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“The problem with the police, in other words, is not that they have unions, but that they are police.”

[ 255 ] August 13, 2015 |


Sarah Jaffe has an excellent discussion of the relationship between police unions and the rest of the labor movement at Truthout. UAW Local 2865, which represents California graduate students, has pushed for the AFL-CIO to kick out the one police union that remains in the federation, the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA). This has received some attention and is worthy of more.

Jaffe makes a number of key points. First, as the quote I used for the title points out, busting police unions isn’t going to change police behavior at all. The problem is police culture. There’s no evidence that police without collective bargaining rights are going to be less obnoxious, less thuggish, and less brutal than police with collective bargaining rights. Patrick Lynch may be a terrible human being, but that he is the head of a police union is not the reason the NYPD kills black people. We’ve had too many comments at the blog here that have called for ending police unions. This does not solve any problem. It punitively hurts police officers without doing anything positive. Supporting collective bargaining means supporting it for all workers, not just the ones we like. And unions have to represent their workers no matter what they do. It’s part of what unions are, whether the UAW supporting a member busted for drugs on the job, the AFT providing representation for a teacher who has acted inappropriately with a student, or the FOP defending its murderous members. Unions exist to support worker power and to give members representation on the job. Like a defendant in a horrible murder, every union member deserves representation from their union when they are in trouble.

At the same time, is there any reason to believe that the police will ever show solidarity with other unions? No. And is there any reason to think they ever will? No. Jaffe interviews the noted labor historian Joshua Freeman here who states that the labor movement has always had a very tenuous relationship with police because those police have happily busted the heads of workers for a very long time. The only time police have ever shown any kind of interest in the rest of the labor movement is when the special carveouts politicians have so often given them in order to promote their own careers often build on the culture war have disappeared. Two examples of this are the 1919 Boston police strike that raised Calvin Coolidge to the national spotlight, which resulted from the wages and the repeal of John Kasich’s right to work bill in Ohio that did not have an exception for police unions like Scott Walker provided in Wisconsin.

So is there any reason for the AFL-CIO to provide any active support to police unions or not kick the IUPA out of the federation? No. It is more important for the AFL-CIO to build relationships with communities of color, many of whom could be potential union members or are already union members, than to ameliorate a racist international that supports police violence. The entire labor movement does not need to be under one tent and there are lots of labor organizations outside of the AFL-CIO. The federation has every right to police its own boundaries of acceptable behavior. It should take an anti-racist position and kick out internationals that hew to racism.

A more minor point that I’ll also note is that Freeman discusses how the police unions are a lot more democratic than most other unions, in part because they originated in 19th century fraternalist culture which still informs them today, and that the union leadership is legitimately representing the desires of the rank and file. This means two things. First, we can’t just blame Patrick Lynch for these problems. Second, unlike what a lot of labor reformers claim about union democracy, that it will create a more progressive labor movement and more progressive society, the evidence for it really isn’t there. Internal democracy might create a more activist and progressive labor movement at times, but there’s nothing in American history more democratic than white supremacy and you see that in how the police unions act toward communities of color today.

How Ketchup Destroys Everything

[ 135 ] August 12, 2015 |


Big Ketchup is now destroying the American working class:

In a widely expected move, Kraft Heinz is cutting 2,500 jobs, the company announced Wednesday. That amounts to 5% of the company’s 46,000 employees, with affected workers located in the U.S. and Canada.

This marks the first round of layoffs at the newly merged food giant after Heinz bought 51% of Kraft in March in a deal brokered by Warren Buffett and the Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital. Given that management group’s reputation for aggressive cost-cutting, most observers expect more layoffs to follow.

As the AP reports, the cost-cutting process began last month with a memo to employees in which Hees told employees to print on both sides of paper (a rule Brito enacted at AB InBev as well) and to conserve office supplies. At Kraft headquarters, employees no longer get free Jell-O.

In a statement, Kraft Heinz spokesperson Michael Mullen said the cuts are part of a new structure that “eliminates duplication to enable faster decision-making, increased accountability and accelerated growth.”

Free Jello is a staple of American worker power.

700 of those workers are in Illinois.

Kraft employed about 2,000 people in Northfield before the layoffs. The 2,500 job cuts amount to slightly more than 5 percent of Kraft Heinz’s global workforce of about 46,000. Mullen declined to break down the layoffs by location but said that cuts in Pittsburgh, Heinz’s hometown, were not “material.”

Northfield village President Fred Gougler said the layoffs were expected, adding that Heinz’s cost-cutting measures served as a warning for Kraft employees after the merger.

“We were not surprised, but that doesn’t make it any easier for us,” Gougler said.

With the news, the village adds its name to a long list of local communities feeling the brunt of corporate consolidations and restructurings. Other companies with offices in the Chicago area have laid off more than 7,700 workers since the beginning of the year, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The list includes downstate companies Caterpillar and Deere, which are among the state’s largest employers. While many of the layoffs affected workers here, the 7,700 figure also includes layoffs elsewhere in the country for these companies.

There’s only one solution–boycott ketchup. It’s the only way to stand with American workers. Which side are you on?

The Lost Colony

[ 48 ] August 11, 2015 |


If this really is evidence of the lost colony of Roanoke, the first attempt at English colonization in North America, that would be pretty fantastic.


[ 92 ] August 11, 2015 |


It’s good to see Democrats move away from Jefferson/Jackson dinners at the state level. There’s no real reason to tie the party to two long dead white slaveowning men who believed in white agrarian rule. I’m more ambiguous about dropping Jefferson since at least he had ideals modern Democrats can believe in, hypocrite as he may have been, as opposed to Jackson where there is nothing positive to remember. But fine. I’m significantly less concerned with the complaining of party elites that this move takes the party away from fighting for economic democracy:

“What does the Democratic Party stand for?’’ asked Andrei Cherny, a Democratic writer and a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton. “Jefferson and Jackson and the ideas they stood for, spreading economic opportunity and democracy, were the beginnings of what was the Democratic Party. That is what unified the party across regional and other lines for most of the last 200 years. Now what unites everybody from Kim Kardashian to a party activist in Kansas is cultural liberalism and civil rights.”

Barney Frank, the former Democratic congressman, has lamented his party’s difficulty winning on economic issues but said, “In politics, you tend to go where you’re going to be most successful.”

“Democrats continue to believe in the economic piece, but the fact is, and I wish it weren’t the case, that the return on the affinity issues for us is better than on economic issues,” Mr. Frank said.

Remind me how much regular voters in 2015 are moved to vote for Democrats because of Andrew Jackson’s position on white male democracy? Oh right, none. And even if past figures did help define a modern party publicly, Jefferson and Jackson don’t do that for Democrats. If we want to rename these dinners Roosevelt/Kennedy, fine. I’d rather it be LBJ but obviously that little Vietnam thing makes that impossible. But while I think historical memory matters a lot, it only matters if people actually remember the history. Normal people don’t care what these dinners are called. Politically aware liberals rightfully remember Jackson especially as a person who did awful things. But no one, and I mean no one, is going to assume the Democrats won’t support working people because they changed the name of elite party events to reflect someone less offensive than Old Hickory.

Exonerate Ethel Rosenberg

[ 104 ] August 10, 2015 |


One of the greatest injustices of the Cold War in the U.S. was the execution of Ethel Rosenberg, primarily because she wouldn’t divulge information that would implicate her husband. President Obama should pardon her.

Plus conservatives would flip out if he did.

Frank Gifford, RIP

[ 14 ] August 10, 2015 |

You have to give Frank Gifford some credit. Not only did he deal with Cosell and Meredith in the booth, but he also lived through being paired with Joe Namath and OJ Simpson in 1985, probably the worst choices in the history of sports broadcasting, Dennis Miller included. That 1985 disaster actually led to Gifford being replaced as the play-by-play man by Al Michaels, but he still introduced Monday Night Football games. Here’s his introduction to a totally meaningless MNF game between the Dolphins and Patriots in 1987.

The Animas Mine Waste Spill

[ 27 ] August 10, 2015 |


Colorado’s Animas River suffered a pollution episode late last week, when an EPA effort to deal with mine waste backed up behind an underground dam actually breached it instead, leading to an acid spill into a tributary of this beautiful river. The EPA screwed up here, but they are not the real problem, as Jonathan Thompson points out. Rather, the Colorado mountains have thousands of underground mines that leach heavy metals and acids and it’s very difficult for the government to create a comprehensive response to that. Sometimes some old wood timbers will fall down and create an underground dam. Eventually, the water pressure will blow away those timbers and spills will result. However, today’s mining companies and owners of some of these properties are fighting against having them declared a Superfund site, thus bringing the government to bear as strongly as possible. While that would hurt property values–and there’s little people in the Colorado mountains care about more than property values–doing so is the best move in the long run.

Let me recommend the excellent 2004 book by Gillian Klucas on Leadville
to get at these issues in a more in depth perspective.

The Golden Parachute

[ 91 ] August 7, 2015 |


Phyllis Wise is stepping down as chancellor of the University of Illinois, in no small part for her utterly disastrous handling of the Stephen Salaita firing, which Farley covered earlier today. She is really suffering as result:

Wise leaves on the cusp of her final contract year that would pay her $549,068 – making her one of the highest paid public employees in Illinois. She is said to be moving into a faculty job at more than $250,000 annual salary.

According to her original contract, a $500,000 bonus was to be payable after completing five years of service – which she wouldn’t hit until 2016 – or if she was terminated by the U of I Board, the money would be prorated.

However, a university spokesman told the I-Team “she will receive a prorated $400,000 of the retention compensation in a negotiated agreement.”

Wise’s actual faculty salary will be up to the U of I Board of Trustees. But her current deal states that if she returns to a faculty position, she is entitled to a nine-month sabbatical, so she may be paid an additional $250,000 or so for not actually teaching the next year.

I hope she can recover from this blow to her career, perhaps by purchasing a Caribbean island.

New Media Unionization

[ 19 ] August 7, 2015 |

The march to new media unionization continues rapidly, with writers at Vice Media voting to unionize. It’s not a huge percentage of the company’s employees, but is still significant because it shows how rapidly new media writers are seeing the benefit of representation to push back against the exploitation that seems to be just accepted by so many employees in the internet world today.

Might be time to unionize LGM writers against the Farley/Lemieux tyranny!

This Day in Labor History: August 7, 1978

[ 14 ] August 7, 2015 |

On August 7, 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency at Love Canal, New York, in response to the discovery of massive amounts of toxins underneath a school and near a housing development for the working class who lived in the city of Niagara Falls, near Buffalo. This event was a key moment in the American working class standing up to the environmental depredations of American industry and eventually led to the creation of Superfund, the last major environmental legislation passed to address the popularly-based environmentalism of protecting people from pollution that played a major role in American politics during the 1970s.

William T. Love wanted to build a small canal intended to connect the Upper and Lower Niagara Rivers around 1900 to generate power for the community he hoped would grow there. It failed and by 1910, the partially built canal was abandoned. Industry began turning it into a waste dump. Hooker Chemical Company purchased the land in 1942 and continued using it for toxic waste. In 1953, Hooker capped the land and looked to sell it. By this time, there was 21,000 tons of toxic chemicals in the canal, including at least 12 carcinogens. The company buried the waste in barrels 20-25 feet deep and capped it with dirt, allowing grass to quickly cover it up. Hooker sold it to the school board of Niagara Falls to build the public school for a growing suburban neighborhood near the canal site. It included a caveat in the contract about what was buried there and felt itself absolved from legal liability.

This was the period of the postwar housing boom in the United States. And while the New Deal state had already led to enormous positive changes for the now upwardly mobile white working class, guaranteeing them good union contacts if they wanted them, the 8-hour day, the minimum wage, and then a variety of new benefits after World War II like federally insured home loans through the Federal Housing Administration and GI Bill (so long as you were white and building in the suburbs), little progress had been made to protect the working class from the environmental impact of industrialization. At Love Canal, housing developments for working class people–both some public housing and single-family housing–began filling some of that housing need.



Most of the early conservation movement was predicated on efficient resource use. The New Deal did take working people into account in its planning, but primarily on the farms with the creation of the Soil Conservation Service and other responses to the Dust Bowl. The giant dam projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority also sought to improve working people’s lives through large-scale regional planning, but pollution issues were an afterthought here as well. During the 1950s, the proto-environmental movement worked on pressing for more conservation of natural resources and more public planning, while building support for new national parks and trying to bring some limits onto the dam building mania that would eventually lead to the damming of Glen Canyon and the near damming of Dinosaur National Monument. Organized labor was involved in all of this, much more so than is usually acknowledged, a project I am presently researching for a future book. The CIO had a full time staffer working specifically on conservation issues through the 1955 merger with the AFL and the UAW had a full-time atomic energy staffer. But pollution, that just wasn’t really on the radar in the 1950s. In fact, as the nation geared up for the Cold War, pollution was often seen as a problem, at least in the post-Donora Fog period, but an acceptable sacrifice for preparedness and economic growth.

What this all meant is that new housing developments and public schools could be built upon toxic waste dumps and no one would bat an eye. But by the 1970s, the American working class, building on a foundation laid by the growing environmental movement, began demanding accountability from corporations over the sacrifices they suffered. Some of that was in famous cases like the Cuyahoga River catching fire in 1969 or the Santa Barbara oil spill of the same year. In the latter case, oil workers’ unions were deeply involved in demanding the companies be held accountable for pollution. The growing emphasis on thinking about the relationship between pollution and personal health by the late 1960s helped fuel this as well. The Black Lung Associations within the United Mine Workers of America was a rejection of horrific union leadership as well as the impact of coal on their bodies. Everyday people, union members or not, began trying to understand the science behind the chemicals transforming the world and how they impacted their own bodies, such as in the anti-pesticide movement. This popular epidemiology would play a major role in Love Canal, especially as residents began to notice the horrible cancers, birth defects and other diseases that affected them, especially their children. No one really knew what was happening until heavy rains led to erosion that began uncovering the barrels of toxic waste in 1976.

Lois Gibbs was the leader of the Love Canal residents. Her son suffered from a variety of healthy problems. After reporters began reporting on what was in the barrels in 1976 and the New York State Health Department declared the site an emergency on August 2, 1978, leading to Carter’s decision a few days later. But what would happen to the residents? Gibbs took the lead here against a state not wanting to do much of anything. She continued investigating, discovering the canal itself was the site of the contamination. The growing investigations discovered dioxin among many other hazardous chemicals in the soil and drinking water of the housing. The government finally relocated 800 of the 900 families nearby and compensated them for their homes. Some still remain on the site today, or at least were there during my visit to what is a very spooky place two years ago.


Lois Gibbs

Carter then responded by pushing for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Popularly known as Superfund, this law mandated the cleanup of the nation’s most toxic sites. At first, a polluter tax paid for the program, creating a $3.8 billion surplus for the program by 1996 and creating a very successful agency. Unfortunately, in 1995 Congress did not extend that tax, meaning the rapid depletion of that surplus and an underfunded agency, a defeat of successful government becoming ever more common in that decade. Organized labor strongly supported the creation of Superfund, both for the jobs it could create and for the protection of working people from industrial hazards. Ultimately, Superfund and the outrage Love Canal caused did help protect Americans from these hazards. Yet disparities in toxic exposure between rich and poor still exist today, and as these things go in America, they tend to fall on racial lines, with African-American and Latino communities exposed to toxicity at much higher rates than wealthier or whiter communities.

This is the 153rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

A Particularly Terrible Way to Attract a Mate

[ 21 ] August 7, 2015 |

This ad seems less than effective.


Things That Are Dumb

[ 102 ] August 5, 2015 |


I am more or less out of touch for the next week due to a confluence of page proofs for my logging book, family obligations, and Oregon hiking. But I will agree that lawns are dumb. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a lawn if you want one, but the idea that you are somehow awful if you let your yard go wild and attract a variety of wildlife instead of conforming to a chemically-induced monoculture of grass that serves no real purpose is ridiculous. But people freak out if they see a yard that doesn’t conform to the norm. So they crack down to the point of using law enforcement against the hippies who want frogs and snakes and other natural creatures on their property.

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