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The Ludlow Centenary

[ 14 ] April 16, 2014 |

ludlow-camp-attacked

Next week will mark the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. While it seems like a long time ago, in the New Gilded Age, it remains disturbingly relevant because the conditions that created such horrors in 1914 are returning to the United States of 2014. The historian Thai Jones gives an overview of the event and closes with this:

Observing from the vantage point of a half-century later, Howard Zinn saw two ways of understanding Ludlow. “If it is read narrowly, as an incident in the history of the trade union movement and the coal industry,” he wrote, “then it is an angry splotch in the past, fading rapidly amidst new events.” A second, more expansive view, he believed, revealed the true significance of the events of 1914: “If it is read as a commentary on a larger question—the relationship of government to corporate power and of both to movements of social protest—then we are dealing with the present.”

The export of manufacturing jobs abroad has produced an undoing of memory. Today, the nation is divided by the kind of severe income disparities last seen during the Gilded Age, and yet the traditions of labor militancy and resistance to corporate ferocity that flowered in the era of heavy industry have been largely forgotten by both workers and employers. But Ludlow is the terminus of capitalism’s regressive path. If our future is shaped by the further degradation of labor rights, there can only be more massacres and new monuments.

Indeed.

Climate Change and Today’s Weather

[ 37 ] April 16, 2014 |

The evidence connecting climate change to specific weather events continues to grow, as this NASA run-down of research on the California drought demonstrates (PDF).

Stereotypes about Americans are All True

[ 66 ] April 16, 2014 |

I’m sure this story about an Oklahoma gun range that wants a liquor license doesn’t reinforce what the world thinks about Americans:

From movie theaters to bowling alleys to golf clubs, consumers are accustomed to destinations that come with a full restaurant and bar.
But what about a gun range?

A new Metro business, slated to open this spring, is taking the steps needed to serve liquor on-site.

Owners say the state-of-the art indoor gun range will make history in Oklahoma, although across the country the concept is not new.

At 40,000 square feet co-owner Jeff Swanson says Wilshire Gun will be a full-fledged destination.

“As a group we wanted to build a place, the first one in Oklahoma, where you could go in, shoot, enjoy the retail area and then go to the café,” he said.

The plan calls for 24 firearm lanes, 10 archery lanes, a simulation room, classrooms, and VIP Lounge.

But it’s the cafe that’s raising some eyebrows. Swanson says they want to serve food and alcohol.

“I’ve not seen a business that does the firearms that has a liquor license,” said ABLE Commission spokesperson Capt. Brent Fairchild, “but it’s possible that if they apply they could be the first one.”

Folks with the range insist it can be done safely. They say they’re working with several ranges from California to Texas who have never had a problem.

They just have to ensure folks shoot, then drink, and not the other way around.

It’s impossible to see what could go wrong. On the other hand, it does seem like a likely place for Oklahoma to move their state capitol.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 324 ] April 15, 2014 |

Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin, for signing a bill outlawing local communities from raising the minimum wage.

Microbreweries and Teamsters

[ 124 ] April 14, 2014 |

A bit of a kerfuffle in Minnesota between microbrewers and the Teamsters.

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bill that would allow limited Sunday sales of alcohol in Minnesota is in jeopardy.

Backers of a bill that would allow liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sundays have been rebuffed at the State Capitol for years. So this year, they considered it a victory that even a tiny Sunday sales provision was included in the overall liquor bill.

The measure, which would allow craft beer taprooms to sell growlers (refillable containers that hold half a gallon) on Sundays, sailed through legislative committees. But in recent days the bill has stalled in the Senate Tax Committee. The roadblock? The powerful Teamsters Union.

Teamster’s Union political director Ed Reynoso said the union started lobbying against Sunday growler sales after he learned a company that distributes alcohol and employs members of the union suggested the law would allow them to reopen their labor contracts because of it. He said the union wants to avoid that because it could mean wages, benefits and work hours could all be back on the table.

“As soon as we had an employer raise the potential that they were going to ask for a reopener, I reached out to leadership, I reached out to the Senate Committee chair,” Reynoso said. “I notified them of our objections and our concerns.”

The microbrewers are angry:

The issue is frustrating to members of the Minnesota Beer Activists, who have lobbied for ending the state’s ban on Sunday liquor store sales. The group’s director, Andrew Schmitt, said he thought allowing growler sales was a compromise.

“We’re not going to see any progress and who comes out ahead on that? It’s the Teamsters and it’s only the Teamsters,” Schmitt said. “They have protection for their concerns and the brewers aren’t going to get anything addressed and the consumers aren’t going to get their needs addressed and the Teamsters have essentially killed the bill.”

Well, the bill isn’t exactly dead yet and it’s far from clear in the story that the Teamsters have the power to do so. Could be used an excuse by politicians who don’t want to pass the bill anyway. But if companies are using this as a way to reopen contract and bust unions, then that’s an excellent reason for the Teamsters to oppose this bill. In fact, that’s exactly what a union is supposed to do. Now, it would be nice to know who this company is and what they are saying, something the report evidently couldn’t find out. It would also be useful if the brewers and the Teamsters could reach out to each other and talk this through (admittedly, making alliances has never been a priority of the Teamsters). The brewers should also come out in favor of strong union contracts and oppose anyone seeking to reopen contracts. But that’s evidently not something they have thought about.

“He Was No Sinner in His Own Eyes”

[ 48 ] April 14, 2014 |

The Economist has an excellent remembrance of Charles Keating, anti-obscenity advocate in all its forms–pornography and federal regulation of the financial industry.

Crusader and snake-oil salesman were hard to reconcile. Perhaps it all sprang from having an invalid father, too weak to steer him. Perhaps it came from spending years in navy training in the war, but never fighting. A bronze plaque on his desk declared that “A man can do no wrong if he always rides to the sound of the guns.” His energy and arrogance seemed to fire off wildly in dozens of different directions.

For him, however, there was no contradiction. He fought scum in all its forms. For him, federal regulation too was an obscenity. When the savings-and-loans industry was deregulated in 1982, it was allowed to take risks with investments. That was what he did with Lincoln, quintupling its worth in four years. Then in 1985 the rules tightened again. At that point the regulators—some of them homos, all of them evil—launched a vendetta against him. The practitioners of yellow journalism followed.

He was no sinner in his own eyes. “Martyr” and “scapegoat” were more like it. He was running a dynamic enterprise that was bound to recover when the market perked up. If Washington had let him alone, the Lincoln investors “would all be rich”. Besides, in the far worse financial scandals of 2008-09, no one went to jail.

By the way, when Keating died, did the Sunday talk shows have John McCain to talk about it? Unlike McCain’s usual blather, he actually knows what’s he talking about when it comes to Keating.

This Day in Labor History: April 14, 1975

[ 36 ] April 14, 2014 |

On April 14, 1975, the Bunker Hill Mining Company in Kellogg, Idaho announced a new policy in response to worries about female workers suffering reproductive problems due to lead exposure. The company decided to require sterilization of all women working in its smelter. This was a landmark moment in the history of women working in dangerous labor, particularly in traditionally all-male industries like mining.

Bunker Hill was founded in the late 1890s and became one of the nation’s largest producers of lead and zinc. Until 1943, women were not allowed to work in the lead smelter. That changed briefly because of World War II, but they were again banned in 1946. In the 1970s, Bunker Hill employed around 1600 people. Of them, nearly 100 were women. 22 worked in the lead smelter area. By the 1970s, Americans’ concern over lead poisoning, both on the job and in the nation at large had grown significantly. The nation was moving toward banning leaded gasoline and both environmentalists and some labor unions fought for greater restrictions on the exposure of working people to all sorts of toxic materials, especially lead.

Bunker Hill was a union mine, its workers represented by the United Steelworkers of America. But the USWA was not particularly comfortable with female members. In 1973, the EEOC, Department of Labor, and Department of Justice filed suit against the nation’s 9 largest steel companies and the USWA, charging them with discriminatory hiring practices that extended through the mills. That the union was at fault too is depressing, but on target with a lot of organized labor in traditionally male physically challenging work at this time. The settlement agreed to give $31 million in back pay to 40,000 women and minorities in the mills and to set hiring goals of 25% of supervisory positions and 50% of craft jobs going to women or minorities. Neither the union nor the companies really wanted this to happen. But the EEOC settlement reopened the lead smelter to women.

Bunker Hill’s response to the EEOC suit was to cloak itself in a fetal rights argument, simply banning most women from the job. The company stated publicly that it “is willing to be criticized for not employing some women–but not for causing birth effects.” What it was not willing to do was to limit exposure of all workers to lead. Effectively, Bunker Hill decided to define women primarily as childbearers and operate accordingly. But as ACLU lawyer Joan Bertin stated, the real reason was that companies didn’t want women working in these jobs because of beliefs they were less efficient and argued, “The price of safety cannot be the loss of civil and constitutional rights.”

Thus if women wanted to work in the lead smelter, they could. But the company wanted no responsibility for the poison the women would ingest. So they had to be sterilized. 29 women refused and were transferred to safer work that paid significantly less and reinforced the gender norms in the mill. At least three women did receive sterilization in order to keep their jobs.

The women at Bunker Hill turned to their union for help. The USWA refused to get involved. It said the fight would be too expensive. It claimed that fighting this would cause more problems for women throughout the steel industry. It also worried for the future of the mill as the industry was already declining in the United States.

The women then went to the Idaho Human Rights Commission. It developed a compromise allowing women to be paid the same rates as if they worked at the smelter. Both the company and women rejected this idea; the company because of the cost, the workers for the principle. The women then filed a suit with the EEOC in January 1976. EEOC endorsed the same compromise as the IHRC.

Too many unionists did not care much about this case, including USWA officials. On the other hand, Tony Mazzocchi, safety director for the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers and the most important figure in the union environmentalism of the 1970s and early 1980s, stated bluntly, “Ultimately, it will be quite clear that women and men alike suffer from exposure to lead and other toxic chemicals. When that happens, the industry initiative may be to have men sterilized. We will then enter the age of the neutered worker.”

OSHA stepped into this debate. President Carter’s OSHA was Eula Bingham, and as an advocate for both feminism as well as women’s rights, Bingham was furious at Bunker Hill’s sterilization policy. As she noted, no one suggested men should be banned from workplaces where toxic exposure might lead to their sterilization. It’s also likely that OSHA wanted to use Bunker Hill as an example in order to get companies to comply with its stricter national lead standard. In 1980, OSHA filed suit, fining Bunker Hill $82,000 for 108 occupational safety and health violations, including $10,000 for the sterilization policy. But after Reagan took the presidency in 1981, OSHA dropped the case. Reagan’s OSHA already stopped referring to it as a “sterilization policy,” instead calling it an “exclusionary policy,” a significant rhetorical move.

But even before Bingham became involved in fighting the broader problem of discrimination based upon defining women as childbearers, the Idaho women had accepted defeat. The EEOC offered the same compromise as the Idaho Human Rights Commission. The women accepted their higher wages, but future women would not have the opportunity for those high-paying jobs. Within weeks, companies including Union Carbide, Dow Chemical, Firestone, General Motors, and AT&T all instituted similar programs that effectively excluded women from high-paying, dangerous work.

In the end, the women believed they had been victimized not only by their employer but by the USWA and the government. The union had done basically nothing for them. The EEOC did not want to get involved. Women in other dangerous trades would have to continue fighting for equal access to work, a fight that would continue well into the 1980s.

In 1979, the Labor Occupational Health Program made a film about lead exposure featuring this struggle. You can watch a chunk of it here. Pretty good stuff.

Although it is mentioned in several places, I don’t think there is a complete scholarly discussion of this event. I relied in part on Sara Dubow, Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America, which discusses the case for a few pages.

This is the 103rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Sagebrush Rebellion Returns

[ 358 ] April 13, 2014 |

The Sagebrush Rebellion is alive and well among yahoo western ranchers who rely on the federal government to survive but resent its presence when it does anything but facilitate private interests.

Fearing for their safety as armed protesters gathered in the Nevada back country, federal officials on Saturday suddenly ended a controversial effort to seize hundreds of cattle that a rancher has kept illegally on public land.

The cattle ranch’s owner, Cliven Bundy, and hundreds of armed supporters had threatened to forcefully keep Bureau of Land Management employees from rounding up the approximately 900 cattle. Nearly 400 of the cattle had been seized during the past week. They were being held nearby and could be sent to Utah, authorities said.

In a meeting Saturday, Bundy urged Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie to seize the federal officials’ weapons and bring them back to the rancher. The demand coincided with the sheriff, who’s sought to avoid bloodshed, reading a news release from the BLM to a jubilant crowd gathered near Bundy’s ranch.

Of course, the problem here is quite simple. This guy won’t pay his grazing fees. He owes $1 million but refused to recognize the Bureau of Land Management as a legitimate government agency. Creating a version of western history Jim DeMint would be proud to own if he cared about the West, Bundy claims his family’s claims existed before the BLM or the Endangered Species Act (part of the issue here is the desert tortoise). Well, sure, but it’s not like the land wasn’t still owned by the federal government before the BLM’s creation! And it’s not like environmental legislation only gets applied to land not used by ranchers before 1970.

The Sagebrush Rebellion, for those of you not familiar with western land management history, was an astroturf roots movement of rich western ranchers, mine owners, and timber operators in the late 1970s and early 1980s against a federal government enforcing the environmental legislation passed by Congress. Western resource interests have never much cared for democracy and so revolted by engaging in some stupid actions like blocking Forest Service roads and the like. They had a champion in the Reagan Administration, especially the era of James Watt as Secretary of the Interior. Getting Carter out of office kind of ended the organized “movement,” but occasionally this sentiment pops up like it has this weekend. In the overheated right-wing rhetoric of today, what with the Muslim black president and all, morons have come out to support the rancher, leading to real fear among the government officials enforcing the law.

But we all know that law is for the brown people to follow. Old white conservatives, they dictate to the law, which is after all represented by jackbooted government thugs in black helicopters directed by Obama from his personal terrorist cell in Yemen.

High Country News typically provides some of the best work on this iss
ue.

LIUNA

[ 29 ] April 13, 2014 |

The Laborers’ Union continues to burn every bridge with other progressive communities with a napalm air strike:

A letter distributed Friday by the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) to the districts of 27 House Democrats calls for union members to make sure their representative “feels the power and the fury of LIUNA this November.”

Their crime: signing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last month urging him to reject Keystone, which would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

“Your member of Congress is trying to destroy job opportunities for our LIUNA brothers and sisters,” said the letter signed by Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of LIUNA.

“For every action, there is a reaction, and our reaction to this frontal assault on our way of life needs to be loud and clear. If you do not stand with us, we sure as hell will not stand with you,” O’Sullivan wrote, noting the jobs Keystone would create for union members.

While I’m sure LIUNA does not have the power to make anyone suffer, especially since most of these targeted representatives have the support of far larger unions like SEIU and AFSCME, unions it should be said who see value in not making other Democrats hate them for supporting climate change creating projects, it’s still unfortunate to say the least. As I’ve said before, I completely understand LIUNA supporting the project for their own members. What I don’t get is the aggression that represents something far more than the relatively few jobs it will get from the pipeline. This is the kind of cultural warfare the Carpenters used in the Northwest during the ancient forest campaigns in the Northwest in the 80s and 90s. The hippie enviros are an existential threat far beyond Keystone. This is about what it means to be an American, which for LIUNA is supporting any construction project regardless of social cost.

I have trouble seeing how this works out for the Laborers in the long run.

The Northwest Forest Plan

[ 5 ] April 13, 2014 |

Twenty years ago, President Clinton shepherded the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan, designed to put an end to the conflict in Pacific Northwest forests between timber companies and environmentalists over the fate of the region’s ancient forests and endangered species. I agree that it has been pretty successful all in all. I also think that the fate of timber workers and small Northwestern mill towns continues to be ignored, as it is in the linked article. It’s also worth nothing that the nation’s consumption of wood products has not fallen in the last two decades, which should lead us to wonder about how timber is produced around the world to feed the American market.

American Infrastructure, American Jobs

[ 73 ] April 12, 2014 |

American infrastructure funded with federal money should be built in factories that create American jobs.

Fort Pillow Massacre

[ 265 ] April 12, 2014 |

Battle_of_Fort_Pillow

On April 12, 1864, Confederate troops under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred black Union troops attempting to surrender after their defeat at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. In a war of horrible things, this was probably the worst, as angry southerners got their revenge on their slaves leaving them by dyeing the river red with their blood. Of course, the same Southerners who prefer not to talk about Fort Pillow or even defend Forrest love to hate on William Tecumseh Sherman, whose troops engaged in no such activities on their march through Georgia and the Carolinas. The preeminent historian and Grant biographer Brooks Simpson:

When it comes to Forrest’s responsibility (or culpability), I’ll simply note that one cannot claim that William T. Sherman is a war criminal without accepting that Nathan Bedford Forrest is a war criminal. After all, Sherman did not issue orders calling for the raping of women or the destruction of property outside the laws of war. Nor did he issue orders for the destruction of Columbia in February 1865. One can hold him accountable for (a) the orders he issued and (b) his actions (or inaction) in punishing his own men for violations of the law of war. One would have to hold Forrest to the same standard, unless you think the destruction of property is a greater crime than cold-blooded murder … or whether you think crimes against white people bother you more than crimes against black people, especially those wearing the uniform of the United States armed forces. Once you say that Sherman must be held responsible for the actions of his men, you must say the same for Forrest.

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