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Asbestos is Your Friend

[ 28 ] August 13, 2014 |

Nice to see the asbestos industry pushing its deadly product on poor nations like India. What are a few million developing world lives when there are profits for rich world corporations?

Replicating Youngstown

[ 29 ] August 13, 2014 |

The story of Youngstown’s decline is one that many of you are familiar with. A big industrial steel town that was destroyed by the capital migration of the steel industry to the developing world. Nothing replaced it and today Youngstown is one of the poorest cities in the United States. While an extreme case, it’s story is not very different from Detroit, Flint, Rockford, Toledo, Camden, Harrisburg, Schenectady, and dozens of other cities, not only in the industrial heartland, but throughout much of the nation.

Hopelessness dominates the life of many of those who remain because stable employment, the core of an enjoyable and dignified life in our world, does not exist. And in this era of extreme capital mobility and the concentration of the world’s wealth into the accounts of the global 1%, Youngstown is likely to become closer to the model for the world’s economy than the exception. Too often, this isn’t realized, but this article does a good job placing Youngstown in context:

The 20th century employment model based upon domestic production of goods no longer exists in the Rust Belt. And as globalization and the service sector surge forward, the experiences of 21-year-old Bowman will be shared by millions more young people in the US and across the globe.

This is the logical progression of the global Gilded Age. Anytime you have people winning struggles to create quality jobs and dignified lives, that means those takers are stealing money from the makers who through their beneficence are providing them jobs. So the jobs have to go to people who will be truly grateful for work at sub-living wages, poor worker safety, no environmental protections, and no unions.

On Free Tampons

[ 118 ] August 13, 2014 |

Earlier this week, Jessica Valenti suggested in a column that tampons should be free. I had never really thought about this before, being a guy and all, but it is self-evidently obvious that she’s correct. Menstruation is an issue, like much with our bodies, that the government should step up and provide the basic medical supplies for. Of course, like so many other basic products for our bodies and especially women’s bodies, it does not.

The response to her essay was typical. Valenti was inundated with hate mail, largely from Malkin’s flying monkeys of evil. Because women are gross or something and should be ashamed of their bodies. I do wonder how many Americans would vote on a proposal to shun menstruating women in the woods for a few days a month.

Americans Don’t Care about Climate Change

[ 80 ] August 12, 2014 |

Environmentalism as an active political movement with the ability to create major change has declined to its weakest point in several decades, with the failure to pass the cap and trade bill a shock to the movement’s leading organizations and a sign that their multi-decade strategy of expertise, lobbying, and fundraising was not working. That said, surveys show people still care about the environment. But they don’t care about climate change (or more accurately, they care about it less than all other major environmental issues). So the chances of really doing anything to stop it seem increasingly remote.

Unity Trip

[ 53 ] August 12, 2014 |

Andrew Cuomo, fleeing scandal that is torpedoing his presidential ambitions (world’s smallest violin playing) decides to visit Israel in a show of support of that nation’s racist indiscriminate killing of civilians of Gaza as it seeks to double down on its apartheid policies.

Jerks of the World, Unite!

Marxist Lincoln

[ 74 ] August 12, 2014 |

Look, if you have mainstream Republicans looking to return the nation to the next Gilded Age, it only makes sense that really crazy right-wingers would be longing wistfully for the earlier period of slavery, interfered with by the same perfidious activist government bringing you such horrors as roads, sewers, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Religious right broadcaster Kevin Swanson agreed with one of his guests that Abraham Lincoln imposed socialism on the United States during the “war against the South” – more commonly known as the Civil War.

Swanson hosted neo-Confederate author Walter Kennedy last month on his radio program, reported Right Wing Watch, where the pair argued the Republican Party had been founded by “radical socialists and communists.”

“The Democrats, both Northern and Southerners, believed in limited government, and the Marxists hated that concept,” Kennedy said. “They wanted to do away with states’ rights and limited government so that they’d have one big all-powerful indivisible government that could force its will upon the American people.”

Of course, the same guy said that Frozen was a plot to turn young girls into satanic lesbians. Given the plague of 2014, i.e, any gathering of more than 3 children between the ages of 4 and 12 singing that annoying theme song, I’d like to agree, but then I think, as a liberal, I objectively want all of us to become satanic lesbians, not to mention become Marxists that free black people from treasonous Confederates and their idiot racist Glenn Beck listening descendants longing to rape enslaved black women again without consequences. So sing away annoying 6 year olds, sing away. And then burn a crucifix, just like Barack Obama taught you.

Yao

[ 32 ] August 12, 2014 |

Have to give Yao Ming a lot of credit. He could have taken the Jordan/Kobe/(to a lesser extent) LeBron path of superstardom, but instead he has engaged in political causes. Going the Jabbar/Ali/Jim Brown route has no doubt made him enemies, but his work on behalf of wildlife conservation in China is very, very important.

Nazi Camps and HUAC

[ 16 ] August 11, 2014 |

Michael Hiltzik has useful commentary to add to the story of Nazi youth camps in mid-30s New York. The scare over them led to the creation of the Dies Committee, later HUAC.

In Washington, panic about the camp rumors struck Rep. Martin Dies Jr. as a career opportunity.

Dies, a Democrat from the Texas gulf coast, was a slovenly excuse for a congressman. But he had made it onto the powerful House Rules Committee thanks to his connection with Vice President John Nance Garner, who had served in Congress with Dies’ father.

Dies Jr. made himself the leader of the anti-New Deal bloc in the House, a sort of proto-Tea Party group who swore never to vote “aye” on a tax bill or support any New Deal legislation. In May 1938, he offered a resolution calling for an investigation of the purported Nazi summer camps. House leaders saw a chance to keep the indolent Dies out of their hair, by providing him with a distraction. The probe was approved with Dies as chairman, and given a paltry $25,000 for investigating, enough for about a month.

Thus was born the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities.

It’s again worth nothing here how awful John Nance Garner would have been as a president had FDR not run in 1940.

Drought and Farmworkers

[ 25 ] August 11, 2014 |

The California drought has not only devastated owners, but the workers who rely upon migrant farm work to survive:

On July 11, Camacho was working at a health resource fair in Mendota, a rural farming community west of Fresno. Of the 100 or so farmworkers who attended, Camacho says more than half were being affected by the drought. “What people are saying is that there’s just not the same amount of work that there was prior to the drought,” Camacho says. “People are out of work. People can’t pay their bills, their mortgage. They can’t support their families.”

Camacho says the decrease in work may be depressing wages as well. “We hear about workers asking for wage increases and getting laid off because there’s someone else willing to work for $9 per hour,” he says, which is below the mean wage for farmworkers in Fresno County, according to the BLS. “People should be paid more but there are others willing to work for less.”

Camacho has also heard about farmworkers who are giving up on finding work for the season. Workers who came up to Fresno County from Coachella and El Centro have gone back home, he says, “because there’s no work.”

Cortes, of the UFW, says he is even seeing farm worker families leave the area. The UFW has contracts with many growers in the area, but Cortes says the farms have all reduced planting by 30 to 40 percent this year because of the drought. The season started about a month ago, he says, and it will be over in just three to four weeks because of the smaller crop size.

For some growers, reducing the size of this year’s crop has not been enough to stave off economic ruin. One UFW-contracted grower hired just 400 farmworkers instead of its usual 600 to harvest its tomato and melon crop this year. Despite these cuts, Cortes recently received a letter informing him that the grower is going out of business. Now those 400 farmworkers will have to find other jobs. (He did not reveal the name of the employer because negotiations for possible severance pay are confidential and ongoing.) According to Cortes, many of the workers are considering moving to Oregon or Washington, where they hope to find steadier employment.

As a former farm worker who has been on staff with the union for six years, Cortes describes a season of hopelessness for farmworkers around Madera, the county north of Fresno where he’s based. “Farmworkers are not getting any support from the growers,” he says. “The growers have support from the governor and the federal government, but the farmworkers get nothing.” According to Cortes, more than 90 percent of the farmworkers he organizes are undocumented immigrants, which limits their ability to receive government aid. According to the California Economic Development Department, undocumented immigrants are not eligible to seek unemployment insurance.

And of course the government does nothing for the workers because the unjust immigration system makes them “illegal.”

This Day in Labor History: August 11, 1911

[ 27 ] August 11, 2014 |

On August 11, 1911, workers at the Watertown Arsenal in Watertown, Massachusetts walked off the job as the scientific management ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor began to be applied to their work. This resistance of corporate micromanagement of work was a last ditch attempt by American industrial workers to remain masters of their own labor, even within the factory system that had already degraded their skills and independence.

Frederick Winslow Taylor was an aristocratic Philadelphian who after a few years working as a manual laborer, chose to dedicate his life to making industrial labor more efficient and streamlined. He began managing some Maine paper mills before starting his own efficiency practice in Philadelphia in 1893. His first big job was with Bethlehem Steel between 1898 and 1901, when he was forced out for clashing with other managers, a frequent problem for the bullheaded Taylor.

Taylor believed that workers were nothing more than inefficient machines and like real machines could be time and trained to do more work at a greater speed for less money per unit, thus increasing both productivity and profit. Taylor himself publicized his work in his famous book, The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911. Interestingly. Taylor didn’t come up with the term “scientific management.” Rather, he borrowed it from Louis Brandeis, who coined it the year before in arguing a case about railroads before the Interstate Commerce Commission, borrowing from Taylor’s ideas to argue that railroads could raise wages without raising freight rates. Taylor fundamentally thought working people were stupid, a not uncommon belief for the Gilded Age. He said:

the labor should include rest breaks so that the worker has time to recover from fatigue. Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character. Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work.

Taylor’s ideas, and those of other pioneers of scientific management, became popular among the nation’s industrialists by the 1900s. As increasingly huge corporations sought to maximize profit, controlling the lives of workers on the shop floor became more appealing. While the industrial system had long exploited workers, in many ways, workers still ran the shop floors with a significant degree of autonomy. The long cherished freedom of individual labor had long disappeared by the early 20th century, but the masculine idea of a man having some control over his labor remained strong.

In 1909, General William Crozier, head of the Army Ordinance Department, visited Taylor about his methods. This military facility was one of the nation’s largest arsenals, established in 1816 but turned into a site of gun carriage manufacturing only in 1892. Taylor and his acolytes, particularly Carl Barth, began implementing Taylorist ideas of reorganization. This immediately got the attention of workers, not only in Watertown but around the country. The International Association of Machinists urged members to complain to their congressmen. But when Taylor sent Dwight Merrick to Watertown in May 1911 with a stopwatch to time workers, the workers erupted in fury. Taylor warned the officers to not completely implement a time study plan without prior preparation of the workers, but seeking quick results they did anyway. The workers then walked off the job after one worker refused to allow Merrick to time him and was fired for subordination.

The Watertown molders wrote to Lieutenant Colonel C.B. Wheeler, commanding officer of the arsenal:

Dear Sir: The very unsatisfactory conditions which have prevailed in the foundry among the molders for the past week or more reached an acute stage this afternoon when a man was seen to use as top watch on one of the molders. This we believe to be the limit of our endurance. It is humiliating to us, who have always tried to give to the Government the best that was in us. This method is un-American in principle, and we most respectfully request that you have it discontinued at once.

We feel justified in making this request, on the ground that some two years ago you told a committee of the molders that you were well satisfied with the output of that department; also Gen. Crozier gave his word to a committee that waited upon him in Washington that he would not install any part o the Taylor system that might be objectionable to the men; and we assure that this part of the system will not be tolerated by the molders.

I love this letter because you can really feel the outrage. These men are insulted. They have pride in their work and they work hard. And then some college boy with a stopwatch comes around and tells them they aren’t working hard enough! That new technology must be used to speed up their work! No way! Moreover, they show how often early Taylorism to be a total failure because rather than increase efficiency, they caused strikes. Taylor’s hard-headed ways of running these experiments routinely led to these problems and thus most of his personal work was a failure.

The strike itself was short, lasting only until August 18 when the fired worker was reinstated and the Ordinance Department promised an investigation of the new management techniques. Taylor was furious that the officers had not followed his plans to the tee and thus precipitated the strike and the bad publicity that went along with it. The strike led to hearings in the House Labor Committee over Taylorism. They were testy, in no small part because Taylor was not good at hiding his contempt for workers and their dignity. When asked by Rep. William Wilson, a former official of the United Mine Workers and future Secretary of Labor under Woodrow Wilson, about his method, Taylor said “the ordinary pig-iron man is not suited for shoveling coal because he is too stupid. But a first-class man who could lift a shovel weighing twenty one and a half pounds cold move a pile of coal lickety-split.” Wilson responded, “but what about the effects on a man who wasn’t first-class? Taylor dismissed the concern: “Scientific management has no place for a bird that can sing and won’t sing.” Wilson was furious: “We are not dealing with horses nor singing birds, but we are dealing with men who are part of society and for whose benefit society is organized”

Oh how antiquated, thinking workers were humans. Congress did act on the workers’ anger, first taking apart Taylor’s system at Watertown and later banning the use of stopwatches to time workers in factories. Taylor personally suffered a major setback here, but his ideas of scientific management and efficiency based upon making workers’ lives worse continued to advance. No one did more on this front than Henry Ford, whose vaunted $5 a day wage has given him an unjustified reputation as a humane boss. But the reality was that Ford extracted his pound of flesh for that $5, working laborers so hard and with such speed and efficiency that many simply could not hack the work there and had to quit. Treating workers like machines became central to American labor management practices, with the eventual hope to just replacing them with machines, a project that would prove quite successful beginning in the second half of the twentieth century and contributing significantly to the decline of working-class power and economic stability by the latter part of the century.

For further reading on these issues, see Sanford Jacoby, Employing Bureaucracy. I also borrowed some details from Hindy Lauer Schachter, Frederick Taylor and the Public Administration Community.

This is the 115th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

New York Nazi Camps

[ 31 ] August 10, 2014 |

The Nazis had summer camps for their youth–in New York. And of course they filmed it and it survived and now I am saying you should watch the footage.

Via

The Labor Building the Abu Dhabi Artistic Institutions

[ 16 ] August 10, 2014 |

As Molly Crabapple reports, the Abu Dhabi elites have decided to purchase western culture and bring it to their city are doing so on the backs of horribly exploited immigrant laborers who lack rights. This is the same labor who dies building NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, soccer stadiums in Qatar, and now outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim. The workers fight back and fight back hard but between lacking legal status, the indifference of the involved western institutions, and violence, the odds they face are huge. And how do you stop it? To do so, you have to force legal regimes onto mobile capitalism, as some in the Abu Dhabi workers’ struggles understand:

Defenders of Western institutions in Abu Dhabi are right about one thing. They are not unique. The labor abuses at the Louvre or NYU are the same labor abuses that are happening throughout the UAE. The UAE is not the worst country for workers in the Gulf, and the Gulf is not the worst region for workers in the world. Most countries sustain themselves on the labor of transient, disposable people. This may be unofficial, as in the United States (our agricultural industry would collapse overnight without undocumented migrants), or it may be institutionalized, as in the UAE.

“Capital is global and derives its velocity from replicating the same model everywhere. Gulf Labor is arguing for a global, humane, and fair standard of labor and migration regulations to accompany, and slow down, global capital,” said Naeem Mohaiemen, a New York–based Bangladeshi artist who is a member of Gulf Labor. “The implications can be staggering. If Saadiyat implemented world-standard labor and migration rights, that could become a precedent for implementing the same standards in the entire region. Then people would ask, what about migrant labor in Malaysia? In Texas? And so on…”

These are indeed the questions we should be asking, arguing for a race to the top rather than a race to the bottom in workplace standards.