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Contracts

[ 62 ] September 12, 2013 |

Time to make an announcement that’s been in the works for awhile.

Today, I signed a contract with The New Press. The book is tentatively titled “Out of Sight: A Century of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe” and is a history of American corporate mobility that builds connections between current labor conditions in the developing world and corporations avoiding labor and environmental regulations by moving their sites of production around the planet. Bridging the 102 years between the Triangle Fire of 1911 and the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the book examines how corporations responded to effective regulations that made American workplaces safer and American air and water cleaner not by becoming good corporate citizens, but instead by moving production to recreate the dangerous work and unregulated pollution of the Gilded Age.

Hiding industrial production from American consumers has proven an incredibly effective corporate strategy. Citizens are no longer galvanized by the Triangle Fire to create reforms and corporations work with government officials to suppress the unions in overseas plants that could publicize the conditions of work. Clothes appear on hangers and meat in nicely wrapped packages without most Americans giving a second thought to how those products arrived at their fingertips. Chapters examine the history of exploiting female labor in the textile industry, strategies to hide meat production from consumers, the outsourcing of pollution to the world’s poor, and the effects of outsourcing on the long-term stability of the American working class. Finally it suggests ways American consumers and activists can work to ensure products are produced in environmentally sustainable and dignified conditions, using examples ranging from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to the LaFollette Seaman’s Act, which set minimum standards for working conditions aboard ships bringing goods to the United States, effectively creating a race to the top in that industry, to suggest workable paths to a better future for the planet and the global working class. Ultimately, we need internationally enforceable labor and environmental standards that allow workers to sue corporations in the corporate nation or origin or in international courts. Without making labor and environmental regulations as mobile as capital investment, we cannot stop the scourge of capital mobility’s exploitation of labor and nature.

I always said my hatred of capitalism should make me some money. And amazingly, it now has.

Your Republican Party–Too Extreme To Accept Company Unions

[ 143 ] September 12, 2013 |

Volkswagen has a plant in Chattanooga. It is used to its company unionism of Germany and wants to recreate that in the United States, in part because labor representatives in Germany see the company’s expansion into non-union plants in the U.S. as a threat. But company unions are illegal in the U.S. So Volkswagen has invited the United Auto Workers in to organize the workers into a union that the two parties have agreed will be run on the German company union lines.

I have pretty mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, company unions are rife with problems and those very deep problems are why they are illegal. On the other hand, any UAW representation is going to be better for workers than what they now have and future adjustments to the arrangement are always possible that could result from the militancy of empowered workers. Plus this is an example of unions adjusting to the new reality of organized labor’s demise and thinking in new ways about how they can represent workers.

What’s more remarkable is the anger and outrage from Tennessee Republican leaders, especially Bob Corker and Bill Haslam. They can’t believe Volkswagen would invite Satan into their plants? Are they crazy? Evidently! After all, these guys built their careers on demonizing organized labor and inviting companies to their states because exploitation of labor was possible. Reading what Corker and Haslam are saying, one feels that they would rather lose the factory entirely than accede to the devilish union, even if that union is severely limited in what it can do.

And this gets at why I constantly talk about the Gilded Age as the template for the modern Republican Party. It’s not 1927 and Calvin Coolidge because that was the era of company unionism. At that time, business leaders and conservative politicians saw company unions as a benefit that would buy off just enough of the worker anger that had led to the radicalism of the 1880-1920 period to keep production running and real unions out. It was the cost of doing business.

Today’s Republicans have no interest in this. They see the complete crushing of organized labor and the full power of corporation to exploit workers as the goal. They actively want to recreate the conditions of the Gilded Age, whether in the U.S. or abroad, and keep the money flowing to the vampire plutocrats living off the blood of workers job creators. Recreating the 1920s is an outrage because Corker and Haslam are so committed to the 1890s as a model.

The Brilliance of Chip Kelly

[ 84 ] September 12, 2013 |

Bill Barnwell on the true brilliance of Chip Kelly, where he creates so many options that defenses actually forget about Michael Vick being able to run, opening up gigantic holes for someone defenses have made their primary focus for a decade.

I also demand more formations with the tackles lined up wide with the receivers and then running it up the middle with a 3-man line for 10 yards.

Of course, I don’t know why everyone’s making a big deal about Chip Kelly defeating Washington. He did that every year while coaching Oregon.

A Happy Return

[ 70 ] September 11, 2013 |

David Neiwert has restarted Orcinus. This is great news.

Identity Politics

[ 191 ] September 11, 2013 |

I’d call Emily Douglas’ response to DeBlasio’s victory over Christine Quinn in yesterday’s New York City mayoral primary a bit unfortunate, if understandable to an extent. Even though it’s pretty clear she’s not herself comfortable with her entire argument, Douglas’ response basically comes down to the fact that it was time for a woman and a lesbian to be mayor and that women like Quinn or Hillary Clinton in 2008 can’t win over men because they had to play a careful game throughout their careers because they are women.

I’m going to offer this image as a counterargument to Douglas:

That’s not to say that women don’t face serious disadvantages in politics, even in 2013. It’s far easier for a man to have a long political career and rise to the top today, partly because those men started when the barriers were higher to women and partly because of still existent gender inequality.

The LGBT community voted DeBlasio over Quinn 47-34 because he is far more politically progressive than Quinn. At best Quinn was the 3rd most progressive candidate and was probably 4th. Why would progressives vote for her? To continue Bloomberg’s dream of turning New York into a playground for the world’s billionaires? The multimillionaires will have to settle for Brooklyn. To continue stop and frisk? Also, are all gays and lesbians white? Could non-white gays and lesbians be voting racial identity over sexual identity, especially if they see a greater threat to their bodies over the former? Of course.

We know more about why Hillary Clinton lost the primary in 2008. Although there was absolutely a sexist element to the coverage of the race, Clinton lost because she had over-imbibed in the centrist southern DLC politics of her husband and advisers rather than reading the state of the Democratic electorate desperate to overturn the policies of the Bush Administration and create a progressive nation (and hey, look how that turned out!). Christine Quinn doomed herself by being too close to the unpopular policies of a mayor who they could no longer tolerate. Hillary Clinton doomed herself by not being distant enough from policies that the Democratic base now rejected.

A women and possibly a lesbian will be elected mayor of New York when she provides the policy choices the voters are looking for. It’s never anyone’s turn. Except for the person who is the most politically progressive. In this case it might have been DeBlasio and it might have been Liu but it most certainly was not Quinn. Democrats voted on this basis.

Good Timing

[ 27 ] September 11, 2013 |

John Kerry’s bumbling tenure as Secretary of State continues, as he spends the 40th anniversary of the Pinochet coup talking to Henry Kissinger this afternoon.

Rescue Dogs

[ 22 ] September 11, 2013 |

A gallery of the last twelve surviving rescue dogs who worked the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse.

The Perpetrators of 9/11

[ 61 ] September 11, 2013 |

Augusto Pinochet

Richard Nixon

Henry Kissinger

If you need context, see here and for more detail here.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 230 ] September 11, 2013 |

Richard Dawkins. Again.

Partying Like 1929

[ 78 ] September 10, 2013 |

The richest 1% now hold more of the nation’s wealth than any time in American history going back to the keeping of such statistics in 1913. The previous high was 1927.

Conservative Climate Change Predictions

[ 10 ] September 10, 2013 |

The UN consistently chooses the most conservative predictions about the effects of climate change in order to try and mollify climate change deniers. This has the effect of muting the shouting from the mountaintops we need to get a handle on an issue that will destroy the way of life we today know. Not a good idea, especially since those deniers are never going to listen since they have an economic stake in the present system.

This Day in Labor History: September 10, 1897

[ 7 ] September 10, 2013 |

On September 10, 1897, Luzerne County sheriff deputies slaughtered 19 unarmed coal miners striking outside of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The strikers, primarily German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Slovak immigrants, were fighting for decent wages and working conditions in the one of the most brutal industries in the nation. The Lattimer Massacre was a touchstone event in the history of the United Mine Workers of America, who used it to organize workers across the region.

The 1890s saw a rise in immigration from Germany and eastern Europe; thousands of those migrants came to the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania. They were recruited there by coal companies as strikebreakers and because of that, the English, Welsh, and Scottish miners that previously dominated the industry hated them as scabs. Conditions in the coal miners were abysmal, with mine collapses and death shockingly common, a situation akin to modern Chinese mines. Making things worse was the Panic of 1893 and following depression that lasted for five years. The terrible poverty and desperation that resulted from these events led to some of the most dramatic events in American labor history, including the Pullman Strike, Coxey’s Army, and the rise of the Populists as a serious challenge to the 2-party system. Mine owners slashed wages during the depression for those who could get work at all. Typical company town conditions existed as well, with miners forced to rent from company-owned homes at high prices, forced to see company doctors, forced to shop at company stores, etc.

In 1897, the miners went on strike. The Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company laid off workers, raised fees for homes and doctors, forced longer hours on those who still worked, and tolerated a decline in working conditions. Work became more dangerous and more profitable for capitalists. The strike was lead by drivers, mostly teenagers who ran teams of mules to carry the coal out of the mines. The company consolidated its mule stables, forcing the drivers to travel farther on their own time to get their animals. In response, the drivers struck on August 14. When the new mine superintendent, a man named Gomer Jones, found out the mule drivers were striking, he grabbed a crowbar and whacked the first striker he saw in the head. The striker fought back and a general scuffle ensued. This helped lead the rest of the workers out on strike. With overall employment declining, workers saw little to lose by walking off the job together rather than get fired separately. By August 16, 2000 workers were on strike and most joined the United Mine Workers of America, a union trying to establish itself in the coal fields. This was a big deal because the Slavs had avoided the UMWA after being vilified by the unionized Anglo-Saxon miners. But the terrible conditions began to break down the ethnic divides in the anthracite fields.

The first strike ended on August 23 when the companies agreed to give miners the option to live in their own houses and see a doctor of their choosing, as well as grant a wage increase of about 10 cents. A second strike a few days later at nearby mines made the pay raise more universal in the region.

Or so the workers thought. In fact, when the owners announced the new pay rates on September 1, only a few workers saw a raise. On September 3, the workers went on strike again, with 3000 walking out. By September 8, somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 miners were on strike. The miners developed new demands, including a pay raise of 15 cents per employee, the ability to select their own doctor, the right to get paid for work even if the machines they workers were out of order (commonly Gilded Age workers were not paid if the company was not running for any reason; employers never could understand why workers wouldn’t “see reason” over this issue), and the freedom not have to buy from the company store.

Strikers near Lattimer, PA

The coal companies’ private police force, the Coal and Iron Police, were overwhelmed by these numbers and the owners created a posse of English and Irish residents, including many ex-miners. On September 8, about 300-400 miners, largely Slavs and Germans, marched to a mine in the town of Lattimer to support miners who had just joined the UMWA. Expanding the strike to Lattimer would be a huge victory for the miners because it would go a long way to shut down the entire the area and force the companies to grant workers’ demands. The mine owners knew this too. Luzerne County police, led by Sheriff James Martin, were openly heard bragging about how many miners they would kill. When the miners reached Lattimer, the police confronted them and ordered them to disperse. When they refused, the police opened fire, killing 19 and wounding about 40. All had been shot in the back.

The immediate aftermath led to infuriated miners who destroyed the home of the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Company mine superintendent and the Pennsylvania National Guard called in to restore order. Unrest continued until September 20. Local response was pro-miners. The Hazleton Daily Standard published this poem on September 17:

“If the courts of justice shield you
And your freedom you should gain,
Remember that your brows are marked
With the burning brand of Cain.
Oh, noble, noble, deputies
We always will remember
Your bloody work at Lattimer
On the 10th day of September.”

Philadelphia Inquirer depiction of the shooting, September 12, 1897

The state actually bothered to try Martin and his 73 deputies but despite the evidence of shooting workers in the back, they all claimed the marchers refused to disperse and were acquitted.

The Lattimer Massacre was a hugely important event in the history of the UMWA. First, standing up for the workers led to membership rising to 10,000, the largest in the union’s history. Second, it ended the widely held belief by both Anglo-Saxon miners and company owners that the Slavic workers were docile and would never join the union. The UMWA built off this event and in 1900, with an improved economy after the depression ended in 1898, won significant wage increases. UMWA president John Mitchell became, along with AFL head Samuel Gompers, the most important labor leader in the country.

The massacre was mostly forgotten about in the larger national consciousness, but finally, in 1972, a monument was erected at the site, which I visited in January.

This is the 76th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.