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Is Growing Inequality Inevitable?

[ 93 ] January 3, 2017 |

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Of course growing inequality is not inevitable. Robert Kuttner:

But can we ever get that back? Of course we can—the obstacles are political, not economic.

We could have much higher minimum wages. We could stop the union-bashing. We could restore a brand of globalization that promotes rather than undermines national social standards. We could invest massively in a green transition, modeled on the World War II mobilization that reduced unemployment from 14 percent to 2 percent in two years and produced tens of millions of good jobs.

As technology replaces human work, we could also give everyone a share of that new production, the way the Alaska Permanent Fund gives all Alaskans a share of that state’s oil revenues. Any advances created with the help of government—from subsidy of biomedical research to free-riding on the internet—could be subject to a share-the-wealth levy. Author Peter Barnes is the inspiration for this idea.

Is this broad vision crazy? It is far less crazy than the folly of supply-side economics that is back in fashion, which will only make America more needlessly unequal.

As Kuttner points out, this is a question of political power, not some sort of inevitable force in the economy. In the New Gilded Age, corporations have torn down most of the limitations to their wealth that were erected between the 1930s and 1970s to create a more equitable society. They are now seeking to eliminate the last of those barriers (and largely will in the next 4 years) and repeal much of the Progressive Era as well. These are grim times indeed. But they are not inevitable. The obstacles we have to overcome to turn this tide are certainly no greater than those of workers a century ago. But we have to commit to this fight to do it. A more robust Democratic Party leading an actual fight would help but we are a long ways from that. And the loss of class consciousness, even among the white working class toward other members of the white working class (racism has usually trumped class consciousness across races of course) certainly makes this harder. But it is not impossible. It will however probably be one of the critical struggles of our remaining lives.

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New Republican Heroes

[ 23 ] January 3, 2017 |

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How long is it before Donald Trump and the GOP Congress grants Julian Assange the full benefits of American citizenship?

Sean Hannity has landed a sit-down interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that will air Tuesday on Fox News Channel, the network announced Monday.

According to a Fox News release, the two will discuss Russian hacking, the 2016 presidential election, and both the Obama and upcoming Trump administrations. It will air at 10 p.m. on Jan. 3, with additional portions of the interview airing throughout the week.

Assange is currently living under political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he sought refuge from a Swedish investigation into rape allegations stemming from his 2010 visit to the country.

The interview will mark Assange’s first face-to-face cable news appearance. It is not, however, the first time he’s spoken publicly to Hannity. Most recently, in December, Assange called into Hannity’s radio show, in which the host gushed to Assange that “you’ve done us a favor” in exposing gaps in U.S. cybersecurity.

Hannity’s tone on Assange has seemingly changed over the past few years. Previously a critic of WikiLeaks, Hannity has since interviewed him multiple times via radio and phone. In a satellite interview on Fox News in September, Hannity told Assange, “Part of me, in the beginning, was conflicted about you.”

Conflicted in the sense of “wasn’t helpful to the rise of American fascism until he directly contributed to the rise of American fascism, which caused me to love you.” I mean sure, Republicans once said he was the worst person in history, but then he helped elect Donald Trump. I’m sure Glenn Greenwald will have something useful to say about this!

The Trump Administration from the Perspective of Everyday Mexicans

[ 20 ] January 2, 2017 |

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Of course, the rise of Emperor Tangerine to power has enormous implications for every person on the planet. Given his incendiary rhetoric about Mexico, that very much includes our southern neighbor. Figuring out what everyday Mexicans think about this is important, so this dispatch from Oaxaca, a state with very high migration rates, is valuable.

Hernandez, a veteran border crosser, having made the journey 18 times, has a brother and son in California.

“What would the United States do without Mexicans?” she posed. “Who else would pick the crops? Who would build the homes?”

Mexico too depends on those crops, those homes.

Its citizens in the U.S. sent back nearly $25 billion last year, its second-largest source of foreign income, after manufactured goods and ahead of oil. Much of that ends up in impoverished rural communities like the ones here in the southern state of Oaxaca, which for decades have dispatched young and old to El Norte in a deep-rooted ritual of economic betterment.

The cash they send home builds homes, funds small businesses, refurbishes churches and schools, and provides sustenance for multitudes.

It’s evident in the expansive, half-finished homes dotting the countryside, the Mexican version of McMansions. “They are waiting for more dollars from the north to finish,” people explain.

Actually closing the border would devastate the Oaxacan economy, which is pretty marginal even with remittances. Unfortunately, there’s about as much denial in Mexico as there is in the United States about what Trump means.

Most everyone in the area appears to have heard of Trump and his threats — his bellicose pronouncements about Mexico have been major news south of the border. But there is a pervasive sense that Trump is bluffing — or will have little appetite to pursue his far-reaching immigration agenda once in office. Or that he will inevitably fail.

“It’s all campaign talk,” Rolando Silvaja Jarquina, a retired teacher, said on a Sunday at a busy market in the courtyard of Tlacolula’s 16th century Catholic church, the Assumption of Our Lady, known for a baroque chapel featuring likenesses of beheaded saints.

Each Sunday, producers of local products, including foodstuffs and handicrafts, descend from ancient hillside settlements to sell their goods in Tlacolula, an animated market town about 20 miles southeast of Oaxaca city, the state capital.

“Both countries, Mexico and the United States, benefit from trade, from immigration,” Silvaja said as a band played in the plaza. “Why would Mr. Trump want to make Mexico his No. 1 enemy? Don’t you want your enemies far away, not next to you?”

Not if your goal is fascism. Of course there’s the issue of whether the U.S. can even really stop immigration on its southern border.

“What’s his name, Trump?” asked Hernandez, sipping a beer. “There are too many people from here already in the north, too many more who want to go.”

Miguel Angel Lopez, 43, who said he first went to the United States in 1989, found work in California restaurants and returned here almost two decades later.

“People will always find a way to go to the north,” he said. “This Trump can say what he wants, that’s fine, but the reality in Oaxaca is what it is. The men here go to the north to better themselves, to help their families here. No wall will stop them.”

That’s probably true, but there’s no question that the growing militarization of the border even under Obama has made it much harder to cross and has led to a big decrease in people coming back to Mexico to visit. That means parents die without seeing their children one last time. It means that young children can go years without seeing their parents. It means that husbands and wives may spend years apart. The human toil of immigration, even under a just system, is very real. Treating immigrants like criminals is just heartbreaking when you consider the effect on them and their families.

Uber Workers Are Employees and They Should Be Categorized That Way

[ 36 ] January 2, 2017 |

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I completely agree with Benjamin Sachs that the idea of a third category of employment to cover Uber and gig workers is a terrible idea that would carve out a substandard regulatory framework. Employers would explode this loophole if it existed.

During the last few years of the Obama Presidency, we saw a productive debate over the question of whether changes in the organization of work called for a new legal categorization of workers. In particular, the question was whether we need a third category, intermediate between “employee” and “independent contractor,” to capture the kinds of work arrangements typified by gig economy firms like Uber. Seth Harris and Alan Krueger, in a leading example, called for the creation of a legal category they named “independent worker,” which would grant some – but not all – protections of employment law to workers engaged in these types of work relationships.

The Obama administration, with the Perez/Weil team in charge at the Department of Labor, presented a relatively favorable political context for trying out a third category of worker. Had that administration embraced such a development, it would have worked to ensure – perhaps through veto of any problematic legislation, perhaps through administrative action – a legal category with the best chance of leveling up conditions for workers. Even in that favorable political context, there was robust debate about what the results of a third category would have been. There was genuine disagreement among policymakers and commentators, all committed to improving conditions for those working in the new labor market, over whether a third category made good sense.

But whatever the results might have been in positive political circumstances, it ought to be quite clear what the results would be in the political context that will begin on January 20th: implementing a third legal category of work would almost certainly be disastrous for workers. Should the incoming Congress, or the Puzder Department of Labor, be charged with creating the third category, we could safely predict that it would be constructed in a way that allows employers to shift employees down into the less-protective intermediate classification, and not to enable independent contractors to shift up into the more protective middle ground.

Accordingly, for those interested in protecting the interests of workers, a third category should now constitute a third rail. Instead, our energies should be focused in another direction: on ensuring that as many workers as possible – across the gig economy and in similar work arrangements – get classified as employees, which, in my opinion, is where they’ve belonged all along. The legal definition of “employee,” as complicated as it might sometimes become, is broad and fully adaptable to the new systems of work organization. It allows, for example, charity canvassers – who set their own schedules, are permitted to hold multiple jobs, and who are never directly supervised by anyone – to be classified as employees. In numerous cases, in fact, courts have found an employment relationship despite the fact that the workers controlled the hours they worked, were unsupervised, and enjoyed all the associated indicia of “flexibility.”

The entire idea of “flexibility” is a construct designed to exploit workers. It must be beaten back, not embraced. We should be concerned that the Trump administration will seek to create this through the Department of Labor. Fighting this possibility should be a top priority for all concerned with worker rights.

More Critical Republican Policy Points

[ 73 ] January 2, 2017 |

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Other than making sure that black people can’t vote, that Democrats can never win, and that women have no control over their own bodies, the major thing binding Republicans together is to hate those hippie Democrats. And thus we have very important policies like this coming out of Michigan.

A new law in Michigan will prohibit local governments from banning, regulating or imposing fees on the use of plastic bags and other containers. You read that correctly: It’s not a ban on plastic bags — it’s a ban on banning plastic bags.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed the new public act into law on Wednesday, along with 11 other bills. Gov. Rick Snyder is currently on vacation out of state, local news sources reported, and Calley has the authority to sign bills into law in his absence.

The new public act prohibits local ordinances from “regulating the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers,” including plastic bags, as well as cups, bottles and other forms of packaging. This means individual cities and municipalities are not allowed to ban plastic bags or charge customers a fee for using them.

Bans and restrictions on the use of plastic bags are widespread in other parts of the country and around the world. The rationale is simple: Plastic bags are infamous non-biodegradable sources of pollution — although they will eventually break down into tiny pieces, scientists believe this process can take hundreds of years, or even up to a millennium, in landfills.

And this of course, plus the tears it will cause environmentalists and conscious consumers, are all the reason Michigan Republicans need. I look forward to the bill for a national ban on banning plastic bags coming out of the GOP House.

Imagine a Law Protecting Us From Our Employers. Must Be Those Crazy French Again!

[ 31 ] January 2, 2017 |

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One of the major problems with many recent technological advances that supposedly save time or create convenience is that they allow employers to demand more time from us. That’s been a huge issue with cell phones. Driverless cars will do the same, as employers will find that time we aren’t driving perfect for doing even more work. This is a real issue that of course does not get taken seriously in the United States. But it does in France.

French workers rang in a new year at midnight — as well as a “right to disconnect” law that grants employees in the country the legal right to ignore work emails outside of typical working hours, according to the Guardian.

The new employment law requires French companies with more than 50 employees to begin drawing up policies with their workers about limiting work-related technology usage outside the office, the newspaper reported.

The motivation behind the legislation is to stem work-related stress that increasingly leaks into people’s personal time — and hopefully prevent employee burnout, French officials said.

“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash, like a dog,” Benoit Hamon, Socialist member of Parliament and former French education minister, told the BBC in May. “The texts, the messages, the emails: They colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

Such a law in the United States would be just common sense. So of course it will never happen.

Republicans: The Party of Rape

[ 123 ] January 2, 2017 |

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Republicans are very nice people. They are targeting the most vulnerable people in all categories. Especially nice is the incoming head of the House Freedom Caucus, North Carolina (of course) Republican Mark Meadows, who is trying to figure out how to overturn those pesky Obama regulations against sexual assault on college campuses.

Incoming Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) suggested that the incoming Donald Trump administration reverse a set of President Obama-era guidelines aimed at combatting campus sexual assault, saying it wastes money and that it denies protection to the “often-innocent accused,” USA Today reported Friday.

Meadows issued a report this month on 230 rules that he advocated to be changed or dismantled within the first 100 days of the new administration. He then released a new list this week that added 70 additional rules. The document is not an official Freedom Caucus report because the other members of the group have not voted to adopt it, the group’s spokeswoman told USA Today.

Among the new additions is a call to reverse the April 2011 guidance document from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which set the course and provided standards for how universities should handle sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints.

In the document, Meadows stated that the guidance has caused colleges to spend “hundreds of million” to fight sexual assault and that it denies the “often-innocent accused.”

“The Title IX guidance document on sexual assault and campus rapes has pressured colleges to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and to create vast campus bureaucracies which drain tuition revenue, to investigate allegations of sexual assault (primarily date rapes, the incidence of which may be overestimated), and virtually dictates one-size-fits-all procedures which provide less protection to the accused, and deny the often-innocent accused basic due process rights,” it reads. “As a result, many complainants are discouraged from reporting rapes to the local law enforcement.”

Republicans, the Pro-Rape Party!

Genuine Expert on Fascism Speaks About Rise of Fascism

[ 214 ] January 1, 2017 |

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David Neiwert, who knows more than perhaps anyone on the rise of fascism on the right in this country over the last two decades, speaks the truth.

Yet again, I find it fascinating that nearly every single ‘progressive’ I’ve seen pooh-poohing the fact that Russia’s intelligence services conducted an all-out cyberattack on America’s election system, with the full intent of undermining our democracy, is a hardcore Hillary Hater who almost certainly voted for Sanders or Stein. It makes crystal clear what I believed well before the election — that these ‘progressives’ are so blinded by their disdain for centrist liberalism that they simply are incapable of comprehending the reality of fascism when it smacks them right in the face.

And yes, people, Russia today is a proto-fascist regime, one that is actively financing and spreading proto-fascist “identitarian” nationalist philosophies throughout Europe and the United States. We know, in fact, that they are actually financing these movements.

These hardcore Hillary Haters, like Glenn Greenwald and his following, are in desperate denial about the enormity of the monstrous regime they have now empowered and enabled. They’re anxious to escape the blame for the unbelievable disaster that is about to befall us all, particularly progressives and people of color. Too fucking late, Glenn.

Indeed.

Why Holding Corporations Accountable for Their Supply Chains is the Only Answer to Global Labor Exploitation, Part 45,018

[ 16 ] January 1, 2017 |

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Yes, another post on trade policy and global labor rights that will be sure to get me into the LGM Top 10 posts of 2017!

This essay on the relationship between migratory labor and supply chain exploitation in the apparel industry, including making links between the likelihood of climate change causing even more possibilities for exploitation because of the huge number of refugees, is basically right on. But I think it does fall short of nailing down a reasonable answer to these problems. Certainly global labor solidarity is absolutely critical and connecting the labor and climate justice movements great. But I continue to maintain that I see no end game to these problems without holding western corporations accountable for what happens in their supply chains. That happens through both trade agreements with legally enforceable labor and environmental standards. It happens through the U.S. and other nations creating import standards. And it happens through allowing workers around the world to use U.S. courts (and other national courts) for enforcement of those standards.

Sadly, there are always going to be migrant laborers. But they don’t per se have to be exploited by the apparel industry. At the very least, we can force the retailers at the top of the food chain to take accountability for their suppliers. That is the single most effective way to do something about this problem and creating the legal framework to regulate that process is more realistic than hoping for international labor solidarity and workplace organizing, which is exceptionally slow and difficult, desperately needed as it is.

American Jobs and Trade Policy Under Trump

[ 143 ] January 1, 2017 |

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United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard makes a good point about how Trump’s political rhetoric about “bringing American jobs home” completely contradicts actual Republican policy. Will it matter when Trump’s promises are proven lies?

That American-job-creating, buy-American thing is supported by 71 percent of the American public. But it is a smack in the face to GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who just made it clear in the Water Resources Development Act that he’s fine with creating slave-wage iron- and steel-making jobs in China with U.S. tax dollars, so long as a few fat-cat iron-and-steel importers make a profit on the deal.

So clearly, there’s a battle brewing between the President-elect and the Speaker of the House. This is the President-elect who has repeatedly promised the working-class men and women who elected him that he’d support Buy American provisions in federal law to create jobs for them. And it’s a GOP Speaker who wants to ship taxpayer-financed work overseas and let the working class wait a couple more decades to just possibly feel a tiny pinch of trickle-down from the largesse of filthy rich iron and steel importers. This, also, is a clash between a New York real estate titan who won the presidency and a Wisconsin lawmaker who lost the vice presidency.

By advocating night after night for American Made, President-elect Trump essentially warned Ryan not to strip the Buy-American provisions out of the Water Resources Development Act. But Ryan did it anyway early in December when he got the act from the Senate.

The act contained strong, permanent Buy America language when the Senate sent it over. These provisions are significant because they use tax dollars to create 33 percent more U.S. factory jobs, something that is, again, important to voters, 68 percent of whom told the Mellman Group & North Star Opinion Research in November in a national survey conducted for the Alliance for American Manufacturing that they were worried that the country had lost too many manufacturing jobs.

In addition—and President-elect Trump knows this from the response he gets at his rallies—Buy American policies are very popular. Seventy-four percent of voters say large infrastructure projects financed by taxpayer money should be constructed with American-made materials and American workers. And those who voted for President-elect Trump agree more strongly – 79 percent of them say American-made should be given preference over the lowest bidder.

This is a very big deal to iron and steel producers and workers in the United States. Far too many mills are closed or partially shuttered because of unfairly traded imports, and more than 16,000 steelworkers across this country have been laid off over the past year.

My own guess is that electorally it won’t matter very much in 2018 or 2020 for two primary reasons. First, Democrats will struggle to articulate a meaningful response to globalization, automation, and the decline of industrial jobs, as they have done for 50 years. Second, Trump will put on a hard hat and make spurious claims about saving a few hundred jobs here and there and low-information voters will be cool with that.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 64

[ 34 ] January 1, 2017 |

This is the grave of Paul Wellstone.

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Born in Washington, DC in 1944 and educated with a BA and PhD in political science at the University of North Carolina, Wellstone moved to Minnesota in 1969 when he became a professor at Carleton College. He instantly became involved in left-wing politics there, working in the anti-war and poverty movements. The FBI began a file on him in 1970 after he was arrested during an anti-war protest. He founded Organization for a Better Rice County, a welfare-rights organization that mobilized the poor for social and economic justice. The trustees of Carleton found all of this unseemly and attempted to deny Wellstone tenure. But a student protest movement forced them to cave and grant him tenure.

In 1982, Wellstone sought public office for the first time, winning the Democratic primary for state auditor. He lost in the general election to future govenror Arne Carlson. He remained active in state politics, co-chairing the state’s Dukakis campaign in 1988 after he had chaired Jesse Jackson’s run in the primary.

In 1990, Wellstone decided to run for Senate. This was a serious long-shot. He was a leftist professor with no money and no record of winning public office. He faced Rudy Boschwitz, a generally well-respected two term senator. But Wellstone ran a brilliant underdog campaign and Boschwitz made a number of stupid errors, including calling Wellstone “a bad Jew” for marrying a Christian, a move that did not work well in this Lutheran and Catholic-heavy state. Despite being massively outspent, Wellstone won the race, the only successful challenge of a sitting senator that year.

As senator, Wellstone made a name for himself as a leftist voice in an increasingly centrist and pro-business Democratic Party. He took a leadership position on issues such as opposing Clinton’s welfare reform, as well as on environmentalism, health care, labor, and domestic violence. In 1996, Boschwitz ran for his old seat but Wellstone defeated him again, a sign of the grassroots passion Wellstone inspired in many of his voters. He was not perfect, as he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which he later regretted. There was a grassroots effort to get Wellstone to run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2000. But facing a lot of back pain due to his college wrestling days that was later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, Wellstone decided against it.

In 2002, Wellstone faced another tough race. This race was made tougher because the Green Party, that paragon of political brilliance, decided to run a candidate in that race, even after in 2000 Green Party VP candidate Winona LaDuke had openly lauded Wellstone for standing up for their issues. He also faced a well-funded Norm Coleman on the Republican side. None of this stopped Wellstone from taking strong stances. He authored the Wellstone Amendment in the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill, creating hard money limits on outside campaign advertising from nonprofits that ranged from the NRA to the Sierra Club. The Supreme Court upheld this in 2003 but of course it was destroyed in Citizens United in 2010. Wellstone also voted against Congressional authorization for the Iraq War in October 2002, a vote he believed would lead to his defeat the next month.

On October 25, 2002, Wellstone, his wife, his daughter, and some campaign staffers were flying to a funeral in northern Minnesota, a steelworker whose father was in the Minnesota House. That night, he had to debate Norm Coleman in Duluth. Alas, the plane crashed, probably from the flight crew not maintaining a proper speed, although we will never know for sure. No one survived.

In the aftermath, Minnesota Democrats asked Walter Mondale to step into Wellstone’s place in the Senate race. His funeral, rightfully, was a partisan rallying cry for Democrats. This is certainly what he would have wanted. However, conservatives went crazy over this, with very principled people such as Rush Limbaugh and Peggy Noonan leading the outcry. Unfortunately, Coleman won a narrow victory over Mondale in November.

The American left lost a great leader when Wellstone died. With the Iraq War about to begin and the horrors of the Bush administration just becoming clear, Wellstone would have provided critical leadership against him and probably a 2004 presidential run. We will never know if he would have won the nomination, but given the initial grassroots support of someone pretty lame like Howard Dean and the relatively indifferent choices Democrats had that year, there’s no question that Wellstone would have changed the dynamics of the race.

Were Paul Wellstone still alive today, he would still only be 72 years old. Meanwhile, Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney continue to live.

Paul Wellstone is buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

This Day in Labor History: January 1, 1935

[ 6 ] January 1, 2017 |

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On January 1, 1935, the Carl Mackley Houses opened in Philadelphia. Built in conjunction with the Hosiery Workers Union, this project represents one of several attempts during the New Deal era to create workers’ housing complexes that combined ideas of solidarity with modern architecture and a futuristic idea about where the working class was headed.

Decent housing for workers in cities was expensive and this is why unions began to become interested in new ideas to solve this problem. This was not the only example of a union-based housing project during these years. The Hosiery Workers’ sister union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, was already working on such a project and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union had worked to create a workers’ cooperative apartment building in the Bronx as early as 1925. Philadelphia had a higher home ownership rate than other cities, but most of this was single-family and the rental market was very tight. So the Hosiery Workers decided to target a union-sponsored housing complex for its members and other workers. It believed that big projects were better for workers and hoped to influence federal housing policy through its housing program.

In 1933, the Housing Division of the newly created Public Works Administration started to offer loans to private companies that would build and manage low-rent residential projects for limited profit. Immediately, the American Federation of Hosiery Workers applied to open a housing complex for its workers. The Hosiery Workers had already articulated a sophisticated housing program. Influenced by Karl Marx Hof in Vienna, the mass leftist housing project erected in the 1920s, it hoped to replicated this in the United States. The Hosiery Workers, based in Philadelphia, was an organization heavily interested in larger left-leaning social and economic questions and hired many radicals. Through strong organizing, it managed to not only survive the Great Depression but actually win good contracts even as consumer demand collapsed, including convincing companies to open its books to the union and working with consumer organizations for union-approved clothing companies.

The union’s leaders also opposed private home ownership. It understood why workers did this. But it claimed that home ownership reinforced the strong privatized nature of American political culture that undermined collective solutions in favor of selfish individualism (a point with which I strongly agree). Leading the project to create a housing project was Hosiery Workers research director John Edelman and Oskar Stororov, the Russian social democratic emigre and modernist architect who in 1970 was on the plane that killed Walter Reuther. When Stonorov heard about the PWA Housing Division, he immediately called its head Robert Kohn, rousted him out of bed, made a pitch, and won the agency’s first loan of slightly more than $1 million.

The union acquired the land and overcame opposition from private realtors and the Philadelphia mayor thanks to its close relations with the city council. It began building in February 1934, with a ceremony attended by Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, wife of Pennsylvania governor and legendary forester Gifford Pinchot. It named the housing project after Carl Mackley, a union member killed in a 1930 strike in Philadelphia who had become a hero to the city’s working classes, when 1500 cars followed the hearse carrying Mackley to his funeral. The complex had nearly 300 apartments, a large swimming pool (the overwhelming recreational desire of the workers who lived there), a nursery school, a basement set up for tenant organizations, and laundry facilities. It was the kind of self-contained community that leftists hoped would spawn working-class consciousness in the American working class.

The complex opened on January 1, 1935. The union made sure that a majority of the tenants were not Hosiery Workers’ members because it feared a strike could bankrupt the housing project. But in fact the costs of the apartments were fairly high and so it ended up attracting a lot of white-collar workers. The PWA loan payments were steep and thus the rents were 20 percent more expensive than anticipated. The tenants did receive good value for their rent, but it was simply pricier than most workers’ housing. The Hosiery Workers asked the PWA to renegotiate the terms of the loan but the agency refused.

But some workers did live there and the residents, working-class or middle-class, generally appreciated the project. The social space around the pool was highly valued by the residents and some workers moved in precisely because of that pool. One worker signed a lease, hoping it would be Bellamyism in action. The union itself did not really shape the communal life in the Mackley Homes as it hoped to, largely because it was fighting for its own survival through the 30s and 40s and the housing complex took a secondary role in the larger union strategy. But an open atmosphere of organizing was quietly encouraged and residents took advantage of that. Some residents put on a performance of “Waiting for Lefty,” while others took art classes, went to fundraisers for the left in the Spanish Civil War, or heard lectures about the need for socialized medicine (tell me about it). The nursery school sought to provide support for women even if they did not work outside the home, bringing progressive ideas about childrearing to the complex. This all scared PWA administrators, who worried about being attacked over the political nature of life at the Mackley Houses.

Leading urban planners such as Catherine Bauer believed the Mackley Houses were the beginning of something much bigger, or as she wrote, “the first step in an movement which may sooner or later change the face of the country.” Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Postwar housing plans would promote suburbanization and white flight, dooming most urban housing complexities to decline thanks to a funding model for public housing that assumed paying renters and not the poor, while private housing models now avoided these sorts of complexes. The experimental politics and nature of the Mackley Homes declined with the Hosiery Workers’ decline after World War II, but the nursery school remained open until 1964 and as late as 1985, the tenets held a celebration to mark 50 years of this amazing complex, even though the commemoration barely mentioned its union background.

I borrowed from Gail Radford, Modern Housing in America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era for the writing of this post.

This is the 205th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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