Columbia labor teach-in

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Thu Oct 3 20:30:48 MDT 1996

I just got back from the labor-meets-the-intellectuals teach in at Columbia
University. When I got there, about 10 minutes before showtime, there were
already scads of people inside Low Library, and a long line snaked down the
steps and across the sidewalk to the Amsterdam Avenue gate (for those of
you who know your Columbia geography). The crowd was hardly the usual tired
gang of chronics you used to see at these things - lots of students, but
also all kinds of other people. On one hand, it's no surprise to see lots
of students at a campus event - but remember, this was sponsored by the
AFL-CIO, which heretofore hasn't had a large youthful following, as far as
I know.

I never got inside; the cops declared the place full and shut the doors
with about 15 people ahead of me. But the proceedings were piped outside on
loudspeakers. Columbia president George Rupp, greeted with some hisses
amidst polite applause, vented a lot of bullshit that was largely ignored.
The MC was the estimable Eric Foner. When Foner pointed to some Barnard
workers who recently won their strike, a huge, heartwarming cheer went up.
He introduced Betty Friedan, who pronounced the end of identity politics
and postmodernism. Next up was Richard Rorty, who reminded the audience
that progress has more frequently been achieved through civil disobedience
than the ballot box. It was cold standing outside, so I left as Patricia
Williams was reflecting on the theory of contracts - meaning I missed
Cornell West and the star of the show, AFL-CIO boss John Sweeney.

Now Sweeney comes out of a deeply corrupt union, and is nowhere near what
he's cracked up to be by his fans, many of whom were among the organizers
of this event. One of the sponsoring unions, NYC municipal workers DC 37,
has stood by as Mayor Giuliani has prosecuted austerity and workfare. But I
almost feel churlish for bringing up those matters. It's difficult to
imagine an event like this occurring even two years ago. There was a buzz
in the surprisingly large and energetic crowd. Something is happening I
think. Slow, tentative, confused for sure. But there's something seismic
going on in American politics.



Doug Henwood
Left Business Observer
250 W 85 St
New York NY 10024-3217
+1-212-874-4020 voice
+1-212-874-3137 fax
email: <dhenwood at>
web: <>

     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list