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Union Decline and Trump’s Rise

[ 90 ] November 14, 2016 |


One thing about the apocalypse: those who specialize in a particular part of it suddenly become high demand. I spoke to The Atlantic:

In Michigan, home to the influential United Auto Workers, Republican Governor Rick Snyder passed one such law in 2012 amid mass protests. In the first year after the law went into effect, union membership in the state fell by 11 percent (though it has inched up a bit since then). In 2015, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pushed the same type of law through with similar results. “Republicans knew this would decimate unions, and now we can see the impact,” says Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island.

Back in the 1980s, unions represented 22 percent of private-sector workers, he says. Now they represent only about 8 percent. Loomis points to two major historical shifts that inflicted major damage to the labor movement: the drying up of manufacturing jobs in the late 1970s as factories moved overseas, and more recently, Republican-led movements to pass laws restricting unionization. This year, West Virginia became the 26th state to pass right-to-work laws, which went into effect this summer.

But it’s not just right-to-work laws that have weakened the labor movement. Unions had tried to stop the impacts of globalization and automatization, Loomis says, but “they were overwhelmed by a bipartisan belief in globalized trade and nobody has taken long-term unemployment and community decline seriously.” Neither Ohio nor Pennsylvania has passed right-to-work legislation, but their industries—and the chance that they would vote Democratic—have fallen nevertheless.

The election results in Nevada reflect a stark contrast. Hillary Clinton won the state with the help of the labor movement, and in particular, with the help of Culinary Union, which put on an aggressive campaign to mobilize its 57,000 members to vote for Democrats. Clinton won by a large margin in Nevada and so did the state’s Democratic Senate candidate, Catherine Cortez Masto. “The key difference is that they were able to organize working-class people to get their votes,” says Loomis. There is also another key difference: The Culinary Union is mostly made up of Latino workers in the hotel and service industry, a different demographic from the predominantly white factory workers in the Rust Belt who made up the base of the labor movement there and have since seen their jobs disappear.

The real dichotomy in this election is how different right to work states have different labor movements. The role the Culinary Union plays in Nevada is a real model for other right to work states. Not easy to emulate but important. I hope to have more on this soon. It would help if I wasn’t getting migraine headaches as a result of post-election anxiety and fear and thus losing days of work.


Jobs and Trump Voters

[ 418 ] November 13, 2016 |


I am consistently amazed at the resistance people have to the idea that a reasonable percentage of Trump voters cast a ballot for him because of economic anxiety. I know it’s easier to call everyone a bunch of racists. And some of them are! And some of them are racist and also voted for Barack Hussein Obama on two occasions! And some of them genuinely know that Barack Obama did nothing to keep their jobs in Ohio or Michigan or Wisconsin from moving overseas or being automated. And they know that Hillary Clinton really didn’t either. So, yes, some workers genuinely voted for Donald Trump because they want to keep their jobs. Take many workers at the Carrier plant in Indiana, famous because of the notorious filmed reaction to the bosses announcing the closing of the factory and the move of the jobs to Mexico.

Carrier’s decision to move the factory to Monterrey, Mexico, will eliminate 1,400 jobs by 2019. Mr. Trump quickly made the factory Exhibit A in his argument against the trade policies of Republicans and Democrats alike.

He cited Carrier again and again on the campaign trail, threatening to phone executives at the company and its parent, United Technologies, and to hit them with 35 percent tariffs on any furnaces and air-conditioners they imported from Mexico. To the cheers of his supporters, he predicted at rallies that Carrier would call him up as president and say, “Sir, we’ve decided to stay in the United States.”

Now his supporters expect action. “If he doesn’t pass that tariff, I will vote the other way next time,” warned Nicole Hargrove, who has worked at Carrier for a decade and a half and is not certain what she will do if and when her job goes to Mexico.

Carrier isn’t changing its plans. On Friday in a written statement, the company said, “We are making every effort to ease the transition for our Carrier colleagues in Indiana.” The company pointed out that it will finance four-year retraining and educational programs for employees and provide financial help.

For workers like Mr. Roell, 36, who started at Carrier just weeks after receiving his high school diploma and never returned to school, the problem is not a shortage of jobs in the area. Instead, it is a drought of jobs that pay anywhere near the $23.83 an hour he makes at Carrier, let alone enough to give him a toehold in the middle class.

When he drives to work each day before dawn, Mr. Roell passes warehouse after warehouse of giants like Walmart and Kohl’s with “Help Wanted” signs outside promising jobs within. The problem is that they typically pay $13 to $15 an hour.

“I guess I could work two full-time shifts a day,” he joked.

The situation confronting Mr. Roell and other blue-collar Carrier workers is not simply one anecdote from the region some people call the Rust Belt. It is part of a broad predicament for non-college-educated workers borne out by Census Bureau data. And it explains why even in Indiana, a state with a lower rate of unemployment than the national average, and a strong rebound from the recession in many ways, the economic and political frustration is palpable.

Sure, Donald Trump is lying to these workers. But that doesn’t actually matter in terms of winning an election. Because those workers know that Obama or Clinton weren’t going to keep that plant open. So why wouldn’t they vote for Donald Trump?

This is part of a larger massive failure of the entire political and economic establishment, which is five decades of indifference to communities decimated by globalization. Globalization has helped or hurt different parts of the nation in different ways. It has massively improved my home state of Oregon, which was really pretty poor as late as the mid-1980s and now is quite wealthy. Other coastal and urban areas have done as well. But we all know which communities have been the most left behind. They are the Democratic states that voted for Donald Trump. We need actual economic plans in the places people live. There are concrete political reasons for this–these states have a lot of electoral votes. Democrats have to pull enough white working class votes to win in those states. That means providing actual economic hope for people where they live. But that is not even close to being central to the national agenda, even on the left. Unfortunately, with automation likely to decimate even more jobs in the next years, even more white workers are probably going to be susceptible to racist appeals.

So yes, Trump voters were motivated in some extent by racism AND misogyny AND economic dislocation and community decline. If we chalk it all up to racism, we lose. Deal with the problems of these communities and you not only have done the right thing and have helped all working people–black, brown, and white–but you’ve convinced people of all races that Democrats have a real program for working people.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 57

[ 37 ] November 13, 2016 |

This is the grave of Lyle Alzado.


Born in Brooklyn, Lyle Alzado loved football but was not seen as a college prospect. Thus he traveled to faraway Texas to play at Kilgore College, a 2-year school. He then transferred to Yankton College in South Dakota, a school that has since been turned into a federal prison. He was noticed by a scout watching film of an opposing player at equally obscure Montana Tech. The Denver Broncos drafted him in the 4th round in 1971, where he played until 1978. He soon became an excellent defensive linemen. A contract dispute led Denver to send him to the Browns, who traded him to the Raiders in 1982. By this time, he was playing with utter angry abandon, known for his enforcer style that fit Al Davis’ teams of the time. At one point, he threw his helmet at an opposing player, leading the NFL to create the Alzado Rule that banned players from using their helmets as weapons. He retired in 1985 with 112.5 sacks. In order to keep up this intense style of play and physical regimen, he shot himself full of a shocking amount of steroids. Many claimed that Alzado’s death from cancer at the age of 43 in 1992 was due to his chemical regime, but that’s probably not true.

As a child, rooting for the Seahawks in the early 80s, there was only one player I hated more than Alzado. That was Horseface Elway.

It does not seem that anyone has ever played Lyle Alzado in the movies or TV. But Alzado himself appeared on the screen many times. He was in episodes of True Blue, Top Cops, Trapper John MD, MacGyver, and many other fine shows of the 1980s and early 1990s. He was also in Ernest Goes to Camp and Who’s Harry Crumb.

Lyle Alzado is buried in River View Cemetery, Portland, Oregon.

Today in Trump’s America

[ 133 ] November 12, 2016 |


Exhibit A:

A Gwinnett County high school teacher said she was left a note in class Friday telling her that her Muslim headscarf “isn’t allowed anymore.”

“Why don’t you tie it around your neck & hang yourself with it…,” the note said, signed “America!”

Mairah Teli, 24, who teaches language arts at Dacula High, said she feels the note is in reaction to Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race.

“I feel children feel safe making comments that are racist or sexist because of him,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Gwinnett County Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said in an email that the district is “doing all it can to identify the person who wrote and left this note.”

Teli said the administration and fellow teachers were very supportive after she informed them she found the note.

Teli, a California native who grew up in Gwinnett, suspected it was from a student.

She said she was shocked and disturbed but worked to be measured when she addressed class. She told the students she was happy to speak with them if there were questions about her hijab.

Exhibit B:

Swastikas and other inappropriate images were spray-painted on school banners, sidewalks and telephone poles at Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda over the weekend, according to Assistant Principal Gabby Bellagamba.

Bellagamba sent an email to parents late Sunday night informing them that Montgomery County police are investigating the incident. The assistant principal said the graffiti has been covered and “will be removed as soon as possible.”

Gboyinde Onijala, a Montgomery County Public Schools spokeswoman, said maintenance crews will be at the school Monday to remove the graffiti.

Police said Monday the vandalism was reported on Sunday morning by a member of a Jewish congregation that holds weekly services at the school. An image of male genitalia was also spray painted on the banner, which was posted near the school entrance, according to police. The school is at 7900 Beech Tree Road.

Heck, maybe over the next 4 years, the greatest Jewish-Muslim unity alliance in the world will develop in the U.S. has both have to survive the racist hell of unleashed Trump supporters.

This Day in Labor History: November 12, 1928

[ 6 ] November 12, 2016 |


On November 12, 1928, workers for United Fruit in Ciénega, Colombia went on strike. This uprising against the total domination of United Fruit over workers’ lives represents how the company sought to control entire countries in its attempts to dominate the banana trade. The ensuing massacre of those workers a few weeks later demonstrates the very real power the company had in accomplishing that goal.

Founded in 1899 in a merger of fruit companies operating in Central America since the 1870s, United Fruit became arguably the most powerful company in the Americas in the early 20th century. It cut deals with nations to provide them with infrastructure in return for total control over the economy and significant control over politics. By 1901, Guatemala contracted with United Fruit to run its postal service. By 1930, it was the largest employer in Central America. It routinely demanded governments do its bidding and used it deep connections within the U.S. government to use American state power to accomplish its goals if necessary. The term “banana republic” originates with UFCO’s domination over nations like Guatemala and Costa Rica. It also had significant operations within Colombia, particularly the Caribbean coastal lowlands, perfect for large-scale banana production. The area around Santa Marta, a port town along a lovely bay, was the center of UFCO operations in the nation. Ciénega, a small town west of Santa Marta where many plantations were located, became an area where workers started resisting the total domination of the company over their lives.

The preparation for the strike began in October. On October 6, workers issued a set of demands that included a day off per week, hygienic dwelling places, compensation for accidents at work, a 50 percent pay increase for the lowest paid workers, the end of company scrip, weekly payments, sanitation, hospitals, and a number of other demands that highlight just how hard these workers lives were. These workers did not make enough to feed their families unless they brought their entire families with them. Employers and foremen often used to use the wives and daughters of workers for their sexual pleasure. Workers’ wages were routinely stolen by contractors and workers did not have actual contracts with UFCO. This was rank exploitation.

After a month of the company ignoring their demands, the Unión Sindical de Trabajadores de Magdalena issued an ultimatum to either negotiate with the workers or face a strike. The governor of the state of Magdalena urged the company to sit down with the workers. It refused. On November 11, workers gathered in Ciénaga. They declared a strike to begin the next day.

Immediately, the government was hostile. Colombian president Miguel Méndez was a conservative with no patience for the workers. He appointed General Carlos Cortés Vargas as military chief of the banana zone. Working closely with United Fruit’s paid informants, it used the company’s trains to transport troops through the region. The soldiers received extra money for this work to break any possibility of solidarity with the strikers. Company employees rode trains with the soldiers, pointing out workers it wanted arrested. Local officials did side with workers, including the mayor of Ciénega, a Liberal Party stronghold. Because of this significant solidarity, Cortés Vargas worried about his ability to police the region or even control his own troops, many of whom had worked on the banana plantations in the past.

Tensions grew on December 4, when UFCO started paying scabs to pick the fruit. Workers resisted, stopping the trains from passing through. Cortés Vargas then arrested hundreds of strikers. Responding to the strike, United Fruit demanded action. It used its connections in the press and the U.S. government to paint the strike as communist-dominated. During this imperialist period of American policies toward Latin America, with dozens of invasions of nations around the Caribbean Basin whenever the U.S. felt its interests under attack in any way, this was a very real threat. Company officials and the American embassy cabled to the State Department about the red threat. The Coolidge administration then sent word to the Colombian government that if it did not bust the strike, the U.S. might send in the Marines to do it for them.

The government decided to crush the strike. It suspended the rule of law in the banana zone. About 1:30 a.m., according to Cortés Vargas later account defending himself, he ordered his troops with machine guns to the train station. Workers refused to disperse when ordered. The troops then opened fire on the workers. We don’t know how many workers died. Minimum, it was several hundred. Some have claimed it was upwards of 2000. United Fruit itself told the U.S. embassy that between 500 and 600 workers were slaughtered, but the embassy revised that number to over 1000 within a few weeks. Amazingly, the massacre did not actually succeed in its major goal of dispersing the workers and ending the strike. Workers continued to gather. But with UFCO unwilling to negotiate, they had nowhere to go or nothing to do and the strike eventually faded. What was very clear though to all involved is that the sovereign power on the Colombian coast was not based in Bogota. It was out of United Fruit’s New Orleans’ headquarters.

The massacre was massive and grotesque. United Fruit then tried to cover it up by destroying all evidence in its own archives about the entire situation, including the photos it took. It did keep all evidence of worker violence, including photos of burned company stores or other company buildings, as displayed at the top of this post, in order to shape future tales of the event.

United Fruit’s domination of the region continued for decades, most notoriously in getting the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala when he nationalized some of the company’s unused land for agrarian reform and land redistribution.

I borrowed from Kevin Coleman’s essay, “The Photos That We Don’t Get to See: Sovereignties, Archives, and the 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers in Colombia,” in Daniel Bender and Jana Lipman, eds., Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism.

This is the 199th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.


[ 75 ] November 11, 2016 |

The 2016 election: the first time the state security apparatus has directly intervened in a presidential election to push a favored candidate. What a great precedent.



[ 279 ] November 11, 2016 |

Richard Rorty pretty much predicted the 2016 election in Achieving Our Country.


Hard to argue.


PC: The first two paragraphs of this passage consist of Rorty’s paraphrase of the argument made in Edward Luttwak’s The Endangered American Dream (1993).  The sentences that precede the quoted passage in Rorty’s book:


Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments.  Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that . . .

Today in Trump’s America

[ 36 ] November 11, 2016 |


I wonder when we will see actual organized lynching parties. I’m guessing by the end of the month.

A University of Wisconsin-Stout student from Saudi Arabia died one day after being assaulted on a street in downtown Menomonie, Wis., about 70 miles east of Minneapolis, police and school officials said.

Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, 24, was a junior majoring in business administration who enrolled in 2015 at UW-Stout, according to a statement from the university, whose campus is in Menomonie.

“Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers go out to Hussain’s family in Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, and his friends at UW-Stout,” UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer said Monday in the statement.

“I want to make a personal appeal to anyone on campus or in the community who might have information that would help authorities locate the individual involved in the attack to come forward,” Meyer said.

An assailant described only as a white male about 6 feet tall assaulted Alnahdi shortly after 2 a.m. CT Sunday near a pizza restaurant, according to Menomonie police. Officers found Alnahdi unconscious and bleeding from his mouth and nose before he was hospitalized and died from his injuries Monday.

The National Voter Suppression Bill Should Be Great

[ 89 ] November 10, 2016 |

It’s really too bad that the media didn’t focus more on the real issues at stake in this election–Hillary’s e-mails.

The effective repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act will be wonderful.

It Can Happen Here

[ 336 ] November 9, 2016 |


I’m not much of a rally guy. I prefer to write and do policy work and work for my own union. But in an hour, I will be at the anti-Trump rally at the Rhode Island statehouse. And I encourage all of you to step out of your comfort zones and reach out too. It will be good for you. Better for me at least since I spent between 2 and 4 pm crying in my office. And we need to lead the resistance for the utter hell about to come upon everything we believe in.

Solidarity and resistance. That’s the only way.

And So It Begins

[ 66 ] November 9, 2016 |


We may never fully recover from what is about to hit us.

Donald Trump has selected one of the best-known climate skeptics to lead his U.S. EPA transition team, according to two sources close to the campaign.

Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, is spearheading Trump’s transition plans for EPA, the sources said.

The Trump team has also lined up leaders for its Energy Department and Interior Department teams. Republican energy lobbyist Mike McKenna is heading the DOE team; former Interior Department solicitor David Bernhardt is leading the effort for that agency, according to sources close to the campaign.

Ebell is a well-known and polarizing figure in the energy and environment realm. His participation in the EPA transition signals that the Trump team is looking to drastically reshape the climate policies the agency has pursued under the Obama administration. Ebell’s role is likely to infuriate environmentalists and Democrats but buoy critics of Obama’s climate rules.

Ebell, who was dubbed an “elegant nerd” and a “policy wonk” by Vanity Fair, is known for his prolific writings that question what he calls climate change “alarmism.” He appears frequently in the media and before Congress. He’s also chairman of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of nonprofits that “question global warming alarmism and oppose energy-rationing policies.”

Goodbye American nature. Goodbye pollution controls. Goodbye livable climate.

The Aristocrats!

[ 286 ] November 9, 2016 |


The United States: A 225 year joke that ended last night with that punchline.

I am so tremendously sad that I can barely function today. I always wondered what it would be like to live in a time when it seemed like things were genuinely getting better. Now I know that I will never find out since the best we will probably do in my lifetime is put back what is taken apart in the next four years. Say goodbye to the ACA, goodbye to legal abortion, goodbye to public sector unionism (if not most of the labor movement), goodbye to any possibility of dealing with climate change, etc., etc. That this is happening in an evenly divided nation where one party now controls the entire government with an extremist agenda is an unmitigated disaster for all the policy and moral reasons that you all know already.

We are just beginning to figure out what happened. As better polling data comes in over the next few days, it will become more clear. Before I get into what we do know and what seems to be the case, let me just say up front that I blame no one in the Democratic Party. I do not blame Hillary Clinton. She has her weaknesses as a candidate, but would have made a very good president. I certainly do not blame Bernie Sanders. In this case, I don’t even blame Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, as Stein polled abysmally and we can generally presume that many of her voters simply never would have voted for a Democratic candidate. As for Johnson, we simply need more data to my knowledge about where those voters would normally fall. I imagine he drew from both Trump and Clinton. FWIW, my pro-life but generally Democratic father-in-law voted Johnson because Hillary was “too liberal,” but I have also spoken to students who were Republicans that couldn’t deal with Trump’s racism and bigotry. What happened last night was expected by almost no one. None of the polls saw this, not even Trump’s own people saw this happening. So, with all due respect to my colleagues here, other than saying that political scientists bring no special insight into a given election, I don’t think there’s too many people within the political establishment to actually blame. Unfortunately, I fear a civil war within the larger left-of-center world between liberals and the left at a time when we need to unite and resist the horrible things that are coming.

That said, there are plenty of disturbing trends. The first is that Hillary Clinton simply did not inspire people to vote. Hillary’s total was down a solid 4 million or so voters from 2012. Union support for Clinton was the worst showing for a Democrat in at least 20 years. African-Americans in key cities like Milwaukee and Philadelphia simply did not come out in the needed numbers. Why? This is a critical question. Second is that racism won the day. Trump won all categories of whites. America is a racist nation. Appealing to white nationalism works. We have not even begun to deal with our legacy of racism. Third, misogyny also won the day. That Trump did better than Romney with both Latino and African-American males is the big jaw-dropper of the election. Misogyny is a big part of the story here.

What is however sadly clear is that in fact Democrats cannot win without white working class voters in Rust Belt states. Whatever that means in creating policy and appeal, it is true. We have to deal with this point. Watching CNN last night, the county maps of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan between 2012 and 2016 were telling. Erie County, PA, for instance, is a classic old-school union Democratic county. Trump won it. The country that Scranton is in, Joe Biden’s home town, went from about 60% Obama in 2012 to 50% Clinton in 2016. This is ultimately the people Democrats need to win. The demographic changes to the nation, which are real enough, are also not enough. Democrats did great in the West. Everything that needed to happen there happened, including Cortez Masto holding Reid’s Senate seat with surprising ease. That’s not enough. Democrats have to win in the Great Lakes or in the South. These are pretty white states. That does mean appealing to white voters.

And let’s not beat around the bush–yes, the election of Trump is a great triumph for American racists. But a sizable number of these voters did vote for Barack Hussein Obama on two occasions. It’s not just racism, even if it is indeed racism. It’s also people who legitimately feel left behind in the global economy. It doesn’t even matter if it’s true. It’s how they feel. Actual good job creation at home in the places where people live is part of the answer. People want to feel hope in their lives. In western Pennsylvania, they do not. It’s not as if Trump’s policies are going to give them that real hope. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the white people in Wisconsin and North Carolina and Kansas and Louisiana and other states that are dominated by Republicans will respond to the terrible policies of their officials by doubling down on resentment and white supremacy and voting for them again.

I also think it’s pretty clear that presidential candidates need to be inspiring leaders more than any other quality. No one cares about policy. People care about leadership and inspiration. That’s true whether it was Bill Clinton in 1992 or George W. Bush in his 2 elections, or Barack Obama or Donald Trump. These four people have very little in common except that people saw them as an individual which they could either relate to personally or someone they see as a leader to improve their lives. And that they are men. Women have a much harder row to hoe on these sorts of things and that’s a terrible thing to realize. But in order to actually win a presidential election, the single most important skill is charisma. We need to consider this going forward.

As for looking forward toward 2018 and 2020, I barely know where to start. The Democratic Party doesn’t either. Neither, really, does the left. I do think the left will be OK in terms of being relatively ready to organize resistance. The Democratic Party itself is a disaster. Given that the Trump administration is almost certainly going to be an unmitigated disaster of scandal, corruption, grotesque behavior, militarism, and the decimation of generations of domestic policy, one would like to think that an aggressive left could organize to take back Congress in 2018. After all, winning parties much stronger than this one routinely get their clocks cleaned in the midterms. And maybe that happens. But between increased voter suppression and gerrymandering, Republicans are looking to successfully bake their advantages into the cake for the House. As for the Senate, 2018 was looking tough anyway. Maybe disgust for Trump helps Jon Tester and Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill hold on, but I don’t know where we pick up new seats. Nevada seems to be the only place that Democrats will really have a shot.

And of course the prelims for the 2020 Democratic nomination start now. And who the hell is that going to be? The idea of course was for Hillary to win and then people like Tom Perez and Kirsten Gillibrand start building their name recognition for 2024. But forget that. Bernie Sanders will be very old. Elizabeth Warren will be pretty old too. Maybe one of them can lead the way. They both have very important roles to play right now in bringing the left together. I suspect Cory Booker might be the early frontrunner. He does have the charisma and while he has much to answer for to unions, at this point, winning is going to matter more than anything else.

If you were someone who wanted to “burn it all down,” well, you got your wish. It’s going to take the rest of your lives, if you are lucky, to put it all back together again. It’s going to be an ugly, horrible process with tremendous suffering to real people, probably including you.

More later. Excuse me while I weep for a just America.

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