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Infrastructure

[ 182 ] July 14, 2014 |

In this Greg Sargent piece on the need for Democrats to talk more about economic issues is a depressing piece of information about government spending on infrastructure, which is at its lowest levels on record, with data going back to 1947:

Indeed, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data compiled by Moody’s for its investors and shared with me by White, current state and local investment, in 2009 real dollars, now totals 1.4 percent of GDP. In 1947, the first year for which BEA data is available, the total was 1.7 percent. It steadily rose and peaked in the late 1950s and 1960s, topping out at 4.6 percent, before steadily declining throughout the 1970s and 1980, before dropping below 2 percent during the Great Recession and its aftermath — amazingly — and settling at 1.4 percent today.

Now you can debate whether building more roads is a good idea, but it’s not as if rail or bridges or sewers or other infrastructure is receiving funding either. So basically America falls apart and creating the tax base to fix it is politically impossible.

Good Job University of Miami

[ 38 ] July 14, 2014 |

The University of Miami for the win, if by win you mean destroying the planet:

One of the world’s rarest forests, a section of Miami-Dade County’s last intact tracts of endangered pine rockland, is getting a new resident: a Walmart.

About 88 acres of rockland, a globally imperiled habitat containing a menagerie of plants, animals and insects found no place else, was sold this month by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer. To secure permission for the 158,000-square-foot box store, plus an LA Fitness center, Chik-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments, the university and the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

Ram also plans to develop 35 adjacent acres still owned by the university.

But with less than 2 percent of the vast savanna that once covered South Florida’s spiny ridge remaining, the deal has left environmentalists and biologists scratching their heads.

“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.

The university said in a statement that it is committed to protecting the forests — only about 2,900 acres of rockland are left outside Everglades National Park — and helped execute plans for the preserve, but would not respond to questions.

I mean, sure we are committed to saving the rockland in the sense that we will sell for the 1,000,000th Wal-Mart in this country and turn it into cash we can then concentrate in improving the salaries of our most administrators. That is what America is all about, destroying rare ecosystems to buy ivory backscratchers (unfairly illegal!) to not only our president and provost, but our deans as well. Thus, no questions.

Business Owners Always Hate Worker Power

[ 184 ] July 14, 2014 |

Yes, I too am shocked to find out that my small-time capitalist who sells lefty books also hates unions like a member of the Walton family.

Water Thieves

[ 55 ] July 14, 2014 |

If only we could combine Michigan’s draconian anti-water laws with Texas’ love of killing people we would be able to deal with these savages committing the heinous crime of having water in their homes.

Pizza Toppings

[ 280 ] July 13, 2014 |

It seems unlikely that we have never had a thread on pizza toppings before, but a quick search of the blog’s archives suggests we have not. I am reminded of this because yesterday my parents took me here. The pie we had was actually quite solid. But you have to search through a menu dedicated to whatever rococo concoctions Oregonians think belong on pizzas to find something that reminds me of pizza. Most revolting is this pizza:

Springfield Sunrise
Classy pizza isn’t just for dinner anymore. We were asked how creative we could be with breakfast & we started thinking about those inspired (& filling) farmer’s omelets. Country sausage gravy, potatoes, eggs, cheddar & country bacon.

First, no food should ever be named after my home town. This is not a good sign. Second, country gravy on pizza is the single most disgusting thing I have ever of, except for getting this very pizza with a cheese stuffed crust (because not enough cheese on the actual pizza).

If you all have heard of a worse idea for a pizza, this is time to share for your therapy.

I am no traditionalist when it comes to pizza. Jon Stewart is fundamentally correct on Chicago style pizza (although if you want a pizza-style casserole at 1500 calories per slice, it can be tasty), but then a lot of traditional New York pizza leaves much to be desired as well. I know this is heresy to many, but I think pizza’s finest forms have come out of California cuisine, adding delicious fresh ingredients to a food too often defined by canned olives and canned mushrooms. Sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, kalamata olives, these are outstanding ingredients for pizza. The year I spent teaching outside of Cleveland, we asked around for the best pizza place in Cleveland. The place universally lauded served a pie with canned mushrooms. I was not impressed. There is some pretty good pizza in Providence. I am particularly a fan of Tommy’s, both for quality and for price. But overall, I can’t help but think that the California food revolution has helped improve the overall quality of American pizza tremendously. Except when people demand country gravy on it.

…Worst pizza idea in the United States anyway. I am reminded of the pizzas of South Korea, consisting of imitation cheese, sliced up hot dogs, canned corn kernels, and ketchup for the sauce. But that’s a different category of bad food.

Latino Lynchings

[ 106 ] July 13, 2014 |

We think of lynching as something whites did to African-Americans and that was of course often the case. But the use of extralegal violence to eliminate perceived threats without a trial was pretty common. Whites were often lynched, especially in power struggles in the West. There’s also a long history of lynching Latinos in the Southwest, a part of American history almost totally forgotten. That’s especially tragic because the white supremacy driving the lynchings of African-Americans was the same impulse leading whites to kill Mexican-Americans at the same time. Our racial history is so often reduced to black-white, but it’s really whites versus all people of color.

Seafood Labor Fighting Exploitation

[ 3 ] July 13, 2014 |

One of the world’s most exploitative industries is seafood, mostly for rich nation consumption. Two of the biggest areas of production are in southeast Asia and the Gulf Coast. In the southeast Asia fisheries, slave labor is far too common, with frequent killings of workers, usually immigrants from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, for actions such as asking to be paid. Things aren’t quite that bad on the Gulf Coast, but they are pretty terrible.

So it is positive that seafood workers in the Gulf are working with the National Guestworker Alliance to try and put pressure on the big retailers like WalMart and Whole Foods over working conditions
. Those companies don’t care if supply workers live or die, as we see from WalMart’s response to the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. But putting pressure on them at least gets people’s attention and hopefully builds the movement necessary that humane working conditions can return to this country.

The Volkswagen-UAW Deal

[ 26 ] July 13, 2014 |

As most of you know by now, Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers came to an agreement to create a union local in the company’s Chattanooga plant to represent the workers who want to join. This agreement will not include any dues collection until after a collective bargaining agreement is reached. It comes in the face of the UAW’s devastating election loss earlier this year after unprecedented political interference.

My general reaction to this agreement: meh.

I suppose it’s not a bad thing. For those who want representation, they have it, sort of. It doesn’t exactly show the union in a good light to people around the country who are maybe on the fence about joining, since it does seem to ignore the vote, but who really cares. The bigger question is whether it is remotely replicable or whether we would even want it to be. I’m skeptical. I have a hard time seeing the UAW taking a hard line with Volkswagen on anything given that the company and union have already agreed for it to exist. Of course, the UAW isn’t talking tough to any of its employers at this point. This can only be replicated if other employers want the UAW in their factories enough to create such a system. That’s unlikely. The Volkswagen case is unique because of the pressure the company faces from its German unions, a level of power that American unions do not have.

More positively I think is promoting the idea of minority unionism, where a voluntary group of workers seeks to stand up for themselves in the face of hostility from employers and even other fellow workers. There’s no reason why this sort of unionism shouldn’t be promoted. No, it isn’t going to lead to big membership gains and dues infusions to the unions nor is it likely to lead to a collective bargaining agreement, but it still can provide workers a voice on the job and lead to concrete gains when workers are angry enough to act.

At best, this agreement between VW and UAW leads to real material gains for union members and it convinces others that joining up is in their best interests. Whether that happens or not in the face of the two-tiered contract the union agreed to with the Big Three that helped doom the Chattanooga vote, I don’t know. And I suppose it already has led to more jobs, with VW following up this announcement with one picking the factory for the construction of a new SUV. Hopefully workers see the connection between unions and more jobs and sign up.

Also, read Benjamin Sachs on the legal side of a members-only union creating a works council.

The Forthcoming Miami Disaster

[ 78 ] July 13, 2014 |

Between having 2.4 million people living at six feet above sea level or less and a nuclear power plant ready to be inundated with sea water, watching the United States’ first climate refugee crisis is going to be incredibly depressing. Not that Florida politicians care.

Tommy Ramone

[ 30 ] July 12, 2014 |

I suppose there’s something very punk about the last surviving original member of The Ramones dying at the ripe young age of 65.

A Mandate Hobby Lobby Can Believe In

[ 187 ] July 11, 2014 |

Hobby Lobby may not approve of a contraception mandate, but it will sure fight for a 4-year Bible study course in public schools mandate.

This Day in Labor History: July 11, 1934

[ 35 ] July 11, 2014 |

On July 11, 1934, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union formed when eleven white farmers and seven black farmers met in Tyronza, Arkansas to form a union of sharecroppers to fight for poor farmers’ rights. Perhaps the last gasp of the Farmers Alliance potential to reach out across racial lines and transform rural life, the STFU sought to empower sharecroppers to fight for economic rights during the dark days of the Great Depression.

The Great Depression was very hard on poor southern farmers. In fact, the Depression there had really started in the 1920s. Crop prices plummeted after the overproduction of World War I. By the time the official Great Depression began in 1929, the farm economy had been terrible for years, meaning the sharecroppers on southern land, a labor situation that had begun as something of a compromise between freed slaves and white landowners after the Civil War but had since spread to employ poor whites as well, were in entrenched, awful poverty.

tenant_farmers2_f

Arkansas sharecroppers, 1930s

Tyronza, Arkansas was a bit odd for the rural South as there were active socialists in the area. This was not totally unknown in the South, but rare enough by 1934. Floods and droughts had ravaged the region in recent years and the national attention these received interested socialists in the area. As those ideas began spreading into the area, some locals, even merchants, showed interest in an economic system that offered an alternative to a capitalism that had not worked out for their region. Living in Tyronza was Harry Mitchell, a socialist and sharecropper. He and a gas station owner named Clay East saw that the owners were not sharing their Agricultural Adjustment Act payments with the sharecroppers and they began organizing their neighbors into what became the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.

The STFU’s main mission was fighting against the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The New Deal promoted agricultural centralization, which threw thousands of sharecroppers off their land. The Okies coming to California in the 1930s, were mostly fleeing the loss of their land rights from AAA-related centralization, not the Dust Bowl. It was the same in eastern Arkansas. AAA had two provisions that severely hurt sharecroppers. First, it had no provisions to ensure that the money landowners received to reduce farm production trickled down to sharecroppers. They were expected to share it but the owners were just keeping it all. Second, it encouraged the eviction of sharecroppers through its centralization policies, in effect if not in word. In 1934, these farmers had nowhere to go. A decade later, the jobs of World War II would give them opportunities. These did not exist in 1934. Eviction meant moving to a strange place with no likely hope of a job.

tenant_farmers1_f

Southern Tenant Farmers Union meeting, Arkansas

The first strike began in the fall of 1935, when Mitchell led sharecroppers out for $1 per pound of cotton versus the 40 cents the owners were offering. When the owners compromised on 75 cents (and some went all the way to $1), the workers declared victory and returned to work. Of course, the response of landowners to this movement was violence, especially once the unionization campaign began. The STFU was a threatening organization to the white power structure. That it was integrated automatically made it dangerous. The first commission of STFU representatives to travel to Washington to appeal to the government included two African-Americans in its five members. At one meeting, four armed whites walked in and ordered all the blacks to leave if they did not want to be lynched. Many members were thrown off their land for membership in the organization. Beatings of organizers took place while police violence was common and threatened lynchings scared many members. STFU offices had to move from Tyronza to Memphis, where the urban environment provided more safety.

The STFU soon spread from Arkansas to Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Tennessee. It claimed 7500 members in Oklahoma, demanding land redistribution, with land owned by banks given to small farmers. In Arkansas, it forced politicians to create the Governor’s Commission on Farm Tenancy. Oklahoma passed the Landlord and Tenant Relationship Act in 1937 to encourage long-term residency on the land and promote the government as a mediator of the problems of the sharecropped farm, but conservative outrage led to its repeal in 1939.

Unlike previous farmer movements like the Populists, STFU leaders actively thought of themselves as in the same boat as industrial labor and thus sought to become a union like in eastern factories. The STFU joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations’ agricultural union, the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) in 1937 but withdrew a year later, worried that UCAPAWA’s communist leadership was looking to take over the STFU. UCAPAWA president Donald Henderson saw the STFU as a utopian vanguard of rural revolution rather than a real union and attempted to overwhelm its leadership with paperwork so he could take it over. When the STFU leadership withdrew, it led to UCAPAWA ending its attempts to organize in the fields, focusing on the canneries, where the CIO (and the CP) was always more comfortable. The break with UCAPAWA severely hurt the STFU’s ability to function, especially as several of its leading organizers were CP and stayed with the union. Two-thirds of its locals collapsed.

stfu

Southern Tenant Farmers Union logo

As the STFU and landowners battled each other with increasing intensity, the situation finally received some attention from the government. This led to the Resettlement Administration (RA), intended to help sharecroppers find better lives. But the funding for the RA always remained small and the solutions it developed long-term rather than immediate. The government also created the Farm Security Administration (FSA), to provide low-cost loans to poor farmers who wanted to buy their own land but this was not a realistic option for the vast majority of STFU members. The 11,000 farmers around the nation it helped in 1939 was a nice start, but far too small to deal with the scale of the problem. Ultimately, the government did little to alleviate the problems AAA had spawned for sharecroppers.

The STFU declined by the early 1940s. Mitchell continued leading it, called the National Farm Labor Union after 1945, for the rest of his life, but it was only a shadow organization except for some success organizing the California cotton fields in the 40s. Because of the mechanization and industrialization of farming, most of the cotton labor force disappeared from the fields not long after World War II. The same happened for many other crops. The exception to this history of agricultural labor is Latino farmworkers, laboring in exploitative conditions not dissimilar to that of the early 20th century American South. On these farms, usually in more difficult to mechanize fruits and vegetables, the fight continues.

This is the 114th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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