Thursday, June 7, 2012

Robert Schrank Obituary

Robert Schrank, 
Center Moriches, NY  11934
October 19, 1917 – 
June 7, 2012

Robert Schrank, Ph.D., a prominent labor leader in the 1930s-1950s, former City Commissioner under Mayor Lindsay and renowned expert at The Ford Foundation on labor negotiations and workplace issues, died on Thursday, June 7, 2012, in Center Moriches, NY, at the age of 94.

From young political activist and union leader to foundation professional and management consultant for global corporations, Schrank lived a life based on empathy and principles for workers and workplace issues; and, as a union activist, was involved in some of the major political and social upheavals of the twentieth century.

In one of his two books, Wasn’t That a Time? Growing Up Radical and Red in America, Schrank described the life events of his role in the rise of industrial unions in the 1930s and 1940s.  He was part of the radical world of true believers, elected President of the local 402 of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) at a young age.  During his time as president of the local, membership grew by leaps and bounds as the union pursued a policy emphasizing the class struggle for workers.

Schrank was a rebel in the union landscape, being expelled three times from union office for stances he took supporting workers in opposition to some ideas within the union leadership.  In a landmark First Amendment case (Schrank vs. Brown) the State Supreme Court of New York twice returned him to membership.  Convinced by the early 1950s of the failure of socialism in the Soviet Union; he, however, remained faithful to the desires and needs of the rank and file working people throughout the remainder of his own working and personal life. 

One of Schrank’s most memorable union experiences was organizing a rare general strike in 1945 in Stamford, Connecticut.  An opening shot in the post-World War II anti-union environment was fired by the Yale & Towne Manufacturing Company, which simply refused to bargain, even though the IAM local had been certified as the workers’ bargaining agenda by the National Labor Relations Board.  After a long strike, Schrank rallied other union support for Yale & Towne workers by successfully organizing a rare general strike that shut down the city for an entire day leading to the end of the long IAM strike.  Later, as a union organizer, in 1954, Schrank spent the longest, coldest winter of his life working to reorganize and restore the Montana local of the Mine Mill and Smelter Workers’ Union.

Following his union organizing days, Schrank became a plant manager for a short time before becoming a Director in Mobilization for Youth, one of the country’s newest, and most successful manpower programs for troubled youth in New York City.  Schrank later became Assistant Commissioner for the City of New York under Mayor Lindsay, responsible for the operation of the city’s manpower programs. This job was not without controversy as a congressman from the Bronx had attacked Schrank as a radical and called on any federal funds for the city of New York be withheld until Schrank was discharged.  Mayor Lindsay supported Schrank saying that he knew Schrank and that he was hired for the record of his achievements, not his politics, and that was what the city needed.  

As a Project Specialist at The Ford Foundation from the 1960s through 1980, Schrank’s numerous projects were centered on workplace issues.  Schrank was instrumental in organizing a “Workers Exchange.”  The idea of the exchange was to have workers from a particular industry to become visiting, working employees, in plants that were doing experiments in alternative work organizations.  The exchanges that took place involved auto workers from Detroit to Saab in Sweden, nurses from California to the National Health Service in England, longshoremen from San Francisco to Rotterdam, and policemen from Hartford, Connecticut to London and Amsterdam.  The results of these exchanges were helpful in thinking about how work can be reorganized, and how that reorganization can, and needs to, involve the workers in the organization.

Schrank wrote about his extraordinary and varied work experiences from skilled machinist to union leader to NYC Commissioner to Ford Foundation professional in his first book, Ten Thousand Working Days.  Schrank’s broad work experience provided a realistic basis for a personal and social portrayal of work, its pain and pleasures, its frustrations and satisfactions.  His life’s professional narrative served a special purpose by bringing together in the context of his own work experience the sociology and psychology of work and what really happens on the job.  His writings were almost always from the point of view of the rank and file, whether describing his role in the leadership of the New York State Machinists union or as a corporate consultant.

Robert Schrank was born October 19, 1917, into a New York City immigrant family in the Bronx that was part of New York’s large German socialist community, a community of political and intellectual individuals. At fourteen, he left school and was sent off to work.  It was not until his forties that he entered Brooklyn College and received a bachelor’s degree, going on in later years to earn his Masters and Ph.D. in the sociology of work.

After retiring from The Ford Foundation, Schrank moved full-time with his wife, Kathleen Gunderson, to their home on Moriches Bay in Center Moriches, NY, where he treasured the nature and beauty of the area.  He spent many years sailing the waters off Long Island, organized and led efforts to turn the 263-acre “Havens Estate” into what is now the Terrell River County Park Preserve.  The skills he learned as a machinist were used to build many finely crafted pieces of antique furniture for his dear friends and family.  Their home was often filled with the same enjoying evenings of deep discussions along with much merriment and singing. 

In his retirement, Bob Schrank continued to be involved with issues related to working people consulting to major corporations and at Standard-Knapp, Inc., serving from 1985-2011 as their longest Outside Director.  Bob received many awards over his life, but the most important award he received was a Lifetime Contribution to Social Justice for Working People award presented to him in 2008 from The Center for Study of Working Class Life, Stony Brook University.

Dr. Schrank is survived by his loving best friend and wife, Kathleen Gunderson; daughter Elizabeth Bessin of Santa Fe, New Mexico; son Fredrick (Barbara) of Madison, WI; granddaughter Amrita Bessin (Robert Cohen) of Santa Monica, CA; grandson, Theo Bessin of San Francisco, CA; granddaughter Allie Schrank of Madison, WI, great-grandson Soren Cohen of Santa Monica, CA and many beloved lifelong friends.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

You Want to Talk Greed?

Yeah I’m still here about to get pissed off about this latest front page lead story of the NY Times. “U.S. WINDS DOWN LONGER BENEFITS FOR THE JOBLESS. Checks stopping early. Hundreds of thousands of out of work Americans are about to see their final checks.  Then how they manage to survives is their little own business. If you jump over to the Business Section of the paper you’ll find a different story. 
Here a Mr. Picard is paying off for the Trustee ($850 an hour) How can we believe this shit? On the one hand we don’t have a nickel for a guy who has been out of a job and there don’t seem to be any and a guy who is making $850 an hour just recovering stolen money. Don’t you find something wrong with this picture?
Of course you do. Its just unfair and it continues to play out in this land of unfettered capitalism. And until my last breath I’m keeping carping away at it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

How do we say Goodbye to the Good fight?

My whole family surrounds me with love. They're my son, my daughter, my daughter in law, she’s putting all my old pictures together so that a friend In New Haven can make something out of them. All this surrounding love and caring. Here comes the Oxygen pump. I’m not sure whether it does anything. But what the hell. All this stuff they're surrounding me with is trying it’s darndest to keep me going. Oh, what difference does it make. I’m just trying to finish out me run. My dear son is making sure that the Stereo is working as I do love having Beethoven, Sibelius, Wagner, Chopin, and yes Hank Williams at my side. Hank was a musical genius whose beautiful melodies just seem to drop out of his heart. Haunting lyrics and melody, “I’m So Lonesome I could Cry.” Nothing expresses the loneliness of the American West as this song.

My life. Oh what a run it was. Look I was born of working class family right after the Russian Revolution Our family was fiercely devoted to the objectives of the working class. They believed those that produced the goods had first choice to them. The idol ruling class who owned the mines the mills,the places where things were made, where represented by the Czar and his entourage. So when the Russian workers revolted against that whole form of tyranny we were like the average New England fishermen who was glad to see the Brits leave our shores. That’s why we were so happy to see the defeat of the Russian Hierarchy and its blood sucker entourage. Just one more victory for working people.

(Just before I started to write this piece my son is reading me an article from the Times on the attacks against the unions in Wisconsin. He wants to know, What are these crazy people thinking. They have there supply and demand Market Capitalism “Don’t they realize that they are destroying their own system? “Yes Fred, they are self destructing because they are devils own victims of greed.  “So Dad what’s to become of us?”   Ahaa That my dear man depends on what you and your fellow citizens do about it”  In Newtonian  Physics there is a law. “Every action has an  equal reaction.”  We need to really count on that law for people in Wisconsin and other states to  get out there and fight back.

I was very fortunate in my life to have been in every struggle for a fight back better world.

1.Starting with the right to organize.  We won that with the passage of the Wagner Act. That guaranteed the fights of workers to organize and bargain collectively for their members, It meant that thousands of assembly line workers now had the right join a union. We thought of it as a revolution. No longer would  the mass production industries to be excused from the workers right to organize and have a say about the conditions they worked under. THAT IS NOW UNDER ATTACK IN WISCONSIN - ALREADY COLLECTIVE BARGAINING HAS BEEN STRIPPED IN WI FROM STATE AND MUNICIPAL WORKERS. My Daughter-in-Law, Barbara, told me, “WALKER’S TACTIC - DIVIDE AND CONQUER BY STARTING WITH STATE WORKERS, THEN POLICE AND FIRE (WHICH HE LEFT OUT ONLY FOR THE MOMENT) AND FINALLY - YOU BET, PRIVATE UNIONS, MAKING WI A RIGHT TO WORK STATE.”  (YUP, THAT’S WHERE IT WAS INITIALLY WON. GOD, I WISH I COULD BE PART OF THE FIGHT BACK. THE FIGHT BACK IS NOT JUST A DEMONSTRATION OR TWO. IT’S GOING TO BE AN ONGOING CONTINUOUS STRUGGLE TO  HOLD OUR GAINS.

Barbara told me Walker’s tactics included saying that state workers’ benefits and retirement were better than the private sector and workers were not paying into these benefits - his tactic worked to divide private vs. public workers and to muddy the waters of total compensation and salary.  In fact, WI state workers for several years have had no increases in their salaries, have taken furlough days (more salary cuts); and, when Walker said the budget was bad, AFSME agreed to increases in payments towards healthcare and retirement.  Walker ignored them, and began a process last February 2011 to strip state workers of collective bargaining rights.  Result - cuts in salary to pay more for healthcare and retirement.  Further, state workers have always contributed to their retirement and health benefits.  It’s called total compensation.  Rather than take home more pay in salary, parts of a worker’s total compensation (salary, benefits, retirement, for example) went toward their benefits.  There never has been a free lunch like Walker liked to say. 

2.The Civil Rights struggle. Our Country was badly divided since the great tragedy of slavery. An estimated 650,000 People were brought here in chains completely against their will to work the Cotton Plantations. The owners made a fortune on that slave labor. Took the Civil War, the bloodiest in history to bring it to an end. The bigotry and persecution of Black people continued after the Civil War . The 1960s saw a continuation of that struggle with the birth of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

That seemed to link up with the fight for jobs. THE ANTI POVERTY PROGRAM under LYNDON JOHNSON WAS BORN.    I WAS FORTUNATE AGAIN TO BE PART OF THAT AT MOBILIZATION FOR YOUTH. MFY.    Again the CLASS STRUGGLE GOT RIGHT INTO IT. MFY became an enemy because they were acting on behalf of those who had been lost in the society and denied the opportunities promised by our Constitution. We marched,we sat in we scared the beeJesus out of the ruling class as we took over schools and other public places.

That movement is now, “Occupy Wall Street” who my, Companion, Al who is from Lithuania, has visited and spent the day. He calls them “devoted, militant. young people who are determined to bring about change.” You see new movements do emerge even without the old “party control”.
The picture in the rest of the world is less encouraging. They-re the old guard really show no signs of conceding power. There is a far deeper problem. They-re is a lack of any real job opportunities. Look, what have they got to market?  The early Industrial Revolution Countries, like England, Textiles Middle East Oil Egypt, textiles. Yes they got the cloth from India but they spun it into marketable pretty stiff. That’s what pissed off Ghandi and started the India movement for INDEPENDENCE.
I am going to quit for now as my poor old brain just doesn’t have that staying power.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

The European Elections.

For sure most Americans can't understand the Europeans remember we are their offspring. What on earth would make them vote Socialist?   Our forefathers and mothers seem to have no trouble seeing the Fiat Motor Car Company operating the same was as the French or Italian Army. You run it as efficiently as you can. If there are profits left over you divvy them up with the folks in operations. If there are none you have to take money from the till box to keep thing' s afloat.

What I learned back in April. No it wasn't about showers.

Early  back in April I learned 
About my cancer and the GMC?   I doubted it. 
The prognosis from here on out? 
Cuts right into me slouching. 
Will have to make do,best we can. 
Now if at times I seem in a hurry 
Indulge me. As I m trying to get it all in. 
Nobody knows the time left over. 
If we could just Bank it. 
Then we could worry less. 
Nobody knows the  trouble I’ve seen.  
Glory Hallelulala]

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Great Escape!

Irony I am up and out early as we are on our way to MSKCC in the City. We’ll get some more information about how we might “escape?”   My best RS
It was around the late 1920s early 30s. I belonged to the Van Nest Steamrollers. We were a bunch of kids from the Northeast corner of the Bronx. Stuck between two railroads. On the west the New York Boston & Westchester. Never heard of it eah? We called it the Bankers road. It whisked those folks from Westchester County non stop through the Bronx to the financial district. The Steamrollers got our licks by throwing rocks at the trains. Needless to say the bankers never even looked up. The Railroad went down with the depression.
On the east side of Van Nest was The New Haven Railroad. It still there as the Metro North. The Catholic Protectory was right across the tracks. It stood where the Housing Project Parkchester now stands. The Protectory was a boarding school for bad boys, like me. As I was in trouble for so many years in PS 34 I lived in terror of being told that they would put me in the Protectory.     (Pssssssst  I had a knapsack all packed with food and carfare to get me across the river to New Jersey. From there I would hitch my way west. Actually it never happened.)  Back to the Escape. On weekends we were invited to play baseball against the Protectory team. Every time our team walked through the gates play Protectory  I’d be a nervous wreck. Feared, once in, they might never let us out. Especially me with my extended family of radicals.. Like an old medieval fortress this whole place had a 8-10 foot wall all around it for two square blocks. It was designed to scare . Man it sure did.
On one Saturday afternoon we were somewhere’s around the 7th inning. The Steamrollers were ahead by a couple of runs. I managed to get to 3rd base through a walk a single and so on. As I slid into the base I knocked the 3rd basemen over. We are both sort of lying there. Yet he is talking a mile a minute. “look bud we need to get out of this fucking place. We’re really getting worked over in here. Ten lashes for this, 20 for that stuff like that.” Man, now I’m listening. “We gotta get outa here or we’ll die before we even grow up. So, your gonna help us?”  “How.”  No there was no, well we need to think about it, stuff like that.” In my world of Anarchists, Socialists, Communists etc. people in trouble by an oppressor had to be helped.  “So what do you want us to do?”
Get some good rope, like wash-lines about 100 feet long. Twist them together so that they can pull a 150 pound guy over that wall right behind 3rd base. 7 o'clock tonight you through the cord with a brick on the end over the wall.  You got make sure it’s secure on your end so as the guys start to come over the chord line will hold. So far I got about ten guys signed up. Heah by the way what’s your name? Mine’s, Fassanell Ralph. Mine’s Robishe Italian for Robert or Bob. Okay we’re on for tonight. As I was walking off the field I noticed one of the priests who was umping on 3rd base trying real hard to hear our conversation.
As the Steamrollers walked home along the New Haven tracks I began to get nervous that I had to much confidence in our end of the caper. So, I started my recruiting. Whose gonna collect wash lines?  That was easy. Just went to the lots behind the houses where the lines were strong and started to take them out. Whose coming along for the toss over the wall and the pull to get the guys out that assignment got increasingly difficult to fill. Now it became this is the toughest part of this thing so you gotta show what your made of. The agreed on time was after dinner around 6PM. Oh man now we had to synchronize the only two watches the rescuers could lay their hands on. Perry came with an Ingersohl  $ Dollar watch. Whenever it stopped you took it back to an Ingersohl dealer and for a buck he gave you another one. Vinnie was our last recruit as a puller. Vinnie went on to be a wheelman for the local Mafia. Ended up doing time in Sing Sing. (How’d a prison ever get a name like that?) 
We had our own whistle system.3  blasts was abort and get lost. This required real knowledge of the surrounding neighborhood particularly the New Haven train lines schedule. You often had to recruit your own support system. Ralph was a funny and interesting character.  He projected a complete optimism in what we were doing and just assumed it would all workout.
Okay so here’s the appointed hour. John, he was our best Pitcher is the rope brick thrower. He’s gotta get it over that wall or the whole things a bust. Perry. me and some other guys are the pullers on the rope to help the prisoners” climb over that wall to “freedom.” Man, we were so excited none of us could stand still long enough to blow your nose. No, we were collectively trying not to pee in our pants.
Okay, so here’s the agreed on synchronized watch time. Over the wall goes the brick with plenty of rope with it. Sure enough there’s two tugs on the rope. That was our signal to start pulling. We are gathering rope beautifully when over the top of the wall. no you wont believe this comes a Priest blowing his police whistle like crazy. Not sure, I think it was John who picked up a handful of dirt and threw it in the priest’s face. With that we were outa there across the Railroad tracks with the rush hour trains going in both directions. We had agreed to rondayvou in my backyard. Everybody showed up but Perry. Now we were worried. Perry had very strict parents if they even got a whiff of what he was up to it would be a sad day for him. 
Here comes Perry his pants all bloody between his knee and his crotch. What happened?  What happened? guys are all yelling at once?  “Got caught on a barb wire that some dumb son of a bitch tried to put across a track entrance. Heah Robishe i can’t go home like this. You got a pair pants i could use?”   Of course of course.  Has it stopped bleeding? “I think so.” Now I’m sneakin around the house finding bandage Iodine stuff like that. My cousin Mildred comes to our rescue. She sees what’s happening. Says don’t worry we’ll pin him up so nobody will know the difference.
We get Perry home and of course he has to make up some fairy tale about he was bike riding and crossed the tracks got caught between trains running in opposite directions on and on and on. Of course his father doesn’t believe a word of it. Perry doesn’t know why but he just dropped it. Day after our Escape Caper there’s a story in the Bronx Home News of the local kids who got caught trying to help kids escaping the Catholic Protectory.  Good story as it did talk about some of the terrible conditions the boys have to put up with. This was many years before the priest abuse scandals that the church has been forever trying to sweep under the rug. Ralph used to tell me, there were some priests who were just great guys. Just like out here Robish. Some good some bad. Like that Robish.

Friday, May 4, 2012

China Dissident

Back in 1954 I think Elizabeth Bentley wanted to defect to the US. She got caught in the backyard of the Russian Embassy. They were trying to figure out how to get her out of the clutches of the KGB. This was the same front page crap we have going on now about Chen Guangchengs the Chinese victim of Stalinism, no no I meant Ho-Jintao Secretary Central Committee Chinese Communist Party. It was much easier to remember the name Stalin than Ho-Jintao. Back in the cold war days it was between two powers within similar cultural worlds. I admit I feel for Hillary having to deal with this Kabuki of SAVING FACE. She was just trying to make some kind of deal on trade. Now she’s stuck with this stone collar around her neck. “How the hell am I going to weedle our way out of this garbage dump?”

Meantime back home. Mitt Romney and his Karl Rove one percenters are screaming bloody murder that the Obama Administration have sold the “poor blind dissident, Chen down the river to the Chinese Communists.” Oh yes they don’t care a goat's turd about Chen. This is what we are in for right up until November 2012. Every issue no matter how distant it may seem will be made part of the coming election. And man there are a bucket full of them.

Biggest of all will be another confrontation on the debt ceiling. You remember the last one? That was child's play compared to what is coming up this time. The one percenters have smelt blood as Obama put the entitlement programs on the block. Look, don’t be too surprised but I have begun to think we, the 99 percent can’t just sit here and say NO. That is not a policy. It’s a position of failing our responsibility. I am not suggesting we join Mr. Ryan’s solution for Medicare. “Just privatize it.” Same with SS same with the Marine Corps and so on.” Our position of 'it’s sacrosanct don’t touch it' is wearing out. Where we can see there are real problems ahead, we need to come up with solutions. Then we are part of solving the problem. Just saying “No” leaves us outside the conversation. I want to be at that bargaining table when that issue comes up. Then I have a say in the solution.

The Google problem is just getting worse. Just going to Google with a question as I did on Elizabeth Bentley ended me up with, “you want the answer? Buy this book by Eleanor Roosevelt for $75.00.” Where oh where has Google gone? Gone to make money like all the rest. We may be headed down the road of private control of the whole Internet. Think about it. Maybe that’s already true. Somehow average citizens around the world were able to use the Internet as their organizing tool. Losing access could do irreparable harm to that whole new way of calling the folks to the streets. How do we cope with that prospect?

Because Google has really screwed up the Blogbuster website, I will now rely on my dear son-in-law Robert to post it for me. Thank you so much. My best RS