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Happy Halloween

[ 47 ] October 31, 2013 |

Happy Hail Satan Day Halloween! Pay your respect to the dark lord by indulging in some candy corn that is horrible to actually eat but is so charming in this 1950s ad

Goblin approved indeed.

Meanwhile, let Roky provide the appropriate tunes for the day.

I will be spending my day at the Rhode Island DMV, a hellish experience that no one can replicate in a Halloween costume. There’s not really a human experience that quite matches the Rhode Island DMV. But to give you a sense of it, I have to get a Rhode Island driver’s license so I can get my new union-made vehicle. Yeah sure it’s been 2 years that I’ve lived here and I haven’t done but my Texas license was still valid and we all know how awesome it is to represent the Lone Star State. Anyway, to get a driver’s license in Rhode Island you have to go to 1 specific DMV. That serves the entire state. The last time I was there I waited in line for 2 1/2 hours. Which is why I still have a Texas driver’s license. Luckily, I have a big stack of papers to grade, which the DMV makes look pretty appealing.

Blackface: A Primer

[ 138 ] October 30, 2013 |

Since blackface seems to be all the rage this Halloween season (post-racial society indeed!), here’s Blair L.M. Kelley with a primer on its history and why it is so awful. Not that you all didn’t already know this, but it’s a good piece.

[SL]: A handy guide for anyone considering doing blackface for a Halloween costume:

[via gmack]

How Intimidating Workers Works

[ 8 ] October 30, 2013 |

Gawker has acquired a 20-minute tape of a Georgia trucking company trying to convince workers not to join a union. This is a window into the day-to-day employer intimidation of workers’ organizing. Sometimes it can be hard power, sometimes soft. These managers were not threatening workers (at least not in the part I listened to). But they did have a captive audience to talk about the evils of unions. When Republicans complain about Obama naming NLRB members who are biased toward unions, it’s a joke precisely because they are totally fine with this kind of thing. Do unions get captive audiences inside the plant? No. This is how union campaigns are defeated. An important story and many kudos to Gawker for running it. Here’s an excerpt from the write-up:

Truck drivers at the Duluth, GA facility of the multinational storage company Iron Mountain are considering unionizing. This is a recording of a recent meeting in which two Iron Mountain managers “educate” the employees about the downside of a union. (The link was sent out last night to an email list of labor journalists.) Its content is not especially outrageous—its value lies in the fact that it offers a full look at one of the many little stumbling blocks that go along with any workplace’s attempt to organize.

“This is the South. This is not something where unions are [prevalent],” says one manager. “If the union comes in, it will make it much more difficult to get things done.” When the other manager addresses the employees, he says of their union campaign, “I can’t help but take it personally… it does hurt. It does sting.”

This Day in Labor History: October 30, 1837

[ 19 ] October 30, 2013 |

On October 30, 1837, Nicholas Farwell, a train engineer toiling for the Boston and Worcester Rail Road Corporation fell off a train while at work and had his hand crushed by the train. Farwell sued the company for damages. The 1842 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court set into place the doctrine of worker risk. This decision set a vitally important precedent in American labor history that the worker voluntarily took on risk when he or she agreed to be employed on the job. Over the next century, tens thousands of Americans died on the job with employers doing nothing.

Farwell had done nothing wrong. While he was working, a switchman messed up and the train derailed, which is how Farwell was thrown. Rather than accept his fate, which was not good as a disabled individual in a world without a social safety net, Farwell sued the company for $10,000. In his decision in Farwell v. Boston and Worcester Rail Road Corporation, Massachusetts Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw disagreed. Shaw claimed that Farwell was personally responsible for the risk of work. Risk was what someone took on by taking a job as well as the opportunity of bettering oneself in the new industrial system. Because Farwell was paid more than other railroad workers, he was already being compensated for the higher risk of his work. Shaw called the $2 a day Farwell made, a “premium for the risk which he thus assumes.” Shaw might sue his “fellow servant” who made the mistake that led to his fall but the company was immune to lawsuits of this kind.

These ideas come back to the idea that American people were fundamentally independent operators, free labor who made economic choices as such. He could have farmed, he could have apprenticed, he could have been a millionaire, but he chose to work on the railroad and was thus responsible for the choice. The upside of higher wages and the downside of higher risk was something Farwell had to judge for himself, as did any worker.

The Farwell case was part of a larger transformation in the American legal code to facilitate corporate growth at the expense of those it affected. It’s not just labor law either. Citizens sued textile mills for damming rivers that ended eon-old fish runs people upstream relied upon. The courts consistently found in favor of the new corporations, broadly using ideas of progress to justify their decision. This led to corporations having the right to pollute at will, timber companies to destroy the stream banks and land of farmers with nominal riparian rights, and dominate anyone who got in the way of their growth.

The Farwell decision directly led to tens of thousands of dead workers and hundreds of thousands (if not millions of workers) who suffered from occupational disease, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, electrocution, hands caught in unsafe saws, hair pulled from their heads after it was caught in machinery, suffocation in coal mines, and endless other workplace hazards in world where corporations had no responsibility for their workers’ safety and health.

This terrible scenario finally began to change after 1900, when courts began ruling in favor of suing plaintiffs or their surviving families. While many corporations were outraged at the sheer idea of responsibility for workers (the Progressive workplace reformer Alice Hamilton famously told a story about a paint manufacturer’s sheer incredulity when he realized she was telling him he should be responsible for his workers getting lead poisoning. He just couldn’t imagine such a world), others saw the writing on the wall and created the system of worker compensation that took the issue out of courts and gave corporations a consistent way out of large settlements, a system that would provide workers some protection, however minimal and however lower the compensation was than their previous wages, but also meant they could not sue their employers.

Increased laws regulating corporate responsibility for workplace health eventually helped many companies decide to move their production facilities outside the United States where they could reproduce the days where they didn’t have to care about dead or sick workers. Today, workers toil for American companies or subcontractors with American companies in Bangladesh, Mexico, Honduras, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and other countries across the world and face many of the same problems of workplace safety and long-term health that Americans did 150 years ago. This is not an accident. It’s an intentional choice by corporations who seek to recreate the Farwell doctrine.

You can read the Farwell decision here.

There’s a good bit of literature on this case. I primarily used the first chapter of Jonathan Levy’s 2012 book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America, which is an excellent book in the rapidly expanding literature broadly described as “histories of capitalism,” a literature with which labor historians have a lot of problems, but that’s for a different discussion.

This is the 81st post in this series. Other posts are archived here.

Lou Reed: Unionist

[ 9 ] October 29, 2013 |

Knew I liked that guy for some reason.

Sriracha Emissions

[ 155 ] October 29, 2013 |

Among the many products we probably don’t actively think of as having a major pollution impact in Sriracha.

But in Irwindale, where the hot sauce’s production facilities are, residents are complaining of burning eyes, irritated throats and headaches caused by a powerful, painful odor that the city says appears to be emanating from the factory during production. The smell is so aggressive that one family was forced to move a birthday party indoors after the spicy odor descended on the festivities, said Irwindale City Atty. Fred Galante.

The city of Irwindale filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, claiming that the odor was a public nuisance and asking a judge to stop production until the smell can be reduced.

“Given how long it’s going on, we had no choice but to institute this action,” Galante said.

Irwindale officals repeatedly met with representatives from Huy Fong Foods to discuss methods of reducing the odors, according to the suit. Huy Fong representatives cooperated at first but later denied there was an odor problem, saying their employees worked in similar olfactory settings without complaint, Galante said.

There’s obviously pretty serious emissions violations going on here. For that matter, the smell of fresh bread wafting outside of an industrial bakery also largely consists of emissions violations, but when it is chiles and fish sauce and such, that’s not good. This is why we need a vigorous regulation and inspection program. Sriracha is tasty, but we also need to make sure the people of Irwindale are protected from its byproducts.

Who Will Be Lucky Number 10,000

[ 77 ] October 29, 2013 |

Since the Newtown killings last December, at least 9900 Americans have died from guns. The total mass political movement from this has been the recall of two Colorado legislators who voted for gun-control legislation.

Update [PC]: The 9,900 figure is, as Slate notes, a massive underestimate, since for among other reasons the reporting method ends up excluding almost all gun deaths from suicides (suicides outnumber homicides by about two to one). Using CDC estimates, the actual number of gun deaths in the US since the Newtown killings is around 28,700.

Weak Anti-Faculty Union Arguments

[ 49 ] October 29, 2013 |

University of Illinois professor Nicholas Burbules’ anti-faculty union arguments are laughable. They are laughable precisely because he ignores the reality of 21st century administration-faculty relationships and what administrations are trying to do to faculty. Burbules thinks that shared governance is a real and serious thing today:

By contrast, shared governance begins with a presumption of shared commitment to the constitutional principles and to the best interests of the institution. Faculty and administrators view themselves as partners in a common project; this is what the “shared” in shared governance means. This certainly doesn’t mean that the parties always agree—but even where there are disagreements, they are usually respectful and collegial.

Under shared governance, administrators assume that the feedback and advice of the faculty will help them make better decisions, and that those decisions will be better understood and supported by professors when they grow out of consultation and openness. They respect the faculty’s fundamental rights and control over academic matters, and involve them in a broad range of other decisions as well—even when they may not be strictly required to do so.

Faculty members, for their part, respect that administrators have an accountable responsibility for making certain decisions and sometimes have information and considerations that cannot be widely shared. They recognize that senior administrators are faculty members, share the values of the faculty, and understand the concerns of the faculty. The governance roles of administration and professors are viewed as complementary, having legitimate spheres of authority that need to respect each other.

Right…. Senior administrators totally share the values of the faculty, such as eliminating the German, French, and Philosophy departments, replacing tenure-track faculty with adjuncts, reducing budgets, and generally squeezing the faculty while padding administration with more positions and six-figure salaries. And the administration oh so much cares about faculty feedback to their bad ideas. I mean, in my 7 years as a faculty member, I’ve seen nothing but respect and positive responses to feedback from faculty. In my fantasy world, I’ve seen administrators realize their ideas were bad, restore funding for departments, take the humanities and social sciences seriously, reinforce the values of a liberal arts education, support professor free speech, and respect the traditional role of a higher education in shaping a new generation and exposing them to new ideas. It’s a fantasy world because the real world of academia is mostly terrible. Which is why we need unions.

If it wasn’t for my AAUP union, I would not have a job anymore. Burbules claims that faculty are professionals, not workers, but not only is that an arbitrary distinction, but it also doesn’t represent the reality of the 21st century university. There’s a reason why more and more faculty members are unionizing, including a major recent victory at the University of Oregon. I’m sure Burbules however is on his way to a nice administration sinecure through this essay and what is no doubt his other anti-union activities at his home campus at the University of Illinois.

Hitler the Pig

[ 29 ] October 28, 2013 |

Evidently, a pig in 1942 was extra, well, piggish and ate too much. So its owner named it Hitler. And painted the name on it.


[ 111 ] October 28, 2013 |

I’ve long thought Adbusters brought out the worst in the left–lazy, self-congratulatory, conspiratorial, lacking a critique of power, relying on clever images rather than articulating an interesting politics. Basically, a love of Adbusters was probably a sign I didn’t need to take you very seriously. I’m glad to see Ramon Glazov and Jacobin take it on. And boy, this stuff is crazy:

This March, Adbusters jumped into what ought to seem like a marriage made in hell. It ran a glowing article on Beppe Grillo – Italy’s scruffier answer to America’s Truther champion Alex Jones – calling him “nuanced, fresh, bold, and committed as a politician,” with “a performance artist edge” and “anti-austerity ideas… [C]ountries around the world, from Greece to the US, can look to [him] for inspiration.” Grillo, the piece gushed, was “planting the seed of a renewed – accountable, fresh, rational, responsible, energized – left, that we can hope germinates worldwide.”

Completely unmentioned was the real reason Grillo is so controversial in Italy: his blog is full of anti-vaccination and 9/11 conspiracy claims, pseudoscientific cancer cures and chemtrail-like theories about Italian incinerator-smoke. And, as Giovanni Tiso noted in July, Grillo’s “5-Star Movement” also has an incredibly creepy backer: Gianroberto Casaleggio, “an online marketing expert whose only known past political sympathies lay with the right-wing separatist Northern League.” Casaleggio has also written kooky manifestoes about re-organizing society through virtual reality technology, with mandatory Internet citizenship and an online world government.

Adbusters could have stopped flirting with Grillo at that point, but it didn’t. Another Grillo puff-piece appeared in its May/June issue. Then the magazine’s outgoing editor-in-chief, Micah White (acknowledged by the Nation as “the creator of the #occupywallstreet meme”) recently went solo to form his own “boutique activism consultancy,” promising clients a “discrete service” in “Social Movement Creation.” Two weeks ago, in a YouTube video, White proposed that the next step “after the defeat of Occupy” should be to import Grillo’s 5-Star Movement to the US in time for the 2014 mid-term elections:

After the defeat of Occupy, I don’t believe that there is any choice other than trying to grab power by means of an election victory … This is how I see the future: we could bring the 5-Star Movement to America and have the 5-Star Movement winning elections in Italy and in America, thereby forming an international party, not only with the 5-Star Movement, but with other parties as well.

That’s an awesome idea. If there’s one thing that the American left needs, it’s to promote quasi-fascist Italian groups. Add the weird pop psychology Scientology-esque ideas, the belief that the real problem in America is advertisements rather than the power behind them, and the idiotic belief that the left has something in common with the Tea Party and you have a publication that I have even less respect for than I did before.

Why Would Someone Named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions Think Government Funding to Study the Past a Threat?

[ 77 ] October 26, 2013 |

The august senator from Alabama declares war on the NEH funding the H in its name. And with his own name, you can see why he’d be opposed to the government giving money for studying the past.

Better Economic Advisors Please

[ 68 ] October 26, 2013 |

I wish the economic advisors of Democratic presidents would improve. Sadly, no.

Here’s some of what Sperling had to say. He led off with the importance of entitlement cuts. (All emphasis is mine):

“Sometimes here [in Washington] we start to think that the end goal of our public policy is to hit a particular budget or spending or revenue metric—as if those are the goals in and of itself. But it’s important to remember that each of these metrics … are means to larger goals. … Right now, I think there is among a lot of people a consensus as to what the ingredients of a pro-growth fiscal policy are. It would be a fiscal policy that—yes—did give more confidence in the long run that we have a path on entitlement spending and revenues that gives confidence in our long-term fiscal position and that we’re not pushing off unbearable burdens to the next generation. That is very important.”

That’s a vague, guarded, jargon-y Washington way of saying, “We’re going to have to accept entitlement cuts—get used to it.” Then came the justification, which was the weakness of the economic recovery:

“You have to think about this as part of an overall pro-growth, pro-jobs strategy. Also, there’s no question that right now we still need to give this recovery more momentum. We cannot possibly be satisfied with the levels of projected growth when we are still coming back from the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

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