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The 2016 Campaign Is Over Before It Began

[ 65 ] March 12, 2015 |


I don’t see how Scott Walker’s competitors can overcome this endorsement.

Scott Baio — who played Chachi Arcola in “Happy Days” and its spinoff “Joanie Loves Chachi,” as well as the protagonist of “Charles in Charge” — tweeted his praise for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is mulling a presidential run in 2016.

“Gov. Walker sounds a lot like President Reagan. #WalkerFor Pres,” the tweet read, with a picture of the actor posing alongside Walker.

Walker tweeted back Wednesday, writing: “Thanks! We both love Reagan, I’m flattered,” along with the hashtag #ChachiandWalkerLoveReagan.

I realize that the all-important Victoria Jackson endorsement is out there still. So maybe the election isn’t over quite yet.


Right to Work in Wisconsin

[ 67 ] March 11, 2015 |


I am obviously dismayed by Wisconsin passing a right to work bill and Scott Walker signing it. Of course, Walker had said he wouldn’t sign such a bill last year but there was no reason to believe him since he is governing, if one can call it that, with the sole purpose of appealing to Republican primary voters and caucus participants in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. I think I’m even more dismayed that the news was just taken with a giant shrug by most progressives; outside of labor people, hardly anyone gave it more than a notice. That’s sad, not only because of Wisconsin’s great union tradition, but because right to work bills are seen as pretty much so unstoppable now that there’s hardly reason to comment on them. It’s just another step in the inevitable decline of American labor. Even more dismaying is that whereas the original Walker anti-labor actions lead to enormous protests while by 2015, Madison is seeing some protests over yet another unarmed black person murdered by the cops (and I’m glad people are protesting this. Also, see Sarah Jaffe’s essay connecting the two issues.) but there’s barely a whisper of organized protest against Walker signing the bill.

After the original Walker protests, a book came out called Labor Rising: The Past and Future of Working People in America. It was one of these occasional books that come out combining labor historians, journalists, and activists to think about the future of American labor. The essays were written in that sweet spot right after the Madison protests and before Occupy. So they reflected that moment in time. I reviewed it in a long-form, multi-book review you can read here if you have access to a university library. What bothered me about this was all the quite esteemed historians making direct reference to the anti-Walker protests as an example of how Americans were revolting over the treatment of public sector unions and how it was a harbinger of things to come.

Um, no. Those essays were dated as soon as they were written. They look even more dated now as Wisconsin joins the majority of the states that are eviscerating public sector unions through right to work laws. I fully expect a national right to work law to be signed by the next Republican president and moves toward reversing the major provisions of the National Labor Relations Act and Fair Labor Standards Act over the next decade or two. That’s a much more realistic projection that thinking every moment of protest is going to lead to something larger. Maybe it happens one day. I’d like to think so too. But I’m not feeling great about that right now.

Also, naturally Walker signs the bill at a firm notorious for outsourcing Wisconsin jobs overseas.

Rahm’s Chicago

[ 99 ] March 11, 2015 |

Picture 015

As you may know, Rahm Emanuel closed a whole bunch of schools and mental health clinics in Chicago, leading to the classic “YOU’RE GONNA RESPECT ME!” exchange. What does Rahm’s Chicago envision replacing these horrible institutions? Gourmet mac and cheese shops.

Grant kept the concept for his new mac and cheese restaurant simple Tuesday: “Carryout only,” he said. “Gourmet mac and cheese. Good food. Good price. Good time.”

Located in the same building as his most recent Logan Square business, East Room, the yet-unnamed restaurant will feature gourmet mac and cheese by chef Laura Piper, owner and executive chef at Downtown’s One North Kitchen and Bar, 1 N. Wacker Drive.

The new restaurant will be on the first floor of the Logan Square building, which will be built in a 383-square-foot area, according to city records. The same building formerly served as a mental health clinic that shut down in 2012, followed by a series of citywide protests and a more recent hearing before the City Council.

The mac and cheese spot, led by Piper, joins a slew of new and upcoming bars and restaurants on the booming block, including East Room, Owen + Alchemy, Q-tine, Slippery Slope, The Radler, Emporium Logan Square and Chicago Distilling Company, along with some established local outlets like Revolution Brewing, Café Mustache and Gaslight Coffee Roasters.

Makes sense. Get rid of public institutions where rich white people might have to see people who make them feel uncomfortable, replace them with private institutions where rich white people will only see other rich white people and maybe just enough people of color (i.e. 1) to make themselves feel diverse and hip. That’s Rahm’s New Gilded Age Chicago in a nutshell.

St. Louis: Culinary Capital of the World

[ 93 ] March 11, 2015 |


I haven’t spent very much time in St. Louis and haven’t been there at all since 2006. That seems too bad since it is evidently the food capital of all the universe with the best Italian food on the planet and of course pizza equal to if not greater than that of New York. Everyone knows provel is better than real cheese. How great is St. Louis?

Fun fact: Jesus actually came to St. Louis first. Both mainstream Christians and Mormons got it wrong. I mean, why else would the second-highest position in the Catholic church be called Cardinals?

It’s that great. Can we start using St. Louis pizza for communion wafers in churches? It’s basically a cracker anyway.

Flushing Tenure Down the Toilet

[ 58 ] March 11, 2015 |


The attacks on tenured professors are just getting ridiculous.

Is the University of North Georgia moving to terminate a tenured professor of Spanish at its Dahlonega campus for being rude? Some North Georgia faculty members say that’s what’s happening to their colleague, Victoria McCard, and that her case demonstrates the university’s disregard for the tenets of tenure.

Various faculty accounts of exactly what transpired between McCard and a guest lecturer on campus in mid-October differ slightly, but they’re essentially the same on key issues. McCard, whom colleagues described as outspoken, asked the guest lecturer to speak up during a public presentation in the library — either because he was too quiet or because McCard thought he wasn’t being direct enough in his remarks about the political climate in his home country of El Salvador, or both. Either way, McCard offended the lecturer, who later met with her to discuss what had happened. He and McCard did not see eye to eye, and the lecturer lodged a complaint against her with the department chair. The chair reported it to the administration, which investigated the claim through a series of interviews with Spanish department faculty members.

A week later, McCard received notice that she was being suspended from teaching and barred from campus. She soon received word that the university was moving to fire her for various charges under the umbrella of being an unruly employee: disruptive behavior, discredit to the university, insubordination and interfering with the work performance of another employee.

I get that certain professors can be cranky and even kind of jerks. But a firing offense? For what? For challenging a visiting speaker who, presumably, is another professor? Even if not another professor, did McCord cuss the person out or something? No evidence of that. I’m not certainly not comfortable with the new definition of tenure, which is “saying nothing that offends the university president or provost” but this is ridiculous. Effectively, not saying anything negative to anyone at all is becoming the coin of the realm in keeping your academic job.

Koch U Professor Calls for Less Democracy

[ 136 ] March 11, 2015 |


It’s hardly surprising that George Mason University, which has become a national embarrassment for its willingness to take right-wing money to hire professors with little interest other than to produce right-wing propaganda, is now seeing its professors calling for less democracy in order to create “good governance.” It may not surprise you that said good governance will coincide with the interests of the Koch Brothers rather than workers and everyday people.

Technology over Pre-K

[ 63 ] March 11, 2015 |


This is a very small newspaper item from the small but pretty wealthy Rhode Island town of East Greenwich. But I think it is telling about education today, where school districts (and most certainly the outside funders) are pushing expensive technologies as answers to education issues while basic and fundamental aspects of education like funded pre-K are left to rot. We might ask whether every East Greenwich high school student student should receive a pricey Chromebook before universal pre-K is implemented in the town. I’d probably argue no but the fact that it happens that way here and no doubt in school districts across the country is too telling about educational priorities in the age of privatizing public goods.

Oil Train Explosions

[ 14 ] March 10, 2015 |


Too much destruction, not enough regulation. A sign o’the times.

Respecting Women Means Closing Sweatshops

[ 41 ] March 10, 2015 |


Too much of the talk around women at work these days revolves around wealthy women like Sheryl Sandberg. As Janey Stephenson argues, if we want International Women’s Day to mean something, that requires the closing of sweatshops worldwide. That will only happen if we create legal regimes that force companies to acquiesce to international labor law in their factories and that grants the rights of these usually female workers to sue in corporate nations of origin for real financial damages against their employers or the companies that contract with their employers. Without closing the sweatshops, the international exploitation of women by American corporations will continue and without empowering women and ending the race to the bottom, that international exploitation will never end.

This Day in Labor History: March 10, 1925

[ 31 ] March 10, 2015 |

On March 10, 1925, the New York Times first reported the story of the so-called Radium Girls, as U.S. Radium Company employee Marguerite Carlough had sued her employer for $75,000 for the horrific health problems caused by her work with radium that would soon kill her. The story would garner national headlines and would demonstrate both the awfulness of working conditions in the early 20th century and the failures of the workers’ compensation system to deal with health problems caused by poisonous work.

The 1910s saw the development of two phenomena that would come together in horrible ways for workers. The first was the wristwatch, invented during this decade. The second was the entrance of radium into the marketplace. Because radium glowed in the dark, it became a popular method of painting watch faces, since it made the watches useful at night. For soldiers in World War I, these watches were a godsend and this made them popular nationwide.

The Radium Luminous Materials Corporation (later U.S. Radium Corporation) plant in Orange, New Jersey caused a lot of problems in the neighborhood. Residents complained the company’s emissions turned their drying clothes yellow. For the workers, the radium was as much a delight as it was to the consumers. With little health research into its effects on the workers, the young dialpainters suffered heavy exposure to it. They were taught to hold the paintbrush with their mouths as they worked, wetting it with their tongues and thus ingesting the radium that way. They also played with the radium paint. They’d paint the fingernails with it. One woman had a date with her beau. So she painted radium on her teeth so her smile would glow in the dark when they were alone that night.


Advertisement for radium watch.

As early as 1922, workers began falling sick. The dialpainters were the first industrial victims of radium poisoning. Katherine Schaub and her cousin Irene Rudolph started working in the new dialpainting studio at the Radium Luminous Materials plant in 1917. They were both 15. In 1920, both Schaub and Rudolph quit, finding nonindustrial jobs, although Schaub would briefly return to dialpainting the next year. By 1922, they were both 20 years old. That year, Rudolph had mouth pain. She had a tooth extracted. The socket never healed. Her jaw begin to fester with rotting bones. Other dialpainters began coming down with the same problems. Randolph died in July 1923 after a year and a half of suffering. Schaub started to have health problems in November 1923. By this time, other dialpainters such as Amelia Magggia, Hazel Vincent Kuser, and Marguerite Carlough had died or were dying. Schaub’s continued mouth problems began to be known as “radium jaw.”


Workers at U.S. Radium, 1922 or 1923.

Medical researchers began to pay more attention to these sick women. So did the New Jersey Consumers’ League, the largely women-led industrial reform movement of the Progressive Era. That era had ended, at least in the years as it is classically classified by historians, but the national and state level organization still existed. The sole paid employee of the New Jersey branch was Katherine Wiley, but she was effective. In 1923, she had successfully lobbied for a bill banning night work for women. After hearing the legendary industrial reformer Alice Hamilton talk about workplace health, Wiley began exploring this in her home state. She soon found the dialpainters. In 1924, Wiley went to the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor, Dr. Andrew McBride. He was furious that these meddlesome women were getting involved in these cases and denied that the radium companies had anything to do with the women’s illnesses.

Working with Hamilton, Wiley began trying to access the medical research. At Harvard, researchers working with U.S. Radium had done initial studies on the substance’s health effects. Wiley and Hamilton sought to acquire that data. The main researcher was loyal to the company and refused to release most of the information. But Frederick Hoffman, a researcher for the U.S. Department of Labor, did find at least some connections, although he was pretty sympathetic to the company too. All of this work did lead to the state labor department closing U.S. Radium, although it just moved to New York. Katherine Schaub kept pushing, convincing Hoffman to write to U.S. Radium about her condition. The company had her visit one of their doctors, who promptly told her that none of her illnesses had anything to do with radium.

Based on this research, in 1927, Schaub joined a dialpainters’ lawsuit organized by the New Jersey Consumers’ League in the state Supreme Court. But this was a difficult task. Not only had the statue of limitations passed since all these workers had quit several years earlier, but the dialpainters needed to prove both that U.S. Radium had caused their illnesses and that the company was negligent in their actions. The lawsuits were a struggle because workers’ compensation generally did not cover health related issues. The workers’ compensation came about as a way for corporations to cut their losses and enter a rational system for dealing with workplace health and safety because after 1890, workers were increasingly suing them successfully for compensation, a slow rejection of the doctrine of workplace risk established early in the nation’s industrial period.

Similar cases were happening at the Waterbury Clock Company in Waterbury, Connecticut (I can’t drive past this factory on I-84 without thinking of dead radium workers) and at Radium Dial in Ottawa, Illinois. Workers at all three plants struggled to achieve compensation. But in New Jersey, all the bad publicity convinced the company to settle with most of the workers in 1928, although it also made it very difficult for workers to prove any corporate culpability. In more conservative Connecticut, women played a much smaller role in state politics and despite a longer statue of limitations provision in the workers’ compensation law of 5 years, business controlled the state. Workers here received only relatively small settlements, even if Waterbury Clock admitted it had caused 10 deaths by 1936. In Illinois, the workers compensation system was such a mess that not a single sufferer received a cent until 1938.


Newspaper article publicizing plight of Illinois radium poisoning victims.

In the 1980s, high levels of radon were discovered in homes near the old plant in Orange. The company had long ago been purchased by Safety Light. Homeowners and the current corporate owners of the old plant sued Safety Light. In 1991, the New Jersey Supreme Court found U.S. Radium “forever” liable for the radium near its old factory. Workers laboring with radium however continued having problems, even as safety nominally improved. In the 1970s, radium workers in Ottawa, Illinois were found having radiation levels 1666 times the Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved levels.

This post is based on Claudia Clark, Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935.

This is the 136th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Florida Bans the Term “Climate Change”

[ 29 ] March 9, 2015 |


Florida banning its state employees from using the term “climate change” might be a short term political advantage for conservatives. But burying your head in the sand next to the ocean might not be a very good idea when that climate change you don’t want to admit is happening leads to rising oceans that drown you in your sandhole.

Guess Who?

[ 89 ] March 9, 2015 |

I’ve been putting together a lecture for tomorrow’s U.S. Environmental History class on atomic nature and I came across this ad, which I just could not resist sharing with you.


Good times.

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