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The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903)

[ 25 ] May 29, 2014 |

I turn my book into my editor in 36 hours. I am delirious. The only thing keeping me going is The Gay Shoe Clerk.

Ankle. Hot.

Nic Kristof: A Man Impossible to Fool

[ 133 ] May 29, 2014 |

Simon Marks has a long expose demonstrating that Cambodian anti-sex trafficking activist Somaly Mam lied about her own life story and trained children to make up stories about their supposed experiences of sexual abuse in order to get rich westerners to give large donations.

In 2009, Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times about a girl named Long Pross, who had finally summoned the strength to tell her stunning story of sexual slavery. He reported that a woman had kidnapped Pross and sold her to a brothel, where she was beaten, tortured with electric wires, forced to endure two crude abortions and had an eye gouged out with a piece of metal by an angry pimp. Pross, Kristof said, was rescued by Mam and became part of her valiant group of former trafficking victims fighting for a world free of sexual slavery.

Pross also told her disturbing story on Oprah and appeared in the PBS documentary Half the Sky. “Believe it or not, when I returned home, my mother and father didn’t want me around. I wasn’t considered a good person,” she says in the documentary.

Equally hard to believe is the fact that Pross’s family, neighbors and medical records all tell a different story. Dr. Pok Thorn says he performed surgery on Pross when she was 13, after her parents brought her to a hospital with a nonmalignant tumor covering her right eye. Photographs in her medical records clearly show the young girl’s eye before and after the surgery.

So how did she come to be one of Somaly Mam’s girls? Te Sereybonn, director of Cambodia’s Takeo Eye Hospital back then, says his staff contacted AFESIP to see if they could admit Pross to one of their vocational training programs.

Another of Mam’s biggest “stars” was Meas Ratha, who as a teenager gave a chilling performance on French television in 1998, describing how she had been sold to a brothel and held against her will as a sex slave.

Late last year, Ratha finally confessed that her story was fabricated and carefully rehearsed for the cameras under Mam’s instruction, and only after she was chosen from a group of girls who had been put through an audition. Now in her early 30s and living a modest life on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Ratha says she reluctantly allowed herself to be depicted as a child prostitute: “Somaly said that…if I want to help another woman I have to do [the interview] very well.”

She, like Pross, was never a victim of sex trafficking; she and a sister were sent to AFESIP in 1997 because their parents were unable to care for all seven of their children.

Wait, Nic Kristof? No! You mean, Mr. Helicopter Rich White Man Rescuer was ready to buy lurid, falsified stories hook, line, and sinker? Who could have guessed! Here’s a 2011 Kristof article lauding Mam and her story, in what has to be the most prototypical Kristof column. Here’s another, on Pross, entitled, “If This Isn’t Slavery, What Is?” Oh, I don’t know. Maybe something that actually happened.

Amanda Marcotte:

Sex trafficking of minors is absolutely a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. But that’s not exactly why it’s an issue that attracts so much attention and funding and glitzy celebrity hobnobbing. It’s because it’s one of those issues that is easy to moralize about without much fear of stepping into a major controversy. No one is for selling underage girls into prostitution. Even the pimps interviewed by the Urban Institute went out of their way to denounce sex slavery and trafficking of underage girls. Standing up for reproductive rights or pushing back against economic injustice means running the risk of powerful people, such as religious leaders or other wealthy people, fighting back.

For this reason, the focus on underage sex trafficking is all too often used as a feel-good feminism, eclipsing larger issues. Take, for instance, the campaign of male celebrities taking pictures of themselves holding up signs that say, “Real men don’t buy girls.” It’s hard not to wonder if the bar is being set awfully low here. It’s easy to take a stand against underage sex slavery. It’s harder to take a stand against the widespread objectification and marginalization of women in the entertainment community, forces that help shape a culture where men feel entitled to have sex and act indifferently to the humanity of women. Many of these men make a lot of money off marginalizing and objectifying women, and holding up a sign denouncing enslavement of underage girls is an easy way to establish themselves as good guys without changing any other behavior.

The history of prostitution reform in Progressive Era America tells a similar story. There were Kristof’s then too, freaking out about the white slavery traffic. They wanted to hear the most lurid stories possible and then publicize them to make points about the evils of prostitution. They didn’t bother fact-checking either. And time and time again, these stories about young women didn’t pan out. The impact of this movement was to make sex work illegal, making it far more dangerous, as it largely remains today.

The actions of women like Mam and useful idiots like Kristof just obscure the real problems of a lack of opportunity for women to have decent work and respectable lives in Cambodia and elsewhere, not to mention discrediting attempts to help solve real sex slavery. But then Kristof has never been interested in people helping themselves anyway. He prefers saving brown people from themselves.

Mam has now resigned from her foundation.

I, for one, look forward to Kristof’s response to Marks’ report.

….Read also Melissa Gira Grant.

The Broken Temp Worker System

[ 33 ] May 29, 2014 |

The explosion in temp work has happened because employers see it as a profitable way to exploit labor, getting rid of troublemakers, avoiding legal responsibility, and keeping wages and benefits to a minimum. This is an excellent story on temp workers in California lettuce fields–some of which having worked there for a mere 10 years:

Thanks to this arrangement the two-thirds of Taylor Farms’ 900 Tracy workers who work for subcontractors are considered temporary workers – even though some have worked at Taylor plants for 10 years. They can be fired at the drop of a foreman’s hat for questioning an instruction or calling in sick.

Taylor Farms’ reliance on temporary, low-wage workers is part of a management revolution that has radically changed the fundamental expectation that hard work will be rewarded with fair compensation. Whether this outsourcing trend continues will determine how unstable the national workplace becomes — and how difficult entry into the middle class will be for American workers.

Capital & Main learned that in addition to procuring workers for Taylor Farms, Mendoza, which also supplies temp field labor, sells its own $7 boxed lunches to its field hands and even rents cash-only apartments to its mostly undocumented workers. Teamster representatives say that Mendoza even supplied hecklers who tried to crash Roger Hernandez’s meeting with Taylor Farms workers.

“I would rate Abel Mendoza, SlingShot and Taylor Farms as the most abusive employers I’ve encountered in my 20 years of doing this work,” says Doug Bloch, the political director of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which has been leading an organizing effort in Tracy. “There’s always a need for temporary labor in any agricultural industry, but at Taylor Farms you have people who have been working five years or 10 years or longer as a ‘temp.’ There is nothing temporary about their employment whatsoever.”

A 2012 University of California, Berkeley Labor Center study concluded that temporary workers in California are twice as likely as non-temps to live in poverty, face lower wages and less job security. They are also twice as likely to receive food stamps and be on Medi-Cal as other employees. For temporary workers employed in manual occupations, particularly, it may also mean being subject to unsafe working conditions and other abuses as host companies and temp agencies each blame the other for health and safety violations.

“When somebody files a workers comp claim, nobody wants to take responsibility for it,” says the Teamsters’ Bloch. “The insurer gets bounced back and forth like a pinball between Taylor Farms and Abel Mendoza. The same thing happens when workers file claims with the Labor Commissioner. Everybody’s pointing their finger and saying, ‘I’m not the employer, it’s the other guy.’”

California Assemblyman Roger Hernandez has introduced a bill making companies responsible for what happens to workers when they use labor contractors. Such an idea needs to become central to labor activism worldwide and should be applied through the entirety of supply chains, making Wal-Mart legally responsible for what happens to workers in the sweatshop where they toil because the company demands huge shipments of product for very low prices.

This Day in Labor History: May 29, 1943

[ 82 ] May 29, 2014 |

On May 29, 1943, Norman Rockwell published a cover in the Saturday Evening Post of a woman working an industrial job. This cover represented the millions of women entering the workforce during World War II to build the material needed to defeat the Axis. This image was part of a larger cultural phenomena referring to these women workers as Rosie the Riveter. Rosie the Riveter may not have been a real woman, but she does open an entry way to talk about a key point in American labor history: women and work in World War II.


Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter cover

When the United States entered World War II in late 1941, it created an instant labor shortage. With immigration not a possibility except from Mexico, it opened up unprecedented economic opportunities for both women and minorities. The number of women working increased from 12 to 20 million. Before the war, most working women labored in poorly paid service jobs, clerical work, or sales positions. When they did work in manufacturing, it was in the ever exploitative apparel industry, mostly in the South and still a bit in New England. During the war, their labor became much more valuable. The number of women in manufacturing grew by 141 percent and in industries making material for war skyrocketed by 463 percent. Women working in domestic service declined by 20 percent.

Just because women were needed of course didn’t mean that employers had any intention of paying them the same as men, a policy which unfortunately was acceptable to too many unions as well. Men working in a defense production factory averaged $54.65 per week with women receiving an average of only $31.50. While women did join the big industrial unions to work in these factories, because of seniority provisions, they were at the bottom, setting them up to be the first fired after the war. Some contracts for women even stipulated that women would only hold the job until the war’s conclusion. Still, the wages were vastly higher than before the war and women were able to partake of greater economic benefits than any time in U.S. history.


Women welders, Landers, Frary, and Clark Plant, New Britain, Connecticut

The majority of women entering the workforce were older. 60 percent of the women were over the age of 35 and most of them did not have young children. Generally, younger women with small children did not work although of course there were lots of exceptions. Few employers provided childcare and the government did not recruit these women. One exception to this was at the Kaiser shipyards on the west coast, which had 24-hour child care and therefore employed a lot more young women.

The term Rosie the Riveter first appeared in a 1942 song that became a hit for Kay Kyser. A woman named Rosalind Walter was the inspiration for the song. Walter was an elite woman who took a job in an aircraft factory before entering philanthropy after the war. The always-influential Rockwell popularized the image even more with his cover. Rockwell based his woman on a phone operator he knew in Arlington, Vermont named Mary Doyle Keefe, who he then apologized to for making her look so burly. The image then toured the country as a fundraising drive for war bonds.

The popular image of Rosie the Riveter at the time was associated with a Kentucky woman named Rose Will Monroe who moved to Michigan during World War II and worked as a riveter building bombers in a Ypislanti factory. Monroe was asked to be in a promotional film about the women workers and received some short-lived fame that way.

The most famous Rosie image, the “We Can Do It” poster in fact was not designed for the campaign at all. Westinghouse hired a Pittsburgh graphic designer named J. Howard Miller to design an image of a woman worker for its War Production Coordinating Committee. It is believed Miller based his image on a photo of a woman named Geraldine Hoff, who worked as a metal-stamping machine operator in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was only shown to Westinghouse workers as part of a good morale, corporate-values drive (read, anti-union drive) for 2 weeks in February 1943 and was then forgotten. In fact, the poster did not become widely associated with Rosie the Riveter until the 1980s.

So to repeat, the image you think of when you think of Rosie the Riveter was an image intended to discourage women from joining unions. The “We” in “We Can Do It” is Westinghouse workers following the leadership of Westinghouse management. Of course, there’s certainly nothing wrong with co-opting right-wing materials for our purposes; certainly conservatives do this all time to images and ideas of the left.


Westinghouse-commissioned corporate propaganda, later erroneously associated with Rosie the Riveter

The war meant a lot of hard work. But wartime work could mean a lot of fun too, perhaps too much for some. Senator Prentiss Brown (D-MI), member of the Army Ordinance Committee, spoke out about fun getting in the way of war production:

The pumps were found to be in perfect condition and no reason could found for their failure until a pair of ladies panties were taken from the suction pipe. These were undoubtedly discarded during the construction of the vessel in a moment of thoughtlessness and left lying in the tank, later finding their way into the pipeline…In order that all may cooperate one hundred percent in the war effort and the total destruction the Axis Powers, it is respectfully requested that lady workers keep their pants on during working hours for the duration.

Many women wanted to continue working after the war (one poll put the number at about 75%), but the postwar economy would be nothing if not patriarchal. Nearly all the women working in factories lost their jobs by the end of 1946. Yet despite overwhelming popular support for women staying at home at letting men working in a single-family economy during the 1950s, women soon entered the workforce at rates surpassing that of World War II. In one poll, 86% of Americans said that married women should not work if jobs were scarce and a husband could support her. Yet by 1952, 2 million more women were working than in 1945. But instead of well-paying industrial jobs, they were effectively filling service positions in the booming postwar economy, going back into sales, office work, flight attendants, and domestic service. The fight for women to become an accepted part of the industrial workforce would not be fully engaged again until the 1970s.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton created the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park at the site of a former Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California, giving the National Park Service a site to interpret this history. I haven’t visited unfortunately.

The original Rockwell painting was sold in 2002 for $4.9 million and now resides in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Today, the image of Rosie the Riveter has become a feminist icon, despite the facts of its origins which are almost totally unknown.

This is the 108th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Why Nothing Will Be Done About Climate Change

[ 89 ] May 28, 2014 |

I had meant to write about the unwillingness of foreign governments to step up to Ecuador’s offer to not drill for oil in its rainforest if the international community would pay the country half its value. Of course the U.S., UK, China, etc., were not interested. George Monbiot on this and other issues that suggest the complete failure of capitalism to manage the problem of climate change:

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable, the Ecuadorean government decided that oil drilling would go ahead in the heart of the Yasuni national park. It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as blackmail or you could see it as fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich: why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills, will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America.

The UK oil company Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east, the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people. These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

Of course even questioning the idea that this is “progress” makes people call you a lunatic, as happens in comments here every time I dare even question the technological utopianism that makes dealing with these problems impossible:

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st Century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.

Hosting the Olympics

[ 89 ] May 28, 2014 |

It’s hardly surprising that the populations of democratic nations are now resisting hosting gigantic sporting events like the 2022 Winter Olympics. It’s a tremendous waste of money that does little to help the people of a nation except satisfy the egos of politicians and corporate leaders looking to be remembered for something.

The Long-Term Unemployed

[ 37 ] May 27, 2014 |

The long-term unemployed are doomed to poverty by Republicans who will not pass any bill extending unemployment benefits. This sort of Republican governance advances their program to recreate New Gilded Age, sending people into grinding poverty in order to serve the interests of the 1%.

The Sky is Not Falling

[ 171 ] May 27, 2014 |

You mean ending prohibition doesn’t lead to massive spikes in crime and other conservative horror stories of what happens when you end the war on drugs? Wow, who could have guessed. The sky is not falling in Colorado, several months into the legalization of marijuana.

Memorial Day

[ 47 ] May 26, 2014 |

Another Decoration Day, another day to remember the Union crushing southerners committing treason to defend slavery.

Two best tweets of this Memorial Day:

But hey, this is a country worth fighting for. Why? This:


Many thanks to the reader who sent me that. Pure 50s gold.

Why did that not appear in Mad Men? Very disappointing. Speaking of Mad Men, last night’s half-season finale was great and really, what an excellent set of episodes. Coming out of a blah Season 6, my expectations were pretty tempered and the new season really didn’t have the buzz of the last few. But every episode has ranged from very good to outstanding. Too bad we have to take a break now for another year, but since AMC has produced 18 bombs in a row, I can hardly blame them for a desperate ploy to stay relevant for another 12 months. And of course:

As for war and memory, this is a pretty great set of pictures of what World War I battlefields look like today. Here’s the landscape of Verdun.


This has been an exciting interlude to escape from a Memorial Day spent trying to tame the last chapter of my capital mobility book, due in a week. The rest of you go eat some burgers or something. Finally, an obligation:

FDR and Bipartisanship Myths

[ 185 ] May 26, 2014 |

There’s a long-standing myth repeated, among others, by the Obama Administration, that FDR hung Herbert Hoover out to dry after the 1932 election, refusing to help the president try and right the economy so that it would be extra bad by the time he took over. Then he would look good. This is just flat out not true. Michael Hiltzik:

As the economic and banking crises deepened during the months between the election and the inauguration on March 4, Hoover became convinced that the downturn was caused by fears in the financial markets of the “radical and collectivist” policies espoused by FDR. He tried repeatedly to inveigle Roosevelt into disavowing these policies in advance of the inauguration.

Hoover urged FDR to make a series of reassuring public statements. Among other things he should commit to keeping the U.S. on the gold standard and promise to balance the budget, something Hoover himself never achieved.

“I realize that if these declarations be made by the president-elect,” Hoover confided to one of his political allies, “he will have ratified the whole major program of the Republican Administration; that is, it means abandonment of 90% of the so-called new deal. But unless this is done, they run a grave danger of precipitating a complete financial debacle…unless, of course, such a debacle is part of the ‘new deal.'” In other words, Hoover was insisting that FDR abandon his own program and fall into line with a Republican program that had already failed.

As Inauguration Day approached and banks across the nation were shutting their doors, Hoover got more panicky, demanding that FDR join him in a joint policy statement on the banking crisis. Roosevelt’s response remained utterly consistent throughout the period, however: Hoover was President until March 4, and had all the authority he needed right up to that date to take any action he chose. FDR wouldn’t stand in his way, but it wasn’t his place to act jointly.

In fact, Hoover’s own aides were telling him the same thing. Days before the inauguration, Federal Reserve Gov. Eugene Meyer pressed him to

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declare a bank holiday: “You are the only one with the power to act. We are fiddling while Rome burns.” Hoover refused.

Far from refusing to lift a finger to relieve the Depression, FDR was working assiduously on the crisis in the days and weeks before taking office. His own Treasury staff-in-waiting were meeting around the clock with Hoover’s aides. Indeed, the bank holiday ultimately imposed by FDR had been designed by Hoover’s own banking officials. Hoover had weeks to put it into place and refused; FDR did so on his very first day in office.

The bank holiday succeeded spectacularly in stemming the bank crisis in the first days of the New Deal; Hoover, incensed that FDR got the credit, petulantly complained in his memoirs that he had been prevented from taking the same steps because of Roosevelt’s lack of “cooperation.”

Hoover would make a great modern Republican. “Look, if you just abandon all your principles and continue with my failed policies, bipartisanship will rule the day!” Of course, such a move would have made the modern FDR hugely popular with the David Brookses of the world, even if it would have done nothing for the country.

It would be nice if Obama took the right lessons from this history and didn’t fall into traps of bipartisanship myths, but that’s always been a weakness of his.

Child Labor on Tobacco Farms

[ 18 ] May 26, 2014 |

Human Rights Watch just released a powerful new report on the abuse of child labor on American tobacco farms. Children as young as the age of 7 are working on these farms, which are structured by individual farmers selling tobacco to the big companies like Philip Morris. While the tobacco companies do have general standards for the tobacco they buy, there’s no evidence they spend any time ensuring the farmers are living up to these standards. Not only are the children working 10-12 hours, mostly during the summer harvesting season but sometimes they aren’t going to school, but they are laboring in unsafe conditions. Sharp tools, machines, and rickety barns to dry to tobacco all make work unsafe for everyone, but especially children. Three-quarters of the children interviewed suffered symptoms of Green Tobacco Sickness, which is basically tobacco poisoning from handling the plants for long periods. These symptoms include dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Water, sanitary facilities, and shade are far too rare and southern summers are very hot and humid. Pesticide exposure is also a major problem on these farms.

As is typical of all agriculture in the United States, labor law is lagging. The failures of the Fair Labor Standards Act to apply to agriculture still leads to inequities and exploitation, although certainly not all of that falls on the people involved in the initial legislation since there has been 76 years to amend it. The FLSA does prohibit “hazardous” agricultural work for children under 16, but no labor on tobacco farms is classified that way. In 2011, the Department of Labor did propose updated hazardous work lists on the farms that would have taken children out of most tobacco work but an angry response from agricultural interests convinced the agency to withdraw the rule changes.

The states could do something. But not these states. Kentucky and Tennessee’s child labor law explicitly exclude agriculture and Virginia just follows federal guidelines. North Carolina lacks any child labor law at all. State laws on wages and hours do not apply to agricultural workers in any of these states.

Read the whole report for a lot of quotes from the interviews with the children.

This Day in Labor History: May 26, 1924

[ 32 ] May 26, 2014 |

On May 26, 1924, the doors of the United States closed to most immigrants as President Calvin Coolidge signed the Immigration Act of 1924. The law set the yearly quota for a nation’s population to immigrate to the U.S. at 2% of its U.S. population in the 1890 census. Beginning in 1927, immigration would then decline even further, to 150,000 total. This law put an end to the immigrant flows to the U.S. that had provided the labor force for the nation’s stupendous industrial growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It also demonstrates the great discomfort many Americans had with the diversity that became a byproduct of the need for such an expanding labor force.

Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe seemed to threaten American values for reasons outside their funny religions, peasant clothing, and garlic-eating ways. Most people came to the U.S. for the precise reason they do today: to make money for their families back home. Like Mexicans and Guatemalans today, many hoped to make money and then return and maybe buy some land and build a little house in their home village. And many did that–for groups like the Italians and Greeks there was significant out-migration.

But some of these immigrants, even if they just wanted to work, also believed in the need for a better world. That was especially true among the immigrant group least likely to return to Europe–Jews. They, and to a lesser extent other groups such as the Italians, Greeks, and Finns, had been introduced to socialist ideas in Europe and brought them to the United States. The Jewish women leading the Uprising of the 20,000 against apparel company exploitation in 1909 and after the Triangle Fire in 1911 were the cheap labor the department stores and clothing designers wanted but they had radical tendencies of standing up for their rights that was definitely not what the capitalists wanted. The corporations intentionally brought in different and competing ethnic groups to undermine workplace solidarity (not to mention basic communication). This could be successful but as companies found out at Lawrence, Paterson, and Ludlow, diverse workforces could unite for decent wages and living conditions. And individual acts like Russian Jewish immigrant Alexander Berkman trying (and failing in spectacular fashion) to assassinate plutocrat Henry Clay Frick after Homestead or the native-born but son of immigrants Leon Czoglosz killing President William McKinley was a sign of the very real violence that some would commit in the cause of punishing capitalists.

While unions like the Industrial Workers of the World embraced these new workers, mainstream organized labor considered them competition for jobs already poorly paid and thus disdained them, a choice that was as much cultural and racial as it was about principles of labor. The American Federation of Labor strongly supported all anti-immigration legislation despite being headed by an English immigrant by the name of Samuel Gompers. But of course Gompers and others came out of an older Protestant immigration that had caused little tension in American history, outside of some anti-German sentiment around the time of the American Revolution. Gompers would have no patience for these southern and eastern Europeans and especially those with ideas about labor movements more radical than he.

Despite the strikes many of these new immigrants engaged in, for most corporate leaders, the need for cheap labor won out over concerns about radicals. The plutocrats buying the Republican Party managed to keep the door open long after nativists wanted it shut. But the events of World War I changed the equation. The unfair equation of the IWW with pro-Kaiser sentiment (absurd on the face of it and the IWW in the U.S. only opposed the war in theory, allowing their members to take whatever position they felt right) meant that immigrants were more suspect than ever and that everything about them needed watching. This is also how the 18th Amendment also finally gathered the necessary support to pass since even beer drinking was now German. The Espionage and Sedition Acts, the Bisbee Deportation, the Centralia Massacre, the Palmer Raids and Red Scare, and the deporting of 566 radicals including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman all helped influence a more comprehensive solution to the fears middle class Protestants had of what this nation was becoming, which was just ending immigration almost entirely.

This trend had been coming for some time and the 1924 act, properly known as the Johnson-Reed Act, was only the final straw. The Immigration Act of 1917, passed over Woodrow Wilson’s veto, barred “undesirables” from entering the U.S., a category which included criminals, the insane, and alcoholics, and imposed a literacy test which led to 1400 immigrants being denied entry in 1920 and 1921.

Perhaps the most notable feature about the Immigration Act was setting the racial quotas to 1890 level. The quotas of immigrants from each country would be based upon their numbers in the United States according to the 1890 census. It meant that Germans, Irish, and English could still come over in relatively undiminished numbers. It meant basically no Asians, which eliminated the rather sizable immigrant stream of “Syrians” (what we would call today Lebanese Christians).

There was one core exception to the Immigration Act, which was Mexicans crossing into the U.S. to provide cheap farm labor in the Southwest. This would begin a long history of American labor law making exceptions for farmworkers, eventually creating long-term inequality in the sector that continues today.

Was the end of immigration the boon for organized labor that its proponents claimed it would be? Not really. The same conservative movement that ended immigration also crushed organized labor. The powerful union movement flexing its muscles in 1919 was at a low point a mere decade later. And that was before the Great Depression created 25 percent unemployment and another 25 percent underemployment.

In 1927, Albert Johnson said of the act he sponsored that it protected America from “a stream of alien blood, with all its inherent misconceptions respecting the relationships of the governing power to the governed.” Or in other words, people who would challenge capitalism.

The nation would finally revise its racist immigration policy with the Immigration Act of 1965.

This is the 107th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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