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Labor Historians and the Labor Movement

[ 5 ] August 8, 2013 |

I was asked to provide a write-up of a panel at the Labor and Working Class History Association meeting on the Chicago Teachers Union struggle. It gave me an opportunity to muse a bit about the relationship between labor historians and the labor movement (and really between any social movement historians and the social movement for which they study and advocate).

The CTU panel was one of many LAWCHA panels that focused on the present rather than past. This opens up important questions about the relationship between ourselves as historians and current struggles. As labor historians, we really want the CTU to be the harbinger of a turnaround for organized labor. But I think we have to create some critical distance between our work and our hopes that any given workers’ movement will finally be the spark that revives the labor movement. I’ve recently read historians who wrote about contemporary struggles following the WTO protests in Seattle, Occupy Wall Street, and the rebellion against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Each of these incidents led historians to predict a resurgence for labor. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened, making some of this work dated mere months after its writing. I have no idea whether the CTU is an isolated case or the beginning of a more militant teachers union movement willing to push back against the bipartisan project of undermining teachers. The panel certainly didn’t help me decide this question. But it did provide valuable context and first-hand accounts of the struggle that we can hope becomes a model for other public sector unions across the country.

It Certainly Seems to Me that Referring to the Team as the “Washington Racist Insignia” is Entirely Appropriate

[ 145 ] August 8, 2013 |

Good on Slate for joining other news organizations in refusing to use the given name of the Washington football club. I do disagree with David Plotz about what he calls the subtle case that “Redskins” was always racist. Just because Native Americans were seen as irrelevant and therefore worthy of becoming mascots through most of the 20th century doesn’t mean that process and its results weren’t full-fledged racism. On the other hand, I do like Plotz’s promotion of the term “Redtails” to replace the name, given the relationship of that term to the Tuskegee Airmen.

Minimum Wage

[ 143 ] August 8, 2013 |

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the WonkBlog is promoting conservative economists that want to allow employers to pay less than the minimum wage.

[SL] I suppose considering Obama’s actual proposals for combating unemployment would be too much to ask, and I don’t find it hard to explain why he’s not making a lot of concrete proposals given that anything he proposes will be defined as beyond-the-pale socialism by House Republicans.  But, sure, if he cared about unemployment like conservative economists do he’d give everybody a free bus ticket to Minot and have the taxpayers pick up the tab so that profitable corporations can pay workers even less, what great ideas.  In particular, I can’t imagine any bait and switch in which the minimum wage is relaxed and the compensatory tax credits mysteriously vanish.  I mean, if it’s proposed by a conservative think tank you know it’s in good faith!


[ 78 ] August 8, 2013 |

Breitbart evidently now has a sports page, where its writers provide the same acumen for terrible analysis that they do on the political side. Because you see advanced statistics and math is for liberals. Instead, conservatives need numbers that reinforce their already existing beliefs against reality. Like all that matters in understanding pitchers is if the pitcher’s team racks up a win:

In this article, columnist John Pudner introduces a new, proprietary metric, called Value Add Baseball. The idea behind it is to evaluate starting pitchers based not on how well they pitch, but how well they pitch in specific game situations. If a starting pitcher’s team scores six runs, he can give up five runs and still maintain a lead; by contrast, if a starting pitcher’s team scores only two runs, then he can give up three runs but still fall behind. The point of Value Add Baseball is to adjust for this: To make it clear that the pitcher who allows five runs when his team has scored six has done better than the pitcher who has allowed three runs when his team has scored two.

Sound crazy? It should! “The starting pitcher is the one player who has responsibility each game for getting his team the win,” Pudner writes. But, actually, it is not the pitcher’s job to get his team the win. It is the team’s job to get the team the win. Baseball is a team sport! The starting pitcher contributes to the win—typically, I agree, more than any other individual player does—by helping, along with his defense and catcher, limit the other team’s runs. But this metric holds the pitcher completely responsible. And it subscribes to the myth of “pitching to the score,” which is just plain wrong.

Consider: It is generally agreed that the best baseball game ever pitched came on May 29, 1959, when the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Harvey Haddix was perfect through 12 innings before he gave up a run to the Milwaukee Braves in the bottom of the 13th. (Hank Aaron was on base at the time.) Because the Pirates themselves had scored no runs through 13, Haddix “lost” the game. If I understand Value Add Baseball correctly, his “rating” for that game is worse than that of a starting pitcher who gave up five runs through seven innings while his own team scored nine. That is, plainly, ludicrous.

Look, Harvey Haddix sucked that day, OK. And the greatest pitcher of all time is obviously Jack Morris, he of the 5-run win. Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young in 2010 was the greatest travesty of all time except for the Kenyan Usurper’s two presidential wins and of course that evil George H.W. Bush stealing the 1988 Republican nomination from godly Pat Robertson. And how dare those liberal sportsnerds create a statistic called WAR, taking away from what war is supposed to do, kill brown people.

Popcorn Futures Up 30%

[ 62 ] August 7, 2013 |

Please please please please let this happen:

Louie Gohmert for Senate? That’s what a number of Texas tea-party activists are hoping for. They’re not happy with Senator John Cornyn, and Katrina Pierson, who serves on the Texas Tea Party Caucus Advisory Board, tells me she’s heard from a number of activists pushing for the outspoken East Texas congressman to challenge the senator.

And JoAnn Fleming, the executive director of East Texas–based Grassroots America We The People, says she’s hearing the same thing. She knows Gohmert personally and says she’s had numerous activists tell her she should ask the congressman to run.

This would be the greatest primary in history, if your definition of great consists of Texans in a competition to say evil things. And of course it’s impossible to say who would win such a primary.

Profile of a Racist

[ 82 ] August 7, 2013 |

Your daily American racist.

Global Water Crisis

[ 3 ] August 7, 2013 |

I did a long-form film review for Radical History Review on films dealing with the global water crisis. The abstract and link is here; any of you with access to a university library should be able to get it. Others I’m not sure. But this is almost like academic knowledge has some timeliness and accessibility!

I Don’t Think The Pinkertons Would Hire This Woman

[ 19 ] August 7, 2013 |

Charlie Siringo would not approve of the sloppiness of the 21st century social movement spy who brags about her own exploits infiltrating those evil social activists protesting people dying in Bangladesh.

George Duke, RIP

[ 20 ] August 7, 2013 |

I was not a fan of George Duke’s solo work, but his work as a member of Frank Zappa’s band in the 70s was outstanding and well worth remembering upon his death.

Obama and the Smaller Unions

[ 28 ] August 6, 2013 |

This is an interesting piece about how the smaller unions feel ignored by the Obama Administration. It’s pretty inside baseball and exposes the fragile egos of many labor leaders. One can dismiss some of these complaints as sour grapes about irrelevancy, except that it shows a) the complex and not particularly good relationship the administration has with organized labor outside of the largest unions and b) the extent to which labor really is nothing more than one of many interest groups within the Democratic Party today, and not all that important of one at that.


[ 14 ] August 6, 2013 |

Unions raiding other unions is a problem that has gone on forever. That it’s happening today is no surprise. But any union relying on raiding other unions rather than organizing the masses is going about things the wrong way.

Saturday Night

[ 28 ] August 3, 2013 |

May your Saturday night be like Harold Lloyd standing on his head, risking his life for a stunt.