Radical media, politics and culture.

Tribute to Moe Foner, NYC Labor Radical

CELEBRATE  MOE!  A  Tribute  to  Moe  Foner

Apr  24, 2002

Town  Hall, NYC

Wednesday  April  24th  was  one  night  in  which  NYC's  Labor-Left  came  together  and  offered  no  sign  of  splits  or  tiring.  It  was  a  night  for  affirmation  and  honor  of  our  heritage  and  future...all  in  honor  of  Moe  Foner.

As  many  readers  will  already  know, Moe  Foner  was  a  seminal  part  of  Labor  in  New  York;  to  many  he  was  its  very  heart.  Moe  was an  exemplary  progressive, fighting  for  social  justice, an  equitable  society, peace, racial  and  gender  equality, socialism  and  of  course, the  Labor  movement.  Moe  and  his  brothers Philip, Henry,  and  Jack  were  among  the  pre-eminant  organizers  and  historians  of  this  people's  culture.

Though Moe  passed  away  in  January, his  associates  in  the  larger  movement, and  in  particular  at  my  own  union  1199/SEIU, where  Moe  was  an  official  since  1952  wanted  to  offer  a  celebration  of  his  life. Moe  was  not  only  an  important  part  of  1199, he  founded  its  "Bread  and Roses  Cultural  Program", that  which  organized  this  very  tribute, CELEBRATE  MOE!

CELEBRATE  MOE!  occured  at  NYC's  historic  Town  Hall  (in  theatre  row)  which  was  filled  to  capacity  for  this  special  evening.  Many  in  the audience  were  among  Labor-Left  legends, noted  folk  singers, general  progressives. But  the  event  beyond  the  audience, that  which  was  on  the  stage,  was  what  brought  everyone  out.  The  Royal  Bannah  Band, a  reggae  band  0f  1199ers  from  Kingsbrook  Jewish  Hospital  in  Brooklyn  warmed  up  the  audience  with  songs  of  conscience  and  justice  such  as  Bob  Marley's  "Get  Up, Stand  Up!".  After  a  greeting  from  1199/SEIU  Secretary-Treasurer  George  Gresham, the  evening's  emcee, none  other  than  Ossie  Davis, took  the  stage.  Initially  joined  by  wife  Ruby  Dee  (between  the  two  of  them, they  have  appeared  in  so  many  important  struggles  for  justice  as  well  as  theatre  works  and  films), the  two  offered  statements  about  Moe  and  poetry  from  an  1199  member.  Following  this, Ossie  portrayed  the  perfect, modest  host, offering  information  about  the  other  presenters  as  well  as  musings  and  encouraging, warm  statements  in  a  gentlemanly  fashion.

Harry  Belafonte, also  a  long-term  friend  of  Moe  and  1199, took  the  stage  to  thunderous  applause.  Again, speaking  so  fondly  of  the  honoree  that  one  began  to  wonder  how  so  much  activism  and  dedication  fit  into  just  one  man.  Other  speakers  included  Moe's  bother  Henry, Basil  Paterson, Dolores  Huerta  (a  founder of  UFW), Bill  Serrin  of  the  NY  Times, Ann  Foner, Dennis  Rivera,  and  many  others from  the  movement.  A  film  about  Moe's  life  was  screened  and  performers  offered  two  songs  from  a  musical  Moe  wrote  about  hospital  workers called "Take  Care".

For  this  writer, the  highlight  of  the  evening, was  the  finale, when  a  chorus  comprised  of  current  and  retired  1199/SEIU  members, with  help  from  a  few  friends  of  the  union  took  to  the  stage  under  the  directorship  of  topical  singer  Bev  Grant.  It  was  a  very  prideful  moment  for  me, as  I  was  a  member  of  this  group  as  well  as  its  banjo  player.  As  I'm  sure we  all  felt, it  was  an  honor  to  be  an  active  part  of  the  evening.  We  sang  a  wonderful  Bev  Grant  arrangement  of  "Bread  and  Roses"  and  then  the  gospel  number, "May  the  Work  That  I  have  Done Speak  for  Me".  For  this  second  song, all  of  the  speakers  joined  our  chorus  and  the  audience  sang  and  clapped  along.   By  the  time the  final  verse  was  sounded, the  hall  shook  with  all  of  the  enthusiasm  that  was  only  befitting  of  a  Moe  Foner.  

The  Labor-Left  in  NYC  is  not  asleep----it's  not  even  resting.  With  the  legacy  of  fighters  like  Moe, it  was  fully  recharged  at  Town  Hall.  We  need  exhilirating  experiences  like  this  one  to  remember  where  we've  been...and  we're  we  need  to  go.  {And  now----onto  May Day!}

In  Solidarity,

John  Pietaro

Delegate, 1199/SEIU