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This Day in Labor History: June 22, 1922

[ 24 ] June 22, 2015 |

On June 22, 1922, a night and early morning of angry United Mine Workers of America members massacring strikebreakers and mine guards ended in Herrin, Illinois. Twenty-one people died, 19 of which were the strikebreakers and guards. This spasm of violence is a rare example of American labor history where workers killed more people than the forces of order. It’s also a sign of the desperation and anger of coal miners by the 1920s over the terrible treatment of themselves and their unions. Finally, the UMWA strategy of avoiding blame for this incident by blaming nonexistent communists for leading the mob proved a pioneering incident of a long history of American organized labor redbaiting.

In April 1922, the United Mine Workers of America, led by their new president John L. Lewis, began a nationwide coal strike. Lewis wanted to establish his union as a power in the labor movement and his members took a strong stance against strikebreakers. Herrin, Illinois was in the center of an area called Little Egypt, a bituminous mining zone in the southern part of that state.

Owners did not want to cave but some did not want to have a showdown with the UMWA either. The Southern Illinois Coal Company was one of those, as it was a union shop. Originally, it agreed that while its members would continue to mine coal, it would not ship any of it until the strike ended. The UMWA agreed with this because the mine was newly opened and heavily indebted. The miners did not want the mine to close permanently, so this somewhat odd arrangement developed. By June, the miners had dug out 60,000 tons of coal that waited for shipment.

But when coal prices rose because of the strike, William Lester, the company’s owner, could not resist selling it, even though he had earlier counseled the state to let the strike go on without interference. Realizing he would pull $250,000 in profit if he broke the agreement, he hired 50 strikebreakers and private guards for them. The private guards soon intimidated local residents and hoped to bully the UMWA out of the strike. On June 16, he shipped out sixteen rail cars filled with coal, guarded by his private police force armed with machine guns.

Tensions rose quickly. 30,000 UMWA members lived in the area and they were shocked. They held a mass meeting. Lewis sent a message to them saying the local was “justified in treating this crowd [the scabs and private police] as an outlaw organization.” The head of the Illinois National Guard came to meet with Lester to get him to ease those tensions. By this time though, the coal owner was determined to crush the union. On June 21, a group of miners attacked a train of scabs, killing its driver. Later that afternoon, another group looted a local hardware store for its guns, went to the mine and started shooting the guards. The county sheriff was a UMWA member and did nothing to prevent this.

Eventually, the guards and strikebreakers surrendered after a night of shooting. But the miners and town residents were infuriated over the lies of Lester and how the guards had treated them. The scabs were beaten and pistol-whipped by the union members. Someone evidently said they should be killed, but it’s impossible to really know what started the next stage, which was opening fire on the guards and scabs. One of the first to die was mine superintendent C.K. McDowell, who had led the guards. The killing lasted into the morning of the 22nd. Some were forced to crawl on their hands and knees to the town cemetery before being killed. By the end of it, 19 strikebreakers and guards lay dead, along with 2 UMWA members. The local police force, evidently sympathetic with their miner friends and families, never showed up.

Nationally, opinion was strongly against the UMWA. President Harding and General John Pershing demanded prosecutions against the guilty while the Illinois Chamber of Commerce put out a fundraising appeal to subsidize the case. But while an inquest took place and 214 indictments were handed down for murder, riot, and conspiracy, no one was ever convicted of any crime for the Herrin Massacre. The first jury acquitted everyone within an hour. The second acquitted seven more. The prosecution gave up. Part of this was an inability to actually prove who did what. Part of it was overwhelming hostility from the townspeople toward the investigators. They refused to assist the investigation at all and blamed it all on vague people from other towns.

Prominent in Herrin Massacre Trial

The UMWA responded to the criticism of its members’ actions by claiming the incident was led by communist insurgents that had nothing to do with the union. Union officials had previously told investigators that while they didn’t know anyone involved (which was certainly not true), there were certainly no radicals involved in the incident. But in 1923, John L. Lewis said at the UMWA convention, “in every instance where there has been any disorder or disturbance of the public peace in mining regions there has been there secretly men of this type.” The United Mine Workers Journal began publishing articles backing this up, albeit without actual evidence. One said, “in fact, the miners’ union was in no manner responsible for what took place. This revolting, inexcusable, terrible crime was fomented, promoted, and caused solely by the Communists.” The following year, it issued an pamphlet titled “Attempts by Communists to Seize the Labor Movement” to take this campaign to a wider audience. The coal operators rejected this of course, but the UMWA did find out how effective anticommunist politics could be for a labor union. Interestingly, the UMWA did actually uncover claims by communists that they were involved in Little Egypt, but historians have rejected this, saying there is no evidence of any meaningful communist organizing in southern Illinois during the 1920s. That the Communist Party would take credit for its own opportunistic reasons served Lewis’ purpose like nothing else.

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Ultimately, the United Mine Workers came out of the Herrin Massacre completely unscathed as an organization. Yet the 1920s ultimately would prove disastrous for the UMWA and it would not be until the Roosevelt administration that it would rise to become the power in the labor movement it is known as in the mid-twentieth century.

I borrowed from Jennifer Luff, Commonsense Anticommunism: Labor and Civil Liberties between the World Wars in the writing of this post.

This is the 148th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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How a Wealthy Nation Without Republicans Deals with Income Inequality

[ 71 ] June 20, 2015 |

EMEA-Stockholm

What would our nation be like if we were as a nation as wealthy as we are now but we didn’t have one of our two political parties dedicated to racism and class warfare against the poor? Maybe it would be like Sweden. It’s not like the Swedes live in paradise for any number of reasons. One problem Sweden has, like the U.S., is growing income inequality. So what might the state do about that in the U.S? Well, our states would slash welfare benefits and limit what food stamps could buy while the federal government would be unable to react in meaningful ways thanks to revanchist Republicans in Congress. What would Sweden do?

If Stockholm doesn’t have a solution, it seems to have at least come up with a bandage. The capital will open its first ever discount supermarket this fall, the Swedish news site The Local reports. All Swedes receiving income support will be eligible to shop in the store, which will offer food donated by major Swedish retailers like Hemköp and Willys. The food will either be nearing or past its sell-by date (though still safe to eat) or eligible for donation because retailers have changed an item’s branding or packaging.

In this way, the discount supermarket moves toward solving another seemingly intractable problem: food waste. The charity Stockholm Stadsmission, which is organizing the supermarket, hopes to reduce the amount of edible food discarded by Swedes, about 686,000 tons a year. (That’s about 143 pounds per resident).

The business model, called a “social supermarket,” is not new. NPR’s The Salt reports that these grocery stores have proliferated in Europe since the 2008 economic downturn, popping up in the U.K., France, Romania and Switzerland, among other countries. The former Trader Joe’s executive Doug Rauch is set to open a similar non-profit discount market in the mixed-income Boston neighborhood of Dorchester in December. (Membership there will be based on zip-code, not income level). The key difference between these supermarkets and a food pantry, the retail academic Christina Holweg told NPR, is that their patrons must still purchase their groceries, giving them greater choice and perhaps even a boost in self-esteem.

Wow, that’s actually a pretty smart move. Imagine the state stepping up and creating special stores for the poor with subsidized food instead of forcing them to be humiliated when they mess up the byzantine regulations for what you can buy with your EBT card and the line behind you in the grocery store gets annoyed. But you know, those Swedes are going to end up on the permanent dole and they won’t build the character one gets from said humiliation.

The Trader Joe’s guy’s plan is pretty interesting for Dorchester, but of course when you rely on a private individual to take the lead on these issues, the person can change their mind at any time. Ultimately, the state is far more likely to be effective in the long term.

The Greatest Crime One Can Commit in The United States: Calling Racist Whites Racist

[ 167 ] June 20, 2015 |

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It’s hard out there for white supremacists now, given that someone actually acted on their words in Charleston and now they are being called out on their racism.

Of course, a lot of people have noting racism in American life for a long time, including in the Kansas legislature. There, Rep. Valdenia Winn called the GOP legislators supporting a bill denying tuition breaks for undocumented immigrants “racist bigots.” Given that the Kansas state government is dominated by open racists and that such a bill is racist, this is sensible. So how has the Kansas GOP responded to this truthful charge?

An African-American lawmaker in Kansas could be expelled from the statehouse for accusing supporters of legislation that eliminated tuition breaks for undocumented immigrants of being racist. State Rep. Valdenia Winn (D) of Kansas City will face a special investigative committee in a hearing June 26 that will weigh possible sanctions against the lawmaker for the remarks.

Expelled!

I wonder if there are any examples of Kansas Republican legislators saying racist things and not facing any reprimand?

“I cannot imagine that the committee would make such a recommendation [of expulsion], but the degree of inconceivable actions by our Kansas legislature and governor have reached such a level,” Irigonegaray said. “It’s just gotten to a point where is there a fog of hate clouding the Capitol building, and I certainly do not understand the total dysfunction that exists.”

Irigonegaray points to past controversial comments made by Republicans in the statehouse that received no such response. In 2011, Rep. Virgil Peck (R) suggested undocumented immigrants should be shot from helicopters like feral pigs, and a 2012 email sent by then House Speaker Mike O’Neal (R) to fellow Republicans said they should use a Bible verse with the phrase “Let his days be few and brief” as a prayer for President Obama.

“Was there a special investigative committee to sanction him? No,” Irigonegaray said.

Of course.

Busting Don Blankenship

[ 25 ] June 20, 2015 |

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Don Blankenship is one of the worst human beings living in the United States today. The CEO of Massey Energy, the horrible safety record in his mines led to the deaths of 29 miners in a coal dust explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. Blankenship was a micro-manager and prided himself on buying West Virginia politicians and judges, thwarting regulators, intimidating workers into not report safety violations, and implementing not even the most basic safety systems. In other words, Don Blankeship modeled himself after the 19th century coal mine barons who ruled West Virginia as a personal fiefdom.

What’s remarkable, as this New York Times article points out, is that Blankenship is being held accountable by the federal government for his actions
. He is under indictment on 4 counts that could lead to 31 years in prison. That might seem as not all that notable–Blankenship is directly responsible for these deaths, especially so because he managed every part of that mine. But it is notable because this has never happened in West Virginia before. Coal operators have long expected to operate their mines and the state as they will. Where the article falls short is in really getting into why the federal government has acted so differently now. I imagine the reason is a Mine Safety and Health Administration and federal prosecutions invigorated by an Obama administration taking issues like regulation and workplace safety seriously. But this part of the equation only addressed obliquely.

I will also note that for all the talk in Appalachia about Obama’s War on Coal and how environmentalists are killing jobs, the coal industry now employs all of 28,000 people in central Appalachia. And while some of that is because of tighter environmental regulations, cheaper natural gas, the movement of the coal industry to the West, and mechanization all play a larger role.

The Post-Legal Abortion Reality

[ 41 ] June 20, 2015 |

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It’s somewhat unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade entirely in the future and certainly highly unlikely in the next few years. But as Scott always points out, the courts and conservative states are making it almost impossible for most women to actually access abortion providers. This creates a scenario where the daughter of a governor or businessman will be able to have that abortion, but not some 16 year old poor person or 35 year old married couple who don’t want to have a 7th child.

When we make abortion illegal or nearly illegal, what happens to women’s medical care? We can look to Latin America to answer that question. And it’s horrible.

In Paraguay, a 10-year-old rape victim is denied an abortion—even though her stepfather is her attacker. In El Salvador, suicide is the cause of death for 57 percent of pregnant females between ages 10 and 19. In Nicaragua, doctors are anxious about even treating a miscarriage. All of these instances are the result of draconian abortion laws that have outlawed critical reproductive care in nations throughout Latin America. If stories like these seem remote to American readers, it’s because they’ve been largely eliminated through widespread access to basic abortion services beginning in the 1970s. But with the Republican Party now chipping away at our right to make our own reproductive health choices, these realities could become commonplace in the United States once again.

In El Salvador, a 1998 law went into effect that made abortion illegal with no exceptions—including rape, life of the mother, or incest. Women who are found guilty of having an abortion face two to eight years in prison. Punishment is widespread as well. Anyone found guilty of assisting in the abortion also faces two to eight years in prisons. Doctors and nurses who assist and perform abortions face six to twelve years behind bars.

With harsh consequences for obtaining an abortion, women in El Salvador and other countries often turn to clandestine—and sometimes dangerous—methods. The drug misoprostol, often referred to as just “miso” and used for treating ulcers has become a popular abortion drug. But without access to dosage information and no supervision, using miso can lead to complications or even death. Yet, as Andrea Grimes documented at RH Reality Check in March, the use of misoprostol is gaining traction, even in the United States. And when used correctly, miso is safer than other self-inducing options.

Kenlissia Jones from Albany, Georgia, ordered pills online to end her pregnancy. After ingesting them, she gave birth to the fetus in a car on her way to the hospital. She was arrested on charges of murder and illegal drug possession and taken to county jail. The prosecutor dismissed the murder charges, but Jones still faces charges of drug possession. In Georgia, 58 percent of women live in a county with no abortion provider.

In Indiana, Purvi Patel suffered a miscarriage and put the fetus in a bag in a dumpster. At the hospital, while suffering from heavy bleeding, law enforcement arrived to question her. During the investigation, local police found text messages that indicated Patel had ordered drugs online to end her pregnancy, but a toxicologist testified at her trial that no drugs were found in her blood sample. In March, Patel was sentenced to 30 years in prison for neglecting a dependent as well as six years for feticide.

When abortion is illegal, even miscarriages can end in prison sentences. Purvi Patel’s story mirror the stories of the 17 women jailed in El Salvador whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage or complications during birth. Many of them were charged with murder and sentenced to decades in prison. A woman who goes to the hospital seeking medical care can be reported to authorities if medical professionals suspect that the woman induced an abortion.

We are already seeing the impact of impossible to achieve abortion with women in the United States. The criminalization of pregnant women by the Republican Party is a violation of human rights. We are already seeing the mistreatment of pregnant women that is so common in Latin America seep into the United States and with laws like Texas H.B.2 making abortion an impossible choice for most women, the broader impact can include a decline in reproductive care generally.

A Day’s Playlist

[ 36 ] June 19, 2015 |

Given the utter depression of the news in last two days, I thought a music thread would make people feel better. So here are the albums I listened to today:

1. Miles Davis Quintet, Live in Europe 1967, Disc 2
2. Patti Smith, Horses
3. St. Vincent, St. Vincent
4. Tinariwen, Aman Iman
5. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
6. Drive By Truckers, Go Go Boots
7. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get
8. Serge Gainsbourg, Histoire de Melody Nelson
9. Wussy, Funeral Dress II
10. Miles Davis, Porgy and Bess

Unusually Honest Energy Industry Advertising

[ 9 ] June 19, 2015 |

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I do love truth in advertising.

From 1962

A Glimpse Into the Black, Shriveled Hearts of the Republican Class Warriors

[ 60 ] June 19, 2015 |

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When you think that maybe the hearts of Republican leaders aren’t actually that closed to compassion, you are always proven wrong:

Kasich’s temper has made it harder to endear himself to the GOP’s wealthy benefactors. Last year, he traveled to Southern California to appear on a panel at a conference sponsored by the Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch. At one point, according to accounts provided by two sources present, Randy Kendrick, a major contributor and the wife of Ken Kendrick, the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, rose to say she disagreed with Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage, and questioned why he’d expressed the view it was what God wanted.

The governor’s response was fiery. “I don’t know about you, lady,” he said as he pointed at Kendrick, his voice rising. “But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.”

The exchange left many stunned. About 20 audience members walked out of the room, and two governors also on the panel, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, told Kasich they disagreed with him. The Ohio governor has not been invited back to a Koch seminar — opportunities for presidential aspirants to mingle with the party’s rich and powerful — in the months since.

A Kasich spokesman, Chris Schrimpf, declined to comment on the episode.

Like in the first Gilded Age, the poor are seen with total contempt and hostility, as is even the mildest suggestion that we should do something for them. This is the open position of the Republican Party, a position they are able to take with a combination with appeals to racism and a well-funded propaganda machine about the values of the free market and self-reliance.

Today in Brilliant Jurisprudence

[ 28 ] June 19, 2015 |

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Clarence Thomas hit a new high in Supreme Court decision writing:

Thomas’ case in point: Warrick Dunn, the author of the 2008 memoir Running for My Life: My Journey in the Game of Football and Beyond. Dunn, formerly a star NFL running back, is a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. Brumfield murdered Dunn’s mother when Dunn was 18. Here’s how Thomas sets up the case:

This case is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, we have Kevan Brumfield, a man who murdered Louisiana police officer Betty Smothers and who has spent the last 20 years claiming that his actions were the product of circumstances beyond his control. On the other hand, we have Warrick Dunn, the eldest son of Corporal Smothers, who responded to circumstances beyond his control by caring for his family, building a professional football career, and turning his success on the field into charitable work off the field.

Thomas spends several pages in his 27-page dissent contrasting Brumfield with Dunn. In case his meaning isn’t clear enough, Thomas adds a footnote, saying, “Like Brumfield, Warrick’s father was not a part of his life. But, unlike Brumfield, Warrick did not use the absence of a father figure as a justification for murder.” Thomas goes on to spend another few paragraphs detailing all of Dunn’s charitable contributions and activism, before taking a dig at Brumfield for filing too many appeals. Thomas accuses the majority justices of being insensitive to the horrific nature of the crime and for ignoring the victims in this case. To drive the point home, he attached a photo of Dunn’s mother (copied from Dunn’s memoir) to his dissent.

Several pages! Photos!

Can this please start a trend of citing NFL players’ lives in Supreme Court cases? A few possible examples:

1) How about Alito citing Kurt Warner’s autobiography about how turning to Jesus and hard work to support your dream is constitutionally superior to relying on government programs if you are poor? Seems like a great cite for eliminating the Fair Labor Standards Act!

2) Or perhaps Anthony Kennedy citing Brett Favre’s brilliant autobiography on why drug sentences should be reduced. For certain people anyway.

3) And maybe, just maybe, Scalia will cite the life of OJ Simpson to show how poor African-Americans rise to have successful careers and therefore the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is unconstitutional.

Really the possibilities are endless.

Rhodesia 1976

[ 64 ] June 19, 2015 |

A friend of mine pointed me toward this 1976 Australian TV documentary about the nation of Rhodesia in its last years of trying to maintain its white nationalist government. Very sadly, this has taken on a new relevance in the last 48 hours. The “best” part comes at the 18-20 minute mark, when Ian Smith insists he is not a racist. Because as we know today, the only real racists are people of color oppressing white rights to dominate said people of color. Amazing stuff.

Jack Rollins, RIP

[ 39 ] June 18, 2015 |

The legendary producer of Woody Allen’s 70s films and incredibly influential figure in the comedy of that era has died at the ripe old age of 100. Among his many achievements was working with Woody Allen to make him into the brilliant comedian and director he became.

The Most Glorious Sight I’ve Ever Seen

[ 113 ] June 18, 2015 |

Burn baby burn.

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