We’ve seen a lot of coverage of lockouts lately because professional sports league owners have used the tactic to try and wring major concessions out of unions. But it is an increasingly common phenomenon around the nation. Emboldened bosses see the end of their hated unions in sight and are capitalizing. This includes in classical music, as orchestra bosses around the nation are locking out their musicians in order to squeeze more money from them and concentrate resources at the top, where The Gospel of Wealth says they belong.
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The class of writers like John Cook with a sad because Barack Obama isn’t the adult standing above the fray he was in 2008 shows a lot of naivete about politics. Why is Obama using terms like “Romnesia?” Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because the Republicans have shown for the last 3 1/2 years how trivializing politics into soundbites can be tremendously effective in destroying the president? Because unlike in 2008, when a schmuck like John Edwards would have walked all over John McCain, Obama is in the fight of his life? Because the American public is silly? I can think of lots of reasons that Obama would act like, gasp, a politician.
That we have those who take themselves very seriously complaining about this in late October just before the election shows that there’s a class who is paid to write about politics but actually don’t understand how politics work.
I don’t care that the review said it was less terrible than you’d expect. There are lines that should not be crossed.
I had a fairly good sense of violence against white opponents of secession in Texas during the early period of the Civil War, including the massacre of German settlers as they attempted to flee to Mexico. I was somewhat aware of the hangings at Gainesville, in the north part of the state near the Oklahoma border. But I didn’t know the extent of the violence in North Texas in 1862. Nasty, awful stuff.
On October 23, 1976, International Woodworkers of America Local 3-101 in Everett, Washington had its monthly union meeting.
Big deal, you might be thinking. Locals have meetings all the time and nothing much happens at them. And not a whole lot happened at this lunchtime meeting. 34 members attended. President Ken Schott called the meeting to order. Ed Bordsen read the financial report. Standing committees on grievances and safety read their reports. The Labor Council Committee let everyone know what was going on with other unions in the city. They changed the monthly meeting in December to account for the Christmas party. They then appointed new members to various committees and adjourned.
So again, big deal, right?
This series and most of our discussion of labor history focus on big events, times when capital and labor fought and good and evil were highlighted. We like violence, famous people, huge history-altering events.
But that’s not really how labor operates. Organized labor is the day to day fight for dignity in the workplace. Maybe a lot doesn’t happen in the local union meeting. They might not be very exciting to the general public or the historian. Local records don’t usually provide much detail. These were not people who wrote with a sense of future readers. They were trying to get the job done in order to go home or to the bar.
However, for all the talk of “radicalism” that people throw out there, I’ve come to realize over the years of studying organized labor that perhaps the most radical thing labor has ever done is forcing the employer to sit down across the table from you as an equal. That is so galling to capitalists–to have to negotiate with their employees. This I believe is even more important to their hatred of unions than the wages union workers make.
During the October 23 meeting, Steve Denboe reported on five grievances processed by his committee at the Weyerhaeuser plant. We don’t know what these grievances concerned. At the Publishers mill, two meetings were held in the last month, one at least over changing hours of labor. Dave Troutvine of the Safety Committee at Weyerhaeuser reported on getting a crane fixed. Roland Jacobson from the Reinell Boat Company talked about all the safety problems found on the monthly walk-around and how the union wanted them fixed. Stan Mondham at Publishers told of a safety film on proper lifting techniques to be shown to workers. Jim Nickerson at Scott Paper talked about getting the brakes fixed on the truck loader. Gene Matchett was appointed Safety Inspector for the millwrights on the swing shift at Weyerhaeuser while Tony Ruiz received the same appointment at the same mill for the road truck.
Finally, Floyd Carr spoke to the members about their medical plans and how to deal with deductibles for major operations and dental plans.
In that meeting is a whole history of action and victories. The timber industry, notoriously unsafe throughout its history and strongly anti-union for the first third of the twentieth century forced workers to radical actions in order to fight for dignified lives. Strikes over the working and living environments of the timber camps and mills shut production down during World War I; when the industry finally successfully unionized with both the IWA and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in the mid 1930s, safety was a huge concern for both unions. Decades of fighting had forced employers to accept a safety committee where workers could tell the bosses what was unsafe about their workplace and what could hurt or kill them.
Grievance procedures were fought in timber mills and workplaces throughout the nation; again, the idea that employers can’t dictate the terms of employment and act as capricious dictators to workers galls employers to this day. Grievances in the 1970s might revolve around anything from employer attempts to skirt around contract language to sexual harassment cases to unfair discipline against a worker who might have missed work. Sometimes employees won these cases and sometimes they didn’t, but they had to make employers fight it out. That in itself is an incredibly radical action.
Too often I think modern “radical” actions are committed by those who like to be radical for radicalism’s sake–and this is probably a very old phenomenon. But these actions are so frequently not grounded in any larger movement for social change or an understanding of how working people are empowered. When people are empowered they fight for the things that matter to them. A lot of times that is getting the brakes on the truck loader fixed. And that’s a radical action by almost any measure.
This is the 43rd post in this series. You can read the rest of the series here.
I’m glad that the entirety of tonight’s foreign debate led to one single mention of a Latin American nation. Cuba of course. I heard Fidel Castro may have risen off his death bed to say something (probably more or less accurate) about American imperialism sometime in the last year, no doubt worthy of a good pander.
But hey, that’s OK. Latin America is far away from the United States, so who really cares.
I am not an expert on these issues by any means, but the idea of British courts allowing a lawsuit against the British state by those who suffered during colonialism is fascinating. At the very least, these lawsuits may force modern-day Britain to confront their colonial legacy in a way they’ve been avoiding for decades. It also seems that the British destroyed a tremendous number of documents about their colonial regimes, including the brutal repression of the Mau Mau Rebellion, which is the basis of this lawsuit.
The inevitable cycle of capitalism continues. Small businesses, designed to have tight community values and reject older ways of capitalism, become the next state of centralized big capitalist development. This time it is with once small urban farms that are growing increasingly larger and more centralized, spurring fears of big growers dominating the urban landscape, food sprawl, and social and environmental inequality.
In food, this is not unlike what happened with the organic label. What was once a rejection of an industrialized food system soon become dominated by huge companies like Cascadian Farms and lobbying groups looking to redefine the term in the interests of those companies.
I’m not entirely sure this is a bad thing per se. Local food is probably better than a worldwide food system. If we do want to solve the food problem, bigness has to be part of the equation. But that bigness comes with inherent environmental, planning, and equality problems. And thus, another movement will come along to challenge this latest manifestation of food capitalism.
The day after George McGovern’s death, we lose another icon of the early 70s left, Russell Means. One of the leaders of the American Indian Movement and one of the architects of the Wounded Knee occupation, Means did more than almost anyone else to fight for the rights of Native Americans during the last half-century. He was certainly a complex and argumentative man who a lot of people disliked for a lot of reasons, but his impact is undeniable.
The loss of George McGovern is a tremendous loss for American liberalism and a time to reflect. Joan Walsh has the definitive obituary. Included is a link to her interview from a couple of years ago with Jefferson Cowie, which reinforces how tremendously damaging George Meany’s behavior toward McGovern in the 72 campaign was for the future of American liberalism and American labor, creating cleavages that, amazingly, have not healed today.