Once again, the ILHS Union Hall of Honor has worked its wonders. The warm and intimate ambience of the Ballroom at Carpenters 's District Council was the perfect setting for the annual tribute to the inspirational power of our labor history.
The tone was firmly set by Chairman Larry Spivack as he opened the pre-dinner program with an introduction of Mike Carrigan and Dennis Gannon, Secretary–Treasurer of the Illinois Federation of Labor and President of the Chicago Federation of Labor respectively. Both spoke of the ILHS with enthusiastic commitment.
The after dinner program took The Message and the Messenger as its theme. Upton Sinclair's 100 year old novel, The Jungle, was the sensational Message of its day. The IWW's Joe Hill, whose songs enlivened the labor movement in his time, represented the Messenger.
Jim Barrett Speaks
The guest speaker was James Barrett, long-time ILHS member and labor historian from the University of Illinois at Urbana. He noted that The Jungle was an instant best-seller and its message had a profound effect on public opinion of the "Meat Trust". The book propelled Congress to adopt food safety legislation. Nevertheless, Barrett observed that its vivid account of the grinding toil and poverty suffered by the workers left out the significant social cohesion and resilience that existed within the immigrant communities.
Following Barrett's talk, Larry Spivack called on everyone to hold hands, close eyes, and maintain a moment of silence. The magic worked and Joe Hill (Joe Bella of AFSCME) worked his way through the audience to take up his guitar and delight the audience with a hard driving rendition of his famous songs.
Next, Franklin Rosemont of the Charles Kerr Publishing Co. talked about Joe Hill and the IWW, which was founded in 1905 in a hall only a couple of blocks away. Rosemont's recently published biography of Joe Hill is among the best-sellers on the ILHS booklist.
The program concluded with inductions into the Union Hall of Honor. The first was Upton Sinclair for his great "Message." That was followed by Joe Hill as the "Messenger." The surprise of the evening came with the induction of Franklin and Penelope Rosemont, managers since 1983 of the venerable Charles Kerr Publishing Co. who have kept the flame alive with new titles. Among them have been The Haymarket Scrapbook and Rosemont's Joe Hill.
All hands held high and voices ringing loud and clear with the sounds of Solidarity Forever, there could be no doubt that all of our batteries had been recharged with that good old Union Spirit.
The entire program was taped for telecast and will appeared January 21 on Chicago's public access television channel, CAN TV21.