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NYU’s Sellout for Gulf Oil Money Looks Worse and Worse

[ 19 ] March 18, 2015 |

New York University, supposedly a bastion of education and academic freedom and whose president John Sexton came on strongly against BDS because of academic freedom issues, made a deal with the United Arab Emirates to open a campus in Abu Dhabi. The reason was obvious: cash. And NYU, supposed bastion of education and academic freedom, is willing to compromise on every mission other than making cash to make this happen. First, there was the terrible wages and working conditions of the migrant labor used to construct this campus. Now, the United Arab Emirates is banning NYU professor Andrew Ross from even entering the country because he reported on those labor issues! What do you think the response of NYU will be? Oh I think we all know the answer–cash another check.

Worker Safety in Fast Food

[ 33 ] March 18, 2015 |

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This report shows just how unsafe working conditions are in the fast food industry. 79 percent of fast food workers were burned in the last year and 58 percent received multiple burns. Given the relatively open kitchen of the fast food restaurant, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why as there is a lot of open vats of oil and not a lot of protections for workers. 67 percent of workers were cut, 34 percent were hurt lifting heavy items and 23 percent fell. Perhaps more disturbingly, a full 12 percent of workers claimed they were assaulted on the job last year, although the report does not explore this in much follow up detail. Moreover, employers do a terrible job of dealing with these injuries, especially the burns, where employers give the equivalent advice of “shake it off and keep working.” 33 percent of burn victims reported managers suggested rubbing condiments on the burn instead of getting burn cream.

This Day in Labor History: March 18, 1871

[ 10 ] March 18, 2015 |

On March 18, 1871, the French military attacked the worker movement in Paris with the aim of retaking the city for the nation’s government. Workers foiled the military’s invasion and ten days later they formed the Paris Commune. This socialist workers movement controlled Paris for two months and was the first revolutionary challenge to European government in the industrial age (which 1789 really was not in France). It would start the long tradition of revolutionary movements based upon working-class radicalism that would help to define the next century around the world.

The Paris Commune came about as a result of political crisis in France. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 led to embarrassing losses for the French and Napoleon III. This led to the French abolishing their monarchy and replacing it with the Third Republic. The workers of Paris, already radicalized and far to the left of the rest of France, feared that the new government would not truly embrace republicanism and instead just be another form of oligarchic rule by the powerful. They also held the creation of this kind of order contemptible because they had already organized themselves to defend the city against the Germans with little help from the elite. Workers began establishing their own government as a challenge to the new national government. Urban French workers, especially in Paris, had grown increasingly radicalized over the nineteenth century. Socialism was much more accepted in the French working class than in the United States and the French workers were working out its tenets at the same time Karl Marx and others was figuring out its theoretical basis.

Of course, the Third Republic was not going to let a bunch of radical workers supersede its power. When the army came into Paris, the national guard refused to hand over their weapons. The government was forced to flee to Versailles. Obviously this situation was untenable but in the mean time, things got very interesting in Paris. The workers tried to run an alternative government. Louis-Auguste Blanqui, an early communist, headed this government. It abolished conscription and created a citizens’ army, which also granted the right to bear arms to all citizens. It reestablished the calendar of the French Revolution, building connections with that earlier revolutionary movement. Interest payments on debt were suspended. It issued a lot of radical statements, especially empowering radical women to play a central role in the struggle. Paule Mink (born Paulina Mekarska) had a long history of radicalism in Paris, including publishing anti-Napoleon III newspapers. When the commune began, Mink jumped into the fray to demand gender equality, arguing that all workers deserved deliverance from the oppression they faced but that was especially true of women who faced both gender and class oppression. She set up an ambulance service during the commune and also traveled to other cities around France to try and spur the movement there. One leading radical woman stated, “The social revolution will not be realized until women are equal to men. Until then, you have only the appearance of revolution.”

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But the Paris Commune also struggled to consolidate power and alienated most of the remaining power structure from the old Paris. It also angered most of the rest of France. Having limited connections with workers outside of Paris and almost none the still largely rural peasantry that made up much of France, this was a urban-based revolution without consent from the majority of the theoretically governed. The communards also lacked any real way to even spread their message to the provinces, relying on vague hopes of working-class revolt than a meaningful plan.

The Commune was also incredibly fractured ideologically. Some called themselves Jacobins and directly connected themselves to radicals of old. Followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wanted a loose federation of communes. Blanqui’s communists wanted to use violence to create a revolutionary state. If anything held them together, it was anti-clericalism. All church property in Paris was confiscated by the revolutionary government. The Commune captured the Archbishop of Paris and executed him on May 24.

The French government was not going to tolerate this radicalism in its capital. Finally, the army marched from Versailles. But retaking the city would be very difficult. On April 2, troops started the attack but the communards held out for several weeks. The revolutionaries had built 600 barricades around the city that had to be cleaned out one by one. The French army entered Paris on May 21 and crushed the movement by May 28. The small commune movements in other French cities were also decimated by this time. Along the way, much of Paris burned, some claim by the radical feminists of the Commune although it seems more likely that most of the fires originated from the general chaos of a civil war. The French army claimed about 887 dead; estimates of Parisian citizens killed usually revolve around 20,000, although some recent totals suggest more like 10,000. At the Père Lachaise Cemetery, the army lined up and executed 147 Commune members. About 6000 communards fled as the fighting doomed their experiment, fleeing to surrounding nations.

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Paris Commune barricade after its capture by the French army.

In the United States, the Paris Commune itself did not have a major impact on American workers, but scared the capitalists, police, politicians, and journalists of the nation as it entered the Gilded Age. During the next decade, any workers’ movement in the U.S. was darkly compared to the Paris Commune as the future if these workers continued to organize. For example, the response to the unemployed organizing in New York’s Tompkins Square Park was completely disproportional with the threat these workers posed. Only wanting to march to the meet with the mayor, they were beaten by the cops while journalists screamed about the Paris Commune coming to the United States. To put this into perspective, the head of this movement was Peter McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, even at its founding one of the most conservative unions in the United States. One can argue, as the sociologist Kim Voss has, that what placed the United States on a more anti-union path than western Europe was not anything about the American character and instead was about American employers busting heads and organizing themselves into anti-union organizations much sooner than in Britain or France. How they took the smallest American workers movement, compared it to the Paris Commune, and called for its violence repressions suggests evidence for the thesis.

In Europe, the story of the Paris Commune was one of possibility, not failure, as it provided evidence that workers could act collectively to build an alternative society, as well as the use of political violence to defend that society against counterrevolutionary forces.

This is the 137th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Israeli Gilded Age

[ 42 ] March 17, 2015 |

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Above: Friend of plutocrats

Paul Krugman contextualizes Netanyahu’s troubles by pointing to what he calls “Israel’s Gilded Age,” as the free market devotee has pushed policies that has led to the same sorts of massive income inequality and concentration of extreme wealth among a very few people that such policies have created in the United States. Given that Israel has a somewhat more class oriented politics than the U.S. (at least in my reading of it), it’s not surprising that a lot of voters are willing to put their unease about their place in the Middle East aside and vote against Netanyahu.

Labor Relations in the Marijuana Industry

[ 13 ] March 17, 2015 |

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The more the marijuana industry becomes ensconced in the regulatory lap of the American state, the harder it is going to be make it illicit again. That marijuana workers filed charges against employers with the National Labor Relations Board that the NLRB chose to consider is a piece of this; even if the case is non-binding, it brings the industry closer to a normal business. The case, brought by the United Food and Commercial Workers and over retaliation against workers organizing against pesticide exposure, was settled last week. That federal labor law now applies to the marijuana industry, regardless of its legal status from a federal perspective, is really important.

Guatemala

[ 8 ] March 17, 2015 |

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I am leaving today for a wedding in Antigua, Guatemala. I have some posts already in the queue but any interaction from me on the blog could be light until next Monday.

Abolish the Tipped Minimum Wage

[ 39 ] March 16, 2015 |

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Massachusetts is trying to do something about its tipped minimum wage. It raised it in a recent bill all the way to $3.75 an hour by 2017. To say the least that’s not good enough. A new bill has been introduced in the state legislature to eliminate the tipped minimum wage by 2022. That’s a positive step but still isn’t good enough. The tipped minimum wage should be abolished immediately. I’d sure like to see some statement from the Obama Administration about tipped minimum wages. Not sure what power it would have to eliminate these discrepancies without a bill passing Congress (which of course would never happen), but the tipped minimum wage needs to end.

The Real Power of Fraternities

[ 48 ] March 16, 2015 |

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Katie McDonough understands the real reason why fraternities are almost invincible on the university campus: their members make up the alumni network university presidents rely on for donations. In a university system ever more reliant on private donors for money and ever more willing to turn their institutions into nothing more than training schools for those donors, presidents, assuming they even care about the racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior of the Greek system on their campuses, are hamstrung in their ability to do anything about it. Go after the frats and the donors who are members of said frats close their pocketbooks.

The Origins of Modern Christian Symbolism in the United States

[ 40 ] March 16, 2015 |

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Kevin Kruse excerpts his new book on how corporations created the public symbols of modern Christianity as part of their mobilization against the New Deal. It’s a must read, as is no doubt his book:

Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.

The two had been described as soul mates before, but in this campaign they were wedded in pointed opposition to the “creeping socialism” of the New Deal. The federal government had never really factored into Americans’ thinking about the relationship between faith and free enterprise, mostly because it had never loomed that large over business interests. But now it cast a long and ominous shadow.

Accordingly, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism. Powerful business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the way, promoting this ideology’s appeal in conferences and P.R. campaigns. Generous funding came from prominent businessmen, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag and Henry R. Luce to lesser-known leaders at U.S. Steel, General Motors and DuPont.

In a shrewd decision, these executives made clergymen their spokesmen. As Sun Oil’s J. Howard Pew noted, polls proved that ministers could mold public opinion more than any other profession. And so these businessmen worked to recruit clergy through private meetings and public appeals. Many answered the call, but three deserve special attention.

From this alliance between preachers and capitalists comes most of the ideas that right-wing Christians today cite about why this is an overtly Christian nation and why socialism is a sin. It’s toxic and it’s powerful. Kruse pushing the timeline of this alliance back from the 50s into the 30s is really important in understanding its deep roots.

Abolish the Senate

[ 148 ] March 16, 2015 |

It’s difficult to see the down side.

Why Does Douthat Think the Poor Exist?

[ 242 ] March 15, 2015 |

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You guessed it–too much sex!

That idea makes some people on the left angry. As they see it, it’s money and only money that Murray’s Fishtown and Putnam’s hometown lack and need. And it’s unchecked capitalism and Republican stinginess, not the sexual revolution, that has devastated working-class society over the last few decades. Fight poverty, redistribute wealth, and you’ll revive family and community — it’s as simple as that.

Actually, it’s not quite that simple Ross, but whatever. The sexual revolution is responsible for today’s poor! Why? Who knows! In Ross’ world, the fact that the poor have cable and cell phones is why they aren’t actually poor. They are lazy, shiftless, and too horny. In other words, Douthat is in many ways the prime columnist of the New Gilded Age, blaming the poor for their own poverty by taking an elitist, paternalistic, and strongly disapproving view of working class moral behavior. All they need is religion, sobriety, and to listen to their betters and Horatio Alger lives.

But only if their betters also live moral lives. Which they are not because of too much sex.

The post-1960s cultural revolution isn’t the only possible “something else.” But when you have a cultural earthquake that makes society dramatically more permissive and you subsequently get dramatic social fragmentation among vulnerable populations, denying that there is any connection looks a lot like denying the nose in front of your face.

But recognizing that culture shapes behavior and that moral frameworks matter doesn’t require thundering denunciations of the moral choices of the poor. Instead, our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.

Sure, the “cultural revolution” (nice touch Ross) isn’t the only possible something else. In fact, it’s not even remotely connected to modern poverty. But let’s ignore that only possible part of the equation for me to shame people for sex, rich or poor. Meanwhile, let me go back to my mythologized vision of the 1950s that exists in only my brain.

Finally, what did Leonard Cohen do to deserve citation in this column?

The 16th Century

[ 42 ] March 14, 2015 |

Welp, this exists. From 1555.

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I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this is a Protestant attack upon nuns. Time period certainly fits. As much as I hesitate to ever link to Reddit, there are people here who do seem to know what they are talking about that at least suggest it’s a commentary on how much nuns want sex.

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