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Workplace Safety

[ 23 ] February 9, 2015 |

One of things that drives me really crazy is when people talk about unions only in terms of financial gain. While workers (or anyone) will never turn down more money, unions are not primarily about money. They are about dignity on the job and worker power to have a say in their work life. To achieve that dignity and that voice, workers may very well want higher wages. But they may also want shorter hours, better equipment, a break for lunch, not to have to provide their own clothing or safety equipment, and an end to arbitrary firings, just to name a few of the issues workers have fought for in the past and/or fight for in the present.

Central to these demands is workplace safety. The United Steelworkers went on strike last week against the oil industry, in large part over workplace safety issues. Steelworkers president Leo Gerard:

In Anacortes, Wash., last week, approximately 200 Tesoro workers began picketing the oil refinery where an explosion incinerated seven of their co-workers five years earlier.

Butch Cleve walks that picket line, serving now as strike captain for the USW local union at Tesoro. On the day of the catastrophe in 2010, Cleve walked the coroner to the shrouded bodies of three of his friends.

Steve Garey, who helped make the decision to strike as a member of the USW’s oil bargaining policy committee, wept repeatedly that April day five years ago as he told the relatives of his dead friends that their loved ones would never come home.

Kim Nibarger, a USW health and safety specialist, suffered flashbacks of an earlier blast as he investigated the one at Tesoro. He was an operator in 1998 at the refinery adjacent to Tesoro in Anacortes when a massive detonation instantly cremated six of his co-workers.

The Tesoro strikers are among more than 5,000 USW members nationwide on unfair labor practice strikes demanding corporations respect their bargaining rights and the rights of workers and communities to safety.

Over the past two negotiation cycles, the USW’s 30,000 refinery and chemical workers struggled to persuade their highly profitable employers to include strong safety language in the collective bargaining agreements. The deaths at Tesoro, as well as fatalities, injuries, explosions, fires and toxic releases at other plants nationwide since then, demonstrate that the measures didn’t go far enough. Now refinery and chemical workers are trying to increase the odds that they aren’t killed at work and that their communities aren’t engulfed in flames or fumes.

No one cares more about workplace safety than unions. Sometimes, unions care more about workplace safety than the workers themselves, as at times work cultures develop that connect masculinity, tradition, and workplace danger in what can be a toxic combination that creates tensions between union safety officers and the rank and file. When unions and workers are on the same page though, it can create a powerful motivation for workplace action, including strikes. With the oil industry so dangerous, the need for action is very real. Hopefully, this strike and the bad publicity the oil industry so wants to avoid will force the companies to make concessions that make work safe.


The NFL’s Systemic Homophobia

[ 25 ] February 9, 2015 |

There is no excuse other than homophobia for why Michael Sam is getting shut out of the NFL.

Jim Caldwell Disapproves

[ 24 ] February 8, 2015 |

What a blow to old-school football, where 18 yard field goals and punting on 4th & 1 from the 40 are manly traditions:

After the Packers lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, head coach Mike McCarthy said he was unaware that linebacker Clay Matthews was dealing with an injury in the second half of the game because he was focused on calling the plays for the offense.

McCarthy may not have that issue to deal with again in 2015. Chris Havel of WDUZ in Green Bay is reporting that the Packers will promote offensive coordinator Tom Clements to associate head coach and give him the play calling responsibilities while also moving Edgar Bennett from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator.

Let’s just hope Clements holds to real man football and avoids going for a 4th down all season.

When Are The Coen Brothers Directing a Biopic of Jay Lovestone?

[ 43 ] February 8, 2015 |

Following up on news of Steve McQueen directing a biopic of Paul Robeson, it seems Raoul Peck will be directing The Young Karl Marx, depicting the friendship between Marx and Engels. Quite a heady time for film adaptations of leftists.

Stupid or Dishonest

[ 73 ] February 8, 2015 |

Tucker Carlson may be the dumbest person in the United States. Or maybe he is just dishonest.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Sunday declared that all slavery in the world had been eradicated thanks to the Christian faith.

At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, conservatives accused President Barack Obama of comparing Christianity to the Islamic terrorist group ISIS when he observed that many religions had been used to justify violence throughout history.

“So we’re responsible for the Crusades a thousand years ago?” Carlson complained. “Who’s ‘us’ anyway? And by the way, who ended slavery and Jim Crow? Christians. The Rev. Martin Luther King. Christians.”

“Christianity is the reason we don’t have slavery in the world today,” he added. “I mean, talk about ahistorical.”

Good thing none of those slaveholders were Christian. Because there’s no way that Christians would hold slaves or create a Christian doctrine around defending slavery.

While countless Union soldiers and northern civilians depended on theological narratives to sustain them, a providential view of history particularly influenced how Southerners reacted to and interpreted the events of the war. After all, the preamble to the Confederate constitution, unlike the federal one it replaced, explicitly invoked “the favor and guidance of Almighty God.” They were, Southerners believed, a people chosen by God to manifest His will on earth. “We are working out a great thought of God,” declared the South Carolina Episcopal theologian James Warley Miles, “namely the higher development of Humanity in its capacity for Constitutional Liberty.”

Miles held, though, that divine mandate extended beyond simply the Confederate interpretation of states’ rights, and that Southerners were bound by the Bible to seek more than merely “a selfish independence.” The Confederacy must “exhibit to the world that supremest effort of humanity” in creating and defending a society built upon obedience to biblical prescriptions regarding slavery, a society “sanctified by the divine spirit of Christianity.” In short, as the Episcopal Church in Virginia stated soon after the war began, Southerners were fighting “a Revolution, ecclesiastical as well as civil.” This would be a revolution that aimed to establish nothing less than, in the words of one Georgia woman, “the final and universal spread of Gospel civilization.”

This “Gospel civilization,” many believed, didn’t just permit slavery — it required it. Christians across the Confederacy were convinced that they were called not only to perpetuate slavery but also to “perfect” it. And they understood the Bible to provide clear moral guidelines on how to properly practice it. The Old Testament patriarchs owned slaves, Jewish law clearly assumed its permissibility and the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters repeatedly compelled slaves to be obedient and loyal to their masters. Above all, as Southerners never tired of pointing out to their abolitionist foes, the Gospels fail to record any condemnation of the practice by Jesus Christ.

There is consequently a fascinating, if unsettling, paradox in the efforts of slaveholders to fulfill what they considered divinely imposed duties toward their slaves. Southern Christians believed that the Bible imposed on masters a host of obligations to their slaves. Most fundamentally, masters were to view slaves as fully members of their own households and as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. Therefore, as the South Carolina Methodist Conference declared before the war, masters sinned against their slaves by “excessive labor, extreme punishment, withholding necessary food and clothing, neglect in sickness or old age, and the like.”

Of course, like everything else in Christianity, slaveowners decided for themselves to what extent they would adhere to this ideology, so throwing an old slave out into the swamps to die or beating a slave to death, well, these things just happen. Praise Jesus.

Can Anyone Save the Labor Movement?

[ 36 ] February 7, 2015 |

Amy Dean’s profile of AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka is excellent and well worth your time.

I am skeptical of the framing of this issue as “Can Richard Trumka Save the Labor Movement?” (and to be fair, the framing is in the title, which Dean almost certainly didn’t write) because, as is so common when talking about organized labor, unions themselves get the blame for their own decline. Even if we grant that unions made a lot of mistakes in the second half of the twentieth century and are large, cumbersome, hide-bound organizations that struggle to adjust to new conditions, the problem organized labor faces is structural. At best, unions’ own mistakes are the 4th or 5th largest reason for their decline. These mistakes are less significant than what has really eliminated union jobs–capital mobility, the organized corporate movement after the Powell Memo, mechanization, outsourcing, free trade agreements. Yet even within the labor movement (especially those who want to see labor reformed from inside) usually these conversations come down to what the labor movement did wrong instead of the structural problems making it nearly impossible to organize successfully.

Overall, Trumka is probably the most progressive AFL or AFL-CIO leader in history. If you consider the competition–Sam Gompers, William Green, George Meany, Lane Kirkland–Trumka clears a not very high bar. If you include the CIO leaders in this list, that adds John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, and Walter Reuther. Given how Lewis turned on the whole New Deal and mostly supported Republicans his whole life, it’s hard to call him to the left of Trumka. One can certainly make the argument for Murray and Reuther, but they operated in such different times with such different union membership, that the comparisons begin to lose meaning. Trumka’s predecessor John Sweeney was a key transitional figure from the bad old AFL-CIO to an organization that was going to try and push the agenda, but Trumka is probably more successful. And one has to consider as well that Trumka is the head of a federation whose most left-leaning unions have been decimated by job losses, leaving mostly the old craft unions and public sector unions as the core of the organization. But with SEIU leaving the AFL-CIO, that only leaves AFSCME as a major force to counter the politically conservative and organizing and alliance-building adverse craft unions. What’s left of the UAW and United Steelworkers may help, as well as UFCW and some smaller unions, but Trumka is pulling the AFL-CIO to the left in an atmosphere where the overall political center of American union leaders is not moving to the left.

I largely consider what Trumka is doing to be good. His attempts to connect labor to more progressive movements is a key step in building cross-movement solidarity that all movements need in this age where corporate capital controls American politics to an extent we haven’t seen in an century. His work has helped put organized labor at the forefront of a pro-immigrant agenda, a remarkable step for a movement traditionally hostile to immigrants. But it’s really hard to build effective coalitions when your movement is really a coalition of its own, as we’ve seen over Keystone where you have the Laborers’ union openly hostile to any work with environmentalists, including openly attacking unions that are building those bridges. Remember, Trumka is the head of a diverse federation. He’s no dictator. So he has to drag a lot of unions along kicking and screaming (or others that are weighed down by inertia and indifference) to most of these advances.

I don’t know what will save the labor movement. I don’t think Trumka could do too much more than he is already doing. But there is no one thing or one person that will save it. It’s going to take a reshaping of the structures of work and trade agreements and legal regimes and regulatory frameworks and, yes, unions themselves in order to make that happen.

Immunity for Politicians!

[ 32 ] February 7, 2015 |

I see the politicians of states ranging from Louisiana and New York to Rhode Island and Illinois rallying around this Oklahoma proposal:

A new bill proposed by Oklahoma State Representative Kevin Calvey (R) would prohibit district attorneys from prosecuting state elected officials, legislators, district court and appellate judges, and appointees to state commissions for public crimes, The Oklahoman reported.

Naturally, Oklahoma DAs are outraged.

“It’s a big deal to me. I’m upset and concerned,” said Oklahoma County DA David Prater. “This bill creates a different class of citizens that would be protected from the normal prosecution process.” Prater also questioned whether or not the bill is “retaliation” for his prosecution of state legislators, a judge, and members of the Pardon and Parole Board.

Calvey, however, said the bill is a result of the “malicious prosecution” of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry over allegations of his abuse of power, not because of anything that has happened in Oklahoma, calling the case a “witch hunt by a local prosecutor.”

It’s hard to see how effectively decriminalizing bribery and graft for politicians could possibly go wrong.

On Racist Monuments

[ 52 ] February 6, 2015 |

The question with what to do with racist monuments is a difficult one. I can certainly understand the desire to change or erase them. If I am a member of a traditionally oppressed group and I saw words like “colored” or “savage” every time I looked at a monument, I would be pretty mad about it too. As a historian, I can also certainly understand why people would want to keep those monuments up and interpret them and remember that America has a racism problem rather than erase that past. I’m definitely not sure the latter concern trumps the former.

Opposition to Teach for America Having Effect

[ 19 ] February 6, 2015 |

Great to see students begin to realize that Teach for America is a way to bust teachers’ unions while placing young people in teaching situations that are way over their head. The anti-TFA movement is beginning to have a real effect.

Net Neutrality

[ 30 ] February 6, 2015 |

Especially considering its importance to the life of everyone who reads this blog, net neutrality has been one of the quietest issues of our time. The fact that in the New Gilded Age, this age of privatizing public goods, something as vital as the internet was declared a public utility is pretty huge win.

Where Are My Children

[ 10 ] February 5, 2015 |

In class today, I was very pleased to expose another classroom of students to the amazing film Where Are My Children, from 1916. This pro-birth control, anti-abortion film (the two issues are connected through the lovely topic of eugenic marriages) is basically amazing, filled with all sorts of commentary about sexuality and women in the 1910s. From the acting (not only the crazy dramatic posing of the silent film but Tyrone Power–Senior!!!) to the ways that hats are used to signify the selfish frivolity of middle class women who use illegal abortion as birth control rather than breed at their husband’s will to the entire set of scenes where the wife’s brother seduces the housekeeper’s daughter, gets her pregnant, and then she dies in a botched abortion to the insane domestic violence in the slums scene, this is one jaw-dropping 65 minutes of silent film. I have been a loud advocate of this film for years. And it is available on YouTube and you should watch it. Because it makes me happy with Progressive Era weirdness.

No Snuggling!

[ 48 ] February 4, 2015 |

Who needs to hear advice from 1914 on how young girls can ensure they are not induced into the horrors of *gasp* lesbianism?

Well, probably nobody needs to hear it but I am going to warn you anyway. Because I am concerned about moral purity. I also assigned it to my students to read for tomorrow.

Avoid girls who are too affectionate and demonstrative in their manner of talking and acting with you; who are inclined to admire your figure and breast development; who are inclined to be just a little too familiar in their actions toward you; who are inclined to be rather free and careless in the display of themselves in your presence; who press upon you too earnestly invitations to remain at their homes all night, and to occupy the same bed they do. When sleeping in the same bed with another girl, old or young, avoid “snuggling up” close together. Avoid the touching of sexual parts, including the breasts, and, in fact, I might say avoid contact of any parts of the body at all. Keep your night robe about you so that you are as well protected from outside contact as its size will permit, and let your conversation be of other topics than sexuality. Do not lie in each other’s arms when awake or falling asleep; and, after going to bed, if you are sleeping alone or with others, just bear in mind that beds are sleeping places. When you go to bed, go to sleep just as quickly as you can. If possible, avoid sleeping with anyone else. It is more healthful and sanitary to sleep in a separate bed . . . certain diseases, both those affecting the genital organs and others, are often conveyed through contaminated bed clothes, body contact, the breath, etc. You can see for yourselves, therefore, that separate beds are good for more reasons than one. . . .

Some girls are low enough to accept pay for bringing about the moral ruin of members of their sex; . . . they are to be found everywhere, in the smallest village as well as in the largest town. Girls who have become discontented with their lot are easily influenced by the sweet, honeyed lies of these vile creatures. Beware of strange women, as well as of strange men, who seek to shower favors and other things upon you for no apparent reason except that they are strangely attracted to you. If you do not, you will live to regret it. Thousands of your sex already have, and lie in nameless graves away from home, most likely in a pauper’s burying-ground, because they had become so degraded in name and fact as to be lost to “the old folks at home.”

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