Road, New Orleans.

 

Read the Press


Authors, scholars to highlight the cause of the Angola 3: The Lousiana Weekly

It was the creamy, sweet praline-like confection that Robert King learned to concoct in solitary confinement at Angola State Penitentiary that lured me to the Black Panther story and its corollary, three Panthers incarcerated in 1970 now known as the Angola 3. That and the righteousness of their cause. King had plenty of time to perfect the candy recipe with Coke cans and toilet paper rigged as a stove and smuggled ingredients, because they locked him down in the maximum way for 29 years, reasoning that the Black Panther philosophy of King and his comrades Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace threatened the social order at Angola.

Read more...

Two new books tell the story of the Black Panther Party New Orleans: The Times-Picayune 

This story begins with an unlikely friendship between an Uptown woman buying pralines for a Thanksgiving family gathering and a praline-maker who was freed from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola as one of the famous Angola 3.

Read more...

Buy the Books and DVDs


From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
by Robert Hillary King
$24.95

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.

It begins at the beginning: born black, born poor, born in Louisiana in1942, King journeyed to Chicago as a hobo at the age of 15. He married and had a child, and briefly pursued a semi-pro boxing career to help provide for his family. Just a teenager when he entered the Louisiana penal system for the first time, King tells of his attempts to break out of this system, and his persistent pursuit of justice where there is none.

Yet this remains a story of inspiration and courage, and the triumph of the human spirit. The conditions in Angola almost defy description, yet King never gave up his humanity, or the work towards justice for all prisoners that he continues to do today. From the Bottom of the Heap, so simply and humbly told, strips bare the economic and social injustices inherent in our society, while continuing to be a powerful literary testimony to our own strength and capacity to overcome.

Buy this book now | Read book reviews

 

angola3cover

The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation
Directed by scott crow and Ann Harkness
$19.95

The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation tells the gripping story of Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, men who have endured solitary confinement longer than any known living prisoner in the United States. Politicized through contact with the Black Panther Party while inside Louisiana’s prisons, they formed one of the only prison Panther chapters in history and worked to organize other prisoners into a movement for the right to live like human beings. This feature length movie explores their extraordinary struggle for justice while incarcerated in Angola, a former slave plantation where institutionalized rape and murder made it known as one of the most brutal and racist prisons in the United States. The analysis of the Angola 3’s political work, and the criminal cases used to isolate and silence them, occurs within the context of the widespread COINTELPRO being carried out in the 1960’s and 70’s by the FBI and state law enforcement against militant voices for change.

In a partial victory, the courts exonerated Robert King of the original charges and released him in 2001; he continues the fight for the freedom of his two brothers. The ongoing campaign, which includes a civil case soon to come before the Supreme Court, is supported by people and organizations such as Amnesty International, the A.C.L.U., Harry Belafonte, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Ramsey Clark, Sen. John Conyers, Sister Helen Prejean, (the late) Anita Roddick, Bishop Desmond Tutu and the ANC. Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have now endured as political prisoners in solitary confinement for over thirty-five years.

Narrated by Mumia Abu-Jamal, The Angola 3 features interviews with former Panthers, political prisoners and revolutionaries, including the Angola 3 themselves, and Bo Brown, Geronimo (ji Jaga) Pratt, Malik Rahim, Yuri Kochiyama, David Hilliard, Rod Coronado, Noelle Hanrahan, Kiilu Nyasha, Marion Brown, Luis Talamantez, Gail Shaw and many others. Portions of the proceeds go to support the Angola 3. Features the music of Truth Universal written by Tajiri Kamau.

Extras include: "Angola 3" music video for a song written and produced by Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) in support of the A3 featuring Saul Williams, Nadirah X, Asdru Sierra, Dana Glover, Tina Schlieske and Derrick Ashong. Directed by Robin Davey. Plus a trailer for the film which features outtakes not in the feature.

Buy this DVD now | Read DVD reviews

 

Showdown in Desire: The Black Panthers Take a Stand in New Orleans 
By Orissa Arend
$29.95

Showdown in Desire portrays the Black Panther Party in New Orleans in 1970, a year that included a shootout with the police on Piety Street, the creation of survival programs, and the daylong standoff between the Panthers and the police in the Desire housing development. Through interviews with

Malik Rahim, the Panther; Robert H. King, Panther and member of the Angola 3; Larry Preston Williams, the black policeman; Moon Landrieu, the mayor; Henry Faggen, the Desire resident; Robert Glass, the white lawyer; Jerome LeDoux, the black priest; William Barnwell, the white priest; and many others, Orissa Arend tells a nuanced story that unfolds amid guns, tear gas, desperate poverty, oppression, and inflammatory rhetoric to

capture the palpable spirit of rebellion, resistance, and revolution of an incendiary summer in New Orleans.

Buy this book from Powells Books

 

More Information and Links

To buy King's delicious candy freelines click here, or go to http://www.kingsfreelines.com/

For more information on the campaigns to free Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace go to:

www.A3grassroots.org
www.Angola3.org
www.3blackpanthers.org



PM Rides the Edge of Fiction and Politics In NYC

It's razor sharp, but we're happily uncomfortable between darkness and darkness. We figure if you find hope and humor there, you'll know it's real. 

So join us in New York, as we present two very different takes on life, on sex, on the violence lurking within our world. We are proud to present Summer Brenner's I-5 and the bleak voice of Anya, trafficked here from Russia, her body forced into service to repay her debt. We've juxtaposed it for you with Owen Hill's The Incredible Double; you'll be able to taste Berkeley on your tongue, and experience the violence of its contradictions and the color of its characters. We promise to bring sorrow and laughter in equal measure, and all of it will leave you thinking for days to come.

 

Speaking Dates:

Thursday, May 28, 2009: 7:00 PM - Summer Brenner and Owen Hill @ Brecht Forum

Saturday, May 30, 2009
: 2:00 PM - Summer Brenner and Owen Hill @ The Bowery Poetry Club

Sunday, May 31, 2009: 7:00 PM - Summer Brenner and Owen Hill @ Bluestockings

Monday, June 1, 2009: 7:00 PM- Summer Brenner and Owen Hill @ Melville House

 

I-5I-5: A Novel of Crime, Transport and Sex
By Summer Brenner
$15.95

A novel of crime, transport, and sex, I-5 tells the bleak and brutal story of Anya and her journey north from Los Angeles to Oakland on the interstate that bisects the Central Valley of California.

Anya is the victim of a deep deception. Someone has lied to her; and because of this lie, she is kept under lock and key, used by her employer to service men, and indebted for the privilege. In exchange, she lives in the United States and fantasizes on a future American freedom. Or as she remarks to a friend, "Would she rather be fucking a dog...or living like a dog?" In Anya’s world, it’s a reasonable question.

Much of I-5 transpires on the eponymous interstate. Anya travels with her “manager” and driver from Los Angeles to Oakland. It’s a macabre journey: a drop at Denny’s, a bad patch of fog, a visit to a “correctional facility,” a rendezvous with an organ grinder, and a dramatic entry across Oakland’s city limits.

About the Author:

Summer Brenner was raised in Georgia and migrated west, first to New Mexico and eventually to northern California where she has been a long-time resident. She has published books of both poetry and fiction and given scores of readings in the United States, France, and Japan. In addition to I-5, her nine books include: Ivy, Tale of a Homeless Girl in San Francisco, Dancers & the Dance, and The Soft Room

Reviews:

"Insightful, innovative and riveting. After its lyrical beginning inside Anya's head, I-5 shifts momentum into a rollicking gangsters-on-the-lam tale that is in turns blackly humorous, suspenseful, heartbreaking and always populated by intriguing characters. Anya is a wonderful, believable heroine, her tragic tale told from the inside out, without a shred of sentimental pity, which makes it all the stronger. A twisty, fast-paced ride you won't soon forget."
--Denise Hamilton, author of the L.A.Times bestseller The Last Embrace. 

"I'm in awe. I-5 moves so fast you can barely catch your breath. It's as tough as tires, as real and nasty as road rage, and best of all, it careens at breakneck speed over as many twists and turns as you'll find on The Grapevine. What a ride! I-5's a hard-boiled standout."
--Julie Smith, editor of New Orleans Noir and author of the Skip Langdon and Talba Wallis crime novel series

"In I-5, Summer Brenner deals with the onerous and gruesome subject of sex trafficking calmly and forcefully, making the reader feel the pain of its victims. The trick to forging a successful narrative is always in the details, and I-5 provides them in abundance. This book bleeds truth--after you finish it, the blood will be on your hands." 
--Barry Gifford, author, poet and screenwriter

Buy this book now

 

The Incredible Double
By Owen Hill
$13.95

Most of the time, Clay Blackburn is your average, bisexual, book scout in Berkeley, but sometimes he’s a would-be private detective—without a license, gun, or even a business card. Despite his questionable qualifications, people still come to him for help, and he inevitably comes across more than his fair share of trouble.

In this latest adventure he searches for the fountain of youth, the myth of paradise, the pie in the sky—The Incredible Double. Fighting his way through corporate shills, Berkeley loonies, and CEO thugs, Clay struggles to understand the secret of The Double and discover the true meaning of life.

Joined by his three trusty but goofy sidekicks—best friend and lefty soldier of fortune Marvin, ex-FBI agent Bailey Dao, and smarmy but debonair Dino Centro—Clay confronts a host of bizarre characters, including drug casualty turned poet Loose Bruce, conspiracy theorist Larry Sasway, and Grace, the Tallulah Bankhead of Berkeley. Together—and sometimes not so together—they team up to foil Drugstore Wally, the CEO with an evil plan.


The Buzz:


"Owen Hill's breathless, sly and insouciant mystery novels are full of that rare Dawn Powel-ish essence: fictional gossip. I could imagine popping in and out of his sexy little Chandler building apartment a thousand times and never having the same cocktail buzz twice. Poets have all the fun, apparently."
--
Jonathan Lethem author of The Fortress of Solitude

"Guillaume Appollinaire and Edward Sanders would feast on this thriller of the real Berkeley and its transsexual CIA agents and doppelgangers staging Glock shoot-outs. A mystery of contingencies centering in the reeking Chandler Arms and the quicksand of Moe's Books."
--
Michael McClure

"Is this Berkeley noir? I'd call it lustily readable. And such reading set me to thinking about tone and that to get it right is a a saintly gift (which Owen Hill has) of hearing and lavishly staying on one wiggly and implausible note throughout passages of poetic lore, pretty hot sex, action (of all things!) and multi-musings on "the life" of book writing, book selling and humbly accepting oneself as condemned to love the many leaves we turn with aimless passion before we ourselves rattle and blow away down these raunchy beloved streets."
--Eileen Myles, author of The Importance of Being Iceland

Order this book now




PM at Montreal's Festival of Anarchy

We're excited to be in Montreal, and looking forward to a great week of events! For more information on the festival check out the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair website!


Saturday, MAY 16, 10am-6pm MAIN ROOM
CEDA, 2515 rue Delisle (metro Lionel-Groulx)

Come find PM's amazing table! The bookfair includes: films, art exhibits, introductory workshops, as well as over 100 distributors and tables from all over Montreal, Quebec & North America (and elsewhere). Free and welcome to all!

 

 

 

Saturday, MAY 16, 3pm-4pm. Room 202
CEDA, 2515 rue Delisle (metro Lionel-Groulx)

Film Room

The Angry Brigade  (Gordon Carr, en, 2008, 60m00)
This documentary, produced by Gordon Carr for the BBC (and first shown in January 1973, shortly after the trial), covers the roots of the Angry Brigade in the revolutionary ferment of the 1960s, and follows their campaign and the police investigation to its culmination in the Stoke Newington 8 conspiracy trial at the Old Bailey the longest criminal trial in British legal history.

 

Sunday, MAY 17, 10am – Room 125
The Crisis in Anarchist Publishing (eng.)

CEDA, 2515 rue Delisle (metro Lionel-Groulx)

The annals of anarchist history are filled with stories of people whose writings were censored and criminalized, and these too are difficult times for the publication and dissemination of anarchist words and ideas. The crisis in publishing writ large affects anarchist and leftist independent publishers, as well as opportunities for anarchists to get their writing published. This panel will address and assess the current crises and what can be done and is being done.

Panelists will include Adrienne Carey Hurley, who teaches East Asian Studies at McGill University; Ramsey Kanaan, the Oakland-based founder of AK Press and PM Press; and Norman Nawrocki a Montréal-based artist, writer, and musician.

 

Monday, MAY 18, 7:30-10pm
JUSTSEEDS Slideshow Presentation
Cagibi, 5490 St-Laurent


A multi-media slideshow presentation of radical and engaged print practices as well as the work of JUSTSEEDS Visual Resistance Artists' Cooperative, with presentations by Josh McPhee, author of Stencil Pirates: A Global Survey of Street Stenciling, and Erik Ruin, member of JustSeeds. Prints will be on sale.

 

 

Thursday, MAY 21, 7pm
Whatever Happened to Armed Struggle?
Concordia Co-op Bookstore, 2150 Bishop (métro Guy Concordia)


Time and time again when revolutionary movements have gone on the offensive, some people have taken the step to pick up arms in their struggle against capitalism and the state. Join us at the Concordia Co-op Bookstore for the book launch of “Projectiles for the People”, the first volume of “The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History”, published by PM Press and Kersplebedeb earlier this year.

Download flyer here



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