[Howard Zinn raw #12]

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Howard Zinn speaks at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh on the history of the labor movement and workers' struggles in the United States.

0:05 A professor at UW-Oshkosh speaks on the importance of sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine, the Works Progress Administration, and the problems faced by early photographers. Howard Zinn is in attendance.

5:54 A loud alarm goes off and the professor wraps up her talk.

6:07 Howard Zinn shakes hands with audience members as the alarm continues. He greets people and signs copies of his books.

8:45 Zinn speaks on the importance of the GI Bill, both for him personally, and in democratizing higher education.

10:33 Zinn talks about Richard Hofstadter, a professor of history at Columbia University and the chairman of Zinn’s dissertation committee.

12:32 Zinn reflects on his experiences working at a warehouse in Manhattan. He tells a story about him and his coworkers refusing to load trucks until they were provided with rain equipment.

15:11 The interviewer asks Zinn how he ended up writing his dissertation on Fiorello La Guardia. Zinn says he originally wanted to write his dissertation on IWW leader Bill Haywood, but all his papers were destroyed by the Department of Justice in the mid-1920s. One day, Zinn says, he stumbled across the Municipal Archives building, where Fiorello La Guardia’s widow had just deposited all of her husband’s papers from his mayoral and congressional periods.

18:17 The interviewer and Zinn discuss Bill Haywood’s innocence. Zinn says that regardless of their innocence, there was never a chance of a fair trial for the IWW or Sacco and Vanzetti.

20:30 Howard Zinn tells about the screenplay he’s writing about the Ludlow Massacre.

22:03 A speaker at a podium introduces UW-Oshkosh professor Tony Palmeri, who in turn introduces Howard Zinn. He tells the story of how he learned about Howard Zinn in 1989 after hearing him speak on public radio.

25:51 Howard Zinn takes the podium. He talks about working at a shipyard and joining a union. He says he joined the air force and attended college on the GI Bill of Rights. He talks about the exclusion of the exploited, working people from the narrative of history and the absence of coverage of labor struggles in his college history courses. “The first lesson from our labor history is that it doesn’t exist in official circles and therefore that it’s up to us to find it out and to spread the information.”

32:22 Zinn calls for us to make up for what is not being taught in official textbooks and histories. He describes how the official histories of America attempt to erase class difference and assert shared “national interests” and “common interests.”

34:28 Zinn tells the audience about late nineteenth century educational philosophies that sought to enforce discipline in the classroom to prepare students for discipline in the workplace. He says throughout his education, even as he was working to earn his PhD, he barely heard of any of the labor struggles throughout American history.

37:34 Zinn says that when the history of the Civil War is told, it’s simply presented as a series of battles; the tensions and struggles between workers and capitalists during the Civil War are not included in the official histories.

39:30 Zinn tells the audience about the Railroad Strikes of 1877.

42:12 Zinn talks about learning about the rich history surrounding the Haymarket Affair and the Eight-Hour Movement. “So there’s a reason, it seems, why these things aren’t in the history books, because… well… young people might learn how the system functions.” He draws some parallels between Grover Cleveland and Bill Clinton.

46:44 Zinn discusses how the history of late 19th-century politics illustrates very clearly the relationship between the wealthy, working people, and the government, but this history is never taught in schools.

48:57 Zinn says a lot of American labor history is lost outside official histories. “There have been many massacres of working people throughout American history.” Zinn says next week he’ll be speaking in Boston at a symposium on the Boston Massacre, but his condition for attending was that he be allowed to speak on a massacre other than the Boston Massacre.

51:20 Zinn tells the audience about some more of the strikes ignored in American history and the resilience of the American labor movement. “Out of struggle, people learn and the struggle is not forgotten.” He says that the Pullman Strike is mentioned in textbooks, but the textbooks don’t dig into how the whole machinery of government was invoked against the American Railway Union.

55:09 Zinn talks about the erasure of socialism and socialist figures, such as Eugene Debs and Mother Jones, in American history, and how the radicalism of figures like Helen Keller gets erased in favor of a nicer, simpler account. He tells about how Mother Jones organized the children of striking textile mill workers to march to Washington to push to bring an end to child labor and that, while not immediately successful, this action was crucial in raising consciousness of the issue of child labor.

58:12 Zinn says he doesn’t remember learning about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in school. He says he learned about the Ludlow Massacre, not through his PhD program, but through a Woody Guthrie song. “Stories like that in history might make young people class conscious.”

 

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