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KFPA, Democracy and Labor
by Steve Zeltzer
Sunday Apr 27th, 2008 7:36 AM
The issue of working people and the role of KPFA which is the most important alternative radio station in the bay area is vital. This article some of the history of KPFA and the role of labor. It also exposes how the entrenched programmers and management staff intervened to eliminate the one rank and file labor show on KPFA. Segmets of this presentation was made at a forum on KPFA in Berekeley.
Statement On KFPA, Democracy and Labor
By Steve Zeltzer
Labor Video Project/Voices For Justice Slate At KPFA
The issue for working people of having a democratic media is of utmost importance. The corporate control of the major media including radio, tv and efforts to control the internet are a threat to all democratic rights.
KPFA and Pacifica were formed to provide a vehicle for alternative views and culture that was not being presented in the bay area and nationally.
It provided a voice to people during the McCarthy witchhunts that allowed those who were under assault to speak out. It was a beacon during the 1960’s and 1970’s when millions of American people protested the war in Vietnam, racism and other attacks on people here and around the world.
Today it provides the only national voices against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as more labor news than most stations in the United States.
At the same time there are elements who either want to sell off the stations and/or want to make the Pacifica system not a community radio network but more of a NPR type operation with "professional" staffers.
The most blatant effort to destroy Pacifica was former Board Chair Mary Francis Berry who with ties to the Democratic Party wanted to eliminate any radical programming and especially any programming that challenged the Democratic Party.
As a result of a lock out in at KPFA, over 10,000 people were mobilized and a successful suit was filed that forced them to capitulate. Within the labor movement Bill Lucy who was a national Pacifica Board member and leader of AFSCME and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists as well as a friend of Mary Frances Berry actually supported the lock-out and prevented the national AFL-CIO from taking a stand in support of the network against this raid.
Many of the present people who are in control at Pacifica and KPFA in fact were going along with the Berry Agenda. They if fact refused to publicly challenge this direction until they themselves were locked out of the station and had to fight to get back in. As long as they had their slot, they did not want to rock the boat.
The battle to defend Pacifica did result in some gains with the election of a board of directors of the local stations and in KPFA, the establishment of a program council.
The issue of what is on the air is obviously a key issue for people concerned about community radio since the core issue is whose voices will be heard.
For labor there has been a long struggle to get regular labor programming at KPFA and Pacifica. While WBAI in New York, KPFK in LA and KPFT in Houston have weekly one hour labor shows, KPFA management and the some of the entrenched programmers have opposed having a regular one hour program.
In fact there have been many proposals as Tracy Rosenberg who has had a long time experience as Program Council Chair knows.
These have been put on hold or rejected out of hand time after time. Before the take-over there were 4 half hour shows on Monday nights with CJ Thompson, Reese Erlick, David Bacon and myself. After the fight against the take-over the people who had been purged during the "healthy station" agenda instituted by the Berry leadership were not allowed to continue their shows.
Instead David Bacon was provided with a 25 minute slot on the morning show every Wednesday. After the establishment of a labor collective at KPFA, KPFA did hire a reporter Max Pringle to do 50% of his news on labor and this continues. KPFA despite it's problems does cover more labor news and information than any other station in the bay area and nationally Pacifica does this as well.
One interesting footnote is that the KPFA news department refuses to carry the national daily news program of Workers Independent News WIN despite the fact that they can even get this labor news feed for free. The news managers of KPFA would rather spend thousands of dollars on an AP news feed than support this important daily labor radio news show.
One of the issues of regular labor programming is not only to have regular labor news and a portal but to train trade unionists and workers to do their own programming.
The Labor Collective began to do programming on May Day, Workers Memorial Day, MLK Day and Women’s Day on the issues facing working people.
At the same time it discovered that there were major obstacles to getting a regular one hour slot. In the first place, some staff who held key positions were hostile to labor programming and tried to prevent or sabotage shows. Mikes were mysteriously shut off during interviews and on one occasion of the staff used profanity on the air. Of course if this had by done by the collective it would have been used as an excuse to immediately ban us from the air.
Also we discovered that there were physical threats and violence being made against staff paid and unpaid. In one instance when we were making our pilot proposal to the Program Council chairs were being thrown in the room.
We also began to get involved in the Program Council and discovered that some of the same people such as staffer Bonnie Simmons and Mary Berg who were also in UPSO were preventing this organization from functioning as a group to educate and defend staffers. When we raised the issue of having a safe and violence free atmosphere at the station with a resolution at UPSO they opposed attempted to stall and prevent it from being passed. They also complained that the UPSO meetings were being "taken over" by the Labor Collective and went to management. One of the systemic problems at KPFA and Pacifica is that there are double standards for the staff and management favorites. When serious violations of rules are done by management favorites, there is no action taken yet those who are in disfavor get swift and radical punishment without due process. This has been the case with Miguel Molina who was written up for urging people to go to an anti-war demonstration and now Francisco Herrera who has been banned by the present manager Lemlem Rijio.
These actions have served to intimidate and coerce the staff to "stay in line" and keep quite.
The vote by the majority of the Program Council to "ban" further program proposals from the KPFA Labor Collective was a statement that those who challenged the status quo at the station and butted heads with managers and their favorites would not be tolerated. Many unfortunately went along with this banning urged by management and now must see that it has led to the de-recognition of the Unpaid Staff Organization UPSO by the same management. Despite calls by the KFPA Local Station Board and Pacifica National Board to recognize UPSO, Lemlem Rijio with the support of "Concerned Listeners" board members continues to refuse to recognize the staff organization saying she has personality "differences" that have to be resolved. This is a common union busting argument by bosses who don’t want to recognize a union and unfortunately the "labor" representatives on the board including labor educator Warren Mar and his wife Alameda Labor Council staffer Susan McDonough both have supported her refusal to recognize the unpaid staff organization.
The other factor in the systemic problems of Pacifica is the entrenched staff who have appropriated their programming slots and believe that they are their personal property. Some of these programmers use their radio slots as vehicles to support their private endeavors publicizing their musical productions and ointments and other health remedies on the air. This of course is also illegal and the station management was forced to demand that all programmers sign statements that they would not advertise their products or events that they were personally benefiting from on the air.
The other part of this dynamic is that new programming changes have been blocked by many of these same programmers. Through their control of the Program Council when it was functioning and a management that is dominated by long time programmers their slots are made permanent. Other new programmers are seen as "threats" to the protection of their slots.
The present decline in listenership in the midst of this great economic and social crisis in America and the world is a telling indictment of the failure of KFPA to change and become relevant to the people of the bay area and the country. Many listerners have left and gone to air america, KALW or gone to the internet to get their news and information.
With more than 60% of the programming at KPFA being music this has led to a growing anger and disenchantment about the programming vacume.
The elections have also shown that the staff and staff supported candidates are intent on setting the agenda. In the election in 2006 and again in 2007, the station management with the support of the group "Concerned Listeners" prevented any announcements of the election and acted to prevent a democratic balance of radio carts of the candidates on the air.
It is striking that at corporate dominated KQED before they eliminated the elections of the board of directors, they had a more democratic election practice than at KPFA. Political attorney and former Oakland School Board chair Daniel Siegel has also served to solidify this method of operation by illegally intervening in the past election using foundation resources and allowing station managements and pro-management staffs to help rig the election. The Pacifica National Board voted to allow him to be interim Executive Director at the same time he and his firm were Pacifica’s Counsel. This conflict of interest took place after driving former Pacifica ED Greg Guma out of his position before the last election. Seigel and his law firm are now receiving tens of thousands of dollars in billing hours for his "education" work at Pacifica including attending local station board meetings to explain how non-profit boards work. He has openly declared that he wants to rewrite the Pacifica bylaws probably to eliminate the elections. In fact at a recent meeting he said that there would be no report of the past election cycle and what happened although this is required in the bylaws. When you intervene in an election to determine the victor you obviously have no interest in having a report of the what happened during the election that might raise questions about your own role.
This active effort to short circuit a democratic election has also unfortunately been supprorted bysome bay area union leaders such as Alameda Central Labor Council secretary Sharon Cornu. Instead of providing all the candidates an opportunity to appear before their executive board and membership only the "Concerned Listeners" group was allowed a hearing.
This one side bureaucratic method is the same that is used when looking at the candidates. Usually only Democratic party candidates are allowed a hearing at the Alameda Central Labor Council. This courtier of similar interests and methods is no accident.
In fact Cornu along with her supporters recently crafted a resolution to the Alameda Central Labor Council that allowed support for Oakland City Council candidate Rebecca Kaplan if she dropped her membership in the Green Party. Obviously this news will likely never be heard on KPFA since it would embarass not only the Alemeda Central Labor Council leadership but also the Concerned Listeners who are backed by these same people and manage the station through interim manager Lemle Rijio and interim program director Sasah Lille. As many KPFA activists know it requires constant pressure to get KPFA to cover third parties and in recent elections, hosts such as Larry Bensky have declared that he doesn't have to cover these parties since they get very little new play in the media. This of course is the typical response from the same corporate media.
One important area of work by the KFPA Labor Collective were rank and file reports on what is happening to workers in the bay area from IBT 70 workers at UPS, to SEIU 1000 state workers and ATU 1555 Transit workers at BART.
These trade unionists were providing programming from the shop floor about their issues and by their members and this was obviously very dangerous to the some in the union apparatus who are either afraid of the rank and file or want to keep it under control.
In fact the lack of coverage of the movement for democracy in the SEIU and other unions receives little if any attention at KPFA and Pacifica is no accident. Workers voices that might embarrass the officials of the trade union movement are not surprisingly kept off the air. It is also no accident that those opposed to change at KPFA and Pacifica approach the station in the same way.
While many live music events are broadcast on KFPA it is rare that live labor events are broadcast and KFPA is not used as a vehicle to help publicize and build events even in it’s own community such as the boycott of Berkeley Honda by striking workers. Many of the concerned Listeners even prevented a resolution of support for the striking workers because they "wanted to hear both sides". Supporters of the Concerned Listeners such as Mark Hernandez and now Pacific Chair Sherry Gendelman used the rules to stop the endorsement of the boycott for months and this was backed by members of one of their main political supporters the East Bay Wellstone Club. One member argued that it was wrong for KFPA to get involved in boycots and other such activities since this was outside the purview of a radio station.
The struggle at KPFA and Pacifica is not just a struggle at these stations and the network but also is connected to the struggle to mobilize the society against war, repression and for labor and human rights.
As the struggles develop and deepen in this country more and more people and activists will demand that KPFA and Pacifica become a beacon for these movements and make the changes that are necessary to bring this about. It is this development along with the constant effort to get KPFA and Pacifica to cover the stories and struggles that will bring the changes to develop a network represents those voices that have been shut out of America and labor must play a key role in this effort.
Developing a democratic movement to put accountability and transparency into practice at KPFA and Pacifica is absolutely crucial and this needs to involve all communities.