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“The Democrat Party”

[ 105 ] June 2, 2014 |

One of the stupidest little games Republicans like to play is to refer to the Democrats as the “Democrat Party” rather than the “Democratic Party.” Seems like especially around 2009-11, this was pretty common and a lot of Democrats got angry over it. I mostly ignored it because whatever. It is worth noting however that Joseph McCarthy was doing the same thing at least as early as 1954. See this broadcast of Face the Nation from November 1954. He does this at about the 2:00 mark. Don’t know if he is doing this explicitly as a pejorative or not.

He uses it in this speech as well, which is obviously no later than 1952. Plus “Commiecrat Party!”

Race to the Bottom, Small Scale

[ 104 ] June 2, 2014 |

I talked a bit about the emissions problems at the Sriracha factory last fall. In short, residents living near a chile sauce factory that is indifferent to emissions violations do not have a good life. The conflict has come to a conclusion and how that went down says so much about the problems with the economy and, really, a lot of modern American life.

As a condition of Irwindale dismissing the suit, Huy Fong Foods has promised to make improvements to its factory’s rooftop ventilation system—but, as Mark Berman points out in the Washington Post, there won’t be any way to tell whether the improvements make a difference until August, when the plant begins production again. The likelier cause of the dropped suit is the public flirtation between Huy Fong Foods and officials from other cities that would be happy to subject their citizens to acrid capsaicin-smog in exchange for sweet moolah—but, whatever!

Perfect. You have a voluntary system of corporate reform with no enforcement, which Irwindale agreed to because Sriracha was looking to move the factory to a city even more desperate for jobs. The scourge of capital mobility in a nutshell. Company after company, move after move, citizen concession after citizen concession, this aggregates into the destruction of the entire set of economic, social, and environmental victories American citizens enacted to tame corporate pathology in the 20th century. This is how the New Gilded Age is created.

The Power of American Governments to Improve Labor Conditions Around the World

[ 9 ] June 2, 2014 |

If it wants to, American governments can play an enormous role in improving labor conditions overseas. The federal government could do all sorts of things to regulate the conditions of what comes into this country. At the very least, it could demand the products it purchases itself (mostly for the military) are ethically sourced. Unfortunately it does not.

Even on the local level, government can make a difference. Take Madison:

Last month, to commemorate the anniversary of the deadly Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, launched a contracting policy that commits the city’s vendors to promote fair labor standards. The city’s new “sweatfree” contract guidelines aim to eradicate labor abuse from its international supply chains for the production of government uniforms, including the apparel worn by firefighters and other agency personnel. The guidelines build on the city’s existing sweat-free procurement policies, with disclosure and monitoring mechanisms that aim to “[raise] the bar for human rights due diligence in government contracting” by providing a nationwide model, according to the advocacy network Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium (SPC). Similar to living-wage policies for workers on government contracts—which help raise pay scales for low-income workers across the community—the sweat-free contract model for government purchasing can promote standards for more ethical manufacturing across the global apparel market. Madison’s effort builds on model policies developed by advocates and governments of various cities and states through the SPC, which includes Austin, Berkeley and Maine.

The Madison contract rules cover basic labor protections that reflect International Labour Organization standards. Vendors will be required to disclose detailed information on the entire supply chain, allowing city authorities to oversee factories’ compliance with national rules on wages and benefits, child labor, employment discrimination and maternity leave, fire and building safety codes, and overtime and maternity leave rules. Vendors will be monitored by a Contract Review Panel that includes representatives of the city and international labor experts. And if contractors do not have full disclosure for all their suppliers initially, they must increase disclosure levels annually over the duration of the contract.

Suppliers will also be screened on whether they provide “worker education” and “a grievance process” to help them advocate for their rights at work. There is a special focus on “prevention measures to address health and safety conditions in high-risk areas such as Bangladesh and Pakistan”—two countries associated with “deathtrap” factories that have claimed the lives of hundreds of workers in recent years. The language mirrors provisions of the Bangladesh Accord, an industry-based program for factory health and safety that now has now enrolled about about 170 brands and retailers worldwide.

Moreover, the firms themselves have to pay for the system. This is a very good thing and a good precedent for those fighting for international labor rights.

Fracking Test Case

[ 54 ] June 1, 2014 |

Rural New Mexico is a very interesting place. It’s basically the only rural area of the United States that is militantly pro-Democratic. When I lived in Albuquerque and Santa Fe from 2000-07, I’d be driving up there and see “Bush is a Murderer” graffiti and other similar things on pipes, buildings, and the such. This is a majority Latino place where people are VERY VERY ANGRY that white people stole their land after 1848, flushing the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo down the toilet and eliminating their land grants.

So I am not surprised at all that Mora County would take the lead in anti-fracking cases, basically ignoring a federal law the country frankly doesn’t have much respect for and banning energy companies from fracking public lands in the county. But this is more interesting than just some people sticking it in the eye of the energy companies. Mora County knows it will lose but are trying to clarify the law so have more concrete standing for other actions going forward.

More than 150 townships and municipalities in the US have passed laws similar to Mora’s—and in a way, being taken to federal court is a sign of progress. “If we never even take the first baby step to [go to] court, we [will] always [be] behind the eight ball,” says Kathleen Dudley, a Mora resident and organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), whose lawyers offer pro bono legal council to the communities in drafting and defending their laws. “We will never ever make it to a place of changing law.”

County Chairman John Olivas agrees. “If they don’t crush us and tell us that we need to go away then we could set the precedent for a lot of communities across the country,” he told me. The opposition knows this too: “This is the first test of this issue in the country, it’s very important,” says William Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation, the law firm representing Vermillion.

“We’re actually working…across the country, from state to state, to change constitutional law,” explains Dudley of CELDF. The “Constitution is a political reflection of the time,” she adds. “It is not sacrilegious to change it. That’s why we have twenty-seven amendments.” Mari Margil, CELDF’s associate director, draws a comparison to the LGBTQ movement’s use of lawmaking at the local and then state levels. “Now they’re driving into the courts,” Margil says. “That’s how real change gets made, especially to secure and expand rights, and that’s what this is about.”

This is a very interesting legal strategy and deserves following going forward.

“Savage Capitalism”

[ 220 ] June 1, 2014 |

David Graeber has an interesting essay basically getting after Thomas Piketty from the left, saying that the now famous economist’s essential acceptance of capitalism is a problem because it ignores what actually tamed the income inequality that he bemoans: fear of revolution:

Back in the 90s, I used to get into arguments with Russian friends about capitalism. This was a time when most young eastern European intellectuals were avidly embracing everything associated with that particular economic system, even as the proletarian masses of their countries remained deeply suspicious. Whenever I’d remark on some criminal excess of the oligarchs and crooked politicians who were privatising their countries into their own pockets, they would simply shrug.

“If you look at America, there were all sorts of scams like that back in the 19th century with railroads and the like,” I remember one cheerful, bespectacled Russian twentysomething explaining to me. “We are still in the savage stage. It always takes a generation or two for capitalism to civilise itself.”

“And you actually think capitalism will do that all by itself?”

“Look at history! In America you had your robber barons, then – 50 years later – the New Deal. In Europe, you had the social welfare state … ”

“But, Sergei,” I protested (I forget his actual name), “that didn’t happen because capitalists just decided to be nice. That happened because they were all afraid of you.”

He seemed touched by my naivety.

At that time, there was a series of assumptions everybody had to accept in order even to be allowed to enter serious public debate. They were presented like a series of self-evident equations. “The market” was equivalent to capitalism. Capitalism meant exorbitant wealth at the top, but it also meant rapid technological progress and economic growth. Growth meant increased prosperity and the rise of a middle class. The rise of a prosperous middle class, in turn, would always ultimately equal stable democratic governance. A generation later, we have learned that not one of these assumptions can any longer be assumed to be correct.

Couple of thoughts here. First, Graeber is certainly right about the rhetorical and theoretical bankruptcy of the 90s, where if you didn’t accept the neoliberal agenda, you were effectively an overweight Ohioan factory worker with an out-of-fashion mustache who just couldn’t be one of the cool kids. Of course, all the promises capitalists told us about the future were complete lies as they sought to create a New Gilded Age without challenge from any kind of leftist movement. We are just awakening to this reality today. I increasingly see Occupy as a sort of unfocused wake up call where no one is quite sure what has gone wrong, but people realize, wait something is wrong! It reminds me of the 1870s and 1880, where you had a generation of workers who had believed the economic promises of business leaders and were shocked to find out that what had really happened was class warfare enacted from above upon the poor. It took 20 years and the importation of radical ideas with immigrants to bring a more focused challenge to the unrestrained capitalism of the Gilded Age to the U.S.

I will say that I’m not totally comfortable with Graeber’s construction of a kinder, gentler capitalism. There was fear of a leftist uprising, but it wasn’t from the corporations, who were happy to just murder organizers. It was from politicians and the middle class, who voted in the changes. And that happened not because of any real possibility of leftist revolt in the U.S., because that never really existed in a legitimate way like in Europe. It happened because workers organized to demand changes in the system that reduced income inequality. In some ways, they wanted the same things as Thomas Piketty–a fairer system rather than revolution.

UAW Effort in Alabama Collapsing

[ 66 ] June 1, 2014 |

This is a depressing story.

Pro-union forces in the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama are asking the United Auto Workers to stop organizing there because the UAW won’t bring the election up to a vote.

Garner and Jim Spitzley, another longtime employee, have been key spokesmen for pro-union employees, and they have worked closely with the UAW on the campaign.

But they have grown increasingly frustrated with the UAW’s failure to file for an election.

At one point, the men say, the campaign had enough union authorization cards to legally file for an election, as more than 30 percent of the plant’s hourly production and maintenance workers had signed one.

But the UAW was pushing for a much higher percentage, 65 percent, because it wanted a sure win, they said.

“It’s all about the image with the UAW, and it’s not about the workers,” Spitzley said.

But before you say that the UAW is wrong here, understand that it is not wrong. The UAW knows it can’t bring this before an election because it will go down to a resounding defeat. 65 percent is a pretty standard number in modern elections because a lot of those votes will be peeled away in the intimidation campaign to come from the company.

Yet the Alabama unionists distancing themselves from the UAW is a sign of just how low the prestige of the union has become since the Chattanooga loss. I have no idea what the Alabama workers are going to do to replace the UAW. Some want the Machinists to come in but that would violate AFL-CIO jurisdiction rules, which may not be the best thing in the world sometimes, but you really don’t want unions raiding each other either. So probably nothing, maybe some kind of independent union, but the problem is that they aren’t going to win a vote either way. Maybe the best thing is to start an employees’ group that acts like a union, recruit members over the next few years, and build up that way. But right now, this is just ugly for anyone who cares about American unionization.

Miss American Vampire, 1970

[ 46 ] May 31, 2014 |

After a vigorous day of book submission and navel-gazing, I think we could all use a serious topic for this Saturday night. Like this:

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Reflections

[ 33 ] May 31, 2014 |

So I am supposed to write something for this 10th anniversary deal. Not really sure what to say. It’s certainly nice to have an audience after blogging for eons in obscurity and I am very glad to help provide coverage of the labor movement and working class issues. When I started writing here in 2011, the blogosphere was pretty lacking in coverage of labor and poverty. Then Occupy happened and a lot more interest developed in these issues, which continues today. That’s great and I hope I am a useful part of that conversation. There are other issues too–climate change, historical films of cats boxing, chronicling the diabolical nature of the coal industry, Americans’ unfortunate tolerance of ketchup, dead horses in American history–that I like to think I add something to. But nothing as much as labor issues, both in the past and present, where I try to use this space not only to complain or think about how this will affect the next election cycle (although both of those things have value) but to begin to figure out ways out of the New Gilded Age. Not everyone thinks my ideas are good or practical (and in the short term, I’d agree on the latter), but you have to articulate this stuff to put together the intellectual and social movement framework that will eventually tame the capitalist beast.

Hopefully, my book does some of that work too, as I turn the completed manuscript draft in today (in about 1 hour actually–OMG!). It comes out of my work here so at least someone thinks this stuff is useful. Like SEK and others, writing here has directly advanced my career in amazing ways (even if it has threatened it at times as well) and I certainly never expected concrete gains to come out of my ranting and raving.

Now if there was just a way to clean up my Google search from the attacks from gun nuts and the Greenwald/DeBoer/various internet anarchists group over the 2012 election.

It’s also worth noting that on the 10th anniversary of LGM, we have again broken our monthly record for the most page views and with a good day could hit 1 million for May. In a period where liberal blogs have complained about declining readership numbers, I guess it means that we are doing something right around here. I’m glad you all like it enough to keep coming back.

So here’s to another 10 years of talking and working toward economic and social justice. And here’s something far more interesting than my navel-gazing. A man who, as I age, I model myself increasingly after: W.C. Fields.

Donations to this site will be used for me to get a prosthetic nose so I can look like W.C.

More Kristof

[ 63 ] May 30, 2014 |

It seems that Nic Kristof was more than a dupe of Somaly Mam’s lies. Sounds like he was complicit to a significant degree:

Many of her accolades, in turn, can be traced back to her friendship with New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. As of press time he still lists the Somaly Mam Foundation as a “partner” in Half the Sky Movement, his blatant attempt (along with wife Sheryl WuDunn) to brand and therefore profit from economic and physical violence against women and girls in the Global South. He also has yet to account for his inclusion of discredited statements by a Mam foundation “rescuee” in either the 2009 book or 2012 “documentary” “Half the Sky.” And Kristof’s live-tweeting of their brothel raid appears to violate the U.N. Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and his purchase of two “sex slaves” for media purposes is not condoned by Cambodian Human Trafficking Law.

Kristof may, eventually, claim to have been duped. I believe he’ll be lying (again), although other folks who are not Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters may be more sincere. The alleged falsehoods in Mam’s biography, debunked by eyewitnesses but upheld by her organization — which Marks deserves kudos for tracking, and which the mainstream press should be shamed for failing to pick up on earlier — are troubling: Her own childhood exploitation, accounts of her daughter’s kidnapping by pro-trafficking thugs, and young women’s stories of rape and abuse often go unverified or unchallenged in Cambodia, yet are so oft repeated abroad as to give the semblance of truth. Unfortunately, these are lies many have profited from, including right-wing Christian fundamentalist NGOs, which have used the mantle of human trafficking to promote agendas that are clearly unrelated, like abstinence education in U.S. schools and religious instruction in Buddhist or Muslim areas abroad.

He has a lot of explaining to do.

Sex Work

[ 147 ] May 30, 2014 |

Huh, it’s almost like criminalizing sex work just drives it underground instead of gets rid of it. Who knew.

Just Deport Him

[ 55 ] May 30, 2014 |

I don’t understand why China would force this guy to serve seven months in one of its prisons making Christmas lights for the American market. This is technically illegal since the U.S. has banned the import of prison labor-made goods ever since the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, but neither the American government or corporations have no real interest in enforcing this law and therefore the Chinese easily get around it by selling the goods to third-parties and the American stores don’t ask any questions.

But why not just deport the guy? Obviously if you make an American sociologist serve time in one of your prison, he’s going to write about the conditions upon release. Why bring the bad publicity on yourself?

Coal Company Lies

[ 61 ] May 30, 2014 |

Coal companies are openly cheating the system that monitor for coal dust that leads to black lung, misleading Mine Safety and Health Administration monitoring programs. There are so few good jobs in West Virginia and rural Kentucky that they can easily intimidate most employees into complaining since what else are you going to do that makes you $50,000 without a college degree. But the cost of this is workers dying in a truly horrible manner.

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