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This Day in Labor History: March 22, 1914

[ 18 ] March 22, 2015 |

On March 22, 1914, Mary “Mother” Jones was arrested on a train in southern Colorado for her work in fighting for the coal miners on strike that area. This was her second arrest in this conflict, as she had previously been detained by the state militia in Trinidad and then sent to Denver. Upon release in Denver, she immediately went back to the coal fields, daring the mine owners and their bought police forces to arrest her again. Her work here was typical of the sacrifices this iconic organizer made in the second half of her life as she fought for the miners so badly exploited in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.

Mother Jones is one of the most fascinating characters in American history. An Irish housewife who had little connection to political activism for much of her adult life, she emerged in middle age as a fiery agitator after her husband and all four of children died of yellow fever in Memphis and her dress shop burned in the Chicago fire of 1871. She quickly became the voice of the mineworkers, especially in the coal country of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. She bridged generations of activism, being extremely close friends with Terence Powderly while also hailing the rise of the United Mine Workers and radical activists that Powderly could barely understand at his peak in the 1880s. She said she was much older than she actually was, which had both rhetorical powers and helped cement her in our historical memory, as she claimed to be 100 years old the year she died when she was probably 93.

By 1897, she was known as Mother Jones, wearing out of style Victorian black dresses and using the mantle of motherhood as central to her organizing prowess. Calling her “mother” both established her as a maternalistic figure among the miners but also centered her emphasis on childhood and motherhood in organizing. For instance, she opposed women’s suffrage and ultimately believed that women should be taking care of their children rather than getting involved in politics. Her own life story made this stance not hypocritical. She also used children in her organizing, including the 1903 Children’s Crusade, a march of miners’ children from Pennsylvania to Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay, New York where the children carried signs reading, “We want to go to School and not the mines.” Roosevelt refused to meet with them. She worked for the UMWA but attended the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of World in 1905 and worked as an organizer for the Socialist Party in the late 1900s, returning to the UMWA as a paid organizer in 1911.

mother-jones-3

Though all of these actions, Mother Jones became known as “the most dangerous woman in America,” a title given to her by a district attorney in West Virginia by the name of Reese Blizzard. During a 1902 trial where she was charged with ignoring injunctions against miners’ union meetings (1st Amendment in the coal fields indeed!), Blizzard pointed at her, saying “There sits the most dangerous woman in America. She comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign … crooks her finger [and] twenty thousand contented men lay down their tools and walk out.” That wasn’t true and served the interests of the owners to say that their employees were actually good people but stupid and easily led astray by outside agitators, instead of admitting their employees had a bloody good reason to go on strike. Anyway, the nickname stuck and this attitude from employers was something Jones reveled in.

In the fall of 1913, a 76 year old Mother Jones traveled to Colorado to participate in mine workers’ organizing in the coal fields in the southern part of that state. Conditions in the coal fields were all too typical of the time: complete industry control over a workforce that was polyglot and desperate. Working conditions were horribly dangerous. Between 1884 and 1912, 1708 workers died in Colorado coal mines (out of a total of over 42,000 nationwide). Companies controlled not only the mines but housing, stores, and education. Union organizing was met with brutality and murder. Effectively, the coal companies controlled workers’ lives in Colorado as they did in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. These were Mother Jones’ people.

Jones’ presence was not welcomed by the mine companies. She was thrown off company property several times. She was arrested twice. After the first arrest, she was placed in a comfortable hospital for a month. After all, she was an elderly woman and a bit harder to crack the whip on than the miners themselves. But on March 23, 1914, she was arrested again. This time, the companies were less kind. They threw her into the Huerfano County jail in Walsenburg. This was no nice hospital. She was forced to spend 23 days in the jail.

The United Mine Workers tried to capitalize on Jones’ arrest. They issued a pamphlet describing (and perhaps exaggerating a bit) the conditions this old woman had to suffer through as she lived her faith of defending the miners. The pamphlet discussed the filthy conditions, the rats in the cell, the snow pouring in a broken window, a guard jabbing her with a bayonet. On the other hand, the mine owners and their friends accused Mother Jones of having been a prostitute in a Denver brothel in 1904 and said her support for Coxey’s Army had consisted of procuring women for sex. On both sides, Mother Jones elicited strong opinions.

After her second release, Mother Jones went to Washington, DC to testify on the conditions in the coal country. A few days later, the Colorado coal wars would see their most violent incident, with the Ludlow Massacre. Between Ludlow and the aftermath when enraged miners went on a rampage against anyone associated with the coal companies, up to 200 people died in this strike, possibly the most deadly in American history. John D. Rockefeller Jr. agreed to meet with her about the conditions of the miners as part of his public relations effort when we was savagely attacked for his role at Ludlow.

Mary Jones died in 1930. Earlier that year, on the day she turned 100, Mother Jones was filmed with sound about workers’ rights.

The key book on Mother Jones is Elliott Gorn’s The Most Dangerous Woman in America. Read it. The most important history of the Colorado coal wars is Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Read it too.

This is the 138th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

World Violence

[ 24 ] March 21, 2015 |

If it seems to you that we have seen an uptick in war and violence around the world, the statistics suggest you are correct.

Road Building

[ 5 ] March 21, 2015 |

Orchid_FL_Jungle_Trail08

If you want to destroy an ecosystem, build a road through it.

The reality is that most of the natural world deals better with the landmines and toxicity of militarized landscapes or the nuclear pollution of Chernobyl than the basic activities of human beings.

Book Review: Thomas C. Field, Jr., From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era

[ 14 ] March 21, 2015 |

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Victor Paz

Thomas Field’s new book on the Alliance for Progress in Bolivia demonstrates just how comfortable America’s Cold War foreign policy establishment was with dictatorship as its preferred method of rule in Latin America. Assuming that Latin America needed American-driven development more than anything else and that communists were both anathema to American foreign policy and the biggest obstacle in the way of developmentalism, dictatorship and development became the twin pillars of the Alliance for Progress, as Field’s important book demonstrates.

The 1952 revolution in Bolivia was a landmark moment in that nation’s history, when a broad revolution brought Victor Paz to power and the reign of the military seemed to end in favor of a government that would reflect the people’s needs. That movement included a lot of support from the left and in his early years, Paz repaid that support, or at least tolerated its existence. The new government nationalized the tin mines and radical leftist union members worked in them. Agrarian reform was undertaken and forced labor abolished. Despite its tin industry, the nation was not particularly important to U.S. policymakers in 1952. That would change with the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Much of the American foreign policy establishment originally saw Paz as suspicious and a potential communist. But the Kennedy administration viewed him as a key bulwark in holding the line against communism in South America. The Alliance for Progress wasn’t founded to support dictatorship per se. Rather, it intended to bring middle-class modernity to the unaligned states of the region. But as Field usefully points out, that middle-class modernity meant, from the perspective of U.S. economic advisers, the firing of thousands of miners in the nationalized tin mines that were leftist strongholds of communist unions. The stated reason was economic efficiency, but the Kennedy administration also hoped to undermine the communists who not only threatened American hegemony in the region but through their desire to stay employed were keeping nations like Bolivian economically-backwards. Union-busting and labor rationalizations therefore were central to the Alliance for Progress from its beginning. Or as Field states, Kennedy’s foreign policy toward Bolivia was “a program of politicized, authoritarian development that took dead aim at the country’s leftist miners (24).”

Paz was a committed nationalist but he also began to see the nation and himself as one, moving to eliminate rivals and consolidate power. He became increasingly brutal, using ex-Nazis to run his secret security services. None of this bothered Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger, or any of the other major figures creating Latin American foreign policy. USAID trained indigenous militias (who remained Paz supporters until the end) to attack the miners, eliminate their threat to Paz, and bring modernization to Bolivia. Although Paz long held out against alienating the Communist Party and Cuba, he finally did move against the tin miners and arrested their communist leaders, leading to the miners taking several American government officials hostage in early 1964, Lyndon Johnson’s first foreign policy crisis. His hard moves against the left just endeared him to Washington, who rewarded him with more cash and more military assistance. This just alienated the left even more, continuing the polarization and militarization of Bolivia with U.S. assistance. Vice-President Juan Lechín, the leftists’ man in the government, was increasingly isolated and replaced as VP. For good measure, Paz’s thugs beat Lechín to a pulp so he could not engage in his last official function in office during the new inauguration and thus could not make a speech denouncing the president.

By 1964, the U.S. still held onto Paz as their man in La Paz, but the blind faith in him meant they could not see the cards falling around him. By that year, Paz had not only alienated the left, but the grassroots right and the military. Messing with the nation’s constitution to allow himself to run for a third term helped consolidate opposition to him, with fighters and activists on both sides looking to the military as a solution. General René Barrientos became the center of the military opposition. Originally, a Paz acolyte, the president’s disdain for him finally took its toll. Barrientos created alliances with the communists and was a military solution acceptable to the falangists. With both right and left wing rebellion and a military also alienated from Paz, finally Barrientos led the coup that solved the nation’s Paz problem.

And yet even after Barrientos took power, it wasn’t as if the CIA or Johnson administration lost influence in La Paz. Rather, Barrientos became just as much a tool of Washington as Paz, relying on the U.S. government for the entirety of his five years in power, a period that included the killing of Che Guevara by Barrientos’ troops and the continued repression of the left despite their hopes in him. U.S. influence with Bolivian presidents remained generally pretty strong up until Evo Morales, including once again with Paz, who won a fourth term as president in 1985 where he committed to the country to neoliberalism and helped set the groundwork for Morales’ Bolivarian Revolution.

And while most general readers are unlikely to come to this book with much interest in Bolivia per se, to relate this to another key foreign policy question of the era, this story just reinforces the reality that there is just no reason to believe that Vietnam under Kennedy’s presidency would have come appreciably different than it did under Johnson. For Kennedy, authoritarianism, development, and anticommunism went hand in hand and that meant large infusions of U.S. military aid to ensure that friendly leaders stayed in power. That Johnson would continue Kennedy’s policies in both Bolivia and Vietnam does not exonerate those terrible decisions, but it does suggest that those decisions were not LBJ’s alone and rather the entire U.S. establishment was willing to get the U.S. involved in any number of foreign excursions to defend the world against communism.

Field has definitely written a monograph here and the intricate detail of the Paz administration and his interactions with American officials may not be for all readers. But then that’s the power of such a book, leaving no question in the reader’s mind just how easy it was for Kennedy administration officials–who genuinely thought they were doing the right thing–to slip into supporting a leader using ever more cruelty by the year. These sorts of historical narratives are also necessary for modern readers to understand the roots of American foreign policy problems today. I stress to my students the need to understand the CIA led coup in Iran in 1953 in order to understand the problems between the U.S. and Iran today, noting that while the average American’s attention to a foreign crisis ends at the next episode of American Idol, in other nations who feel the brunt of American power, hostile memories linger for decades. America’s relations with Bolivia are not as geopolitically important as with Iran but hostility lingers much the same. Evo Morales kicking Peace Corps and USAID out of Bolivia comes back to the long-term repressive policies the U.S. has supported in that nation going back to the Paz years.

GIF Governance

[ 219 ] March 20, 2015 |

The House Judiciary Committee is now sending out press releases touting the Republican immigration “plan” that consist of nothing but GIFs. Clearly a high point in the history of American governance. Of course, every GIF used is of a white person. I guess this is how you reach out to the kids and tell them out to embrace white supremacy.

Andrew Cuomo: Bought and Paid For

[ 104 ] March 20, 2015 |

Andrew_Cuomo_2014

Above: A terrible person.

George Joseph has an excellent exposé on Andrew Cuomo selling public education in New York to billionaires looking for new profits off formerly public goods. You should read it. But why has Andrew Cuomo done this? Is it because of his deeply felt but perhaps flawed concern about poor children? Of course not:

Clearly, the governor’s ambitions are not focused on New York State any longer. A recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, indicates Cuomo’s education proposal has lowered his overall approval rating to its lowest in office, with only 28 percent in support of and 63 percent against his massive reform plan. While 50 percent support his advocacy of charter schools, an overwhelming 71 percent do not believe teachers should be evaluated based on student test scores, and 65 percent do not believe such scores should determine tenure. Furthermore, if Cuomo was at all interested in staying in New York, he would not be waging an all out war against the state’s still formidable teachers’ union, once considered the preeminent political force in Albany. “Andrew Cuomo’s career is based on copying everything Bill Clinton ever did, going against teachers’ unions with the support of billionaires, just like the Clintons did with Walmart,” argues one Albany lobbyist to The Nation. “He’s not especially original, but he’s tough, mean, and can execute a plan. He doesn’t give a rats’ ass about education, he just wants Wall Street money. He sees the backing of billionaires key to his future success.”

An even more right-wing version of the Clintons is precisely what the Democratic Party needs! Luckily, I think Cuomo has gone too far down this road to ever be the presidential nominee. He has become so toxic to Democratic Party activists that I think an “Anyone But Cuomo” campaign would unite Democrats around someone else were he to run. The one caveat to that is probably if Hillary doesn’t run in 2016 since there wouldn’t be time for another major candidate to play that role except maybe O’Malley and Biden, neither of whom would exactly galvanize the forces, or maybe Elizabeth Warren but she isn’t running in any case.

Say Goodbye to the Weekend in Wisconsin

[ 56 ] March 20, 2015 |

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The next front in Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republican Party’s war on labor is to abolish the state law that mandates one day off a week. I assume the chances of this bill passing is approximately 100 percent.

The Home of the Brave

[ 109 ] March 20, 2015 |

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In order to honor Foreign Language Week, New York’s Pine Bush High School decided to read the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. You can guess how the good people of Pine Bush responded, if the photo above doesn’t give it away.

Suicide at Work

[ 11 ] March 19, 2015 |

Mental health at work absolutely should be something covered by OSHA standards. Workplace happiness is key to overall happiness. If terrible bosses, absurd working hours, and high stress is causing people to die on the job through suicide, that should be the government’s concern and investigations of workplace conditions should be taken as seriously here (understanding that OSHA is underfunded and things are not taken seriously enough) as when a tractor overturns or a worker falls off scaffolding.

Debate Over

[ 68 ] March 19, 2015 |

BenjaminNetanyahu

Above: A racist.

I guess the debate over whether Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist is over:

The prime minister also dismissed allegations that he was a racist following comments about Arab voter turnout during the election, saying simply: “I’m not.”

OK then! Netanyahu really is modeling himself after American conservatives, who reject the same (usually legitimate) charge against their own racism by simply denying it, which the media happily goes along with.

“We Don’t Need to Listen to this Crap”

[ 32 ] March 19, 2015 |

Janet_Napolitano_official_portrait

Above: Academic plutocrat

University of California president (and former Arizona governor and Secretary of Homeland Security) Janet Napolitano sums up the opinion of pretty much all university presidents and provosts toward any of the lowly proles protesting or advocating against their policies that concentrate resources in the academic 1 percent:

University of California President Janet Napolitano remarked to a fellow regent that they “didn’t have to listen to this crap” as protesters denounced potential tuition hikes during a meeting Wednesday in San Francisco.

Napolitano was sitting next UC regent Chairman Bruce Varner as a group of about two dozen protesters shouted loudly, denouncing potential tuition hikes when she made the remark, which she may not have known was being recorded.

As the protests began, the cameras stayed on the regents. There was some confusion over what to do. That’s when Napolitano leans over to Varner and said, “Let’s just break. Let’s go, let’s go. We don’t have to listen to this crap.” Her hot mic caught the comment.

Whether it is students not wanting to take out more debt so that schools can hire another vice-president for strategic dynamism, professors speaking unpopular opinions, or campus workers organizing, university presidents, other high administrators, and boards of trustees, see them as nothing more than flies to be swatted away. How dare they protest the corporate university! Don’t they know that CEOs and college presidents are lords of the manor who deserve every penny of their massively bloated salaries?

Down With Grammar Snobs!

[ 433 ] March 19, 2015 |

It’s time to declare war on grammar snobs. They are both annoying and wrong:

The grammatical rules invoked by pedants aren’t real rules of grammar at all. They are, at best, just stylistic conventions: An example would be the use of a double negative (I can’t get no satisfaction). It makes complete grammatical sense, as an intensifier. It’s just a convention that we don’t use double negatives of that form in Standard English.

Some other pedantic stipulations are destructive pieces of folklore, like the belief that it is wrong to split an infinitive or to end a sentence with a preposition. We should be entirely relaxed about that sort of choice. Why worry, as some pedants do, about whether to write “firstly” or “first” when you begin a list of points? Either is correct.

The range of legitimate variation is wider than you would imagine. Yes, you may use “hopefully” as an adverb modifying an entire sentence; and you may use “they” as a singular generic pronoun; and you may say “between you and I.” The pedants’ prohibitions on constructions like these are not supported by the evidence of general usage.

Pedantry is poor manners, certainly, but also poor scholarship. If someone tells you that you “can’t” write something, ask them why not. Rarely will they have an answer that makes grammatical sense; it is probably just a superstition that they have carried around with them for years.

This is followed with a history of grammar snobbery that should make any grammar snob think twice about the “rules” they believe in.

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