(This is the sixth chapter of my autobiographical series. It covers 1983-1991, after I moved from Phoenix to Tucson and resigned from the SWP. The others can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning. This chapter was initially sent to my music fan email list on September 12, 2020. I have edited it slightly for the blog.)
Independent Political Activist in Tucson, 1983-1991
After resigning from the SWP in the fall of 1983, I continued as an independent activist for the next several years. At the time I resigned, there was a copper workers strike going on in Arizona. The other copper companies had reached settlements with the Steelworkers union, but the Phelps-Dodge corporation demanded more concessions from the union. The union went on strike, and for the first time in decades in the copper industry, the company tried to continue operating during the strike with scab labor. The scabs were met by mass picket lines by the workers, and the liberal Democratic governor of Arizona, Bruce Babbitt, called out the National Guard to keep the mines open and break the strike.
The two mining towns in Arizona where the strike was based were Ajo and Clifton/Morenci. (Morenci was a company town, entirely owned by Phelps-Dodge, and Clifton was an adjacent independent town). These were close-knit communities, where generations of people had worked in the mines. The majority of the labor force was Mexican-American. The importation of out-ot-town scabs made the strike not just a labor issue, but an issue of defending one’s community from outsiders trying to destroy it.
The union leadership, being tied to the Democratic Party, didn’t see the danger, and didn’t really do anything to rally support for the strike. So my best friend, Eduardo, and I formed a support organization. (Eduardo had quit the SWP right after I did.) We organized a food drive for the striking mineworkers, helped tell their story to the media, and organized support rallies for them. I wrote a series of articles about the strike for Labor Notes, a newsletter of the progressive wing of the labor movement. But despite the soladarity of the workers and people of the communities, and the efforts of us and others, the strike was eventually broken, and the unions destroyed by the partnership of the New York-based Phelps-Dodge corporation and the Governor Babbitt. It was yet another lesson in the treachery of the Democratic Party.
When I moved to Tucson in 1983, I took a job at National Semiconductor, an electronics factory. The job paid barely over minimum wage, which I think was $3.75/hour at the time. That’s because the electronics industry in the US was largely non-union. I decided to go back to school at the local community college for a two-year degree in electronics, so that I could become an electronics technician. I didn’t have much interest in electronics; I’ve never had a technical personality; but I did it for two reasons: one, since I didn’t want to use my college degree to teach, if I didn’t want to work shitty low-paying jobs the rest of my life, I would need to learn a skill. The other reason was that I had decided to try and organize a union, and technicians moved around, fixing machines, so I would be able to meet and talk to a lot more workers.
By 1988 I had my electronics degree and had been working as a technician, and had an underground organizing committe of about a dozen workers. We launched a petition campaign to get a refrigerator in the break room to store our lunches, and won. But soon after that, layoffs began. During the 1980’s, the deindustrialization of America had begun. Electronics and other factories were being moved overseas. Even the pathetically low wages we got were much more than the companies paid in other countries. Many of our organizing committee were laid off. The union drive fizzled out.
Music and Fun!
After the union organizing committe ended, I decided to give up political activism and be “selfish” for the first time in my life. I was now 34-35 years old. I had given my youth to the “movement.” It was time to live a little before I was old. I was now free from the incessant SWP meetings and activity, and– with my Associates Degree in Electronics completed– more free time, I started to make up for what I missed the last 10 years. The workforce at National Semiconductor was young. The factory was on Tucson’s southside, which was mainly Mexican-American. So were most of my co-workers and new friends. I made a lot of friends there, and we partied together. I was digging the New Wave music of the 80’s– The Cure, The Church, Modern English, Berlin, Missing Persons. I was started going out to hear more live music in Tucson. There were only a few live music clubs in Tucson, but I made the rounds of them. The main one was Club Congress downtown.
I was also dusting off my neglected acoustic guitar, electric guitar and amp, and starting to play more music. I wanted to get into a band. I took guitar lessons, and later, vocal lessons. This will be covered in more depth in the next chapter.
Coming out of Activist Retirement to Protest the Iraq War
In 1990 or 1991, I quit National Semiconductor and took an electronics technician job at Burr-Brown. This was a better job– I was working as an engineering technician, assisting the engineers. While I was working there, the first President George Bush decided to invade Iraq. Although I had sworn off political activism for music a couple years earlier, I was so angry that I got back into it, and joined the Tucson coalition of people and groups to organize protests, this time operating as an independent. I became a leader of the group. We organized a march and rally in downtown Tucson. I created a mixtape cassette of political songs to play as the marchers entered the rally site, starting with Bruce Springsteen’s antiwar anthem, “Born in the USA.”
The antiwar coalition ended with the war. I decide to really quit political activism for good, and focus on music, and joining a band.
This concludes the chapters in this series called “The Missing Years,” so-called because I was reluctant to talk to them about anybody I met after 1991. I suffered a mid-life crisis when I turned 39, in 1993. I felt that I had wasted my youth, pretending to be a revolutionary, accomplishing nothing. I became very depressed. I had a great girlfriend, and she broke up with me because she didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who was depressed all the time. I can’t blame her. But I snapped out of it six months later, deciding that what’s done is done, so why not make the best of the years to come? And that meant moving music to center stage.
Next: My Music Career, Part 1.