Saturday, November 16, 2013

DAVE CORMIER, LABOR EDUCATOR AND ACTIVIST, DIES




Harry Targ

          Thursday night, November 14, 2013, I received a Facebook message from Jacklyn Yaple-Francisco Cormier reporting that my friend David Cormier passed away on November 12. There will be a memorial service at 2 pm on Saturday November 23th at the Jenkins Funeral Home in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her address is 243 Statler Run Road, Fairview, West Virginia 26570-8568.
          My loss is only overshadowed by the loss that will be felt by the working class and particularly trade union members. Dave was a dear friend and labor activist comrade in the state of Indiana in the 1990s. I owe much of what I learned about the labor movement, the working class, the impacts of globalization on workers, and how to teach students who need knowledge to help improve their lives, to him.
          In 2005 I was asked to write a letter in support of Dave’s candidacy for Professor of Labor Studies at West Virginia University. I draw on that letter to remind all of us who grieve about his death what he did for the labor movement in the state of Indiana. Some of my recollection is personal.
          I met Dave Cormier in 1989. I was a delegate to the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO) representing the American Federation of Teachers at Purdue University. He made a presentation introducing Indiana University’s Division of Labor Studies to the Council. He emphasized his commitment to bringing Indiana University’s educational opportunities to labor unions in Central Indiana. He made it clear that he was prepared to meet with trade unionists, plan educational programs, and to teach courses relevant to their needs as workers. I was very impressed with his commitment to the labor movement and to bringing education to non-traditional students.  Shortly after his visit to the Labor Council, Cormier arranged to meet with me to discuss the educational needs of the labor community and to enlist my support for his efforts.

          Over the next decade, Cormier became a valued member of the labor community in Indiana. He met with members of the Northwest Central Labor Council Education Committee often to plan future course offerings. He made it clear he would do the same for every local union in the area. He taught a variety of courses, from two-hour blocks of instruction to six or eight week courses, to semester long courses on labor history. He encouraged trade unionists to take credit courses at Indiana University and to work toward a formal degree in Labor Studies. He was a ready resource for knowledge, data, and bargaining and negotiation information for trade unionists. He was often seen driving up to union halls in his white truck with the overhead machine in the back. Whenever knowledge was needed or a course needed to be taught Council members would say: “Let’s ask Dave.”

          I took several of Dave’s courses over the years. My first field of study was foreign policy and international relations but over the last twenty years I developed an interest in labor studies and political economy. Dave’s courses were a valuable resource for me as I “retooled” for my own teaching and research. In 1992, Dave taught a day-long seminar on the North American Free Trade Agreement. The available evidence at the time suggested that NAFTA would be disadvantageous for workers, particularly from the United States. At the end of the day-long class, participants decided to organize an anti-NAFTA labor/environment/farm coalition to pressure our Congress persons to vote “no” on NAFTA. Dave and I worked together with a group of trade unionists to gather petitions, hold rallies, and meet with Indiana Congress people. The campaign culminated in a statewide AFL-CIO rally in Indianapolis against NAFTA. Dave had convinced the president of the Indiana AFL-CIO of the importance of this activity.

          Dave was such a presence in the Indiana labor movement that he was honored with a special plaque at the annual Northwest Central Labor Council Community Services banquet.

          In 1996, Dave took a leave of absence from the Division of Labor Studies at Indiana University to complete a Ph.D. degree in economics at Notre Dame University. He worked closely with his mentor, labor economist, Charles Craypo. Subsequently Dave and Chuck published important papers on how declining manufacturing was increasing unemployment and economic inequality in formerly economically secure mid-sized cities.

          In 1999, Dave taught a six week evening course called “Worker Economics.” I took that course and learned an enormous amount about both macro- and micro-economics. I told him that I was beginning to study the phenomenon of “globalization” and was interested in his insights on the process: whether qualitative economic and political change was occurring in the global economy and particularly what was happening to trade, investment, production, and financial speculation. He invited me to give a brief presentation on globalization to the Worker Economics class. I did. After class we decided to begin a research project on globalization linking the economic dimension, his expertise, with international relations and foreign policy, my expertise. We discussed writing a book and he insisted that it had to be accessible to workers as well as other students.

          Thus began a research and writing collaboration that continued until he suffered his first stroke in August, 2009. Over the years we published several papers together and presented more at academic conferences. These included presentations in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Montreal, and at meetings of the Global Studies Association and the United Association of Labor Educators, of which he was an enthusiastic member. We never completed the book manuscript that we had been working on for a long time.    

          David Cormier compiled a significant research record aside from the globalization studies.  He and Charles Craypo, Department of Economics, Notre Dame University, developed a methodology for measuring income inequality over time and used the measures to assess the impacts of deindustrialization on three small communities. Also Dave did work on labor’s bargaining power, job restructuring, and a variety of other topics relevant to his work in labor studies. We used all of his research in the papers we presented at conferences and published to better understand how globalization impacted workers.

          David Cormier was a wonderful teacher. I experienced his teaching when he was with Indiana University. He had the capacity to communicate difficult issues in economics to workers, usually non-traditional students, and they had great confidence in his knowledge and commitment to them. He was a skilled economist, a workers’ economist.

        Dave once told me that while he was completing his master’s degree in industrial engineering in 1968, he watched the 1968 Democratic Convention “police riot” on television. Watching the police brutalizing anti-war activists convinced him that he needed to put his talents to a different purpose. He went to work for the United Farm Workers and later became a staff organizer for the 1199 Health Care union.

          He was brilliant, energetic, completely committed to the uplift of the working class and resolved throughout his adult life to link knowledge to radical social change.

        If he had written his own epitaph, I am sure Dave Cormier would have counseled us: “Don’t Mourn. Organize!”