Run-DMC reminds us of the hard economic times of African-Americans during the Reagan years.
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The legendary cowboy singer Glenn Ohrlin with a comedic song about the very unpleasant work of castrating farm animals.
Blind Willie McTell on the perils of agricultural work and nature in the American South.
Dolly Parton reminds us about work and feminism.
This fine Labor Day, I want to run a series of posts remembering the great history of work and the lack thereof in American music. For the first post, here’s some Dave Alvin. A former member of The Blasters and X, Alvin has a long history of writing about unions and work in song during his long solo career. Here’s an early example, “Brother on the Line.”
Also from his first solo album is “Jubilee Train,” a good example of remembering how great the New Deal was for the American working-class.
During the Bush years, he wrote “Out of Control,” which he would dedicate live to the Dick Cheney economy:
Finally, on his latest album, Alvin wrote one of the best songs about working people in the last several years, “Gary, Indiana 1959″ about the 1959 steel strike:
It’s also worth remembering that today is anniversary of the Rock Springs Massacre, so this is a good time to remember that the history of American work is very much also the history of immigration and racial oppression.
Jeff La Noue has an interesting piece about how to “fix” the Rust Belt cities. Using Toronto as a model, he asks why the Canadian side of the Great Lakes is booming and the American side is in a decades-long slide. There are complex reasons for this. I am not this site’s resident Canadian, but among Toronto’s clear advantages over Toledo or Buffalo is that Canada doesn’t have an east coast chock full of interesting cities. Halifax might compare to Portland, Maine but it doesn’t compare to Boston, while Montreal is a different beast.
Anyway, he points to the Rust Belt cities making themselves welcome homes of immigrants as key to Toronto’s success:
Hogtown, yes, that is Toronto’s nickname from its frontier days, is comprised of (just a shade under) 50 % foreign born. This 49+percent immigrant population comprises half of Toronto’s 2.6 million people and a metro area now over 5.6 million. In 1950, Toronto was just slightly larger than Cleveland and about 700,000 warm bodies less than Detroit’s population. Today there are more foreign born Torontonians than the combined populations of Detroit and Cleveland. Toronto attracts Asians. Cleveland’s Asia Town strategy is a streetscape project! I am not exactly sure if it involves actually adding Asians. Toronto does not have better weather, natural resources, or geographic advantages than probably any of America’s big city population losers. It’s booming economy relies on “innovation and the development of ideas to create wealth” according to Invest Toronto. Toronto understands immigrants are a central ingredient to their success. It starts with a friendly immigrant portal for getting started in Toronto!
Cleveland, Detroit, etc. would be forever changed if they made their primary revitalization strategy to be a top American “port of entry.” (The Feds would have to approve and cooperate) Cities need new people and immigrants to America have a centuries long tradition of creating or finding opportunity.
Even better, many immigrants would be excited to come if it came with an expedited US green card (even if it required a start out in a Rust Belt City provision) . Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit boomed with the help of immigrants from eastern Europe before WWI, and African-american migrants from the American South in WWII. It is time to avoid native protectionism and tailor a policy to bring new waves of immigrants that would be eager to call themselves Clevelanders et al. Looking across the lake to Toronto is the first step.
Again, I think that Toronto being the financial capital of Canada is probably more important, but the point is valid.
It’s also very much worth noting how capitalists respond to the problems of Cleveland by pushing a failed corporate agenda that promotes their own investment interests. He links to a piece by Sandra Pianalto, President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, who argues that what the city really needs to reinvent itself is–wait for it–Rheeism! (for more info about the Cleveland version of this, see here)
This is patently absurd as a way to fix the city. I know that according to Rhee and Rahm Emanuel and all the other school reform charlatans teacher unions are a unique evil, but holding back the entire city of Cleveland from becoming a booming metropolis like Toronto is really quite impressive. But regardless of what one thinks about education issues, that’s so far from a solution to the problem that it’s laughable. Yet as Thomas Frank mentioned in his essay on academic capitalism, the solution for these people is ALWAYS more capitalism, more privatization, more magical hand of the free market.
La Noue’s idea of opening these cities up as immigrant hubs makes a lot more sense. I’m sure older red-blooded Americans like Mr. Horvath and Ms. Wojcik might oppose their cities being taken over by immigrants who just won’t assimilate to our ways, but these concerns are of course misplaced.
First, most Americans hold favorable views of unions. According to a June 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of Americans hold favorable views of labor unions, a 10 percent increase from the number in the same poll conducted two years earlier. This is first time since January 2007 that a majority of the public has viewed unions favorably. 80 percent of “liberal Democrats” hold favorable views on unions. Women, minorities and youth – key groups for organized labor — hold the most pro-union attitudes. There is no straightforward relationship between public approval for unions and union growth, but the labor movement must figure out how to bring into its fold the majority of Americans who like unions.
Second, bucking national trends, union membership in California increased by a whopping 110,000 members in 2012, even as it fell by 368,000 nationwide. Much of the increase in California, which has the nation’s largest number of union members, was among healthcare workers and Latino workers. In several other states with growing Latino populations, membership grew more modestly, but these states may soon follow California’s lead.
Third, some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers have been standing up for decent wages and working conditions. Wal-Mart workers and warehouse workers under contract with Wal-Mart have gone out on strike around the country. Port truckers in L.A. and Long Beach voted to unionize, as did carwash workers in L.A. and New York, and taxi drivers in New York. Following the examples of New York, Hawaii enacted a domestic worker “Bill of Rights” and California may soon do the same. Fast food workers — most of who are adults working for little more than $10 per hour — have walked off the job in New York, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Seattle. They won’t be able to bargain with their employers anytime soon, but few would have predicted their brave job actions last year.
Fourth, after years of Republican obstructionism, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has a full compliment of five members for the first time under the Obama administration. The NLRB election system provides weak protection for workers’ right to organize, and its influence has been severely constrained by the courts, but it remains an important bulwark against recalcitrant employers who violate workers’ fundamental rights.
Finally, as demonstrated by next week’s “open convention,” the AFL-CIO and its affiliates are more flexible, imaginative, and inclusive than ever before. They have embraced the struggles of domestic workers, carwash workers, Wal-Mart workers, fast food workers and others. They have formed deep alliances with the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Sierra Club, religious organizations, and other groups that support basic justice for American workers. And they have played a key role in lobbying for federal legislation that benefits all workers – healthcare reform, equal pay legislation, immigration reform, an increase in the minimum wage and paid sick leave.
Other than maybe active growth in California, I’m not sure any of this means all that much in terms of growing union power. A functional NLRB is a good thing, making meaningful, alliances is very important (although what that means in terms of concrete results I’m not sure), and I’m certainly glad fast food workers are standing up for themselves. But sweet icing can’t cover up a cake poisoned by nearly a half century of capital mobility, ideological attacks on unions, and corporate regulatory capture.
A Republican state senator from Arkansas who is leading a legislative committee on the subject of giving guns to school teachers accidentally shot a teacher during an “active shooter” drill earlier this year, the local paper of record has uncovered.
Meanwhile, the George Zimmerman victory tour continues, this time to the factory of the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin.
Johnny Manziel has to serve a suspension of one whole half of football for selling his autograph. Which, whatever except that Ohio State was put on multi-year probation for a few players doing the same thing, players who happened to be black. As part of his “punishment,” Manziel has to give a speech to his team about what he learned. Whether he has to stand in a corner during recess or not remains unknown. Anyway, Dave Zirin imagines the speech:
I’m happy to finally have the opportunity to tell you everything that I have learned this summer. It comes down to one big ol’ life lesson. I learned, after much reflection, that if you are Johnny F—king Football and you put butts in the seats and your school is ploughing $450 million into decking out your college stadium so it will seat 100,000 people and be a “megaphone to the world” and boosters will pay $20,000 to smell your chair when you get up to go to the bathroom, then you can do pretty much whatever the hell you want. Hell, I could sign my name on [NCAA President] Mark Emmert’s head in a “Free Jerry Sandusky” T-shirt while T. Boone Pickens shoves hundred-dollar bills in my pants, and I still would have gotten only this bullshit half-game suspension. Pays to be rich. Pays to be white. Pays to be QB One. Pays to be me.
I mean, you had sports columnists out there who wanted that Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor—a black dude—tarred and feathered a couple years ago for trading his own jacket for some free tattoos, and those same sports writers are comparing me to Rosa Parks! Me! Johnny Manziel! I’m Rosa Parks, beeyotches! I had to ask my boy Drake who that even was. He didn’t know, but when I looked it up… Damn! Media peoples are crazy! Shit, I guess I’m buttering their bread too.
Look: most of you grew up poor as shit and after four years as a Texas A&M Aggie, you won’t graduate and you will still be poor as shit. That is, assuming if you make it four years. You get injured on that next play, they’ll have campus security to keep you from even going to class. Also, a whole bunch of you are black. And that’s cool. My boy Drake is black. And I’m Rosa Parks, so we cool. But straight up, if you did what I did, your ass would be on the next bus back to whatever ghetto or shit town you were born in. Dang the NCAA is more gangster than my boy Drake and my girl Miley combined. I know DRAKE, yo!