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World’s Last True Leftist Becomes Central Cog of Neoliberal University

[ 342 ] September 11, 2016 |

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Hey, what’s Freddie doing?

Hi, I’m Freddie. I’m an academic and a writer. I’m the Academic Assessment Manager at Brooklyn College in the City University of New York system. In that capacity, I work with faculty and administrators to better assess student learning and student outcomes, to make Brooklyn College work better and more equitably for students, instructors, and the entire college community. I’m also a writer who writes for newspapers, magazines, and websites. My first book is currently under contract with Harvard University Press.

LOL

No sorry, Fucking LOL. What a gigantic hypocrite. I guess we know why Freddie left Twitter recently.

I wonder how he will assess the work of his new colleague, “tenured radical” Karl Steel?

It should go without saying, but this is a lie. It’s an intentional and direct misrepresentation of what I wrote. It’s a lie. There is no way that any remotely honest human being could read my piece and believe that I said that race doesn’t matter. None. At all. It is flagrantly dishonest. Karl Steel: you are a liar and a coward. I know that being cool with the right people is all that people like you care about. I know this is all about teams, for you. I know that politics is, for people like Karl Steel, a game of popularity and digital strokes, where what matters is not that what you say is true or fair or generative or politically valuable or smart, but rather that it deliver the right kind of reciprocal regard for others so that you can get favorites and retweets in return. I get that all of these people are a few years away from NIMBY liberalism and, finally, affluent apathy. I still find it sort of shocking that some people can be so basically, directly dishonest.

I mean, it’s just possible that someone who has spent years telling liberals and the left that THEY ARE DOING IT WRONG LISTEN TO ME I AM VERY SERIOUS!!! might have some bridges to mend as he goes into the neoliberal academy.

And look, I don’t begrudge any PhD finding a job. The job market for professors is horrible. However, there are two caveats. The first is that taking a job as an assessment person is literally a deal with the devil. I would rather move to the private sector. At least you could have pride and, I don’t know, a secret hope that someday you could overthrow capitalism from the inside or something. But Freddie has been angling for an assessment job for some time.

Second, it’s that Freddie is a huge hypocrite. He built a whole and quite famous internet persona on the evils of everything he is now doing. I guess he took this job because:

I haven’t been an activist for over 10 years, but for a long time I still believed in political progress. And one day not too long ago I woke up and realized I just don’t. Not anymore. And every day, the conversation gets more safe, more corporate, more restricted, less interesting, less honest, and less free.

And now he will make academia more safe, more corporate, more restricted, less interesting, less honest, and less free.

I mean, Christ, if you are leaving the internet because you have accepted a job in the neoliberal university helping to destroy the academy, at least don’t pretend you are leaving the internet because of your principles.

But then again, #Freddie.

I just have one last very important question. Will Freddie be wearing pleated khakis in his new job? I would have linked to the original post where he accused me of this because I don’t know why but it’s a huge insult evidently. But Freddie is cleaning up his internet history as fast as he can.

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Thanks!

[ 23 ] September 9, 2016 |

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After 2 1/2 months on the road, I finally returned to Rhode Island earlier this week. And lo and behold, what do I find but some lovely gifts from a couple of readers. Many thanks to our good friend Pseudonym for the copies of Fargo and Birth of a Nation, as well as Jefferson Cowie’s new book The Great Exception, which is in my office. And equally many thanks to Patricia for the great beer glasses (one of which is filled with a Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale, albeit less filled than when I took the picture), the copy of Kore-eda’s wonderful Still Walking and the Bartok. The three movies should make quite a triple feature!

As always, this is a labor of love for us outside of the beer money the ads collect. So I think I speak for all of us when readers decide that if they are going to waste money, they might as well give it to us, whether to me or for SEK’s OLDMAN CATs or whoever.

Should any of you have more random cash laying around burning a whole in your pocket, you can buy anything off our wish lists you can find when you click on our names at the top of the blog, though mine is here.

A Touching Sendoff for a Lovely Person

[ 55 ] September 9, 2016 |

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This should be a very nice funeral.

Donald Trump is expected to speak at conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly’s funeral Saturday, an anonymous source told CNN.

Trump said he’d attend the funeral for Schlafly, who died Monday at 92, during his Friday speech at the Values Voter Summit.

“Phyllis endorsed me at a time when it was not necessarily the thing to do, even the popular thing to do, and I will never forget that that had a great, great impact,” Trump said. “I look forward to being with her family tomorrow.”

19th Amendment Voting

[ 120 ] September 9, 2016 |

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I am more than a wee bit overwhelmed right now, and really will be for the foreseeable future as I enter the semester from hell. It’s pretty bad when colleagues from other departments who only have a sense of about half of your obligations for a semester come up to you and laughingly ask if “you are ready for this semester.” The answer is, of course, that I have no choice. Some of the reasons for this will soon become public as I’ve been organizing a big speaker series that you New Englanders will be interested in, but in any case, blogging will likely be a bit light for the coming weeks, outside of scheduled labor history posts. But I can always put up an interesting link and so I will leave this here for your perusal and comment.

Hit that Bong Once More Gary

[ 133 ] September 8, 2016 |

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Isn’t Aleppo the lost Marx Brother?

Prison Labor: Modern Slavery

[ 75 ] September 7, 2016 |

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I don’t see how we in this nation can claim that slavery no longer exists. Because a state with 140,000 prisoners is forcing them to work for free without the ability to quit without punishment. The combination of a lack of payment and inability to quit your job is in fact the definition of slavery. That 68% of the prison population is black and Latino is surely coincidental, right?

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has the biggest prison population in the United States (over 140,000 prisoners) and the most prisons of any state (over 100). It is also known for being one of the most self-sufficient and profitable prison systems in the nation, thanks to prison labor.

Beef, pork, chicken and vegetables are raised, processed and harvested by prisoners. Soap and clothing items are manufactured through prison labor as well. Prisoners in Texas grow 24 different crops and tend to over 10,000 head of cattle. They also act as painters, electricians, maintenance workers, cooks, janitors and dog trainers.

It is wrong that this labor, which is managed by Texas Correctional Industries (TCI), is being forced upon prisoners, who are required to execute it for free. If they refuse, they receive discriminatory punishment and thus longer stays in prison.

That’s right: prisoners in Texas are working for free. Total sales for TCI in the fiscal year 2014 alone were valued at $88.9 million, and not one dime of it was used to pay those who produced this handsome reward. Whenever TCI is scrutinized by the public for this practice, they note that prisoners receive other rewards for their labor, such as time credits called “Good Time” or “Work Time.”

On paper, these credits are supposed to cut down the prisoner’s sentence and allow them to be released on mandatory supervision — earlier than they would if these credits didn’t exist. But in reality, mandatory supervision is discretionary. This means that the parole board doesn’t have to honor these credits. It can keep denying a prisoner’s release until they have served their entire sentence.

TDCJ claims that the prisoners’ free labor pays for their room and board, while the actual work gives them job skills to successfully seek and maintain employment upon their release. Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama are other states that utilize this money-making scheme. The other 46 states — one way or another — pay prisoners for their labor with funds that can be used to purchase items off the prison commissary.

Some prisoners work — for free — up to 12 hours a day. This is flat-out, modern-day slave labor and it will continue as long as society accepts the notion that prisoners deserve less.

Remind me how this is not slavery?

LIU Lockout

[ 92 ] September 7, 2016 |

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This is deeply disturbing.

Locking out a university’s faculty right before the start of classes seems like a drastic step, but that is just what Long Island University (LIU) did this weekend, when it barred all 400 members of its faculty union from its Brooklyn campus, cut off their email accounts and health insurance, and told them they would be replaced. The move came three days after the union’s contract expired. Now, the faculty is furious, and planning rallies and pickets with support from the American Federation of Teachers. On Tuesday, faculty voted 226 to 10 to reject a proposed contract from LIU, and the faculty senate voiced their support for a vote of no-confidence in the university’s president Kimberly Cline, 135 to 10. Faculty rallied outside the university’s Brooklyn campus Wednesday with a giant inflatable rat as classes began, taught by non-union members.

Labor historians say they can’t recall an example of a university using a lockout against faculty members. Kate Bronfenbrenner, a Cornell professor of labor relations, says they’re particularly unwise in the service sector, or any sector where a company has clients such as students and donors to placate. More typically, she says, lockouts are used in the industrial sector, where customers are removed from labor practices.

Why did the faculty reject the contract? Because it was pure union-busting all the way:

Arthur Kimmel has been an adjunct at LIU’s Brooklyn campus for more than 20 years. Under the terms of the proposed contract, he would have his income cut by 30 to 35 percent, he said. That’s because, in addition to the $1,800 or so per course he teaches, he has received pay for having office hours and money from an adjunct- benefits trust fund to help defray the cost of health insurance. Kimmel says the university’s proposal would eliminate the adjunct- benefits trust fund and payments for office hours, among other cuts. The new proposal would also decrease the number of credit hours he could teach, and establishes a two-tier system for adjuncts so that new employees would receive less than Kimmel does.

“I think that what the administration is doing, and has done from first day of the current president’s administration, is gutting the university and creating the archetype of the corporatization of the university, where the interest is not in education, but is purely financial,” he told me.

First, I really struggle to see how this turns out well for LIU. How do you replace an entire faculty? I know there is a massive oversupply of teachers out there since the same union-busting administrators now prefer to build themselves nice offices and give themselves 5-figure pay raises rather than hire faculty. But there are also lots of potential faculty who aren’t going to be scabs. This is awful for the students as well.

Worst-case scenario, for the university, would be that the National Labor Relations Board could decide that the university has committed the lockout in an environment of unfair labor practices, at which point LIU would have to pay back wages. But even the best case scenario probably isn’t great: Even if the school reaches an agreement with the union and the 400 faculty are given their jobs back, LIU will still be facing budget problems, which may be exacerbated by students staying away. And worse, it will be remembered as the place of higher education that was the first to lock out its faculty. Those wounds could last a long time.

But if it was to succeed, this is extremely frightening. This is a Gilded Age union-busting tactic used against a vulnerable sector in the New Gilded Age. Moreover, it is my sector. The precedent this would set would be titanic. It’s hard to see it happening at a place like my institution, which is very large and without a pool of eligible replacement faculty, but at smaller schools especially, I could see entire faculty unions being wiped out, pay lowered, and conditions worsened significantly.

You can donate to the LIU Lockout Solidarity Fund here.

Too Much Johnson

[ 316 ] September 7, 2016 |

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Do you know any lefties who are so disgusted with $hillery that they say they will vote for Gary Johnson. If you do, they are probably kind of morons. In any case, make sure that you send them this profile of Johnson, who is a hard-right politician who just likes to smoke weed. His record as governor of New Mexico was absolutely horrible.

Former colleagues remember Johnson as an ideologue, sincerely committed to his project of dismantling government. “He made it very clear to me that by the time he graduated from third grade, he knew all there was to know about government,” said Raymond Sanchez, who was speaker of New Mexico’s House of Representatives for six years of Johnson’s tenure. “He tried to privatize everything he could think of — everything that was in reach.” By 2003, he had set the state record for vetoes, rejecting 739 bills passed by the Democratic legislature.

But he’s best remembered for the prisons. Johnson originally ran on a platform of privatizing every jail in the state — “that way,” he reasoned, “we’ll always have the latest and greatest and best.” His first budget proposal included $91 million for a new privately run state prison.

As Joseph T. Hallinan reports in his book on the US prison system, Going Up the River, Johnson accepted at least $9,000 in campaign donations from a prison company that ultimately won a state contract. By the time he left office, New Mexico led the country in for-profit prisons, housing 44 percent of its inmates in private facilities. Only Alaska, with 31 percent, came close.

Whenever problems surfaced in the for-profit prisons, Johnson turned extremely defensive. In 2000, after four inmates and a guard were killed in private facilities, Johnson vetoed an oversight bill and startled reporters by insisting that New Mexico had the best prisons in the nation. When a riot in a private prison prompted him to send 109 inmates elsewhere, he selected a supermax prison run by the same company in Virginia — despite previous reports of human-rights violations. To this day Johnson is remorseless, saying he “saved taxpayers a lot of money.”

Johnson’s preference for private prisons dovetailed with his tough-on-crime philosophy. As governor, he advocated a three-strikes sentencing policy and a law eliminating early parole. He also sought to limit appeals from death row and even said capital punishment should sometimes be used on minors. (He later changed his mind and said he wanted to eliminate the death penalty altogether; he still believed in “an eye for an eye” but thought that as a policy, it was too costly and unfair.)

Then there was Johnson’s antagonism toward labor, which dated back to his days as a small-business owner. In 1991, a jury penalized his construction company $600,000 for dismissing an employee who reported safety concerns to OSHA. Once in office, Johnson enacted spending cuts that caused the state to eliminate its toll-free hotline for reporting similar safety violations.

He rejected minimum-wage increases and backed “right-to-work” bills. And in 1999, when public employee unions’ right to collectively bargain was set to expire, Johnson vetoed a bill to extend it. Thanks to Johnson’s actions, AFSCME’s Carter Bundy told me, ten thousand government workers saw their wages frozen. “He was incredibly hostile to labor,” said Morty Simon, an attorney who represented labor groups in the ’90s. “We were just totally shut out of the Gary Johnson administration. No contact, no nothing.”

This is not someone anyone on the left should be voting for.

Labor Union Myths

[ 30 ] September 6, 2016 |

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Moshe Marvit has an op-ed in the Washington Post debunking five myths about labor unions. A couple are particularly notable.

Myth No. 3
Right-to-work laws would bankrupt unions.

For the past year, unions across the country have been terrified by a single word: Friedrichs, referring to Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a Supreme Court case that was all but certain to place public-sector employees in a “right to work” status. That would have meant workers who benefitted from union contracts would not have to pay any union dues. In briefings before the court and in public articles, labor advocates cast the issue in the language of economics, as one of free-ridership: At the Century Foundation, education policy analyst Richard Kahlenberg summarized Friedrichs as a referendum on whether there is a “constitutional right to free ride on public sector unions.”

But right-to-work does not necessarily translate into high levels of covered, “free-riding” workers who don’t pay. For instance, all federal employees, including postal workers, are under right-to-work. In the federal workforce (excluding postal employees), 79 percent of the workers who are covered under a union contract have chosen to join; among postal employees, more than 92 percent covered under a contract have chosen to join. In a brief submitted in the Friedrichs case, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy pointed out that union membership among union-represented workers has remained around 80 percent despite right-to-work policies passed in recent years.

Yet right-to-work laws threaten to expose real weaknesses inside unions: a lack of solidarity and participation among members. Twenty-five years ago, in their study on union membership attitudes and participation, Daniel Gallagher and George Strauss wrote that “compared with European unionists, those in North America look upon unionism more as an insurance policy than an instrument in the class struggle or even as a social movement.” Labor’s approach to its membership has changed little during the intervening years, with unions still presenting themselves as a service to their members. Though it is difficult to gauge levels of solidarity, one way of measuring it is through the use of strikes. Strikes are among labor’s strongest weapons, but they require a great deal of solidarity to ensure that workers don’t cross the picket line or that the union does not face a decertification vote following the strike. Between 1990 and 2015, the number of strikes declined by more than 90 percent, from 801 in 1990 to 72 last year.

A good point. It’s not like Friedrichs meant that public sector unions would have to be decimated. Of course they would in reality because the American labor movement is largely simply not set up to have that level of internal organizing. It takes a lot of work and a lot of committed members. And a lot of workers just don’t care about their union enough to have that level of commitment. Maybe that’s the union’s fault. But Marvit is right: there are examples that could give us hope.

Myth No. 5
Unions are a bulwark against globalization.

From NAFTA to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, labor unions have positioned themselves as the primary critics of, and protectors of workers against, globalization and free trade. The AFL-CIO, for instance, states that the TPP “appears modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a free trade agreement that boosts global corporate profits while leaving working families behind.” Likewise, the SEIU calls the TPP “NAFTA on steroids” and “a secret trade agreement that must be stopped.”

The reason for their opposition is clear: Increased globalization often leads to more competition with countries where workers are paid far less, exploiting those workers while making it difficult to keep American wages high.

But despite the best efforts of labor, including large protests in the 1990s, globalization has largely continued apace, and U.S. workers have paid the price. According to the Economic Policy Institute, while NAFTA promised to create 200,000 new jobs for American workers, since its 1994 inception 682,900 jobs have been lost. Another EPI report found that international trade depressed wages for non-college-educated workers by 5.5 percent, meaning an annual loss of $1,800 for the average worker. Meanwhile, workers overseas often face even worse labor conditions, with fewer protections and lower wages.

I would say that calling them an ineffective bulwark against globalization is more precise because to a greater or lesser extent depending on the union, they have tried to serve that function. But there’s no question that they have been ineffective. They simply don’t have enough power for that. They never have.

ITT Is No More

[ 52 ] September 6, 2016 |

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One of the Obama’s administration’s signature late achievements is going after for-profit colleges.

Embattled for-profit college company ITT Educational Services, Inc. is officially shutting down its academic services, the company announced on Tuesday. Most of the 8,000 employees working for the company’s for-profit college, ITT Technical Institutes — which has about 40,000 students attending around 130 campuses in 38 states — will lose their jobs.

The shuttering of the college comes as no surprise. Last week, ITT Tech stopped enrolling students at all of its campuses after the U.S. Department of Education prohibited the company from enrolling students who rely on federal student aid. And although this was the final nail in the coffin, ITT has been dealing with increasing scrutiny of its operations for years.

Last year, the department put ITT on the heightened cash monitoring list for filing its financial information late and the Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against two ITT executives. The SEC’s director of its division of enforcement, Andrew Ceresney, claimed that the executives “made numerous material misstatements and omissions in its disclosures to cover up the subpar performance of student loans programs that ITT created and guaranteed.”

In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued ITT for predatory student lending, arguing that the college encouraged students to take out expensive private loans that they would most likely default on. And this year, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ITT for misleading job placement rates.

Good riddance. I feel terrible for all the people without the cultural capital to know better think that this was a good option for them and took out loans to do so.

Rolling Coal

[ 143 ] September 6, 2016 |

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I love that conservative white men’s masculinity is so fragile that the sheer existence of a Prius sets them into a spasm of hatred. Thus, rolling coal.

But to diesel owners like Corey Blue of Roanoke, Ill., the very efforts to ban coal rolling represent the worst of government overreach and environmental activism. “Your bill will not stop us!” Mr. Blue wrote to Will Guzzardi, a state representative who has proposed a $5,000 fine on anyone who removes or alters emissions equipment.

“Why don’t you go live in Sweden and get the heck out of our country,” Mr. Blue wrote.” I will continue to roll coal anytime I feel like and fog your stupid eco-cars.”

He seems nice.

Still, some truck lovers say times are changing.

Danny Voss drives the Clean Sweep, the only emissions-compliant truck at the McHenry truck pull. His vehicle, a Chevy pickup fitted with a 2012 Duramax engine, is sponsored by Calibrated Power, which makes aftermarket parts that conform with emissions rules.

“When a truck like this pulls and you don’t see the smoke, we’re proud of it,” Mr. Voss said.

But when Clean Sweep dragged the heavy sled down the track, the crowd was confused. “Where’s the smoke?” one spectator shouted.

“The air sucks anyway,” said Ben Poncher, who was drinking a beer next to the track. “Smoke’s pretty. I like seeing it.”

Smart take.

This Day in Labor History: September 6, 1869

[ 8 ] September 6, 2016 |

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On September 6, 1869, the Avondale Colliery mine near Plymouth, Pennsylvania caught on fire, killing 110 workers. This disaster, one of the first major coal disasters in the United States, led to some of the nation’s first workplace safety laws, but ultimately, many thousands more workers would have to die before the nation took workplace safety seriously.

By the end of the Civil War, the nation began to rely on coal as its most important fuel. During the mid-19th century, eastern cities and factories started to turn from wood to coal for fuel as transportation networks to get it from the often relatively remote coal fields to urban centers developed enough to make coal mining a profitable endeavor.

The Avondale Colliery opened in 1867 to dig anthracite, employing primarily Welsh miners. As was usually the case with hard labor during these years, employers were completely indifferent to workplace safety. Large numbers of deaths were the norm, with employers emboldened by the legal doctrine of workplace risk that had given them a free hand on these issues. There was only one exit to the mine, the shaft. This was standard for the era.

The hard work and dangerous conditions led to the Welsh miners forming a union. The Workers Benevolent Association formed in 1868. They immediately pushed to regulate the Pennsylvania mines by the same standards that existed in Britain. That included multiple mine entrances and ventilation requirements. Pennsylvania had actually enacted a weak version of this as a law, but had written in an exception for Luzerne County at the request of a local politician. So at Avondale, the mine was as dangerous as ever.

The morning of September 6, the mine caught fire with about 200 men inside. The mine’s furnace caught fire. It was about 100 feet from the entrance, but it was connected by a flue, which quickly spread it. All of this was made of wood, which of course meant an almost instant conflagration, as was also common in cities throughout the U.S. at this time. The mine was quickly engulfed, with over half the workers dying. Volunteers rushed to the mine and the fire was put out through buckets of water. Volunteers then went inside to find any survivors. Two of them died from the fumes. Of the 110 dead miners, 72 were married. They left behind 158 children.

A few days later, a coroner’s inquest launched an investigation of the fire. The mine’s managers hinted that the WBA had committed arson, as the workers had recently returned from a brief strike. WBA representative Henry Evans had a very different response, damning a system of incredible danger. In response to someone telling him he was condemning the system, he replied, “That is exactly the intention. We miners intend to prove here who is responsible for that system. We intend to prove that it is wrong – WRONG – to send men to work in such mines, and that we have known it for long years; but we must work or starve; that is where the miners stand on this question, and we mean to use this occasion to prove it.” The WBA had held meetings around the state after the fire to demand change. WBA president John Siney told workers:

Men, if you must die with your boots on, die for your families, your homes, your country, but do not consent to die like rats in a trap for those who take no more interest in you than in the pick you dig with. Let me ask if the men who own this mine would as unhesitatingly go down in it to win bread as the poor fellows who lives were snuffed beneath where you stand and who shall henceforth live with us only as a memory. If they did, would they not provide more than one avenue of escape? Aye, men, they surely would and what they would do for themselves they must be compelled by law to do for their workmen.

The inquest went on to find that the fire and the gases caused by it killed the miners and suggested more ventilation systems in the mines to prevent future disasters, but the mine owners were not charged with any crimes.

A few workers here or there would not create any sort of legal challenge to the unregulated mining system. But 110 dead workers would. With outrage pouring in from around the state and the nation, politicians were moved to act. The state of Pennsylvania responded with the passage of first comprehensive mine safety legislation in American history. First, later in 1869, it passed a law specific to Schuykill County and the next year for the whole state. It mandated at least two mine exits and better ventilation systems. It banned boys under the age of 12 from working in the mines and created a system of inspections for the state’s mines. It also criminalized actions that workers took in the mines that might make them more unsafe, which might include riding on loaded coal cars or carrying lit matches into areas with gas lamps. This fundamentally blamed accidents on workers, which has been at the base of most workplace safety law and attitudes through American history, at least up to the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act in 1969. That took attention and responsibility away from employers and from work processes that were inherently unsafe in an age where profit was deified. Given that workers were often paid by the ton and that they were not paid for any safety work that they were nonetheless required to perform, it’s hardly surprising that many of them would seek to cut corners on safety when they were trying to feed their families.

Even these minimal laws were largely unenforced. Pennsylvania and the coal industry at large would suffer disaster after disaster and even continues to do so today. Some of this is the nature of mining underground, but this is almost always exacerbated by corporate indifference to workers’ lives, most notoriously in recent years by Don Blankenship, whose personal intervention in avoiding safety regulations killed 29 of his workers. Still, Pennsylvania did periodically attempt to expand upon the post-Avondale laws, including creating a state hospital for those injured in the coal mines in 1879 and an 1881 law requiring any mine with more than 20 employees to have a way to take injured miners to their homes or a hospital when they got hurt. But these laws were barely window dressing and workers continued to die. It does seem that there was a brief decrease in the death rates in the mines up until about 1875 but it stagnated for decades after that.

I borrowed from Perry Blatz, Democratic Miners: Work and Labor Relations in the Anthracite Coal Industry, 1875-1925 and David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, Dying for Work: Workers Safety and Health in Twentieth-Century America in the writing of this post.

This is the 191st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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