NEW YORK CITY – Manhattan’s Winston Unity Auditorium was the site of a concert as part of a worldwide union Day of Action Nov. 9.
This global effort on the part of the world labor movement coincided with the start of the World Trade organization ministerial meeting in Qatar and included protests, forums and cultural events in cities around the world.
The New York event, sponsored by the People’s Weekly World and hosted by the New York State Communist Party, also was a fundraiser for families affected by the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
“Solidarity forever – an evening of international labor unity and benefit for NYC unions’ Sept. 11 relief funds,” was organized and emceed by labor activist and musician John Pietaro, who also preformed.
The list of performers included radical journalist and vocalist Amina Baraka; punk-folk singer-songwriter Kirk Kelly, a business representative of Musicians Local 802; and the South-Asian fusion music of Avir Mitra and his band.
Guest speakers were Mimi Rosenberg and Ken Nash, “exiled” WBAI-FM labor reporters; the Black Radical Congress Esteban Nembhard; and Jeff Oshansky and Susan Morris of NYC Labor Against the War.
Highlights of the evening included the unplanned duet by Rosenberg, a delegate of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, and Nash, a delegate of District Council 37, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
New Yorkers on the left are very much aware of the role these two played at Pacifica-owned WBAI prior to the station’s recent history of purges of respected long-time on-air personalities.
The evening’s performances were educational and exciting. Kirk Kelly, who The Los Angeles Times called “the Billy Bragg of New York City,” opened the show with original songs about the war in Afghanistan, as well as labor’s activist heritage. He also performed a unique version of “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier” to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.”
Baraka’s set was a wonderful mix of her own poetry and adaptions of others’ songs, sung in a sultry, soulful style reminiscent of Nina Simone or Carmen McRae. Pietaro accompanied her on a bodhran, a large Irish frame drum.
Her selections included a version of a Stevie Wonder song shaped toward the Sept. 11 survivors and her piece for the Charleston 5, “I Got a Right to Sing the Blues,” performed in an improvisational style.
Mitra, of Providence, R.I., presented a fascinating set of South Asian fusion music with musicians Alan Dodd (vocals, rapping), Karl Sukhia (electric guitar, vocals) and Siddarth “Sid” Mehta (tabla drums).
A vocalist/guitarist and songwriter, Mitra has established a highly original style, equal parts pop, ballad, rap and the music of South Asia. His songs are tuneful and memorable and Dodd’s stream-of-consciousness rapping was heard both on its own and as a complimentary part of Mitra’s songs.
Lead guitarist Sukhia also offered a lead vocal with a clear, strong voice. Mehta’s tabla playing was precise and full. No one noticed that there was no drumkit or bass guitarist present.
Before his set, Pietaro, a delegate of Local 1199 SEIU, talked about his union’s Sept. 11 Relief Fund. He performed several songs on five-string banjo and vocals at once in a traditional labor song style and reflective of his extensive music background. His selections included Phil Ochs’ “I A’int Marching Anymore,” his own “September’s Divide” and the evening’s closer, the Labor anthem “Solidarity Forever.”