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This Day in Labor History: July 28, 1932

[ 1 ] July 28, 2016 |


On July 28, 1932, the U.S. Army 12th Infantry regiment commanded by Douglas MacArthur and the 3rd Calvary Regiment, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Major George Patton violently evicted the Bonus Army from their Washington, D.C. encampment. This violent action and horrible treatment of impoverished veterans shocked the American public and demonstrated the utter indifference of Herbert Hoover to the desperate poverty the nation faced, helping to seal his overwhelming defeat that fall that ushered in the widespread change of the New Deal that would follow.

The Great Depression absolutely decimated the American working class. Unemployment shot up to 25 percent by the winter of 1933, while underemployment affected perhaps an additional 25 percent of workers. Herbert Hoover was simply unable to deal with these problems. Hoover was a man with a long humanitarian record, but he was very much a Progressive in a period where the voluntarist response to social problems that movement valued no longer worked. Charges that the Hoover didn’t care about the poor are overstated. But he simply could not accept any large-scale state involvement in solving the problem. By the summer of 1932 he had slightly moved off his position, but widescale social programs were anathema. Even more horrifying to him was worker activism.

In 1924, Congress passed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act that granted World War I veterans a one-time pension check in 1945. Calvin Coolidge vetoed this bill because of course Coolidge would veto a bill that gave anyone a dime, but Congress overrode the veto. But by 1932, these soldiers needed that money now. They faced unthinkable poverty. They could not feed their families. What difference did it make if it was 1932 or 1945, veterans thought. So they began to demand the immediate payment of their bonus. The bonus was not a huge amount of money. It paid veterans $1 a day for service while in the U.S. and $1.25 in Europe, up to a maximum of $500 in the U.S. and $625 in Europe. That $625 is about $8000 today. This was not going to make people rich. But it was something at time when something is exactly what was needed.

As the Depression deepened, Congress did allow veterans to borrow against the value of the certificates. Originally they could borrow up to 22 percent of the total, but in 1931 Congress expanded this to 31 percent. Congressional support for paying the entire bonus grew. In January 1930, 170,000 desperate veterans applied for the loans–in 9 days. Veterans struggled with what must have been PTSD, as Veterans Administration studies in 1930 and 1931 showed that veterans had unemployment nearly 50 percent higher than non-veterans of the same age. Beginning in 1930, Congress began exploring new bills to help veterans, but none became law. On June 15, 1932, the House passed the Bonus Bill that would grant the bonuses immediately.

At the same time, veterans began descending on Washington, DC demanding the immediate payment of the bonus. Organizing this protest was an organization you might not expect today–the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW was really struggling in the early 1920s. But after 1929, its membership exploded because it supported the immediate payment of the bonus, while the American Legion, a proto-fascist anti-worker organization, opposed it. They created a Hooverville in Anacostia, in what is today Anacostia Park. The veterans created a sanitary camp, despite being in Washington during the summer. The camp did not welcome non-veterans or other radicals who might want to turn the event to their purposes. To stay in the camp, people had to prove their veteran status and eligibility. They could however bring their families. Approximately 20,000 veterans traveled to Washington during the summer of 1932.

Beginning in March, the VFW aggressively lobbied for the bonus. VFW leaders presented Congress with a petition from 281,000 veterans demanding their money. Veterans camping was an annual event for the VFW. So the act of setting up in one place was not radical, nor unusual, although the official 1932 encampment was in Sacramento. But in 1932, encamping in DC had a specifically politically agenda. The movement for a specific Bonus Army came out of Oregon, where veterans began organizing for an encampment in Washington, DC. They hopped trains and headed east. Thousands joined them. The VFW did not precisely endorse the Bonus Army and it wasn’t quite affiliated with it, but there was a lot of support for it and many VFW locals sent supplies and provided other forms of support. Hoover refused to even meet with the veterans, although he spoke at American Legion conventions on at least two occasions. And while the House passed the bill, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected it, 82-18.

For the most part, the Bonus marchers accepted their defeat. Congress even passed a bill to pay for their transportation to go home. Most left, but not all. Herbert Hoover was very nervous about the remaining bonus marchers. The Washington police force had no patience for the Bonus marchers and neither did the military. The remaining marchers began squatting in government buildings. Hoover ordered them cleared. The police were happy to do so. This led to skirmishes. That led Hoover to order MacArthur to clear out the camp. But Hoover was pretty clear–this was not to be violent. MacArthur disobeyed his orders and burned the whole camp. After he demolished the camp, he told the press that the Bonus Army was full of communists. That Douglas MacArthur, what an American hero. MacArthur’s actions absolutely devastated Hoover’s re-election chances, if he still had them in July 1932. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would obliterate Hoover in November, creating a rare complete realignment of American politics. The VFW strongly supported Roosevelt, wanting revenge on Hoover for what happened to the Bonus Army.

The Bonus Army was not a movement with a radical or unionist agenda. But it was a clear expression of activism that was transforming the working classes by the early 1930s and would lead to the greater explosions of worker activism in the next few years that would force the government to pass laws like the National Labor Relations Act, Social Security Act, and Fair Labor Standards Act. Interestingly, Roosevelt was not a big supporter of paying the bonus either. There was another march in 1933. FDR provided them a camp site in Virginia and 3 meals a day but did not publicly support their goals. Finally, in 1936, Congress passed a bonus bill. FDR vetoed it. But Congress overrode it and much of the bonus was paid early.

I borrowed from Steven Ortiz, “Rethinking the Bonus March: Federal Bonus Policy, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Origins of a Protest Movement,” in the July 2006 issue of Journal of Policy History, in the writing of this post.

This is the 185th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.


Smooth, Barack. Very Smooth.

[ 15 ] July 28, 2016 |

Well, that did the job — indeed, I think it easily tops the 2004 convention speech that ended up propelling him to the White House. In addition to the obvious I greatly appreciated the subtweeting of Rahm Emmanuel.

Also relevant:

Driven by those fears, the president plans to campaign aggressively for Mrs. Clinton this fall. Aides have largely cleared his calendar in October, and barring new crises, the White House expects Mr. Obama to be on the campaign trail almost daily leading up to Election Day.

Preserving his impressive policy legacy will require Clinton to win in November. He knows it, and he’s by far the best political talent either side will have on the trail. It certainly can’t hurt.

DNC Open Thread By Request

[ 201 ] July 27, 2016 |


I mostly watch these things, when I do, out of obligation to my side quasi-profession. But I will say that Obama’s speech tonight is the rare convention speech I’m actually looking forward to. Having Bill Clinton focus on humanizing Hillary while leaving the Trump evisceration to Biden and Obama is smart. They’re both, in different ways, really good at doing it in a way that doesn’t get the media going about how shrill and uncivil criticizing your [Republican] opponent is.

Clear and present danger

[ 169 ] July 27, 2016 |


Jill Stein isn’t going to let Donald Trump win the battle to utter the most noxious and irresponsible things during this news cycle without a fight:

Democrats are now accusing Russia of manipulating our presidential election… exactly what DNC was caught doing. #DNCleak

One problem with political rhetoric is that it naturally tends to be hyperbolic. People claim electing somebody as president would be a genuine catastrophe for the country, when in fact that’s not really very likely, given political inertia, institutional checks and balances, informal norms of governance and campaigning, and so forth.

Then Donald Trump comes along, i.e., a candidate who really would be a genuine catastrophe for the country, because he’s an utterly unqualified narcissistic sociopath who is completely unconstrained by ordinary formal or informal institutions and norms. And pointing this out (over and over again) rings rather hollow, because after all people are always making hyperbolic claims of this sort. But in this case it’s not hyperbole. If anything it’s an understatement, because it’s both hard to grasp and hard to express just how crazy and dangerous it would be to elect Trump president of the United States.

Anybody who does anything to help Trump get elected, which is what Jill Stein is working to do every day, is every bit as culpable in regard to increasing the existential danger the nation now faces as Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters. That’s the practical and moral reality of the situation. Such people should be treated with the contempt they deserve, and what they did shouldn’t be forgotten once the present danger passes, assuming it does.

Anarchobro Confused About American Politics

[ 187 ] July 27, 2016 |


Julian Assange is timing leaks in attempt to throw the election to Trump:

At one point, Mr. Peston said: “Plainly, what you are saying, what you are publishing, hurts Hillary Clinton. Would you prefer Trump to be president?”

Mr. Assange replied that what Mr. Trump would do as president was “completely unpredictable.” By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in two ways he found problematic.

Ah, yes, Clinton is a known quantity but Trump could really SHAKE THINGS UP so why not go with the devil you don’t know? I believe this argument was also prominently featured back when Salon was finding a new otherwise unpublishable #BernieorBuster every week.

Anyway, it’s really dumb. First of all, much of what will happen under a Trump presidency is eminently predictable. Ryan and McConnell are highly predictable, and Donald Trump — whose interest in the details of the legislative process cannot possibly be underestimated — will sign whatever bills they put on his desk. (Obviously, Assange doesn’t care about this, but they’re relevant to domestic versions of the argument.) Donald Trump’s federal judicial appointments would be 1)highly predictable and 2)from the Sam Alito school of civil liberties. I suppose Trump’s foreign policy is unpredictable, but in the sense that if you put a care package of methamphetamine and blunt objects in a room full of mentally ill felons the precise contours of what would happen are unpredictable but you can sure it would be horrible.

And, of course, trying to throw an election to Donald Trump because of freedom of the press concerns is insane, but anyway.

Major American political party nominates woman for president

[ 132 ] July 27, 2016 |


Gallup has been asking people since 1937, with some variations in wording, whether they would cast their presidential vote for an otherwise well-qualified candidate who was a [ ].

For “woman” the percentages of Americans who said yes they would:

1937: 33%

1958: 54%

1978: 76%

1999: 92%

2007: 88%

2015: 92%

Jennifer Rubin thinks Hillary Clinton’s nomination isn’t particularly notable, because gender is not as important as race in contemporary America:

[G]ender simply is not as big a deal in 21st-century America as race still is. We’ve had women in high places for decades, and we do not have a divide between the sexes (thank goodness) to the degree that we still have along racial lines. We fought a civil war and a brutal battle to do away with Jim Crow. I could go on, but most would agree that this is not as big a deal as nominating or electing the first African American.

We probably need Camille Paglia’s take on this question before we can make generalizations about what most people think about it.

Donald Trump and Campaign Norms

[ 178 ] July 27, 2016 |


As Rob observes below, in his not notably sane press conference today Donald Trump (inter alia) called for Russia to try to steal the former Secretary of State’s emails. In addition, the Trump campaign announced that it won’t be releasing Trump’s tax returns. Ordinarily, this would be small potatoes, but when a businessman has such an extensive history of not paying creditors that he literally can’t get loans from ordinary American banks despite owning a lot of real estate, it’s pretty safe to say that there’s some significantly damaging information in them. Which, of course, is why he’s not going to abide by the norm that presidential candidates release their tax returns.

Basically, what Trump — starting with his attacks on John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam — has been doing is the campaign equivalent of what Mitch McConnell has done in the Senate. That is, ignoring norms about how he’s supposed to behave. He’s basically made an ongoing series of what conventional wisdom would maintain are campaign ending gaffes — and yet, he has the Republican nomination for president and according to the polls has an outside but real chance of being elected to the office.

Mitch McConnell is unquestionably correct that the public doesn’t care about congressional procedure and won’t punish individual members of Congress for legislative dysfunction. With respect to Donald Trump’s approach to campaigning, the lesson is less clear right now. Maybe what worked for him in the Republican primaries will fail in the general, and he will lose by an unusually large margin. But if he loses within the Romney/McCain range — or God forbid, wins — we have to consider the possibility that norms of what makes an effective campaign aren’t actually true (although it’s also possible that what works for Trump won’t work for others.)

In conclusion, Ari Fleischer’s still got it:


[ 143 ] July 27, 2016 |

Kids, don’t say stuff like this if you hope to work for (or, you know, run) government some day:

Also, just the kind of guy you want in control of your missiles:

Ambiguous Dog Whistle?

[ 88 ] July 27, 2016 |

A friend pointed out that in two tweets, Trump managed to get a Jewish politician’s name or twitter handle into parentheses.  Only one set of parentheses, not three, as is the style of white supremacists, but that would be too obvious.  I am genuinely on the fence as to whether this one is a clumsy use of punctuation or a dog whistle.  Obviously, Trump says a lot of things that more obviously sit somewhere on the spectrum from “dog whistle” to “shrieking noise the pod people make in the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers to identify remaining humans,” so Trump’s status as a white supremacist doesn’t exactly hang on this verdict.  I’m just curious what commenters here think.  He later called Debbie Wasserman-Schultz “highly neurotic.”

The Death Penalty and the Liberal Constitutional Agenda

[ 201 ] July 27, 2016 |


Julia Azari notes something about the 2016 Democratic platform that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention:

Finally, the Democratic Party has moved left in a variety of ways. This is exemplified by the Sanders movement, but it didn’t start there. During the Obama years, the party has moved left on cultural issues like gay rights, strengthened its rhetoric about economic inequality, and changed its stances on matters of criminal justice (for example, the platform plank that promises to abolish the death penalty).

It’s worth quoting the relevant passage in full:

We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America. The application of the death penalty is arbitrary and unjust. The cost to taxpayers far exceeds those of life imprisonment. It does not deter crime. And, exonerations show a dangerous lack of reliability for what is an irreversible punishment.

While most of the more ambitious parts of the new Democratic agenda have little short-term chance of happening, death penalty abolition is actually a realistic goal. Historically, state practices have a much greater chance of being ruled unconstitutional when they become outliers. This is exactly what’s happened with the death penalty. While a majority of states still have it on the books, actual executions have become concentrated in a handful of mostly reactionary states. (Of the states that formally have the death penalty, 31 did not execute anyone in 2015.) The fact that Bill Clinton’s two nominees — including Stephen Breyer, by far the squishiest liberal on the Court on civil liberties issues — have essentially come out for the position that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional is another important signal. I’m not sure about Kagan, but I would be shocked if Sotomayor wouldn’t provide a fifth vote to rule the death penalty unconstitutional. If the Democrats can replace Scalia and Breyer and Ginsburg either remain on the court or are replaced by justices who share their views on the issue, it’s possible. Not inevitable by any means. But if public opinion continues to turn against the death penalty and the practice becomes increasingly rare outside of Texas — it’s possible. And at a minimum a Supreme Court with a Democratic majority is likely to place obstacles in front of the death penalty that might act to hasten its ultimate demise.

“Old School Archie Bunkerism”

[ 27 ] July 26, 2016 |

Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are on board:

A False Choice

[ 49 ] July 26, 2016 |


As someone who passionately believes in fair trade, American jobs, and fighting global poverty, there is nothing more infuriating than the sort of dichotomy that commenters like Annie Lowrey and Dylan Matthews and Zack Beauchamp constantly push, that if one doesn’t support “free trade,” one supports global poverty. Is there any other issue in American politics where nominal progressives or even centrists portray the choice in such stark and moralistic terms, with no sense of nuance? I’m not sure that there is.
I articulated an entirely different version of trade in Out of Sight, one that seeks to slow down capital mobility in order to give workers both at home and overseas a chance to maintain a secure life while also having opportunities for economic growth and a rise out of poverty. That version of trade would force corporations to pay locally living wages, have good working conditions, stop sexual harassment and abuse on the factory floor, and most importantly, have enforcement mechanisms for stopping these problems through the supply chains and other tricks companies use to protect themselves from accountability. Such a system would provide incentives for companies to stay put and treat workers with dignity because they would not be able to bust unions or pollute at will by shuttering a factory and opening a new one. There might still be reasons to move around, but the most egregious would be controlled.

I’m not saying that I am offering the only alternative to the current system of free trade. I am certainly not. What we need is a meaningful conversation about trade that takes both global poverty and the American working class seriously. Neither strict protectionists nor free trade fundamentalists do that. The difference between the two sides is that the former are dismissed as white men in union jackets with out of fashion mustaches and the latter are the definition of Beltway respectability who look down on the American working class while talking of themselves as morally correct because they support ending global poverty without even beginning to deal with the exploitation of the global poor.

In any case, we need many ideas about trade in the conversation, much more than we have now. Here’s a piece by Geoff Gilbert contributing to that conversation.

Any real alternative to the current international investment regime requires confronting the power of private plutocratic capital. So what might a new international trade and investment regime look like?

For starters, it must promote a free exchange of goods and services, but, unlike the current system, it must do so on fair terms. The main idea must be that any fair and free trade and investment regime must expand the number of people who have a say in the investment decisions within and between countries that will determine where jobs will exist and on what terms for employees. Such a regime should give everyone a say, especially women, racial minorities, former colonized countries, and people of all minority sexual orientations and other non-mainstream persuasions who have been most marginalized by the plutocratic regime for centuries. Ideally, investment would be made in producers who share with employees, or better still, where all employees are owners. In short, a fair and free investment and trade regime needs to redefine the rights of capital by subordinating capital rights to human rights.

The sociologist Johanna Bockman analyzes the last attempt to create such an international order by the world’s relatively poor countries at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964.

UNCTAD, which included on an equal basis all nation-states recognized by the UN, pursued what Raúl Prebisch, the Argentinian economist and UNCTAD’s first secretary general, called a “new international economic order.” It sought to upend the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the contemporary international “free” trade and investment order, which effectively enforced the old colonial trading arrangements whereby former colonies, instead of developing their own manufacturing capacity, provided the colonizers with the raw materials needed for their high-margin manufactured goods. Yet, complicating the current false choice offered between the “free” trade status quo and protectionism, UNCTAD advocated for trade liberalization and opposed protectionism.

In order to build an international trade and investment order that could benefit all countries, UNCTAD called for “structural adjustment” of the international economy of a sort just a bit different from the austerity, privatization and trade liberalization programs of the same name that the International Monetary Fund has since imposed around the world. On structural adjustment, the Final Act of the 1964 UNCTAD conference stated: “Developed countries should assist the developing countries in their efforts to speed up their economic and social progress, should cooperate in measures taken by developing countries for diversifying their economies, and should encourage appropriate adjustments in their own economies to this end.”

This meant moving parts of the most profitable industries, concentrated in the wealthy Global North countries, to the Global South. It would have required either public capital investment or coercion of private capital to invest toward this purpose. These economic goals would have either displaced private capital with public investment or publically imposed accountability on private capital investment.

“Structural adjustment” would require time and the creation throughout the world of organic democratic organizations capable of facilitating democratic ownership and control of industry.

I’m not sure that I agree with all of this, especially because it then relies on Mondragón, an exception that proved the rule if anything ever has, as its evidence that this can work. But the broader point stands. What trade looks like needs to be a real conversation, not a binary between two choices.

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