This was meant to be a review of Mike Stout’s concert last night at YSU (it follows this rant) before I brought in today’s Warren Tribune from the paper box. The Trib as it’s dubbed is the local newspaper. It’s actually owned by a corporate conservative conglomerate. It ignores the working-class make up of our area and endorses candidates like McCain. Being conservative it loves school vouchers and tells our citizens to vote against school levees even the local school for handicapped kids. This isn’t a rant against everything that’s wrong with the Trib as that would take me tens years to write working 24/7 but on a story that was in this mornings Trib.
The story is about USW (United Steel Worker) Local 3523’s members having been on strike against Thomas Steel in Warren Ohio for 100 days. I was glad to see our congressman Tim Ryan stopped to visit the strikers. Rep. Ryan spoke to the company’s owners a few months ago in an effort to get them back to the bargaining table. I sadly note that the workers are being represented by, Gary Steinbeck, a subdistrict director for the United Steelworkers International.
Gary was the union staff man for my USW local so I feel for the strikers. When Gary represented my plant he never met a contract he didn’t think we should pass. Gary would have had us vote yes on a blank sheet of paper. When we complained of terrible contracts Gary would reply, “We’ll get em next time guys.” Next time of course was always worse as once you open the concessionary door to the hen house the fox has an endless food supply to feast on.
In 1998 the roosters and hens at the plant I worked at had enough of bad contracts. They rejected an ugly contract from a new company that wanted to buy our plant. It went down to defeat by a vote of about 75 to 25. Guys who had voted for any contract in the past now said we had negotiated away everything but our dignity and by damn we were now standing up for our dignity! By the next week our dignity was stolen as Gary told us the USW was our bargaining agent and he was passing the contract we turned down. Some of us in the hen house were not going to be battered, seasoned and fried chickens or roasted roosters so a case was mounted to take to the Labor Board charging that the company and the USW were in bed together.
We lost the case because the USW by law represents the local rank and file members and doesn’t even have to give us the right to vote on a contract. So much for democracy in a union. The new company Gary had told us was great at turning companies around. The new company came in and unscrewed every other light bulb because they were a bunch of nickel and dimmer, ten-cent millionaires. The plant closed within a year and the same owners had purchased Copperweld Steel and closed it in no time at all.
Gary is a weasel who doesn’t care how bad a contract is because he doesn’t have to go to work everyday under it. You can’t let weasels into your hen house as they will steal your eggs and suck the life from them. I’m the most union person you’ll ever meet but I have no use for company unions who are nothing but mere cops for the boss. Unions need to know the real union is the rank and file members on the shop floor. That’s much like our political representatives need to learn they represent the people not corporations. I feel for the strikers at Thomas Steel because the only talk Gary knows is B.S. and the only walk he knows is slithering like the snake he is. Strikers stand up for your dignity and view your union “representative” Gary with a watchful eye. Best of luck to you FW’s (fellow workers).
A Real Grievance Man Sings Out at YSU
WYSU is a great station and they proved it to me by having Pittsburgh’s Mike Stout and the Human Union band play WYSU’s Folk Festival last night. Mike is a former grievance man for the US Steel Homestead Works. That, coupled with the working-class conscious music he makes today, has led him led him to be dubbed, “the Grievance Man of the world.” Grievance Man Mike has used his safety shoe allowance on steel-toed boots in the form of a dozen and a half songs he brought to Y-town to kick the powers-that-be in the ass and unite the working-class in solidarity in the struggle for a better world.
The elecpencil dragged his tired rump out for the evening even though working with some overactive youngsters at work left him as tired as Superman after a double shift at the Kryptonite mine. Ms Elecpencil having her strength zapped by the same type of tykes even joined me for the evening, which is a rare event. That’s mostly because like me she loves Mike’s music. I was invited to a get together for Mike before hand but due to circumstances beyond my control (which is about how 90% of my life is) we arrived just before the music started.
Though I didn’t see a lot of advertising for the event it was well attended. The crowd was a mix of many of the activists and radicals in the area. That includes lots of folks the elepencil loves and admires and was happy to see. These are people who make this community better and are therefore my kind of people! Mike’s also as he opened with his song, “My Kind of People.” Mike followed that up with more songs about: Solidarity, historic working-class heroes and heroines, a song about the School of the Americas, revolution, hope and freedom. His band the Human Union is made up of some of the best musicians in the Pittsburgh area. Guitarists Dan Parese and Fred Nelson help deliver a powerful and solid contract for the World’s Grievance Man. Ms. Elecpencil noted how, Fred’s slide guitar on Mike’s,” The Big Time Corporate Blues” was especially haunting.
Mike talked about how his father sent him away to a Catholic detention school for troubled kids. Mike said, he hid a radio under his pillow and listened to Chicago’s WLS’s top hits of the time. This brought back memories to the elepencil because his parents were Catholics who ran their home like a detention center. In my cell I would also hide my radio under the pillow. I listened to Chicago station WCFL’s Sunday show, “Ron Britain’s Subterranean Circus.” Britain introduced me to Muddy Water’s, “Electric Mud,” John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, Terry Reid, etc. Grievance Man Mike played three Beatles tunes he remembered from those times. He started with, “You’ve got to Hide Your Love Away.” As he played I thought about how that was one of my favorite Beatle tunes that doesn’t get played much. I was thinking the other Beatle tune I love and seldom hear is Norwegian Wood” Next thing I know Mike is playing, “Norwegian Wood.” Like Mike my favorite Beatles album is also, “Rubber Soul.” If you have the album dig it out and play, “The Word” and “In my Life” and see if you don’t agree.
Being in Youngstown Mike played Springsteen’s, “Youngstown.” He did,”Flowers of the Working-class” about two former Youngstown union leaders, John Barbaro and Ed Mann. Today’s union leaders like Gary Steinbeck could never fill Ed and John’s steel toe work shoes. Mike also played a song called “Mama Bear” written about and dedicated to Niles Ohio activist, Alice Lynd who was in attendance. Alice and her husband Staughton have been mentors to many others and me and our community is lucky to have such people. Ms. Elecpencil says, I’m a better person for having known the Lynds. Having known Mike for what must be over a decade I can say my kid are better kids by having been exposed to his music at home and in the car.
Mikes music gives voice to the voiceless. The voiceless are the downtrodden, the immigrants, the incarcerated and the workers left behind because of social injustice and globalization. He makes us workers realize, we’ve not just sold our labor, but also our souls to a system that promises us dreams but delivers us nightmares.
Sadly, Mike’s music is not for everyone. It’s only for those of us who won’t settle for the banality of junk food in our literature or music. If you seek something life sustaining, you’ll find it fulfilling and loaded with protein. Those of us who look to be the carpenters of a new world need these songs as tools towards that construction.
For your tool box pick up Mikes latest CD, “The Point of Pittsburgh.”
I could say tons more about Mike’s music but his songs speak for them self and you can hear them at Mike’s website: Mike Stout