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Friday Night Open Thread/Revolution

[ 127 ] September 23, 2016 |

Sounds pretty good to me!



Old Lefties, Scared of the Kids, News at 11

[ 249 ] September 23, 2016 |


Them damn kids, they don’t hold the same set of principles as we true leftists of the 60s!

Nope — not in the topsy-turvy universe of identity politics. The festival immediately disavowed the address, though the organizers had approved the thrust of the talk in advance. A “Right of Reply” session was hastily organized. When, days later, The Guardian ran the speech, social media went ballistic. Mainstream articles followed suit. I plan on printing out The New Republic’s “Lionel Shriver Shouldn’t Write About Minorities” and taping it above my desk as a chiding reminder.

Viewing the world and the self through the prism of advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the identity-politics movement — in which behavior like huffing out of speeches and stirring up online mobs is par for the course — is an assertion of generational power. Among millennials and those coming of age behind them, the race is on to see who can be more righteous and aggrieved — who can replace the boring old civil rights generation with a spikier brand.

When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.

Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left. In Australia, where I spoke, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to do or say anything likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate,” providing alarming latitude in the restriction of free speech. It is Australia’s conservatives arguing for the amendment of this law.

As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts — by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.

If I knew how to embed emoji, it would all the eyeroll emoji.

I mean, sure, one might argue if the left survived the narcissism of the 60s generation that so many of that generation seem to forget when they whine about millennials, but asking those who said they hoped they die before they got old to now understand now that they are old that, like themselves back in the day when THE LEFT WAS THE LEFT UNLIKE TODAY WHAT WITH THE IDENTITY POLITICS AND THE HIPPITY HOP AND THE LIKE, young people might not think in the same way as those 40 years older than they is evidently impossible. Unlike the GOOD OLD DAYS WHEN WE DROPPED ACID AND PLOTTED TO BLOW UP BUILDINGS AND FETISHIZED INCREASINGLY RADICAL REVOLUTIONARY GROUPS WHILE SHOWING HIPSTER DISDAIN FOR SELLOUT LIBERALS, the kids these days just don’t understand free speech and a real debate, right?

What Do Trump Advisors Think About the Civil War?

[ 134 ] September 23, 2016 |


OK, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. But still….

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is planning to the restrict the display of Confederate flags by “amend[ing] our policy to make clear that Confederate flags will not be displayed from any permanently fixed flagpole in a national cemetery at any time.”

As expressed in a letter written by Roger Walters, interim undersecretary for memorial affairs, “We are aware of the concerns of those who wish to see Confederate flags removed from public venues because they are perceived by many as a symbol of racial intolerance.”

Great! But this might not fit Trumpism:

But a recent vote indicated a majority of House Republicans oppose the VA’s attempt to restrict where and when the Stars and Bars can be displayed. So does Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner who was recently tapped to be Donald Trump’s national co-chairman of his agriculture advisory team.

In a Facebook post published Thursday, Miller suggests the Civil War was first and foremost about protecting free speech — not slavery. He also strikes a skeptical note about whether Confederates who fought against the United States behaved treasonously.

Responding to a Washington Post column supportive of the VA’s move, Miller writes that the piece “makes my blood boil” and says the Post isn’t “entitled to… attempt to read the minds of my long-dead Confederate ancestors and determine that their actions and motivations during that awful war were treasonous.”

He also denounces “politically correct bureaucrats” pushing for the Stars and Bars to be banned.

“With all that is going on around our world and the serious threats that exist to our country and our constitiional [sic] freedoms by those who carry black flags with Arabic writing upon them, I would think that those in our national government would simply leave alone the flags marking the burial grounds of our Confederate dead,” Miller writes. “Unfortunately, I fear that is just wishful thinking on my part and highlights why the outcome of the upcoming election is so very,very important.”

Boy, I wonder how we could determine the thoughts of those who committed treason to defend slavery?

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Truly, no one can read the minds of long-dead Confederates.

And hey, the Civil War was actually about free speech! That’s why conservatives should totally secede from the nation if those big government PC liberals dare to criticize them. After all, saying mean things when Sarah Palin or Donald Trump say something dumb is the ultimate restriction of free speech! And this is just outstanding.

In the lead up to the aforementioned House vote on Confederate flags, a staffer for Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) circulated an email making a case for preserving the Confederate flag that’s similar to Miller’s. The staffer, Pete Sanborn, wrote, “You know who else supports destroying history so that they can advance their own agenda? ISIL. Don’t be like ISIL. I urge you to vote NO.” He signed the email, “Yours in freedom from the PC police.”

Don’t be like ISIL, those liberals!

Trump, Clinton, and Rural America

[ 64 ] September 23, 2016 |


I liked this piece on support for Trump in eastern Colorado, an area which relies on an extremely globalized world in farm products to have any economy at all. Trump of course claims (FWIW) that he opposes free trade. Of course, I have massive problems with the current trade system as well, including that it allows farmers like these people in eastern Colorado to flood the market in nations like Mexico, forcing millions of people off their farms and into dirty and dangerous jobs in the maquiladoras or to cross into the U.S. But leave that aside for a bit because the point that these are voters who should absolutely support aggressive free trade policies for their own self-interests is valid. Yet of course they hate Hillary and love Trump because nothing is about policy and everything is about racial and cultural identity. And you have to give it to Trump–he has completely stripped away any pretense that Americans care about policy and issues. They will absolutely act against their own concrete economic interests. not only in the relative abstract of tax policy and the safety net but in the sense of I will vote for someone who will cost me my livelihood because I believe in white pride.

Can Walmart and Nike Afford Apparel Workers Making $40 More a Month? (Spoiler: Yes)

[ 7 ] September 23, 2016 |


While we are justifiably focused on the election, American corporations are still exploiting overseas workers and we aren’t paying any attention to that. Unlike those who claim that American apparel companies moving overseas are beneficient glorious job creators gifting work to the global poor, the workers themselves are real people with real demands. For example, Cambodian workers are demanding an increase in their nation’s minimum wage, from $140 a month to just under $180. That is not a lot of money. But the western apparel companies are making no statement affirming this demand except to say they like a transparent minimum wage. One can at least strongly suspect they actively are working behind the scenes to oppose it. Cole Stangler asks a bunch of experts on these issues, including myself, if these companies can afford the extra $40 a month. Um, yes.

Workers’ rights advocates believe that the U.S. and European brands should take a strong stance today.

“They should back labor unions’ proposed wages and they do have a responsibility,” said Irene Pietropaoli, a Myanmar-based consultant on business and human rights. “They are under no legal obligation to do so, but they clearly are key players in this debate and so have an ethical responsibility to show leadership, to influence the government when they can, to use their ‘leverage,’ to use the wording of the UN Guiding Principles (on Business and Human Rights).”

That landmark document, crafted and endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, calls on companies to use their “leverage” to prevent “an adverse human rights impact” from taking place.

From labor’s perspective, that’s precisely what’s at stake. The Asia Floor Wage Alliance, an international alliance of trade unions and labor rights advocates that focuses on the garment industry, has calculated Cambodia’s “living wage” to be $283 a month—far above what local unions are demanding.

However, economic interests get in the way of such a rate, explained Auret van Heerden, senior advisor with the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights and former president of the Fair Labor Association.

Suppliers are reluctant to hike wages because, for one, there’s no guarantee their buyers will absorb the higher labor costs. What’s more: garment factories typically operate on short-term contracts, lasting just a few months. If a factory owner decided to unilaterally raise pay, he risks losing future business. A buyer might react by sourcing elsewhere in Cambodia—or by simply finding cheaper labor abroad, in say, Bangladesh or Myanmar.

“A lot of the suppliers, privately, are accusing buyers, brands, of being really part of the problem because they’re cutting their prices on the one hand and they’re expecting them to absorb more costs on the other hand,” said van Heerden.

Of course, the brands themselves could simply sign longer-term contracts guaranteeing higher wages—but they don’t. And, at the moment, van Heerden explained, they’re likely reluctant to get involved in the minimum wage debate for fear of upsetting their business and political partners in Cambodia.

“If the brands do weigh in, they’re going to certainly antagonize government and the industry association, and they’re going to antagonize their own suppliers, frankly,” van Heerden says. “So they’re going to step on three sets of toes and not going to get any credit from the unions unless they want to sort of put themselves in bed with the unions, which is not a position they want to be in either. I can understand why they’d want to stay out of it.”

It is a complicated situation for the companies as they aren’t the only ones who don’t want to pay good wages. But the companies also have the ultimate power–it’s their product. They have the ability to commit to keeping a factory open in a nation that raises its wages or the ability to simply say that they are going to raise prices by $1 for a pair of shoes and that money goes to the workers. We should make them act to improve the lives of the workers making our clothing.

How is Jill Stein Anti-Capitalist?

[ 192 ] September 21, 2016 |


I’ve been pretty disappointed in Kshama Sawant this election because she has mistaken what works in leftist politics to what doesn’t work. What works is exactly what she did–challenging the Democratic Party from the left in a one-party city. That’s a great idea. In that case, it’s not really a third party challenge. It’s a second party challenge. Instead of building on that to take on lame Democrats and cities and state legislatures in safe districts around the nation, she is making the same error that leftists have made throughout American history: seeking to go presidential immediately. By calling for progressives to vote for Jill Stein, she is calling for a strategy that leads to nothingness, quite literally for the millions who would die from neglect, bombing, and who knows what else in a Trump administration. It’s a dead-end political strategy of nihilism.

But what really gets me is the argument that Jill Stein is an anti-capitalist candidate? How is that true? She might be a candidate opposed to the big banks or whatnot, but she’s barely a socialist. Is Sawant wants the left to vote for anti-capitalist candidates, there are real socialists and communists out there. Why not vote for them? What does Jill Stein possibly offer except regrets over the death of Harambe the gorilla, playing nice with anti-vaxxers, and concerns about the effect of Wifi on our health?

 Many progressives will vote for Clinton in spite of their opposition to her politics, simply to prevent Trump from setting foot in the White House. I understand their desire to see him defeated, but even more important is beginning the process—too long delayed—of building an alternative to the pro-capitalist parties monopolizing US politics.

Stein’s campaign is an opportunity to rally support for what is widely wanted and needed: radical change. Even a few million people voting for her would be a powerful expression of the changing political landscape. It would be a down payment for a whole new kind of politics in the years ahead, and a new party based on social movements and ordinary people—a party of, by, and for the 99 percent.

I grant that the Democratic Party is a pro-capitalist party. I do not see any evidence that the Green Party is anti-capitalist in any meaningful way. But once again, the left will throw away real potential gains for meaningless stands based on personality.

This Day in Labor History: September 21, 1908

[ 9 ] September 21, 2016 |


On September 21, 1908, the Industrial Workers of the World met for its 4th annual convention in Chicago. This convention would reshape the struggling nascent organization, moving it clearly from an intellectuals’ movement to a workers’ movement.

Founded in 1905, by 1908 the IWW hadn’t really done much of anything and its future was murky. This is not to blame the IWW. This is the fate of most new activist organizations. It’s fairly easy to start an organization. But giving it shape and guidance, dealing with difficult personalities, and deciding not only what course of action to take but what ideology will guide that action is always difficult. That’s especially true for the early twentieth century left, where a panopoly of intellectual currents and factions could all fight for control of a given movement. Given that the 1905 convention brought in everyone from the Western Federation of Miners to Eugene Debs to Lucy Parsons, it did not originate with any clear ideological formation.

This does not mean the IWW was completely moribund in 1908. It did have a few adherents and they were organizing workers. In 1907 for instance, the IWW arrived in Portland, Oregon and started an organizing campaign among the city’s timber workers, largely over issues of better pay. It was put down fairly quickly by a combination of employers and the American Federation of Labor, already identifying the IWW as a threat even as it had no real interest in organizing on an industrial basis. IWW miners had also organized the mines of Goldfield, Nevada until the mine owners conspired with Nevada politicians and Theodore Roosevelt to crush them.

But the leadership of the IWW was in flux. The controversial socialist Daniel DeLeon wanted to control the IWW. DeLeon wanted to be the American Lenin. In 1892, he became the editor of the Socialist Labor Party’s newspaper The People. This put him in a position to become the leader of the SLP. Once this happened, he hoped to springboard to be the head of a labor organization. He first tried to take over the dying Knights of Labor, then the American Federation of Labor. He had little support for either. DeLeon then decided to create a parallel labor organization called the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance in 1895. When the IWW formed in 1905, DeLeon saw an opportunity to control the labor movement. He wanted to turn it into an adjunct of the SLP. But he received resistance almost from the first from the rank and file, especially the western workers who made up the core of IWW support, concentrated in the Western Federation of Miners. Those workers believed the state was their enemy and that political action was worthless. DeLeon wanted to create a leftist alternative to the Socialist Party and focus on political action. He kept introducing political questions into the IWW’s annual conventions, greatly irritating other Wobblies. All of this led to a lot of dissension in the conventions and little being accomplished.

In late 1907, the feud erupted openly, as DeLeon attempted to sabotage a call from James Connolly, the future Irish martyr who was working as an IWW organizer in New York, to launch a large recruiting drive in New York City. DeLeon took over the meeting by shouting about how Connolly was a traitor to the SLP. So by the time of the 1908 convention, most Wobblies were ready to be rid of DeLeon.

Another group attended this convention for the first time. Out of Portland, a group of radicals decided to hop trains and head to Chicago. This became known as the Overalls Brigade. Led by an organizer named John Walsh, these 19 workers headed east, organizing along the way. They held 31 meetings, sold more than $175 worth of IWW literature and $200 in IWW song sheets. They had complete contempt for DeLeon and for his own elitism about revolutionary theory that was supposedly above the head of the average worker. These were men who believed in industrial organizing, direct action, and taking on capitalism in a total war. They brought that spirit of direction action to the convention floor, singing their songs, and providing a bulwark of rank and file opposition to DeLeon. The Overalls Brigade opened the convention by singing “The Marseillaise” and convention leaders openly asking them to lead the fight against DeLeon.

Others joined the anti-DeLeon fray. IWW intellectuals like Ben Williams wanted this dealt with now because they believed the future of the IWW depended upon deciding just what its ideological stances were, especially around the role of direct action, industrial organization, and politics. DeLeon was ousted in a procedural vote because he did not represent a local which he claimed to represent. The delegates then debated the role of politics in the IWW. This was more closely divided than the decision to oust the difficult DeLeon. Some wanted to keep the political clause in the IWW constitution to give it a patina of respectability that would discharge claims it was an organization of anarchist bombthrowers. But in a 35-32 vote, the delegates did eliminate the reference to political action. Although what the IWW believed in was not really articulated at this point (and in fact, the IWW would always be awfully cagey about their actual ideological details), the emphasis on direct action was in the ascendant. Like the AFL, their diehard enemy, the IWW would refuse to play in politics, believing the state to be a class war enemy of workers’ rights. This demonstrates the sheer hopelessness that workers had for state action during the Gilded Age. The only thing that both union federations could agree on was that the state was worthless for guaranteeing anything for workers. The IWW was still not a stable organization after the 1908 convention, but it had eliminated the internal divide that would prevent it from moving forward with organizing workers and fighting class warfare.

The Overalls Brigade would return to the Northwest and bring their radical direct action to the workers of the Northwest, first with the Spokane Free Speech Fight and then with a decade of worker empowerment, strikes, and challenging the timber industry, police, and political leadership of the Pacific Northwest until they were crushed in a maelstrom of violence during and after World War I.

DeLeon went on to bitterly attack the IWW, especially for the “slum proletariat” that had taken over the convention and removed him. He died in 1914, failing in his effort to become Lenin.

This post relied on Melvyn Dubofsky’s classic We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World.

This is the 193rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Maybe Americans Are Getting Smarter

[ 133 ] September 19, 2016 |


We are all pretty pessimistic right now. There’s just about a 50/50 chance the next president of the United States is going to be Donald Trump. That’s beyond frightening. But perhaps that’s entirely mitigated by Americans beginning to turn their backs on the horror of pumpkin beer.

As I chronicled in a February 2016 article, brewers were caught completely off-guard late last year when sales of the once cultish style rotted away like a jack-o-lantern on a tropical Christmas afternoon. The problem: overproduction, oversaturation, underwhelming craft growth and overly hot autumn temperatures. Those woes were caused, in turn, by increased volume at established breweries, new breweries trying to cash in on the craze, fewer drinkers entering the market, and, well, climate change. For the first time, mass quantities of pumpkin beer sat on the shelves months past their sell-by date and a lot of breweries, wholesalers and retailers lost money. Many declared sudsy pumpkins a dying trend and decided to cut production this year.

Now it’s mid-September. Most craft brewers have finished their 2016 pumpkin run and trucked it out to their distributors.

Did they cut production? Yes — many of them drastically. That is, if they produced any pumpkin at all.

“Ithaca [Brewing] has discontinued its pumpkin, as has Shock Top (an Anheuser-Busch InBev product),” says the owner of an East Coast AB InBev distributor who didn’t want to use his name. “We knew the market had kind of hit the wall last year.”

Samuel Adams produced one instead of two pumpkins this year. Pumpkin powerhouses Harpoon Brewery, Southern Tier Brewing and Shipyard Brewing all produced less volume, as did four Philadelphia-area breweries contacted at random.

Maybe some of these breweries like Southern Tier, who once made their name on very solid beer in a variety of styles only to plunge whole hog into super sweet holiday beers based on the success of their terrible Pumpking, will start focusing on good quality beers again.

As for Trump and the decline of pumpkin beer, well, you win some, you lose some.

The Wall

[ 126 ] September 19, 2016 |


The entire conversation around immigration in this country, specifically immigration from Mexico and Central America, is broken, but the entire rhetoric around the Trump’s border wall is incredibly stupid, as Casey Walker points out.

It is a political moment that compels me to relate this history. There is currently a candidate for president — an unserious person, but a serious contender — whose opening campaign gesture, and most common applause line, is a broadside against Mexico and Mexicans that ends with a vision of a border wall. Donald Trump promises he will build an enormous border fence, spanning the entirety of the 2,000-mile boundary-line between the United States and Mexico. And he asserts that Mexico will pay for it.

As Trump regales his followers with this dream, he does not appear to recognize how much wall already exists. He seems not to know, or not to care, that in San Diego a border wall already extends beyond where the land ends, hundreds of feet into the Pacific Ocean. In many of the most populous cities along the border, there are in fact two walls, patrolled day and night, with a no-man’s-land in between. There are concrete-filled steel beams a dozen or more feet high. There are deceptively stubby panels of rusty siding that belie the electronic eyes all around and the Border Patrol vehicles perched on nearby hillsides.

And I can tell you that across those lands where no wall exists, there is the desert where I grew up, where daytime summer temperatures regularly top 125 degrees Fahrenheit, where the sand feels like it might at any moment turn to glass. Should a migrant become lost, should his hired guide abandon him, the cost in crossing these deserts is death. It is worth reading the accounts of the first boundary commission surveyors, who were given the unenviable task of marking the material line agreed to on paper in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War. The surveyors found the land they traveled through inhospitable, treacherous, confusing, and nearly unmappable. “Much of this country, that by those residing at a distance is imagined to be a perfect paradise, is a sterile waste,” they wrote, “utterly worthless for any purpose than to constitute a barrier or natural line of demarcation between two neighboring nations.” I will be the first to defend the stark beauty of the desert, to dispute the notion that it is only a sterile waste. There are ocotillos and Joshua Trees, bighorn sheep in the rocky hills, and tortoises so hardy that one has to imagine they possess a stoic wisdom. But that the Mexican-American borderland is brutal to the disoriented and unwanted and alone — that is beyond dispute.

To be precise, then, it is not a wall that Trump wants, but additional walls, walls that would extend through landscapes where crossing the lines demarcated in the official paperwork already kills people. Every serious analysis of Trump’s proposal has concluded that the additions he describes would be prohibitively expensive to build. They would be impossible to maintain. And his wall would almost certainly be ineffective as a deterrent to the immigration he wishes to prevent — many people who desire American citizenship settle here initially simply by overstaying a temporary visa. All of these facts are so obvious they feel tedious to recount. And yet here we are, in a political moment where the transparent unworkability of Trump’s border vision is not enough to disqualify it, or its speaker, from mainstream political discussion. The social and political reforms the United States must undertake with respect to immigration have complex dimensions — but these are not the questions that Trump addresses. Trump’s border wall can be refuted on a bumper sticker: It is a lie.

Of course it’s a lie. But white people LOVE this lie. And not white people in Arizona and Texas either. It’s white people in Nebraska, in Iowa, in Mississippi, who love this lie because even if they don’t know any Mexicans, the mere existence of the Spanish speaking option being stated to them when they call the pharmacy is an unthinkable outrage against their racial privilege. When I lived in Albuquerque, there was a profile in the paper of one of the yahoos who had decided to become a Minutemen. He was from Alabama and he was motivated to protect his nation from the evils of Mexico when–and I swear this is what he said–he was at his favorite buffet in Birmingham and heard people speaking Spanish.

That is who this border wall would be for.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 49

[ 210 ] September 18, 2016 |

This is the grave of Ulysses S. Grant.


Ulysses S. Grant was a failure at basically everything in life up to the Civil War, rose out of obscurity and disgrace to lead the nation in the crushing of treason in defense of slavery (although Grant himself had married into a slaveholding family), became the nation’s most popular individual, served as an entirely mediocre president who was in awe of the wealthy and a sucker for the schemes of Jay Cooke that helped plunge the nation into the Panic of 1873, became a unfortunately vilified president by those who hated Reconstruction, and, in recent years, has become a wildly overrated president by those who want to reject the Dunning school of history. Ulysses S. Grant was a great general, a man with a decent but not great record on civil rights as president (he openly lamented the 15th Amendment by the end of his presidency), and has been batted around like a tennis ball by detractors and defenders. Ulysses S. Grant also liked whiskey.

Ulysses S. Grant is buried at the General Grant National Memorial, New York, New York.

This Day in Labor History: September 16, 2004

[ 10 ] September 16, 2016 |


On September 16, 2004, Mt. Olive Pickles finally came to an agreement with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, ending a lengthy boycott of the company. This groundbreaking farm workers union launched one of the most successful organizing campaigns of the last 25 years in the South and demonstrate the continued vitality of farmworker unions in the present.

When we think about farm labor organizing in the United States, our thoughts almost immediately go to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in California. There is of course a good reason for that. But both before and after the UFW, there has been significant organizing of some of the nation’s most exploited labor forces. In the Midwest and South, one of the leading movements involved in this is the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. FLOC was founded in 1967 by Baldemar Velasquez, the 20 year old son of Mexican migrant farmworkers in the Midwest. FLOC initially sought to organize farmworkers on individual farms, but soon realized the limitations of that strategy because the farmers themselves didn’t hold the ultimate power over wages. The farmers sold their crops to the big food conglomerates. That’s where the power lies in the agricultural world. FLOC soon turned its attention to leveraging what power it could against food corporations. That strategy became full-fledged in 1979, when after a failed strike, it called for a consumer boycott against Campbell Soup. The boycott was of course the preferred tactic of Cesar Chavez (he preferred it to actually organizing farmworkers) and because of the grape boycott’s fame, it made a lot of sense for other farmworker organizing movements to borrow this. In 1987, this boycott was successful. Campbell signed a contract with both the farmers and FLOC to double wages, improve migrant housing, and provide a grievance procedure, which doesn’t sound sexy but is tremendously important for any worker who is too scared to complain about their lives otherwise.

In organizing tomato workers, FLOC also became involved with pickle workers because the integration of the agricultural industry meant many of the companies it became involved with in fighting for tomato workers were also in cucumbers and pickles. Pickle growers relied heavily on sharecropping schemes in order to get around labor law, including child labor and the minimum wage. Given the harvest seasons, many FLOC workers were working tomatoes one week and pickles the next. The expansion made sense. Beginning in 1987, FLOC began engaging in pickle organizing and boycotts. A three-year campaign gave it a victory in the H.J. Heinz fields. In 1991, another campaign won the fields for Dean Foods. The large majority of Midwestern pickles were now picked by FLOC members.

FLOC called the boycott against Mt. Olive on March 17, 1999. The North Carolina pickle company had a different labor force than the farms in FLOC home base of Ohio and Michigan. Those farms tended to be picked by Mexican-American laborers who had been long residents of the U.S. and who lived in Texas and Florida when they weren’t picking. But Mt. Olive hired guestworkers who had very few rights and no permanent status in the U.S. This was part of a longer history of North Carolina farmers searching the world for the most exploitable labor. While some found the paperwork in the guestworker program unwieldy, with African-Americans and then Caribbean guestworkers leaving their fields for better work, Mexican guestworkers became the next exploitable labor force. About 10,000 H-2A guestworkers labored in the North Carolina fields. Mt. Olive of course attempted to avoid any responsibility for the workers, saying that they did not employ these farmworkers so they had no control over the conditions of labor, even though they set the price at which they would buy the pickles.

FLOC was successful with these workers because they became a way for workers to express their own power. For example, a man named Mamerto Chaj Garcia was working for a Mt. Olive contractor. He came down with appendicitis and his boss told him he was drunk. Finally, he took a cab to the hospital where it was removed. Then a few weeks later, Garcia and his eight trailermates were all kicked out of their housing without receiving their pay. They complained to FLOC organizers. 30 FLOC members marched up to the farm and confronted the farmer, who handed over the withheld pay. This was the sort of routine oppression farmworkers faced, and often still do face, and how farmworker unions can help alleviate the worst of their problems, even if they lack a contract.

FLOC used the guestworkers’ status though to their advantage. As those workers moved from farm to farm, they spread the FLOC message. FLOC appealed to guestworkers because it sought to organize around their specific issues. FLOC wanted to set up a grievance procedure for the guestworkers. It wanted to create seniority lists so that workers could be sure they would return when they returned to Mexico. It won these concessions on September 16, 2004, when FLOC, Mount Olive, and the North Carolina Growers’ Association whose members owned the pickle farms. The agreement also covered all farms under the Growers Association, even if they did not grow pickles. This thus covered many tobacco workers as well.

To win this campaign, FLOC built upon the UFW boycotts of the past and made connections with unions, churches, and community groups around the country. It distributed “Pickle Picket Packets” to these groups, helping for instance concerned citizens mobilize their churches to promote the boycott. They especially worked on the Methodist Church because Mt. Olive CEO Bill Bryan was an active Methodist. When the United Methodist Church not only held its worldwide convention in the U.S. but also endorsed the boycott, it was a major moment for this community organizing strategy. The campaigns against the stores that sold Mt. Olive products was somewhat successful as well. Walmart of course didn’t care, but Kroger pulled the products from at least 130 stores in the South.

The contract also created a code of conduct for Mt. Olive contractors, with mandated inspections. Of course, worker abuses are still common on these farms. Grassroots farmworker unions have almost no money or staff, even though FLOC is affiliate with the AFL-CIO. But they chronicle workplace abuses, win stolen wages, and provide a voice for the guestworkers.

Much of this post is borrowed from Ronald L. Mize and Alicia C.S. Swords, Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA and David Dalton, Building National Campaigns: Activists, Alliances, and How Change Happens.

This is the 192nd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Behind the Scenes at LIU

[ 46 ] September 15, 2016 |


Read this interview with Long Island University librarian Emily Drabinski for some behind the scenes insight on the horrible attempt by the administration to lockout the faculty and crush the union.

It’s really important to note that the administration locked out the faculty at Long Island University Brooklyn before the faculty had a chance to review and vote on the contract as proposed by the administration.

When we met on Tuesday, September 6 — which seems like a year ago now — we had already lost our health insurance, we had already lost our wages, we had already been locked out of our communication systems at LIU Brooklyn. Longstanding tradition at LIU has been for negotiations to continue up until the final day of the contract, August 31, and then for the faculty to meet and ratify or not ratify the contract on the first day after Labor Day.

They knew that was the plan. I’m the secretary [of the union], I know that I had emailed and we had reserved a room [for continued negotiations]. They knew that was coming and they locked us out before that could happen.
Why do you think they took such measures?

Labor and employer relations at LIU Brooklyn have always been contentious — that is the task of a unionized workforce. We knew that things were going to be difficult.

When I arrived at LIU Brooklyn, there we six unions on campus; right now there are four. This is the president who has been hired to bust the unions, and she’s been successful so far. We knew she would be coming for us next.

But I don’t think any of us anticipated a lockout. It’s unprecedented because the lockout was so disruptive and so harmful to the reputation of the university as well as to the workers who were locked out. I was talking to my partner and asked, “What’s going to happen?” As we got down to the end — and we’ve been bargaining since April — the administration had not been moving, almost at all.

They’ve been meeting with us, they had been sticking within the letter of the law. They clearly know how to go right up to the line of bargaining in good faith, and they just stuck there.

They began advertising for replacement workers in July on is I guess where you get your best higher education faculty to replace us. We assumed that was in the event of a strike, which of course we hadn’t and haven’t called.

My guess would be that they have been preparing for the lockout probably since the president arrived.

They told the press that the reason that they locked us out was to prevent a strike. We are a fairly militant union. We go on strike for working conditions, we go on strike for wages. That might have happened in this event — I don’t know, it’s hard to know now what would have happened had they not locked us out.

What they don’t say is that the other option was to negotiate in good faith and bargain a fair contract for the faculty workforce.

Just really amazing and brazen effort by the university president and no doubt the Board of Trustees. This story remains extremely important as if they succeed in busting the faculty union in the future, it sets a horrifying precedent for other schools to follow.

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