Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Plainfield singers in solidarity for Labor Day

The perfect sound track for your Labor Day picnic might be a chorus of union songs featuring two Plainfielders. Or better yet, sing along.

Solidarity Singers, a group more accustomed to singing on picket lines than in concert halls, has a CD that is available at the Plainfield Music Store on North Avenue. Locals Dottie Gutenkauf and Patty Bender are among singers listed in its credits.

Members sing old-time protest songs such as Solidarity Forever as well as modern lyrics for new union fights against the likes of Wal-Mart and Disney. The group's last live performance was Sunday (Aug. 28, 2005) at the Let's Stop Wal-Mart Family Picnic in Lawrenceville.

Gutenkauf, a union organizer since 1966 for the American Teachers Federation, said the need for labor rights awareness is "greater than ever" these days.

Early on, she helped organize State University of New York professors who didn't even think of themselves as employees, she said. Now they are represented by United University Professions, ATF Local 2190.

"My name is on the charter," she said.

Bender, the former Senior Center director, was a member of the Plainfield Municipal Managers Association, a city bargaining unit. Since retiring, she and her husband, Bob, have devoted themselves to union and peace causes.

Bob Bender said the Solidarity Singers had a short-lived local predecessor, the Queen City Labor Chorus. He was among founders in 1995 of the current group, whose full title is Solidarity Singers of the New Jersey Industrial Council - a bit much to squeeze onto a marquee, but then again many of the group's performances are outdoors.

"We are a street chorus, not a concert choir," director Bennet D. Zurofsky says in liner notes. "Our preferred venue is a picket line. We try to lift the spirits of people engaged in struggle and help them to carry on. Only a few of us know how to read music, but we all know which side we're on."

The group started with a Solidarity Bus Trip to Decatur, Ill. near Christmas 1995. The city had several major labor strikes going on and the Labor Heritage Foundation had issued a booklet of Christmas carol parodies, Zurofsky said. The group spent all day singing at the various strike locations and got so much attention for the struggles that members decided to form "a singing cadre of activists."

Zurofsky is an attorney who represents labor unions and individuals in labor disputes. He said the group does about 18 performances a year. On Monday, the group will take part in the 14th Annual Labor Day Parade at Botto House, a labor landmark in Haledon.

--Bernice Paglia