Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Utah Phillips

From 5/21 to 6/3, 2012 I assisted in work on gravestones at the Pioneer and Catholic cemeteries in Coloma, CA at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. While there we worked with a representative of the state who lives in Nevada County, CA. Several times Utah Smith, who lived in Nevada City, was mentioned. Though I was familiar with his name I had never invested any time to find out very much about him. This interview that he did with Amy Goodwin with Democracy Now in 2004, viewed here as a tribute on the occasion of his death in 2008 provides a good introduction.

My personal comments are as follows:

I never quite understood the IWW or why they were considered such a strong threat to the owners of capital. Utah in this interview makes clear the difference between organizing of united sectors of industry, as opposed to organizing along craft lines. In the perspective that he presents it is fairly clear that organization along craft lines, where separate crafts can be boxed out and then set in competition with each other, thus can be directed to use up their energy and resources to blunt their overall effectiveness for positive change. Organizing on craft lines seems very convenient to a corporate fascist dominance, just as public and private sector unionization is currently under pressure of divide-and-conquer. Note: Utah does point out that when workers (anyone who collects wages for their labor and does not own the means of production) lose they also win.

The Preservation Trades Network, though not in any sense of the word a union, is organized as an educational non-profit along the lines to bring together a community of related but different traditional trades within a specific industrial sector. Along the lines of stone masons with timber framers with slate roofers. There is a good deal to learn from Utah Phillips of value to the community spirit of PTN.

Quite a ways into the interview Utah mentions a conversation that he had with Daniel Berrigan. For a period of time in the 1970s, when he was on-the-loose prior to his arrest and imprisonment. I knew and spent time with Daniel Berrigan. The subject of the conversation that they had, as to the pressure of industrialization of Utah's songs, reminds me that at one point in my life I got the notion that the aesthetic work of our lives, for me it is writing, is not a commodity meant for sale. If I need to be paid I would rather be paid to move stones.

1 comment:

  1. Ken, thank you so much for bringing my attention to this interview. At first viewing Phillips's voice washes over me while his ideas wiggle into the nooks and crannies of my mind. In the breaks between each segment I realize there are no fewer that 4 ideas that are of immediate importance to a meeting I have tonight, regarding PTN in large part. Now I'll listen through it again and take notes.

    It's amazing that this pops up on exactly the day I need to hear it.

    You comment:
    >>at one point in my life I got the notion that the aesthetic work of our lives, for me it is writing, is not a commodity meant for sale.<<

    Back in the late 1970s I made a study of "business" and decided that I simply could not, on philosophical grounds, operate a "business" that trades on the labor of others. After operating for three decades in that mode, and listening to Phillips, I now know what that has been about. This past few years, as I figure out that what I do is not "business", I struggle for the words and ideas to describe it to others. I have been confused, but as my ninth-grade world history teacher, June Williams, often said, "Out of confusion arrises understanding."