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This Day in Labor History: July 28, 1932

[ 59 ] July 28, 2016 |

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On July 28, 1932, the U.S. Army 12th Infantry regiment commanded by Douglas MacArthur and the 3rd Calvary Regiment, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Major George Patton violently evicted the Bonus Army from their Washington, D.C. encampment. This violent action and horrible treatment of impoverished veterans shocked the American public and demonstrated the utter indifference of Herbert Hoover to the desperate poverty the nation faced, helping to seal his overwhelming defeat that fall that ushered in the widespread change of the New Deal that would follow.

The Great Depression absolutely decimated the American working class. Unemployment shot up to 25 percent by the winter of 1933, while underemployment affected perhaps an additional 25 percent of workers. Herbert Hoover was simply unable to deal with these problems. Hoover was a man with a long humanitarian record, but he was very much a Progressive in a period where the voluntarist response to social problems that movement valued no longer worked. Charges that the Hoover didn’t care about the poor are overstated. But he simply could not accept any large-scale state involvement in solving the problem. By the summer of 1932 he had slightly moved off his position, but widescale social programs were anathema. Even more horrifying to him was worker activism.

In 1924, Congress passed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act that granted World War I veterans a one-time pension check in 1945. Calvin Coolidge vetoed this bill because of course Coolidge would veto a bill that gave anyone a dime, but Congress overrode the veto. But by 1932, these soldiers needed that money now. They faced unthinkable poverty. They could not feed their families. What difference did it make if it was 1932 or 1945, veterans thought. So they began to demand the immediate payment of their bonus. The bonus was not a huge amount of money. It paid veterans $1 a day for service while in the U.S. and $1.25 in Europe, up to a maximum of $500 in the U.S. and $625 in Europe. That $625 is about $8000 today. This was not going to make people rich. But it was something at time when something is exactly what was needed.

As the Depression deepened, Congress did allow veterans to borrow against the value of the certificates. Originally they could borrow up to 22 percent of the total, but in 1931 Congress expanded this to 31 percent. Congressional support for paying the entire bonus grew. In January 1930, 170,000 desperate veterans applied for the loans–in 9 days. Veterans struggled with what must have been PTSD, as Veterans Administration studies in 1930 and 1931 showed that veterans had unemployment nearly 50 percent higher than non-veterans of the same age. Beginning in 1930, Congress began exploring new bills to help veterans, but none became law. On June 15, 1932, the House passed the Bonus Bill that would grant the bonuses immediately.

At the same time, veterans began descending on Washington, DC demanding the immediate payment of the bonus. Organizing this protest was an organization you might not expect today–the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW was really struggling in the early 1920s. But after 1929, its membership exploded because it supported the immediate payment of the bonus, while the American Legion, a proto-fascist anti-worker organization, opposed it. They created a Hooverville in Anacostia, in what is today Anacostia Park. The veterans created a sanitary camp, despite being in Washington during the summer. The camp did not welcome non-veterans or other radicals who might want to turn the event to their purposes. To stay in the camp, people had to prove their veteran status and eligibility. They could however bring their families. Approximately 20,000 veterans traveled to Washington during the summer of 1932.

Beginning in March, the VFW aggressively lobbied for the bonus. VFW leaders presented Congress with a petition from 281,000 veterans demanding their money. Veterans camping was an annual event for the VFW. So the act of setting up in one place was not radical, nor unusual, although the official 1932 encampment was in Sacramento. But in 1932, encamping in DC had a specifically politically agenda. The movement for a specific Bonus Army came out of Oregon, where veterans began organizing for an encampment in Washington, DC. They hopped trains and headed east. Thousands joined them. The VFW did not precisely endorse the Bonus Army and it wasn’t quite affiliated with it, but there was a lot of support for it and many VFW locals sent supplies and provided other forms of support. Hoover refused to even meet with the veterans, although he spoke at American Legion conventions on at least two occasions. And while the House passed the bill, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected it, 82-18.

For the most part, the Bonus marchers accepted their defeat. Congress even passed a bill to pay for their transportation to go home. Most left, but not all. Herbert Hoover was very nervous about the remaining bonus marchers. The Washington police force had no patience for the Bonus marchers and neither did the military. The remaining marchers began squatting in government buildings. Hoover ordered them cleared. The police were happy to do so. This led to skirmishes. That led Hoover to order MacArthur to clear out the camp. But Hoover was pretty clear–this was not to be violent. MacArthur disobeyed his orders and burned the whole camp. After he demolished the camp, he told the press that the Bonus Army was full of communists. That Douglas MacArthur, what an American hero. MacArthur’s actions absolutely devastated Hoover’s re-election chances, if he still had them in July 1932. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would obliterate Hoover in November, creating a rare complete realignment of American politics. The VFW strongly supported Roosevelt, wanting revenge on Hoover for what happened to the Bonus Army.

The Bonus Army was not a movement with a radical or unionist agenda. But it was a clear expression of activism that was transforming the working classes by the early 1930s and would lead to the greater explosions of worker activism in the next few years that would force the government to pass laws like the National Labor Relations Act, Social Security Act, and Fair Labor Standards Act. Interestingly, Roosevelt was not a big supporter of paying the bonus either. There was another march in 1933. FDR provided them a camp site in Virginia and 3 meals a day but did not publicly support their goals. Finally, in 1936, Congress passed a bonus bill. FDR vetoed it. But Congress overrode it and much of the bonus was paid early.

I borrowed from Steven Ortiz, “Rethinking the Bonus March: Federal Bonus Policy, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Origins of a Protest Movement,” in the July 2006 issue of Journal of Policy History, in the writing of this post.

This is the 185th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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A False Choice

[ 49 ] July 26, 2016 |

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As someone who passionately believes in fair trade, American jobs, and fighting global poverty, there is nothing more infuriating than the sort of dichotomy that commenters like Annie Lowrey and Dylan Matthews and Zack Beauchamp constantly push, that if one doesn’t support “free trade,” one supports global poverty. Is there any other issue in American politics where nominal progressives or even centrists portray the choice in such stark and moralistic terms, with no sense of nuance? I’m not sure that there is.
I articulated an entirely different version of trade in Out of Sight, one that seeks to slow down capital mobility in order to give workers both at home and overseas a chance to maintain a secure life while also having opportunities for economic growth and a rise out of poverty. That version of trade would force corporations to pay locally living wages, have good working conditions, stop sexual harassment and abuse on the factory floor, and most importantly, have enforcement mechanisms for stopping these problems through the supply chains and other tricks companies use to protect themselves from accountability. Such a system would provide incentives for companies to stay put and treat workers with dignity because they would not be able to bust unions or pollute at will by shuttering a factory and opening a new one. There might still be reasons to move around, but the most egregious would be controlled.

I’m not saying that I am offering the only alternative to the current system of free trade. I am certainly not. What we need is a meaningful conversation about trade that takes both global poverty and the American working class seriously. Neither strict protectionists nor free trade fundamentalists do that. The difference between the two sides is that the former are dismissed as white men in union jackets with out of fashion mustaches and the latter are the definition of Beltway respectability who look down on the American working class while talking of themselves as morally correct because they support ending global poverty without even beginning to deal with the exploitation of the global poor.

In any case, we need many ideas about trade in the conversation, much more than we have now. Here’s a piece by Geoff Gilbert contributing to that conversation.

Any real alternative to the current international investment regime requires confronting the power of private plutocratic capital. So what might a new international trade and investment regime look like?

For starters, it must promote a free exchange of goods and services, but, unlike the current system, it must do so on fair terms. The main idea must be that any fair and free trade and investment regime must expand the number of people who have a say in the investment decisions within and between countries that will determine where jobs will exist and on what terms for employees. Such a regime should give everyone a say, especially women, racial minorities, former colonized countries, and people of all minority sexual orientations and other non-mainstream persuasions who have been most marginalized by the plutocratic regime for centuries. Ideally, investment would be made in producers who share with employees, or better still, where all employees are owners. In short, a fair and free investment and trade regime needs to redefine the rights of capital by subordinating capital rights to human rights.

The sociologist Johanna Bockman analyzes the last attempt to create such an international order by the world’s relatively poor countries at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964.

UNCTAD, which included on an equal basis all nation-states recognized by the UN, pursued what Raúl Prebisch, the Argentinian economist and UNCTAD’s first secretary general, called a “new international economic order.” It sought to upend the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the contemporary international “free” trade and investment order, which effectively enforced the old colonial trading arrangements whereby former colonies, instead of developing their own manufacturing capacity, provided the colonizers with the raw materials needed for their high-margin manufactured goods. Yet, complicating the current false choice offered between the “free” trade status quo and protectionism, UNCTAD advocated for trade liberalization and opposed protectionism.

In order to build an international trade and investment order that could benefit all countries, UNCTAD called for “structural adjustment” of the international economy of a sort just a bit different from the austerity, privatization and trade liberalization programs of the same name that the International Monetary Fund has since imposed around the world. On structural adjustment, the Final Act of the 1964 UNCTAD conference stated: “Developed countries should assist the developing countries in their efforts to speed up their economic and social progress, should cooperate in measures taken by developing countries for diversifying their economies, and should encourage appropriate adjustments in their own economies to this end.”

This meant moving parts of the most profitable industries, concentrated in the wealthy Global North countries, to the Global South. It would have required either public capital investment or coercion of private capital to invest toward this purpose. These economic goals would have either displaced private capital with public investment or publically imposed accountability on private capital investment.

“Structural adjustment” would require time and the creation throughout the world of organic democratic organizations capable of facilitating democratic ownership and control of industry.

I’m not sure that I agree with all of this, especially because it then relies on Mondragón, an exception that proved the rule if anything ever has, as its evidence that this can work. But the broader point stands. What trade looks like needs to be a real conversation, not a binary between two choices.

How Asian-Americans Became Democrats

[ 87 ] July 26, 2016 |

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Pretty remarkable shift among Asian-American voting patterns.

If post-1965 immigrants did indeed move the Asian American community to the right, the group’s leftward shift since 1992 is all the more remarkable. Although Bill Clinton won only 31 percent of the Asian American vote in 1992 (or 36 percent of the two-party vote if we exclude Ross Perot), Al Gore won 55 percent in 2000, followed by John Kerry with 56 percent in 2004, and Obama with 62 percent and 73 percent in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In just two decades, the Democratic Party’s share of the Asian American presidential vote more than doubled. Even more remarkably, Obama won every major national origin group of Asian Americans in 2012, including Vietnamese Americans, who have traditionally leaned Republican.

Why has this happened? Largely because the Republican Party has gone totally insane:

Since then, the leftward shift in the Asian American vote has also reflected “push factors” from the Republican side. Congressional Republicans have outdone one another in anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals and, despite efforts by the Bush administration, consistently scuttled efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform. To be sure, immigration has never been a top issue for Asian American voters; the economy, education, and health care usually lead as the top three issues in surveys. Still, immigration holds a symbolic place among Asian American voters. A 2014 AAPI Data survey of Asian American registered voters found that 41 percent would consider switching their support away from a candidate who expresses strong anti-immigrant views. Immigration thus matters to Asian American voters less as a top policy priority than as an indicator of whether candidates and parties respect immigrants and welcome them.

Another development pushing Asian Americans away from the GOP has been the rise of Christian conservatism in the Republican Party. The 2012 Pew survey on Asian Americans indicated that the strongest level of Democratic Party support comes from Hindus and those who claim no religious affiliation (these groups make up a significant share of Indian Americans and Chinese Americans, respectively). The same Pew survey did not contain a sufficient number of Muslim respondents, estimated to be about 4 percent of the Asian American population, to produce reliable estimates of their party preference. However, the group’s 2011 survey of Muslim Americans also indicated very strong support for the Democratic Party. Finally, a 2016 AAPI Data survey of Asian American registered voters indicated that 43 percent would consider switching their support away from a candidate who expresses strongly anti-Muslim views.

Asian-Americans also supported social programs and government spending, making Democratic politics more appealing to them. But I prefer the racial essentializing of people like David Brooks.

In 1992, writing in The Washington Post, Stanley Karnow had claimed that Asian immigrants were more likely to identify as Republican because they valued individual responsibility and free enterprise and many of them had fled communist countries. In 2012, New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that Asian Americans voted Democratic because they came from cultures that do not put a high value on individualism and instead approve government intervention. If cultural values can be used to explain both voting Republican and voting Democratic, they may not explain either one very well. The actions of parties and political leaders over the past two decades provide a far better explanation for the politics of Asian Americans today than do the disparate cultural traditions that immigrants have brought with them.

It’s so hard when this essentializing changes course. I get whiplash. But then those Asians are so inscrutable. All we can know is that it must be some racial characteristic!

KFC Protests

[ 99 ] July 26, 2016 |

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Personally, I’d protest KFC for its horrible food, but I guess this is also a reason to do so:

For years, authorities under President Xi Jinping have stoked nationalistic sentiments in China as part of a larger campaign to push Chinese Communist Party ideology. Part of that effort includes “civilization” volunteers, who are recruited by the Communist Youth League and tasked with spreading the party’s message online.

“Online” being the key word. It seems protesting in the street is a step too far for the Chinese government, which finds itself at the moment in the odd position of denouncing demonstrations against American fast food chain KFC — fueled by the very brand of aggressive nationalism they helped foment.

Since July 16, Chinese people in at least a dozen towns and cities have protested in front of KFC restaurants because they are seen as representing the interests of the United States. Many in China think US meddling helped lead to an embarrassing ruling on July 12, in which an international tribunal shot down Beijing’s extensive claims over the South China Sea.

Videos showing protesters confronting KFC customers have also gone viral on social media, where the rallies were organized.

Look, if the interests of KFC are the interests of the United States, then China should just conquer our country now. I mean, I could at least accept an argument that the nation be represented by Popeye’s. Or Five Guys certainly. But KFC?

Trump Could Easily Win

[ 292 ] July 25, 2016 |

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Yes, I know that the fundamentals are against Trump, like they are against any Republican candidate. But if there’s one thing we should take from the Republican National Convention, it’s that the racist disaster of it did not hurt him at all. The rapidly changing 538 forecast is scary, not because Trump is receiving a major post-convention bump right now, which is expected, but because there is literally nothing he could do that would convince most Republican voters not to vote for him. All the racism, all the complaining among the Republican elite about him, it all means nothing. The New Yorker story about the guy who actually wrote The Art of the Deal exposing what a complete psychopath that Trump is, it means nothing. Trump joking about having sex with his daughter and his history of womanizing, it means nothing to voters who talk about morals and sin.

In the end, I don’t see how this election looks much different than 2012, in that while it is likely that the Democrats will win, it’s far from guaranteed. It’s probably going to rely on the same close states that it usually does. Even an extremist racist unstable candidate like Donald Trump is going to win 45 percent of the vote. It’s going to be a fight to finish, perhaps not only for this election but for the future of the republic given Trump’s complete disdain for democratic norms. All hands on deck.

The Convention

[ 311 ] July 25, 2016 |

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Watching a few minutes of Bernie Sanders’s speech to his supporters made me very worried about this convention. Not because of Sanders. But because many of his die-hard supporters who are at the convention hate Hillary. When he brings her name up, they still boo. What Clinton needs is a convention that is united and shows stability going forward into the election. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Bernie can’t control these people and they have no intention of being controlled. Some are probably going to jeer Hillary Clinton during her acceptance speech on Thursday. I think we are going to see a really divisive four days with a media narrative about an untrustworthy Hillary Clinton that can’t unite her party, even though the actual Bernie supporters sitting at home watching are rapidly coming around to voting for Clinton. This is very much not good news going forward to the last three months of this horrible election year.

DWS

[ 207 ] July 25, 2016 |

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, speaks at the Democratic National Committee's Womens Leadership Forum Issues Conference in Washington, DC on September 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

I guess I am just amazed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s determination to address the convention, even though she knows she is going to get booed and shouted down. I imagine she sees herself as a righteous figure and I’m sure she knows this is the pinnacle of her political career, but why would you put yourself through this for nothing? And why would the Clinton team be OK with this?

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 41

[ 17 ] July 24, 2016 |

This is the grave of Thurlow Weed.

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Thurlow Weed was a political kingmaker of the Whig Party. Born in 1797 in New York, Weed became involved in politics at a young age, first supporting DeWitt Clinton and then John Quincy Adams. He was elected to the New York state assembly in 1824, becoming a leader of the Anti-Masonic Party. He took over a series of newspapers and effectively became the boss of the New York Whigs during the 1830s. He was a major player in a series of Whig presidential nominees–Henry Clay in 1832, William Henry Harrison in 1840, Zachary Taylor in 1848, and Winfield Scott in 1852. He was originally close to Millard Fillmore so had hopes when Taylor died that Fillmore would see his policies through, but the new president proved quite susceptible to southern influence and Weed grew distant from him. With the Whigs’ collapse, Weed moved into the new Republican Party and worked to elect John C. Fremont in 1856. Typically for Weed’s ambitions, this ultimately failed. Weed was very close with William Seward and hoped to get him the 1860 Republican nomination. When Abraham Lincoln won it instead, both Seward and Weed were disappointed but supported the nominee. After the Civil War, like Seward, Weed turned far to the right, becoming an important supporter of Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction policies, which effectively made him politically irrelevant by 1868. Weed lived until 1882, but had little political pull after this.

Thurlow Weed is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

How Stepped Pyramids Screwed Us Over, or, Respect to the Lurkers

[ 121 ] July 22, 2016 |

Aerial photo of Portland

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, the worst possible outcome for you tonight was watching Donald Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention.

Wait, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president? What?

Anyway, tonight was the Portland LGM meetup. Thanks to Anna in PDX for setting it up. Good to meet Amanda in the South Bay. My old friend Solid Citizen was of course there because what would an Oregon meetup be without him? Stepped Pyramids pledged his (I think?) attendance. But Stepped Pyramids was a total no show. Probably couldn’t escape the Trump speech. We were devastated.

What was most interesting though is that almost everyone who came to the event said “oh, I’m sorry, I’m a lurker. I never comment.” It was a whole event full of lurkers. Which was great! I know that most of our readers never comment. So this thread goes out to them. Thanks so much for reading, even if you never comment. We really appreciate it. It was awesome to meet some of you.

So this is an open thread for lurkers. Obviously the most appropriate response is for this thread to get 0 comments since lurkers don’t comment. But if anyone wants to start, now’s a good time. But no pressure!

Portland Meetup Reminder

[ 25 ] July 20, 2016 |

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Hey Portlandia,

Quick reminder that there is an LGM meetup on Thursday evening. We are going to have dinner at 6:30 at Cha! Cha! Cha!, a Mexican restaurant at 5225 N. Lombard. We will then move at 7:30 to the Chill n’ Fill bar next door at 5215 N. Lombard, which has beer, cider, and wine on tap. If you are interested in the dinner and didn’t mention it in comments, do so in order to get an approximately correct reservation. Or just show up for drinks.

Good News in Human Rights

[ 29 ] July 20, 2016 |

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El Salvador’s terrible 1993 law granting amnesty to everyone involved in the government’s horrible terror campaigns of the 1980s was recently overturned by a court, giving some hope of bringing the guilty to justice.

Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan is dead or maybe he could be brought to trial for war crimes too.

Why the Police Need Unions

[ 196 ] July 20, 2016 |

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You can disagree with the police unions’ political positions. You don’t have to support their ideas or their positions. You don’t have to respect the police. But I refuse to accept arguments from the left that the police should not have unions. Jeff Spross has more on why the police need unions.

Cops are workers, too. They are workers put in an almost impossible position. And they need a union to stand up for them.

Go down the standard list of proposed police reforms — more accountability for bad cops, body cameras, demilitarization, more federal monitoring, civilian oversight, transparency, and so on. They’re all worthy, but what they all have in common is getting police to behave better within the role of “police” as we already conceive of it; namely, as the state’s enforcers of law and order, whose primary tools are the threat of violence and the ability to throw people into cages.

What these reforms don’t deal with is the possibility that our society has rendered this role an impossible one to pull off in any sort of successful, functional, or healthy manner.

Cops must deal with everything from gang violence to drug addiction to mental illness to domestic abuse to helping single parents to broken taillights and speeding cars. They respond so often with violence and incarceration because those are the tools we train them to use. They are no more immune to racism than any other human institution in American society. And of course the well-being of cops themselves often resembles what you’d find in veterans from a war zone.

Meanwhile, America’s long history of racism has left many black American communities deeply damaged. And poverty and crime go hand in hand. So when cops are shoved into the role of what is often privileged white society’s sole institutional interaction with black Americans’ world, and left with nothing but violence and incarceration as their tools, of course racism still permeates the way they operate.

Our society has pulled out of supplying the resources, the institutions, and the personnel that could support cops in handling this societal breakdown. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” said an exhausted David Brown, Dallas’ police chief, in the aftermath of the killing of five cops at a protest march. “Policing was never meant to solve all of those problems.”

Can anyone be surprised when police unions bristle and revolt at reforms aimed at drawing even greater virtue out of cops in the course of performing very difficult tasks? Cops wield an immense amount of power in our society. But that abstract privilege does not change the lived experience of being a cop, which is what the police and the unions that represent them draw upon when deciding how to defend themselves. We can’t just keep trying to make the police better-armed saints in the very places where the injustices of U.S. society collide the hardest. Nor can we assume that combating racism is merely a matter of enlightening individual cops or their departmental culture.

Getting rid of police unions will do precisely nothing to solve any problem with the police the left has. All it will do is make the lives of the police worse and make these problems harder to solve. If you believe that unionbusting is the answer, you need to examine where you are coming from on this. And you need to answer the question of how this will solve the problems of police brutality and racist violence.

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