Labor singer Anne Feeney delivers a message of solidarity and empowerment in Ashland, Oregon as close to 70 community members, union and non-union workers, self-employed workers, family and friends gathered to benefit community radio, Jobs with Justice and a local workforce facing layoffs and cutbacks.
“Hi, I’m Anne.” a familiar voice, her hand outstreached and I was momentarily taken aback. Maybe I had expected torn jeans and a Union Jack halter-top. Here was labor agitator and folk singer Anne Feeney looking more PTA than picket line. After a clumsy recovery I introduced myself and took her hand.
Friday’s benefit for KSKQ Community Radio and Southern Oregon Jobs With Justice took on new meaning when earlier in the week, 17 Southern Oregon University employees were laid off, joining the over 100 librarians, historians and other workers who are also losing their jobs.
The gathering Friday January 19, 2007 at the Unitarian Center in Ashland was the largest crowd yet for a local Anne Feeney concert. With a message of solidarity and empowering the workforce, Feeney sang of the “War on the Workers” and asked, “Have You Been To Jail For Justice?” Quoting Eugene Debs: “While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free”
Wes Brain of the Brain Labor Report gave an empassioned plea for those lost jobs at SOU, including his own. Placing blame on the top-heavy administration, Brain rejected SOU President Mary Cullinan’s “Run It Like A Business” philosophy. SOU student Steve Ryan made critical observations about SOU’s short-sided budget cuts.
It was such an honor to spend the evening with real working-class heroes. Along with Anne Feeney, the crowd was a who’s-who of Ashland’s progressive network, union organizers and activists.
Among the featured speakers was Buck Echler the Jackson County Employees SEIU President representing 800 workers. He expressed confidence in Oregon’s labor-friendlier legislature and Governor.
Kurt Kessler of SEIU State Political Action Committee, addressed the role of organized labor in politics. Kessler condemned those misinformation campaigns “aimed at turning us away from power, our own power.” Rejecting the stereotype of Big Labor as corrupt and asserting that they are “special interest” only in that the interests of working families are special.
In order to be successful, labor struggles must be part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice.
KSKQ Community Radio, streaming on the web and soon over the airwaves. Visit http://www.kskq.org or call 482-3999.