There is s War Going on for Your Mind: Labor Media in Central Illinois

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UNTIL THE LATE 1970‘S, EVERY MAJOR newspaper in the United
States had at least one labor reporter with regular stories
about unions and working class issues. Labor related
news stories were also heard regularly on radio stations,
and begining in the early 1950‘s seen on television.
With the increased consolidation (monopoly control)
by the corporate media and fewer locally owned newspapers,
radio and television stations, as well as the shredding
of the“Social Contract“by corpoarte America and the
begining of the neo-liberal/neo-conservative ‘class war,’
labor news stories are extremely rare.
When labor news stories are reported in the corporate
media today, they are always biased and distorted, and
placed in the “Business Section.”
Likewise in films, television programs, documentaries,
books, magazines, public school history classes, and other
genres of U.S. culture, unions and working class people are
no where to be found. Therefore, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
For example, the classic art print of “Rosie the Riveter“(the
woman worker in the World War II defense plant) who
became a popular feminist icon, originally showed Rosie
with her union button prominently displayed on her workshirt.
But today, trying to find a copy for sale anywhere that
doesn‘t have her union button “whited-out” is almost
impossible. Locally, Merry Ann‘s diner in downtown
Champaign provides a classic example.
A labor struggle in near-by Decatur Illinois from
1992–1996 was a pivital event for the begining of labor
media in Central Illinois. When local labor activists Peter
Miller (a union teacher) and Bill Gorrell (a union construction
laborer), attended solidarity support actions in
Decatur for the locked-out Staley Workers, they were often
facing police tear gas and beatings. Because of this expeerience,
Miller and Gorrell were outraged at the lack of media
coverage and the biased media reporting (when it did
occur) against the striking workers. This compelled Miller
and Gorrell to begin a labor radio program in 1996 called
the Illinois Labor Hour, on WEFT community radio station
(90.1 FM). Originally the shaw was broadcasted every
other Sunday morning, the program soon moved to a
weekly time-slot on Saturday mornings from 11AM–Noon,
and has broadcast every Saturday since, within a range of
about 50-miles of downtown Champaign.
In 2002, Peter Miller moved to New Hamshire to take a
job as a Union Organizer for the NEA Teachers’ Union, at
which point a local union carpenter and former Vice-President
of the AFL-CIO of Champaign County, David Johnson,
became a co-host.
In 2008, WEFT radio began live world-wide webcasting
at, at which point the Illinois Labor Hour
became the Illinois World Labor Hour with a four member
collective including ; Bill Gorrell, David Johnson, Tom
Thomas, and Bob Paleczny.
With regular listeners from small towns in Central Illinois
and Champaign-Urbana, as well as listeners from as far
away as Oakland Calfornia, New York City, Dublin, Berlin
and London, the Illinois World Labor Hour produces a weekly
mix of labor news, music, live interviews with guests from
around the world as well as local in studio guests, the ‘Cultural
Corner’ with labor poet Tom Thomas, and the occasional
comentary and rant from Wobbly soap-box speaker
Bill Gorrell. In addition to all this, there is Bob Paleczny
rounding out the mix with his financial analysis, PC/radio
equipment technical expertise and news story research.
The program has not been without controversy in the
past within the labor community, in particular it‘s interviews
and coverage of local and national internal union
problems of corruption and rank and file union member
democracy dissidents. For example, in 2007 during a local
controversy involving a union member who filed a racial
discrimination lawsuit against his union, there was much
subsequent criticism of the Labor Hour for interviewing
the union member. The show was criticized as being ‘antiunion’
by a local union official. In defense of The Labor
Hour Bill Gorrell stated on the air, “We are always proworker,
but NOT always pro-union official.”
Past episodes of the Illinois World Labor Hour can be
accessed at
Another venue for labor issues emerged in early 2001. With
the creation of the Urbana-Champaign IMC (Independent
Media Center), which is part of a global network of independent
news outlets. Part of the Urbana-Champaign IMC
was the creation of the Public i newspaper In 2001. Though
not exclusively devoted to labor issues, the Public i covers
issues importent to working class people, both locally and
world-wide, though always with a local writer. Naturally
labor issues are often covered along with enviromental,
criminal justice, and civil liberties topics.
One of the main editors of the Public i is davep, a member
of the Central Illinois IWW (Industrial Workers of the
World) union, who in addition to submitting an occasional
article, is responsible for many inserts in each issue that
includes photos and cartoons with provacative working
class messages of consciousness and resistance.
The Public i is an open forum newspaper, hence anyone
in the community can submit articles for publication.
Over time this has included articles written by and about
rank and file union members, and on general labor issues
of the day. A free monthly paper, the Public i is available at
many local businesses and public places.
Later, a low-power station WRFU radio (104.5 FM) was
created by the IMC in 2005. Amongst the diverse programs
is a labor/public affairs program called Critical Ear,
hosted by Andrew O‘Boaill (a member of the GEO, Graduate
Employees union) and Robert Naiman (labor activist
involved in the local Jobs with Justice organization), which
is broadcast every Thursday from 7PM–8PM.
Continuing in the tradition of labor media, the ‘new kid on
the block’ is Labor‘s View Television. After many years of
discussion and false starts, local labor media has finally
entered the medium of television.
Hosted by Jim Eyman (a retired Railroad Worker from
Milwaukee and IWW member) and David Johnson (from
the Illinois World Labor Hour), Labor‘s View began broadcasting
in March 2009, with a weekly program that is presented
by UPTV (Urbana Public Access Television) comcast
cable channel 6, every Sunday from 4PM-5PM.
Jim Eyman and David Johnson provide a format that
includes discussion and films about labor history and current
labor issues, that often times overlap into issues like
Public Schools vs. Charter Privatized Schools, and U.S.
foreign policy. As Jim Eyman states, “Anything that effects
working class people IS a labor issue!” Jim Eyman is also
an accomplished musician who specializes in early American
folk and labor music, playing both banjo and mandolin,
and occasionally performing an old or newly compossed
labor song during the program.
Most of the films shown are from ; Labor Beat TV in
Chicago, Labor on the Job Productions in San Francisco,
Labor Vision TV in St. Louis, and Rosemary Feuer from
North-Western Illinois University. Some of the future films
will be full length films (90-minutes plus) about labor history
or labor drama, both Hollywood and documentary/independent
productions, that will be serialized over two or
more episodes with discussion.
For David Johnson, much of his inspiration for finally
making Labor‘s View TV happen was an old friend Martin
Conlisk from Labor Beat TV in Chicago, and a labor film
class at the Labor Institute of the University of Illinois,
taught by Professor Joe Berry. According to Johnson, “Television
is a more difficult medium than radio with the visual
element added, like the difference between two-dimensional
chess and three dimensional chess. But, simaltaneously
it is a very powerful means of conveying information.“
By July of 2009, viewers will be able to watch Labor‘s
View TV on-line live, and past episodes, anywhere in the
world on-line via the UPTV archive.
The Illinois World Labor Hour radio program and Labor‘s
View TV always needs guests to participate for an interview,
or to hear from people about program ideas.
Likewise, the Public i newspaper is always wanting articles
for upcoming issues written by local people.
Afterall… IT IS YOUR MEDIA! Take advantage, and be
a part of it!
For more information, contact David Johnson at

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