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Thames Mud Butter

[ 15 ] July 1, 2014 |

Rebecca Onion’s latest Slate Vault piece is typically good, about pollution in the 19th century Thames River. She suggests reading this link at your own risk if you really like pollution stories. I recommend it highly. But probably not while eating.

The SCOTUS War on Women and Workers

[ 130 ] June 30, 2014 |

While today’s pair of horrible decisions might seem like distinct issues, in fact they are both part of a larger war on women and workers.

The absurdity of the Hobby Lobby decision (only contraceptives are exempted for religious beliefs because of sluts) is obviously part of the Republican war on women, but it is also very much a war on the poor. An IUD costs about a month’s worth of wages at the minimum wage. If an executive can’t get birth control because her employer gets too hot and bothered thinking of her having sexy time, she can afford it on her own. A Hobby Lobby floor worker? Probably not. For women workers at closely held corporations, this decision will be devastating.

The Harris case is specifically about home care workers in Illinois. Who are home care workers? Women. Poor women. Lots of African-Americans, lots of Latinos, lots of undocumented workers. Home care workers are a major emphasis for SEIU right now; a close friend of mine has spent over a decade on a campaign to organize them in one city alone. Harris threatens all of this. But moreover, it shows how little Alito and the boys care about rights for women wherever they are. It’s hardly coincidental that this case comes down the same day as the contraception mandate. The Court evidently believes that the home is not a workplace, but of course it is a workplace, especially if someone is getting paid to do work. That it is women working in the home, as it has always been, just makes it easier for conservatives to devalue that work.

Of course, it’s about more than just working women and it opens the door for Alito and Roberts’ continued desire to mandate the New Gilded Age, so no doubt we will see new challenges to public sector unionism that will probably reach the Court in 2016 or maybe 2017 at the latest. I am not a legal expert, but my guess as to why Abood wasn’t overturned entirely is that there wasn’t 5 votes for it yet. Regardless, both of today’s decisions are very much about keeping working women without power both on the job and at home.

Also, when we hear in 2016 that both parties are the same because of [insert pet issue here] and therefore vote for vanity third party candidate, let us remember this day and these decisions. If you think Strip Search Sammy Alito and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are the same, you might want to rethink your positions.

Monopoly 101

[ 36 ] June 30, 2014 |

Good conversation between Thomas Frank and Barry Lynn over the history of monopoly and politics in the United States connecting the two Gilded Ages, how Americans tamed monopoly, and how monopoly came roaring back (thank Ronnie!).

This Day in Labor History: June 30, 1983

[ 19 ] June 30, 2014 |

On June 30, 1983, workers at the Phelps-Dodge Corporation copper mines in Arizona went on strike. Led by the United Steelworkers of America, miners fought bravely against Phelps-Dodge’s decision to bust their union, but faced with overwhelming odds, they lost the strike, bringing in the heyday of corporations busting the unions and moving aggressively toward a completely non-union workplace.

copper_strike_morenci_clifford_arizona_2_-596x361

The Phelps-Dodge mine in Morenci, Arizona had a long history. Phelps-Dodge and other big mining corporations had operated in the southern Arizona/northern Sonora borderlands for a full century by this point. Hating unions every second, they had engaged in some of the most loathsome anti-union tactics in American history, but had eventually caved to the inevitability of union representation. Phelps-Dodge had long run a workmonth of 26 days on and 2 days off before the United Steel Workers of America ended that bit of oppression, which corporate leaders always resented.

The copper industry was in deep trouble in the early 1980s. Pressure from abroad, especially the giant mines of Chile, led to a reduction in copper prices. U.S. mining corporations responded both by investing overseas and laying off workers in the United States. Phelps-Dodge had made some bad investments and was in some trouble, with its leadership taking a lot of criticism. The mine closed for 5 months in 1982.

It reopened in 1983. But Phelps-Dodge decided to use the situation to bust the union. Seeing that the USWA had caved in recent negotiations with U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh, Phelps-Dodge leaders thought they would like some union contract relief as well. Instead of cost of living adjustments, workers wages would be tied to the worldwide price of copper, forcing them to bear the direct brunt of fluctuations of commodity prices. The union was flexible in its negotiations. It agreed to a wage freeze for the entirety of the three-year deal. But it would not change its COLA requests. It had good reason not to. The other mining companies had agreed to this very reasonable offer from their unions. Phelps-Dodge said they could not afford a union workforce. Others noted that despite the recent downturn in copper prices, the company had made $550 million in the previous decade and that it was the company’s own mines in Peru, Australia, and South Africa that had undercut both prices and union work in the United States.

The company terminated the 40-year continuing agreement with the USWA, an 87-page contract that had been used the whole time with moderate changes. It immediately announced not only a $2 an hour wage cut for new workers but major changes in grievance procedures, disciplinary actions, and the other day to day operations that make unions work. They also began the unprecedented step within union contracts of forcing a medical co-pay on workers, something that we see as inevitable in 2013 but which was outrageous for many workers thirty years ago.

Immediately, the unions (vast majority were USWA but there were 13 total unions) voted to strike. 2400 union members walked out and surrounded the miners to not allow strikebreakers to enter. They were immediately subjected to widespread harassment led by the Arizona Criminal Intelligence Systems Agency, a Tucson-based state-run undercover police force. Using tactics from the violent days of the early 20th century Phelps-Dodge executives longed for, the ACISA quickly infiltrated almost every union meeting, wiretapping about 1/2 of the union meetings. The ACISA shared intelligence information directly with Phelps-Dodge officials. Phelps-Dodge began smuggling arms into the mine.

Pretty quickly, divisions rose within the workforce. About 400 of the 1480 workers scabbed quickly. George Mungia could stay on strike or potentially lose his pension. Or he could scab for 2 months and have worked long enough for the pension his union fought to give him. He went for self-interest, knowing that Phelps-Dodge would never have a union back in the mines. This number actually disappointed Phelps-Dodge, for it thought it could break the strike easily.

Miners_stikers_Douglas_AZ_3001

On August 5, the USWA decided it had to raise the level of struggle in order to survive. On August 8, about 1000 strikers and supporters surrounded the mine entrance, chasing away the strikebreakers and forcing others to remain inside the mill. Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt called for Phelps-Dodge to announce a 10-day work stoppage to settle tensions. But this just gave time for Phelps-Dodge to plan its next maneuver. On August 19, the corporation brought in a military force to end strikers’ resistance. Calling it “Operation Copper Nugget,” 426 state troopers and 325 National Guard members, assisted by helicopters, tanks, and military vehicles, retook the entrance to the mines. They used strikers’ “violence” as the reason, which primarily consisted of a lot of swearing and some thrown eggs. Strikers could no longer keep strikebreakers out. Eight days later, 10 strikers in Ajo were charged with rioting. The strike collapsed quickly after this overwhelming display of corporate, military, and legal power.

Among Phelps-Dodge’s leaders was John Coulter, vice-president for personnel. When the company used force to end the strike, it decided to never hire the old workers back. According to Coulter, “As far as we’re concerned the strike is over.”

The strike lasted three years but was basically over in three months. In September 1984, the workers voted on whether to work without a union or maintain their union without a job. They voted out the union. In 1986, the NLRB rejected the last union appeals. It was a complete victory for Phelps-Dodge. The company became entirely union-free in Arizona.

Some labor scholars call the Phelps-Dodge strike the private sector equivalent of the air traffic controllers in 1981. From this point forward, corporations became far more aggressive about busting unions, using increasingly sophisticated tactics with tacit support from the federal government.

Almost as soon as the strike ended, copper prices rose dramatically. While this was no conspiracy, Phelps-Dodge happily combined rapidly increased profits with a union-free workplace.

John Coulter had a daughter named Ann. She became very annoying. She loves her papa though because he was a unionbuster.

The ACISA was disbanded in 1984 after state legislators thought having an undercover agency was a waste of state money.

The mines of Arizona remain union-free today.

This is the 112th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Four Pinocchios

[ 60 ] June 29, 2014 |

This is a week old now, but worth mentioning. I normally don’t much care for media rating systems like Politfact, but when the Washington Post decided to aim its guns at Little Tommy Friedman and his penchant for using false historical analogies to press his foreign policy aims (that are mysteriously incredibly influential on Capitol Hill), it’s hard to resist. Basically, Friedman decided to “quote” Dean Rusk in reference to current relations between the U.S. and Putin’s Russia, saying during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Soviet ships supposedly came within a few miles of the U.S. naval blockade, “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

Problem–the entire scenario was fabricated in Bobby Kennedy’s memoir. Does Friedman care that this is a falsehood? No, he does not care. Because he wants it to be true because toughness is a virtue and if he has to go all The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance about myths, well, print the legend. And if that causes U.S. relations with Russia to decline, great.

Thus, four Pinocchios for Friedman.

Thanks to BlueLoom for the link.

Bullard

[ 36 ] June 29, 2014 |

If you aren’t familiar with Robert Bullard, the founder of the study of environmental justice as a line of academic inquiry, you should be. For over 30 years, Bullard has straddled the line between academic and activist, working with local communities to fight for environmental justice and forcing rich white environmental organizations to come to terms with the structural inequalities in society and in their own movements that marginalize the concern of the poor. At the end, most environmentalism should protect the poor because it is the poor that are most effected by pollution due to their inability to move away from it and their lack of political power to prevent it from occurring near their homes. Unfortunately, this has not always been recognized by the environmental community as important. That has slowly changed, but it’s largely been more superficial than real, as the big green organizations remain mostly dominated by whites. An excerpt of this interview Guernica did with Bullard:

Guernica: As a corollary to marginalized communities shouldering a disproportionate toxic load, do you see the equity issue playing out in access to green energy? Because to date that appears largely clustered in communities of privilege.

Robert Bullard: Oh yes. We have a term for that: energy apartheid. At the same time that all this emphasis is being placed on going green and clean and renewable, if you look at the equity impact, there is a class bias, and a racial bias embedded in class. People with resources can have better access to clean energy and renewables, and better access to green transportation, while at the same time a lot of the dirty energy industry facilities are still getting placed in working-class, lower-income communities of color. We’re talking clean and acting dirty.

Look at the fact that the nuclear power industry is trying to redefine itself. There had not been a nuclear power plant built in decades, and it is not by accident that the first two plants to get permitted are being placed in Waynesboro, Georgia, which is overwhelmingly African-American and that already has two nuclear power plants. So you’re talking about a community of lower-income African-Americans that is going to be used as a guinea pig for restarting nuclear power, a very risky operation. We have to point out the inconsistency of these things—who is going to benefit from this green economy, who’s getting the jobs and the contracts and the benefits? There is a disconnect. If we are going to have a green economy and move toward a green future, we have to make sure that future is equitable and not an opportunity for some communities to just get more dirty industry.

Moments in Congressional History

[ 40 ] June 29, 2014 |

I ran across former Speaker of the House Galusha Grow today. Hadn’t thought of him in awhile and remembered he is one of the great names in Congressional history. I read his Wikipedia page and was reminded of just how horrible Congress was in the 1850s, when the Democrats became a party of fireeating extremists:

During the 35th United States Congress, on February 5, 1858, he was physically attacked by Democrat Laurence M. Keitt in the House chambers, leading to a brawl between northerners and southerners. Keitt, offended by Grow having stepped over to his side of the House chamber, dismissively demanded that Grow sit down, calling him a “black Republican puppy”. Grow responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow’s throat, shouting that he would “choke [him] for that”. A large brawl involving approximately 50 representatives erupted on the House floor, ending only when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before Republicans start physically attacking Democrats on the floor of the House.

Stadium Ruins

[ 93 ] June 29, 2014 |

A surprisingly harsh and direct article by Juliet Macur in the Times on the complete idiocy of stadium building for the World Cup. A lot of these new stadiums not only cost a ton of money, but they weren’t even built in cities with functioning soccer teams that can even come close to filling them up. They are used for 5 or 6 games and then just left to rot. The stadiums cost billions of dollars in total in a poor nation. What a total waste of money.

Neither FIFA nor Brazil learned from the past. So many cities regret playing host to huge sporting events. Athens, for one, fell into debt after hosting the 2004 Olympics. Most of its once-sparkling athletic venues, including an arena just for taekwondo, are used sparingly at best and stand as reminders that holding the Summer Games in their birthplace sounded wonderful but wasn’t at all practical.

“What are we going to use this stadium for after the World Cup?” Marília Sueli Ferreira, who works at a stationery store in view of the Natal stadium, asked through an interpreter. “The World Cup is made for tourists, not for residents, and the tourists are going to disappear very soon.”

The tourists started leaving Natal after the last game here, on Tuesday.

The stadium will not regularly host tens of thousands of fans. This city of fewer than a million people in northeastern Brazil does not have a top-level soccer team, and its lower-level teams attract several thousand fans only on their biggest game days.

Without a guaranteed tenant, the stadium has a murky future. But it has company.

The stadiums in Manaus, surrounded by rain forest; Cuiabá, the soybean capital of Brazil, near Bolivia; and Brasília, the capital, are also expected to become World Cup white elephants because none of them have soccer teams that can consistently fill them. The four stadiums cost about $2 billion, most of it public money. (The human toll was also great, as nine workers died during the construction in Brazil.)

Already the stadiums from South Africa 2010 are ghost towns.

Last fall, I paid about $4 to tour Cape Town Stadium, which was built for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but had turned into a cavernous ghost town. Maybe 100 people a week buy tickets to get a close look at the Cup-generated waste. The space can be rented for weddings or other events, like the small fashion show that I saw there.

Suites that once held World Cup parties were dusty and silent. The state-of-the-art locker rooms, with tiny safes at each stall and rows of sinks to wash dirt off cleats, remained untouched. Thousands of tiny lights glistened from the ceiling of a V.I.P. entrance.


It’s no wonder that peoples are starting to reject holding mega sporting events
. Easier for FIFA to place the events in countries dominated by egocentric quasi-dictatorial leaders than democracies. Everyone is cool with the bribes in that set-up too.

The Great Divide

[ 106 ] June 29, 2014 |

Joseph Stiglitz is ending his The Great Divide series on the Times and in doing so notes that extreme economic inequality under capitalism is not inevitable, but rather a series of policy choices:

So why has America chosen these inequality-enhancing policies? Part of the answer is that as World War II faded into memory, so too did the solidarity it had engendered. As America triumphed in the Cold War, there didn’t seem to be a viable competitor to our economic model. Without this international competition, we no longer had to show that our system could deliver for most of our citizens.

Ideology and interests combined nefariously. Some drew the wrong lesson from the collapse of the Soviet system. The pendulum swung from much too much government there to much too little here. Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation.

My only critique here is that Stiglitz doesn’t talk about racism as part of the choice structure. After all, a lot of Americans chose against their own economic self-interest by committing to racial self-interest and voting for politicians promising to cut welfare so those big black bucks would stop driving up to the store in their Cadillac and buying t-bone steaks on food stamps. Of course, these same politicians were cutting jobs and government programs for whites too, but so long as it was played as a race thing, millions of Americans were OK with it.

NHL Draft

[ 23 ] June 28, 2014 |

Presumably Scott has renounced the Flames in favor of the Buffalo Sabres.

This Day in Labor History: June 27, 1905

[ 124 ] June 27, 2014 |

On June 27, 1905, at a convention in Chicago, the Industrial Workers of the World was founded. The IWW would play a major role in the industrial warfare of the early twentieth century, scare the employer class, and capture the imaginations of late 20th century and early 21st century radicals.

The IWW had many roots. Socialists and anarchists looked to form a broad-based labor organization. The Western Federation of Miners, a radical union with strongholds in the Rocky Mountains, wanted to expand their form of industrial unionism nationwide. Radicals of various stripes came to Chicago in late June to form this union. Among them was WFM leader Big Bill Haywood, who would become the union’s leader, although it was always a decentralized organization, especially when compared to both the American Federation of Labor and its constituent unions that were quite top-down, even in this era. Eugene Debs, former head of the American Railway Union and socialist candidate for president attended. The legendary matron saint of the United Mine Workers, Mary “Mother” Jones was there. Socialist leader Daniel DeLeon played a major role. Lucy Parsons, leading anarchist, African-American pioneer in American radicalism, and widow of one of the Haymarket martyrs attended. Haywood was the clear leader of this motley crew. The radical western miner stated the goal of the IWW was to form “a working class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism.”

While most of the people at the convention were independent operators, representatives of small groups, or famous radicals, the most important constituency was the Western Federation of Miners, who had faced significant repression from mine owners throughout the Rockies and who had found out firsthand how bad the AFL was with industrial solidarity. The radicals controlling the WFM realized that only industrial unionism could fight the aggressive and repressive tactics of American corporations, which included martial law and the murder of union organizers. The WFM formed after the 1892 Coeur d’Alene strike, brutally repressed by the mine companies. This led to the belief among radical miners that only organizing throughout the West could bring the mine companies to heel. Taking this idea nationwide was the next logical step in 1905. In 1902, it named Haywood its Secretary-Treasurer, aligning it with the Socialist Party.

The IWW called for direct action, putting power in workers’ hands to make their own battle against capitalism. Ultimately, for many this might mean full workers’ control over the means of production or revolution, although in 1905 this was less clear. While Wobbly organizing could be pragmatic and its ideology flexible depending on the campaign (my own interpretation after a long time studying Wobblies in the Pacific Northwest forests is that they were really quite opportunistic and thus frequently contradicted themselves over time, a situation exacerbated by the union’s decentralized nature and multiplicity of voices), it became most known for its version of anarcho-syndicalism where workers would win power not through violent revolution but a general strike that would ground the economy to a halt and allow them to take over. Yet the IWW never defined itself as an anarcho-syndicalist organization, rather focusing on the One Big Union concept that focused on democratic control over the union rather than ideology. I’d argue that historians have overstated the importance of Wobbly ideology and understated the importance of pragmatic action; there is a significantly above zero chance this is the topic of my third book.

Outside of ideology, the IWW filled a necessary void in the American labor movement. Since the decline of the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor had come to define American unionism. The AFL genuinely represented the workers of its affiliate unions, but those workers saw themselves as working-class elites, white, male, Anglo-Saxons. They were uncomfortable with the changing American workforce (and larger society) that included millions of immigrants, women, children, African-Americans, and Asians. They also longed for an era of skilled labor in a society where mass production had taken over. This meant that the AFL and its constituent unions had little interest in organizing most American workers. Outside of a belief or lack thereof in radical Wobbly ideology, there was a huge demand for organization by millions of workers. The IWW had its limitations, but did more than anyone else to provide an avenue for American workers to attempt to improve their lives.

The IWW directly rejected craft unionism at its founding convention, noting:

The directory of unions of Chicago shows in 1903 a total of 56 different unions in the packing houses, divided up still more in 14 different national trades unions of the American Federation of Labor.

What a horrible example of an army divided against itself in the face of a strong combination of employers

Such a critique of craft unionism would continue among industrial unionists for decades.

The IWW got off to a pretty rocky start as many of the founding figures peeled off in the inevitable infighting and destructive focus on personalities that has always plagued the American Left and continues to do so today. By 1908, the Western Federation of Miners had left their national project behind as moderates gained control over that union and returned to the Rockies. Daniel DeLeon was expelled, trying briefly to operate an alternative One Big Union from Detroit. The reformist socialists split with the revolutionary socialists in 1906. Some of the radicals believed the union’s political goal should have focused on mobilizing a working-class vote; others felt American democracy worthless for workers to take part in. Yet the IWW slowly gained credibility with real workers, with it leading a silver mine strike in Goldfied, Nevada in 1906 and sawmill worker strike in Portland in 1907; the latter made the AFL realize what a real threat the Wobblies could be and it worked with employers to bust the strike. in 1908, the IWW reorganized and became a tighter organization, dedicated explicitly to organizing the industrial masses into the One Big Union and focusing on direct worker action to take control of the means of production.

Over the next 15 years, the IWW would go on to be involved in many of the era’s most important and famous labor conflicts, including at Paterson and Lawrence. Organizers like Frank Little and Joe Hill would be murdered. Police and corporations would take extra legal action against them at Bisbee and Everett. When they fought back, such at Centralia and Wheatland, they would be railroaded into prison and even lynched. The Red Scare made the IWW largely irrelevant by the 1920s, but part of that was also the Bolshevik Revolution. The success of a leftist movement overseas meant that most radicals became communists in the 1920s and 1930s and the IWW was an irrelevant rump of just a few workers scattered here and there.

The literature on the IWW is tremendously large. For an overview, I still recommend Melvyn Dubofsky’s 1969 book (there are more recent editions and an abridged edition as well) We Shall Be All, in no small part because too many writers for the IWW are openly cheerleading for them, even the professional historians, and Dubofsky does a good job of maintaining a more even treatment of their failures and successes.

This is the 111th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Today in Stupid

[ 238 ] June 26, 2014 |

Today’s winner in stupid punditry goes to Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for his piece about Vox and “the intellectual stagnation of the left.” I’m not even going to address the idea that Vox is somehow on the left, which it is only if our definition of left is “slightly left of center.” For conservatives who don’t pay attention to the actual left, it’s all pretty much the same. But what’s the problem with the modern left? We are so out of touch with our boring old ideas:

Meanwhile, two things are particularly striking about the current Democratic agenda. The first is that it’s so tired. Raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on high earners, tightening environmental regulation — these are all ideas from the ’60s. The second is that nobody on the left seems to be aware of it.

Oh, those liberals and their tired ideas like wages and the environment. BORING!!! The cool kids are totally into the extra fresh ideas of Herbert Hoover’s economic model, Gilded Age taxation structures, and belching smokestacks. And look, the conservative writers Gobry talks of as counter to the boring old Democrats are very, very forward looking:

A flurry of innovative young writers like Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Tim Carney, and Avik Roy put out fresh, 21st-century ideas on everything from tax reform to health care to social mobility to poverty to curtailing the power of Big Business. Many of these ideas are now compiled in a seminal new book. And many of these ideas have been adopted by the most prominent GOP politicians and presidential candidates. Only with the right leader will the GOP truly embrace what’s been called reform conservatism, but it’s clear that the GOP is becoming the party of ideas again.

Totally the party of all the ideas! There’s Ross Douthat, longing for projecting his imagined view of 1950s gender and sexual relations onto the American people! And Reihan Salam promoting a permanent occupation of Iraq! Why, I bet these writers in this seminal book new also promote such cutting-edge ideas as busting teacher unions, destroying the social welfare net, expanding dirty energy production, and bombing nations of brown people! Why, I wonder if these groundbreaking ideas might, just maybe, promote the interests of the rich? These are ideas never before thought of in American history! I for one feel the left is permanently doomed by these brazen new models of thought. Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions precisely to describe this level of brilliance and insight! We will never be the same!

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