in performance: peter brotzmann/hamid drake

peter brotzmann and hamid drake.

peter brotzmann and hamid drake.

“Not too close” warned Peter Brotzmann playfully as Hamid Drake approached with a chair in one hand and a large frame drum (most likely the North African bendir, but we won’t swear to that) in the other.

It was a fitting remark as the duo’s often fearsome two-set improvisational performance drew to a close last night at Gumbo Ya Ya. Over the course of an initial 70 minute set, Brotzmann and Drake engaged in visibly stoic but musically riotous sets of exchanges where the sparks truly flew. So, yes, when Drake moved away from the drum kit to play a more intimate show-closing exchange alongside Brotzmann, caution was probably advisable. Someone could have been singed.

But much like the great Brotzmann’s February duo performance here with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (that’s right… the veteran chieftain of the European jazz avant garde was, amazingly, playing Lexington for the second time in just under two months), last night’s concert was a study in contrasts and dynamics with the blues as the middle ground.

Where the three lengthy improvisational pieces making up the first set (which deployed Brotzmann on the clarinet-like tarogato, alto sax and tenor sax, respectively) would recoil and release with varying levels of jazz tension, the far shorter (25 minute) second set opened with Brotzmann playing short, drone-like passages on alto over brushed drum strokes, primarily on snare, by Drake. The results were downright contemplative compared to the first set’s firestorm.

The finale on frame drum, a hand-held instrument that looked like a larger version of the Irish bodhran, with Drake complimenting his playing with chant-like vocals, re-introduced Brotzmann on tarogato. Then came darker, dirtier rumbles on the reed instrument that built to the sort of blues-tinged outbursts that ignited the first set.

The engaged and seemingly eager crowd answered all five improvised works with a response both rewarding and revealing: a beat of silence so that the musical fireworks that had been spitting sparks before them could sink in.

Southern union leaders’ paths diverge with big labor-movement split.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution July 29, 2005 Byline: Matt Kempner Jul. 29–They were close friends in a hostile environment, trying to spread unions in the South.

Bruce Raynor was the Southern regional director of a textiles union, whose battles included winning a three-year struggle to organize hundreds of workers at two curtain-making plants in east Georgia. Stewart Acuff launched the Georgia State Employees Union and became president of the Atlanta Labor Council, helping win union jobs building venues for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Together, Raynor and Acuff operated side by side as two of the most prominent labor leaders in Georgia over the past two decades. They even went to jail together after a sit-in at a local Kmart.

But now the two 50-something guys hold crucial national posts on opposite sides of the biggest split the U.S. labor movement has faced in decades, one that may help determine whether unions become a historical afterthought or a reignited power in the American workplace.

Acuff is national organizing director of the AFL-CIO, the federation representing most major U.S. unions. Raynor is general president of UNITE HERE, a textile and hotel workers union with 450,000 active members and one of several big unions that appear to be on the verge of bolting from the AFL-CIO.

This week, two giant unions — the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters — announced their departure from the AFL-CIO, draining labor’s dominant federation of about 3 million workers. At least two other unions, UNITE and the United Food and Commercial Workers, are considering doing likewise. Leaders of the protesting unions criticize the AFL-CIO for not focusing enough resources on signing up new members after decades of union decline. Just 12.5 percent of U.S. workers — and less than 8 percent of those in the private sector _are union members, down from about one in every three workers in the 1955, when the AFL merged with the CIO.

The split in the AFL-CIO is testing friendships in the highest reaches of the labor movement, an arena that at least in theory is supposed to be a bastion of unity. see here lenox square mall

“It makes me angry,” said Acuff of unions leaving the federation.

“Unity and solidarity are the foundation of the labor movement.

“It’s not a difference of opinion,” he said. “Not at all. It’s a destruction of unity.” Raynor describes the scenario as “honest disagreements between the leaders of many American unions and some of the staff of the AFL-CIO.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have respect for those people. They are honest, smart people. They care about workers. We just see it differently.” Union organizers often tend to be a passionate lot. In many parts of the nation — but especially in the South — their chances of victory have been slim.

Union membership in the South is particularly low — a fact historians link in part to the region’s relative lag in developing heavy industry such as steel and automobile plants, where unions have historically been strong.

Efforts to organize Southern textile plants met with brutal failure early on, especially in the 1930s, a fact historians tie to particularly tough resistance by plant owners and government leaders.

With unions already weak, Southern politicians passed laws that made labor organizing even harder. Just 6.4 percent of Georgia workers are members of unions now — about half the ratio for the nation as a whole.

But union organizers keep trying.

Raynor grew up in New York City, the son of a truck driver dad and a mom who worked in retail. Acuff grew up in rural western Tennessee, the son of a Southern Baptist preacher and a schoolteacher mom. Two different upbringings, but Raynor and Acuff followed a similar path, including college and organizing on the front lines of the union movement. this web site lenox square mall

Both came to Atlanta in the 1980s. They worked closely — organizing drives, standing in picket lines, and helping on campaigns of friendly politicians. They were arrested and went to jail together, Raynor recalls, when they held a protest at an Atlanta area Kmart in the 1990s. Raynor remembers the ultimate punishment: He had to write an essay on civil disobedience. Acuff recalls a protest at another retailer that led to both men’s yearlong banishment from Lenox Square mall.

And before Acuff decided to run for president of Atlanta’s Labor Council, Raynor stayed with him until midnight on a Friday before Christmas as the two tried to tally how many votes Acuff might get.

Acuff said Raynor “built a good organizing tradition at UNITE in the South that had a great effect on the way I looked at the world.” In particular, he said, he had great respect for the perseverance Raynor’s organization showed in continuing to battle for union membership.

Raynor, for his part, liked what he saw in Acuff. “Stewart is a capable, honest, hardworking, dedicated man.” And Raynor said he still considered Acuff a friend, though he said the two hadn’t seen much of each other during recent years. Acuff lives near Washington, where the AFL-CIO has headquarters. Raynor lives in the suburbs of New York City, the base for UNITE.

The two did speak briefly this week in Chicago, where the AFL-CIO was holding its convention, Raynor said, but he declined to describe the conversation.

“I’ve heard his point of view,” Raynor said. “I just don’t agree with it.” Acuff also declined comment on the subject.

But the two don’t hide their differences of opinion about how to rebuild the U.S. labor movement.

Raynor said his union, which represents workers in the textile, hotel, gaming, laundry and apparel industries, had yet to decide whether it would leave the AFL-CIO. But he said he was convinced the AFL-CIO — which gets funding from dues paid by unions — needs to funnel far more money into increasing the number of union members in the United States. That means cutting back on other spending, including political lobbying and campaign contributions, he said.

“The AFL-CIO has tied itself too closely as a wing of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Some unions should merge to reduce costs, said Raynor, and all unions should financially and organizationally support a union taking on a huge target nationally, such as unionizing Wal-Mart.

The AFL-CIO has balked at the idea of making major cuts in political spending.

“Politics and organizing should be absolutely integrated and combined,” Acuff said. “It makes no sense to do one without the other.” But Acuff said much of what UNITE and other critical unions have pushed for has been endorsed by the federation.

“We have taken action on every one of the issues that they have raised, and the differences that remain are not nearly large enough to warrant disruption of unity,” Acuff said.

He declined to comment on what motives the unions might have for departing.

What impact the split in the AFL-CIO might have on union efforts in the South, and Georgia in particular, is unclear, Acuff said. “It’s too early to tell.” Raynor, though, said he hoped the changes would lead to more union organizing throughout the nation, including Georgia.

He compared pay for dishwashers in Atlanta with that in booming Las Vegas, where UNITE has signed up many of its newest members. Atlanta dishwashers, he said, generally get about $6.50 an hour, have little or nothing in the way of health benefits, no pensions and no free training to learn skills to get better-paying jobs. In Las Vegas, dishwashers represented by the union make $14 an hour, have pensions and full health care benefits for themselves and their family at no extra cost, and get free job training.

“That’s what is at stake in this fight for workers in Atlanta,” Raynor said.

What’s at stake for friends within the labor movement is another matter.

Raynor said that if his union broke away from the AFL-CIO, it would still work with the federation on campaigns where they agree.

As for the relationship between Acuff and Raynor, both said they expected to remain friends.

“We can have disagreements and be friends,” Raynor said. He paused, adding, “I hope that is the case.” Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.



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