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Himalayan Labor Exploitation

[ 64 ] October 21, 2014 |

Sherpas are poor. So they take what jobs they can get. Those jobs are carrying stuff for rich white people around the world who want to climb mountains. Serving as a beast of burden might feed these workers but it also places them in one of the most dangerous working environments in the world, especially when those who hire them want to try less trodden paths. Sherpas die all the time, but it receives only a smattering of attention compared to the deaths of climbers.

Silent Film Archaeology

[ 14 ] October 21, 2014 |

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Super cool:

Hidden for more than 90 years beneath the rolling sand dunes of Guadalupe, California, an enormous, plaster sphinx from the 1923 blockbuster movie “The Ten Commandments” has been rediscovered and is now above ground.

The public will be able to see the sphinx on display as early as next year, once it has been reconstructed — a necessity since it became weather-beaten during its stint beneath the sand, said Doug Jenzen, the executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, who oversaw the recent excavation.

The roughly 15-foot-tall (4.6 meters) sphinx is one of 21 that lined the path to Pharaoh’s City in the 1923 silent hit, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. He later remade the film, with Charlton Heston as Moses, in 1956.

Legend has it that after filming ended, the movie crew dynamited the set and buried the sphinxes in a trench, but Jenzen has found little evidence of such a dramatic end. Instead, the wind, rain and sand likely collapsed and buried a large part of the set under the ever-shifting dunes. The sphinxes are in roughly the same place they were during filming, he said.

In fact, the film helped guide an excavation of the site in 2012.

“We’d work during the day, and we’d watch the movie at night to figure out what we were finding,” said M. Colleen Hamilton, a historical archaeology program manager and senior historical archaeologist with Applied EarthWorks in California.

Gillespie ’64!

[ 22 ] October 20, 2014 |

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I was unaware of the Dizzy Gillespie for president campaign in 1964. His idea for Miles Davis as head of the CIA certainly would have made for a funkier agency by the late 60s. And who could oppose that?

Houston as Urban Ideal?

[ 252 ] October 20, 2014 |

OK, no one would really say that Houston is an urban utopia. But this op-ed in the Houston Chronicle actually does make some good points, even if it can be read as a defense of low-density, auto-intensive sprawl that many of us, myself included, reject. Because if you look at the dense urban centers exploding in the last twenty years, they are not livable for the working and even the middle classes:

The luxury paradigm has worked for some in some cities, but has failed, critically, in providing ample opportunities for the middle and working classes, much less the poor. Indeed, many of the cities most closely identified with luxury urbanism tend to suffer the most extreme disparities of both class and race. If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth-highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 countries for which the World Bank reports data. New York’s wealthiest 1 percent earn one-third of the entire municipality’s personal income – almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.

Indeed, increasingly, New York, as well as San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed, are no longer places of opportunity for those who lack financial resources or the most elite educations. Instead, they thrive largely by attracting people who are already successful or are living on inherited largesse.

They are becoming, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, “the vast gated communities where the 1 percent reproduces itself.”

Not surprisingly, the middle class is shrinking rapidly in most luxury cities. A recent analysis of 2010 Census data by the Brookings Institution found that the percentage of middle incomes in metro regions such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago has been in a precipitous decline for the last 30 years, due in part to high housing and business costs.

A more recent 2014 Brookings study found that these generally high-cost luxury cities – with the exception of Atlanta-tend to suffer the most pronounced inequality: San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In recent years, income inequality has risen most rapidly in the very mecca of luxury progressivism, San Francisco, where the wages of the poorest 20 percent of all households have actually declined amid the dot com billions.

Say what you will about the ideology behind some of this language, the point is something we need to take seriously. Even in cities like Denver, costs are rising so rapidly as to squeeze people out. Are our cities to become places only for the 1%? Where do the poor go who work in New York, Washington, or San Francisco? When good public transportation is built, will it just push out the poor so that the wealthy can take it? And this is hardly just an American problem, as we see here in Barcelona.

This hardly means I think we should all be Houston, Dallas, or Charlotte. But I do think we have to develop housing policies that actually allow everyday people to stay in urban centers. For instance, one way to stop the uber-wealthy from owning 10 luxury apartments in 10 leading cities would be extremely high taxes on second homes, undermining the incentive for extreme luxury apartment building making Manhattan the home of the global elite and no one else. And maybe this isn’t a good idea, I don’t know. But we do need a significantly more robust plan to keep cities livable for everyday people if we want a) to create some level of equity in our urban areas and b) if we want environmentally sustainable urban centers that actually make a difference, as oppose to provide amenities to the 1%.

But don’t tell any of this to the real estate section of the Times, which believes a $1 million apartment is within reach for average buyers.

Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers

[ 41 ] October 20, 2014 |

Last year, New York City passed a law protecting pregnant workers from getting fired. Unfortunately, employers are trying to ignore it and are firing workers when they get pregnant. There is hope for those workers. For workers who get pregnant in most of the country, they can be fired with impunity. That’s discrimination and it needs to be illegal.

Title VII

[ 0 ] October 20, 2014 |

Over at LaborOnline, we are opening the pages of Labor: Studies of Working Class History of the Americas so that the public can read and discuss the forum several leading labor historians took part in on the legacy of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Please feel free to read and comment.

Oh Special Happy Day

[ 54 ] October 19, 2014 |

Happy Alexander Hamilton Publicly Accuses Thomas Jefferson of Sex with Slaves Anniversary.

Reject This Script. Too on the Nose

[ 59 ] October 19, 2014 |

Bill O’Reilly is actually from the original Levittown? What is this, a bad episode of West Wing?

This Day in Labor History: October 19, 1935

[ 9 ] October 19, 2014 |

On October 19, 1935, the American Federation of Labor was holding its convention in Atlantic City. While usually a staid affair, this convention was rocked by a fight on stage between United Mine Workers of American president John L. Lewis and United Brotherhood of Carpenters president Big Bill Hutcheson. This incident and the lead-up to it helped cement the withdrawal of the UMWA from the AFL and the creation of the CIO as an industrial alternative to the AFL’s craft unionism.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters was the largest member of the AFL. It was also among the most politically conservative unions. While, like much of the AFL, technically nonpartisan in these years, Hutcheson was an active Republican and would remain so throughout his life, openly campaigning for Republican candidates against Franklin Roosevelt. His son, who took the union over upon his death in 1952, shared his political conservatism. In fact, the UBC would not endorse a Democrat for president until Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Hutcheson would become a member of America First before World War II, castigate FDR for not supporting the House Un-American Activities Committee, and oppose Harry Truman’s proposal for a national health program. He also opposed unemployment insurance. For all the criticism the old AFL gets today for its politically conservative positions, it is worth noting that even a more aggressive AFL leader would have faced enormous resistance from his constituent unions. It is a federation after all, not a single organization.

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Big Bill Hutcheson

The Carpenters were distinctly uncomfortable with not only the idea of industrial unionism but the industrial workers. The AFL gave the UBC jurisdiction over the timber industry. Loggers in the Pacific Northwest went on strike in 1935. The Great Strike finally organized the loggers who had agitated for unionism since their days as IWW members twenty years earlier. The Carpenters gained 100,000 new members. But the UBC feared the influence of a bunch of ex-Wobblies and current commies (of which there were no small number, especially in Washington although decidedly less so in Oregon). So they did not give the loggers full union rights, including the right to vote for union officials. Hutcheson already ran one of the least democratic unions in the United States and was not about to let a bunch of commie treecutters in an industry marginal to the union’s central mission undo the work he had done building his empire. The loggers seethed under Carpenters’ representation, such as it was.

John L. Lewis saw the labor movement very differently than Hutcheson. Not that Lewis was more democratic or some sort of raging leftist. Far from it. Lewis and Hutcheson had even been allies in the past, playing poker together regularly when they both lived in Indianapolis. But Lewis knew that his laborers, one of the only industrial unions in the United States, required the organizing of the nation’s other industrial laborers to create a stable union. Lewis would later personally engineer the organizing of the steel plants for this reason. Lewis and other labor leaders were also concerned that AFL president William Green’s tepid response to the Great Depression was undermining the labor movement. During the early 1930s, the AFL was losing up to 7000 members a week. Lewis demanded that Franklin Roosevelt aggressively move to pass legislation that helped workers while encouraging the AFL to give up its long-standing animus to the industrial workers that made up a huge chunk of the American labor force and engage in an organizing campaign of workers who wanted to join unions. Green and Hutcheson demurred.

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John L. Lewis campaigning for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1936.

The growing tensions between the craft unions and those who sought to organize the millions of under- and unemployed Americans demanding economic change grew through 1934, as revolts around the nation made many Americans fearful for capitalism’s future. But the AFL still largely refused to act. By the time the AFL met in Atlantic City in the fall of 1935, Hutcheson was determined to squash any industrial unionism talk. At the convention, Hutcheson was running the floor. When a rubber worker began speaking about a point of order, Hutcheson interrupted him. Lewis quickly responded. When Hutcheson called Lewis a “bastard” in response, Lewis jumped on the stage and punched him in the face. He then re-lit his cigar and calmly returned to his seat.

Some have questioned whether Lewis had planned to punch Hutcheson. I kind of doubt it but he certainly took advantage of the situation to very publicly announce to the AFL old guard that he was serious about organizing the nation’s industrial workers. Three weeks after this dramatic event, Lewis, David Dubinsky of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers (AGW) formed the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) within the AFL. This set the stage for the withdrawal of the industrial unionists from the federation in 1937, when the CIO became the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

In the timber industry this split gave the radicals the room to bolt the Carpenters and found the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) in 1937. If there’s one thing Hutcheson loved, it was a jurisdictional battle and he went full-bore against the radical loggers, using his Teamsters allies to not load IWA processed wood, among other intimidation tactics. The IWA itself was torn apart by communism, requiring the personal intervention of Lewis before the union fell apart. By 1940, the battle faded and about 2/3 of the loggers were in the IWA and 1/3 in the UBC. The bickering between these two unions would never fully end and even when the IWA could no longer sustain itself in 1987, it merged with the International Association of Machinists rather than create one union in wood.

This is the 121st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

LGM-Based Tourism

[ 58 ] October 15, 2014 |

Last night, I said I had epic tourism plans today. And indeed I did. I visited the greatest place in all of Orange County: What is believed to be SEK’s office at the UC-Irvine campus where he caught students having sex.

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To say that my friend was befuddled when I dragged him around the UC-Irvine campus for this is an understatement. But really, this could be Irvine’s most famous location. You should go too. This should be a thing we start doing.

McDonald’s

[ 129 ] October 15, 2014 |

Isn’t the real reason for McDonald’s slumping sales and potential slow decline that it makes a horrible burger and that a generation perhaps somewhat more sophisticated on food than the previous realized this? Whether a nouveau fast food joint like Five Guys or Shake Shack or In-n-Out–or just good old Wendy’s–there isn’t much reason to eat McDonald’s today outside of being stuck feeding at the chain’s monopoly on the Mass Pike.

A General Strike in Philadelphia?

[ 10 ] October 15, 2014 |

One story I was unable to talk about after my computer theft earlier this month was the Philadelphia School Reform Commission cancelling the contract with the city’s teachers unilaterally. It was a classic move by the anti-union appointees of Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett and part of the reason he is on the way out.

What’s interesting is that the city’s labor leaders evidently talked about a rather extreme action in response:

Outraged by the School Reform Commission’s decision to cancel its collective bargaining agreement with Philadelphia public school teachers, city labor leaders contemplated calling for a general strike.

In two meetings, last Thursday and Sunday, labor leaders debated the wisdom of asking members of all area unions – laborers, electricians, communications workers, janitors, nurses, bus drivers, city employees – to walk off their jobs to protest the SRC’s decision.

“If there is going to be a fight, we have to fight about the future, and the kids are the future,” said Henry Nicholas, president of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, headquartered in Philadelphia.

They chose not to do so, for complex and I think understandable reasons:

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, told the group that he wanted to exhaust legal remedies first.

And the leaders decided to await the outcome of the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election. Democratic candidate Tom Wolf has said he supports returning Philadelphia’s schools to local control. The SRC is a state board.

“After a thorough vetting, we decided to go out and get Tom Wolf elected” governor, Dougherty said.

Despite the desire of a lot of lefties to see labor take radical actions and forget the political game, I think this decision makes a lot of sense.

First, labor leaders don’t really have the power to dictate worker action for something like this. In other words, were the rank and file of these other unions willing to go on strike for teachers? If so, how long? What would a 1-day general strike have accomplished? Probably nothing. We can even ask whether labor leaders can really lead this kind of action or whether it has to come from the rank and file itself? While I tend to downplay the romanticized idea of rank and file action that so many on the left love to talk about, this is one circumstance where I think everyday workers have to lead unless the union structure itself is a real democratic voice for the workers, which it usually isn’t. So I’m not sure what the labor leaders themselves really could have done here unless their workers were also motivated, which they almost certainly weren’t.

Second, while I doubt Tom Wolf is a panacea, he’s almost certainly better than Corbett on every issue and may actually reverse this action. So here the political arena makes sense. This is publc-sector labor after all, making the electoral game vital. On the other hand, mayor Michael Nutter supports the action and will Wolf really reverse it?

I’m not a labor lawyer so I can speak less fluently about the legal remedies might fix the problem. I can say that relying on the courts to enforce labor law is a problematic situation in 2014. But still, I think it is worth asking what a general strike would have accomplished here. The answer is almost certainly not much–but who knows. Just doing so might have sparked a broader-based protest, i.e., an Occupy-type movement, that would have made it worth doing. I absolutely makes sense for labor leaders to not call for such a thing. But it’s hard to not wonder what would have happened had they gone with their first instinct.

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