Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

This Day in Labor History: September 22, 1862

[ 93 ] September 22, 2014 |

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared slaves in all parts of the U.S. in rebellion free on January 1, 1863 if they did not rejoin the United States. While not a complete abolition of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation signaled slavery’s death knell and is one of the most important presidential acts in U.S. history. It also made taking away the labor system that led the South to secede from the Union away from its leaders, undermining the economic stability of an already beleaguered rebellion.

While Lincoln abhorred slavery personally, as president, he was very cautious about acting against it. There were several reasons for this. First, he had campaigned on the idea that slavery was recognized in the Constitution for the states and the real battle was in the territories. Given the intense hatred of Lincoln from the Democrats who were still a real force in many states after 1861, including the political powerhouse of New York, such a reversal of his campaign rhetoric would have been hard to imagine. Second, Lincoln was very nervous about what millions of free blacks would mean for the country. Could they live together in peace? Even into the war, Lincoln was toying with colonization schemes to send slaves back to Africa. Third, Lincoln’s biggest problem other than the rebellion itself was keeping the border states in the Union. Baltimore had to be placed under martial law while Kentucky had “neutrality” that needed to be respected. Freeing the slaves would have just stirred up more anger in those states and perhaps made it impossible to keep them from seceding. Finally, Lincoln consistently deluded himself, to the point of his death, that the majority of the white South really wanted to be part of the Union and so tried to give them incentives to rejoin. Freeing the slaves would have made that impossible.

On the other hand, African-Americans, north and south, knew what the war was about. While many in the North were trying to say it wasn’t about slavery per se, like southern whites, African-Americans never had any question of the stakes. Frederick Douglass and other northern black leaders urged Lincoln to immediately emancipate the slaves and organize black regiments for the Army. Perhaps more importantly, slaves themselves took advantage of nearby U.S. troops, fleeing to the military. Generals such as Benjamin Butler quickly recognized the potential of taking away the South’s labor force and turning that into a Union labor force. But Lincoln, nervous about the effects of making this an official policy on his plans to lure the South back into the Union, originally rejected the idea.

By mid 1862, Lincoln began to change his mind about the expediency of freeing slaves. The situation in the border states was more secure, with the ardent secessionists now significantly outnumbered by unionists. Congress pushed him on this, passing in March 1862 a law barring the military from returning escaped slaves to their owners. Still, Lincoln decided to avoid Congress and issue the proclamation as Commander in Chief, thus avoiding a tense debate and possible rejection. Lincoln wanted a major victory by Union forces before he issued it so it didn’t look desperate. Unfortunately, he had George McClellan as his commanding general, which meant that no major victories was likely. With the partial victory at Antietam a few days earlier as good as Lincoln was going to get, he decided this was the time.

14disunion-img-blog427

Currier and Ives print on Lincoln using the Emancipation Proclamation to crush the rebellion

The Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in areas of the South under rebellion on January 1, 1863. People criticize Lincoln today for the partial nature of the Emancipation Proclamation and for the fact that it provided immediate freedom for no one. For slaves in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, not to mention the subjugated areas of the Confederacy like parts of Tennessee, slavery did not end at the beginning of 1863. The morally pure thing to do was to free all the slaves immediately. Certainly that is what Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison demanded. And yes, it mandated the Union actually win the war for the slaves to be freed instead of freeing the slaves it actually had control over. But the partial nature of the proclamation was political genius. No, it didn’t free anyone. On the other hand, it made the ending of slavery in the Confederacy official federal and military policy. And slavery simply could not survive in Kentucky if it was ended in Mississippi. Plus it gave a moral reason to fight the war, one with increasing importance as soldiers who might have been racist but had never personally witnessed slavery were outraged when they went to the South and saw the horrors of this labor system first hand. When combined with the doctrine of free labor that already drove Republican policy, the eradication of slavery becoming central to the war effort was both morally correct and politically savvy.

It’s not as if word about the Emancipation Proclamation immediately spread around the South. But as rumors leaked out, slaves began fleeing by the thousands to Union lines. By 1865, this would have a severe impact upon the plantation economy. Booker T. Washington remembered the day the Emancipation Proclamation became knowledge at his home:

As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom…. Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.

On the other hand, Democrats were outraged. Horatio Seymour, running for governor of New York and the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 1868, called it, “a proposal for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, and of arson and murder, which would invoke the interference of civilized Europe.” But in fact, Europe largely approved of the move, although the commonly held myth that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to keep Europe from recognizing the Confederacy is significantly overstated and was only a minor factor in its existence or its timing.

By June 1865, 4 million slaves would be free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation.

We see the Emancipation Proclamation as a key moment in the African-American freedom struggle, and for good reason. But it’s also an absolutely central moment in American labor history because it was the decisive moment when the nation officially rejected the system of slave labor that had built so much of the antebellum country.

This is the 118th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Cuban Sci-Fi

[ 256 ] September 20, 2014 |

I dislike science fiction as a genre. While there are a couple of science fiction films I do like, they are not of the norm of the genre (Solaris, La Jetée) and I simply don’t have time for reading science fiction because I find the entire genre uninteresting.

That said, I am very interested in Cuban culture and so this article on science fiction in Cuba is quite interesting and given the interests of many commenters here, I figured it would be a good subject to share on a Saturday night.

Vaccinations

[ 147 ] September 20, 2014 |

It’s amazing how many stupid lies about children’s health parents believe these days. Get your kids vaccinated for christ’s sake.

More on Police Unionism and Police Militarization

[ 47 ] September 20, 2014 |

An interesting conversation developed in my post from a couple of days ago on police unions and militarization. Unfortunately, a lot of it came down to what I see very often, which is people on the left supporting unionism in principle but then, when those workers take a position that these people don’t agree with, stripping them of their bargaining rights becomes the answer. The left appropriating anti-union right-wing rhetoric on workers they don’t like is not a good idea, whether BART strikers in San Francisco or police officers’ unions that take positions today’s progressives don’t like.

Joseph Slater had a couple of comments that I think are an important pushback against these ideas. Slightly edited, I want to present them in a front page post:

As someone who has paid a lot of attention to this area over the past few decades, a few observations.

(1) As Hogan at least implied, barring collective bargaining for police would not get rid of police unions or police union political activity. There is a First Amendment right for police officers (and most other public employees) to form unions and act as political advocates. Indeed, in states which don’t permit police to bargain collectively (and there are a number of those, because the First Amendment right to organize into unions does not extend to a right to bargain collectively), police unions still do lobby, often effectively.

(2) Speaking of the fact that a number of states do not permit police to bargain collectively, opponents of police collective bargaining might want to produce some evidence that police behavior, either on the ground or in politics, is “worse” (by their standards) in states that permit collective bargaining than in states that don’t permit collective bargaining: e.g., that the police in South Carolina and Virginia (where collective bargaining is prohibited) are doing better (by the lights of critics) than the police in Iowa and New Hampshire (where the police have collective bargaining rights). I’m not sure such a case could be made, but if you want to take away collective bargaining rights, you should be able to show how things are better where such rights don’t exist.

(3) The concern that police oppose, say, civilian review boards is addressed in public-sector labor law by consistent rules that limit the scope of bargaining for police about such issues. Public-sector labor laws routinely prohibit police unions from bargaining over civilian review boards, use-of-deadly-force rules, and similar policies that clearly affect the public interest. For example, there is a big case out of California on use-of-deadly-force policies squarely holding that police unions can’t negotiate about that topic.

(4) As others have said, critics of police unions seem to put a lot of faith in police management, which seems oddly misplaced in the context of “use of force” issues. It’s also oddly misplaced in the context of basic worker-rights issues, such as unjust discipline, abuse of overtime, and other basic workers-rights issues.

Bottom line / tl;dnr version: cops have interests *as workers* but society has an interest in restraints on the use of force by officers of the state. Collective-bargaining laws balance these interests by limiting what topics police can bargain about. Also, though, eliminating collective bargaining rights will not eliminate the rights of police officers to form unions and lobby for their goals.

One other point worth mentioning. Per Missouri state law, police unions in that state do *not* have the sorts of collective bargaining rights that police unions in most other states enjoy. So the problems in Ferguson — from over-militarization to plain old excessive force — are not attributable to union collective bargain rights.

I completely agree.

Work and Food Writing

[ 24 ] September 20, 2014 |

So this is kind of an interesting story about a big hop farm in Idaho. I read it because I like beer. But I also read it to see how work is discussed. And of course, it is discussed only in the most passing way. See here:

At the height of the picking season, which starts in September, hundreds of workers tend to the hops. During this year’s harvest, the picking combines and the massive kilns used for drying will operate 24 hours a day. These are boom times and Elk Mountain is thriving.

The farm’s business hasn’t always been so good. Just a couple of years ago, Elk Mountain was in trouble. In the 2000s, a global hop surplus led to brewers such as Anheuser-Busch, which started the farm in 1987, stockpiling excess hop pellets. They simply didn’t need any more hops. In the spring of 2010, Elk Mountain’s farmers had to rip out all but 70 acres of their hops rather than maintain a crop that wouldn’t be used. For people who had spent their whole adult lives growing hops, times were hard. No one had seen this coming.

Hundreds of workers. Who are these workers? Are they hop workers full-time? What are the conditions of labor on this farm? None of this is known. We can assume, and almost certainly correctly, that these are migrant workers, probably undocumented.

Does it matter for a post about a hop farm? Yes and no. The point of the piece is to talk about a giant hop farm. Yet I think it rather unfortunate to talk about workers in food as strictly background characters, effectively machines that we don’t have to think about in the process of creating our beer. But we know almost nothing of the labor that goes into our beer, whether it be Miller or our favorite local microbrew. What that labor looks like, who gets paid what, what the working conditions are in those hop farms and breweries–these are really important questions that need to matter–especially to self-described foodies who hope for some level of sustainable production. For no food system is sustainable that does not treat workers with respect.

Jeter

[ 112 ] September 19, 2014 |

In the wake of the Gatorade ad, this is more my kind of Derek Jeter story.

….From a comment of mine below that explains this:

The point in linking to this was quite simple–an antidote to Jeter-love. Is it crude? Of course. Does it matter in any meaningful way? Of course not. Is it bullshit? Yeah, sure. Is it beneath me? Nothing is beneath me. That should be perfectly clear in September 2014.

On the other hand, it is also part of a larger project I think is important–which is to crush the idea of heroism, something that has never served a society well. Now, Derek Jeter, a marginal to slightly above average HOF shortstop is hardly the worst case of this. It’s hardly his fault after all. But the absurdity of Jeter-love this year, personified in that ridiculous Gatorade ad but infecting the entire season, is something that has tried to place him as almost super-human, a personification of what generations have wanted baseball players to be. So to bring that down to earth a bit, well, that’s what I am doing here.

Organized Labor and Police Militarization

[ 76 ] September 18, 2014 |

The AFL-CIO has come out pretty strongly against police militarization. Most of the unions seem fine with this. There is of course one major exception: The International Union of Police Associations. The IUPA is bickering a bit with AFL-CIO leadership over it.

And you know what? That’s fine. It’s the job of the IUPA to defend the interests of its members. In this case, that’s probably to have ridiculous armor and weapons. But it is the interest of the AFL-CIO to defend the American working class. Many of its unions are made up of the African-Americans and Latinos victimized by police violence. But the IUPA is doing its job here. We can choose to ignore it or oppose their position. I certainly am. But it’s OK that it holds that position. It is representing its members.

Cerro Rico

[ 29 ] September 18, 2014 |

The Cerro Rico silver mine in Potosí, Bolivia was the source of much Spanish wealth after the brutal colonization of the Americas. Although the Incas engaged in some small-scale mining there, the Spanish opened the modern mine in 1545, using it as one of their prime sources of money to kill Protestants in Europe. The Spanish enslaved indigenous labor to work the mine, as it did throughout its colonies. The mine was incredibly rich, making Potosi one of the largest cities in the world by the late 16th century. It was also mined under brutal conditions, with workers dying like flies. Once the silver was mined, it had to be separated from the rock. This was done through the use of mercury. That took a whole other mine, the Huancavélica mine in Peru. The Spanish enslaved indigenous people for that one too. Conditions in that mine were so bad, with people dying of mercury poisoning all the time, that parents would disable their kids to keep them out of mines. People would ingest so much mercury that upon their death, the Spanish would cut open their feet and drain the mercury out of them.

1024px-Cerro_ricco

Eventually, the good silver deposits were mined out and the mine went into decline. But it is still mined today by the indigenous people of Bolivia, taking out the last dregs of silver. Young boys go into the mines around the age of 15 and continue working as long as they can before the sicknesses of mine work force them out, often in their late 30s or early 40s. After the silver corporations pulled out in the 1980s, cooperatives took over and there’s no regulation of the mine, meaning conditions are not much better than they were 400 years ago.

How do I know all of this? Well, you can simply go into Cerro Gordo. I was in Bolivia in 2008. And I went into the mine. The miners are happy to show you around. But it is hardcore. This is no tour for most tourists. You want in the mine, you’d better be prepared to drag yourself up the logs the miners use to get in and out of the mine. You had better enjoy breathing in the disease inducing dust that kills these people from silicosis. In this photo of mine, you can see the killer dust in the air.

DSC02662

I was coughing up dust for a day after just 90 minutes underground. Safety precautions for the gueros? Uh, no. The price of admission is cheap–a few bucks and buying some coca leaves and dynamite for the miners.

DSC02647

This was an amazing and horrifying experience. You walk through the tunnel leading into the mine–the same tunnel the Spanish drove the Inca into beginning in 1545 (at least they provide the tourists helmets, otherwise I would be dead from the 4000 times I whacked my head trying to get into it). And you enter into the hellish underworld of an actual working mine where the workers aren’t even trying to hide their poverty and short life spans. But what else do they have? Bolivia is a very poor country. There aren’t other jobs in the region. Potosí is in the desert at 13,000 feet. Other options are basically nonexistent. I have seen sulfur miners at work in Indonesia and that was a bit horrifying to watch, but this was as close to truly brutal work–the kind of work you just don’t really see much in the U.S. these days, although very much the kind of work foreign workers do to serve the needs of American consumers–as I’ve ever been. You can see the processing of the silver as well, which includes open vats of mercury. I could have stuck my hand right down in it had I wanted, as you can see from my photo above. At the end of the whole experience, they take you outside to blow up some dynamite. Which, well, why not.

Today, the mine is actually collapsing at the top from nearly five hundred years of tunnels and explosions
. These people, proud of the work even as they know it kills them, don’t want it to close. But if it doesn’t, potentially hundreds of people will die. It’s a terrible situation. But these people need work and it’s hard to blame them for resisting, even though it may cost their lives. It’s just horrible all the way around–a legacy of colonialism, a challenge of fighting poverty in the present.

On Creeks

[ 53 ] September 17, 2014 |

We drive over little creeks all the time. They don’t register in our consciousness except maybe that the bridge is a bit narrower than the rest of the road. But those creeks and the plants along them, even in urban areas where you have high rates of pollution and too little protection for riparian zones, are actually incredibly ecologically important and very rich in wildlife. Yeah, you aren’t going to see a bear or elk along them so they might not get your attention, but snails, small fish, dragonflies, and songbirds are critical for ecosystem health.

Creeks are really important and we should take them more seriously!

Today in the Horrors of Child Abuse

[ 223 ] September 17, 2014 |

Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush talks about “harshly disciplining” his 1 year old daughter.

And no, this is not just an NFL thing
.

…Bush now claims (per update at above link) that this he does not hit his daughter. But the original language leaves me very skeptical of that claim that could easily be made for PR purposes. When one says, “I definitely will try to obviously not leave bruises or anything like that on her, but I definitely will discipline her, harshly, depending on what the situation is” there is no other real way to interpret that statement.

Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson
:

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson called Peterson’s situation “unfortunate” but that he will still discipline his kids.

“Knowing when, how to discipline your kids. This whole situation, you know, it’s very unfortunate,” Johnson said. “Then you have pictures come out which made it even worse. I’m going to discipline my kids, you know, and can’t nobody tell me how to discipline my kids.

“Like I said, that’s not my situation right now. My situation would be private. It’s not a public matter when you discipline your family but unfortunately for him, it had become that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with disciplining your child. It teaches them discipline at the same time.”

Johnson did not indicate how he disciplines any current or future children, but said he felt child discipline should be private. He felt differently about domestic abuse.

“There are some things that just shouldn’t be done,” Johnson said. ” You shouldn’t put your hands on a woman, simple as that. Talking about Adrian and going from that to the domestic cases that we have are two totally different things to me.”

Yeah, no. The two things might have some differences, but they are both physical abuse.

….Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer arrested for domestic violence this afternoon. Of course, unlike the 49ers and Ray McDonald, Dwyer isn’t good enough for the team to ignore this, so they will probably cut him.

The ISIS Conundrum

[ 102 ] September 17, 2014 |

Lance Mannion has a very thoughtful essay on the difficulties of being a liberal trying to figure out what to do about ISIS. Read it. I agree with it. I have no idea what to do either. Nothing is probably a terrible idea. So is something. Whatever that something is.

Huge Labor Victory in the South

[ 9 ] September 16, 2014 |

This is a major win for labor:

9,000 American Airlines passenger service agents, after a 19-year struggle, joined together today in a vote with the members of the US Airways CWA-IBT Association to form a new bargaining unit of 14,500 agents at American Airlines. It is the largest labor organizing victory in the South in decades.

Three-quarters of the agents work in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona and 2,300 are home-based reservations agents.

By an 86 percent vote, airport and reservations agents overwhelmingly chose representation by the Communications Workers of America-Teamsters Association in the National Mediation Board election; results of the vote were announced this afternoon. US Airways and American Airlines merged to form the New American Airlines in 2013.

The vote clearly shows that workers who can make a fair choice about union representation want bargaining rights. New American agents are concentrated in southern states, and work at diverse locations, including large and smaller airports, call centers and at home. Across every group, they voted for bargaining rights and union representation.

That the addition of 9000 members would be the largest labor advance in the South in decades is depressing, but such is the reality of modern America. This is a big victory and hopefully can lead to more.

Page 1 of 25312345102030...Last »