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Unions and the Democratic Primary

[ 123 ] July 13, 2015 |

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The outpouring of support for Bernie Sanders has included a lot of labor people. That has made labor executives worried. First, Richard Trumka reminded state federations and locals that they don’t have the right to endorse anyone. Then, the American Federation of Teachers came out and endorsed Hillary Clinton.

This doesn’t surprise me and is pretty unfortunate, but is understandable. Union leaders are a lot less interested in primary politics and supporting (likely) losing primary campaigns from the left than in creating solid support from the likely winner. They want to make sure they are close to President Hillary Clinton rather than primary runner-up Bernie Sanders. You might say that unions should be about democracy and their members should have the right to endorse the candidate who most represents their views. I might well say you are right about that. But in the hard realpolitik world of modern class-based politics, with unions facing death, one can see why Trumka, Weingarten, and other labor leaders (expect an SEIU endorsement of Hillary very soon), would rally around the winner and hope to be closer to her inner circle.

But if the Bernie surge continues and he develops a shot to win, labor is going to look pretty bad here.

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Selma Lives

[ 14 ] July 13, 2015 |

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I was reading this old Pete Axthelm profile of Ken Stabler from 1980. A real classy guy. Among the highlight is when he and his team set up a reporter they hated for a cocaine bust.

The only affair involving Stabler that brings no laughter, it seems, is the ugly incident after the 1978 season, when Sacramento writer Bob Padecky was set up for a cocaine bust in Gulf Shores. The circumstantial evidence against Stabler was considerable. Padecky was one of his least favorite writers, yet was invited to Stabler’s hometown for an exclusive interview. Coke was planted under the fender of his rented car and police were tipped off. Padecky unwittingly trivialized the incident a bit with his frenetic by-lined account of his harrowing jail term—which lasted five minutes before the cops realized it was a prank. But the fact remains that someone had executed a cruel and potentially dangerous stunt, and many observers felt that some of Stabler’s friends had participated—with or without his knowledge. When the subject is raised now, all the whimsical and piratical expressions dissolve into a look of abject innocence. “I just don’t know what happened,” he insists. “Maybe nobody ever will.”

Sure thing Kenny. Typical Raider.

Anyway, there was also this:

Properly fortified, the group raced into Selma, where they visited Pitts’s house and drank some more beer. Then, with no real explanation, the group was off to a predominantly black social club in Selma. There were several rounds and some curious glances before it became apparent that the group was on a political mission. Pitts’s friend, Joe T. Smitherman, was running to regain his job as mayor. He had resigned in July of 1979 for personal reasons. But he figured he could get it back with some classic New South campaigning, including an appearance with an interracial group of football stars.

“I’m the one man who understands Southern politics,” Smitherman was soon telling the group. “As mayor, I ordered the arrest of Martin Luther King down here. I said, ‘Dr. King, don’t march.’ And he marched. So I had him arrested. And got 70 percent of the black vote in my next election. What you Yankees have to understand is that we’re not segregationists anymore. We’re populists.” A couple of the blacks fidgeted. Stabler rolled his eyes and muttered, “Henry’s done it again.”

The speeches were not an unqualified success. The audience cheered politely for the ballplayers, but fell ominously silent when Pitts tried an oratorical flourish of, “We in Selma have not merely overcome. We have conquered.” When Sistrunk followed at the mic, he was barely audible. “Speak up, we can’t year you,” somebody called. Sistrunk stared balefully across the room. “If you can’t hear me,” he said, “you can move in closer.” A chair squeaked and there were a few nervous giggles. Stabler said a few words himself but watched most of the proceedings from the bar. “A situation comedy,” he said.

That’s just great. I’m sure their presence and the ex-mayor gloating about not only overcoming but conquering was super welcome in a Selma black bar.

But that wasn’t the only connection to Selma in the news lately. Bonard Fowler, the cop who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, leading to the famous Selma march, died. Other than killing Jackson, he was also notable for killing other black people as a cop. Then he joined the military, went to Bangkok, and while there got busted for heroin trafficking. That my friends, is a life poorly lived.

Jackson

[ 33 ] July 10, 2015 |

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It’s true enough as Adele Stan states that Andrew Jackson is actually the prototypical white American as opposed to some sort of freak from the past that not only we shouldn’t honor but is a complete foreigner to us today. In fact, his version of white supremacy still rides high in this country today.

So fine, we can’t shove Jackson onto modern conservatism entirely, especially with the Democrats continuing their awfully named Jefferson-Jackson dinner and your David Greenbergs of the world attacking anyone in the historical profession to the left of him, in this case those who say bad things about Old Hickory. But it’s still remarkable that Howard Phillips thought Jackson is the greatest president and Lincoln is the worst.

The Next Battle for the American Swastika

[ 173 ] July 10, 2015 |

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Travis Waldron notes that a next likely battle over the Confederate flag is at the high school level, with so many southern schools adopting it as their team mascot.

Since the Charleston massacre, the debates have resumed in several school districts. A school board committee in Arkansas voted last month to phase out Southside High’s Rebels nickname and immediately end its use of “Dixie,” the Confederate anthem, as its fight song. In Alabama, complaints from some residents prompted a community meeting about Vestavia Hills High School’s Rebels moniker. Local media have raised questions about symbols and mascots in Iowa and California, and the superintendent at Kentucky’s Allen Central High School, which also uses the Rebels name, last month removed old logos and photos that featured the Confederate flag from websites for the school and state athletic association.

But in other places, there has been no discussion of Confederate symbols since the Charleston shootings. And there are no plans for change.

In Hurley, Virginia, a small town tucked into the state’s southwestern corner, Hurley High School uses Confederate symbolism more directly than schools where debates are taking place. Hurley’s teams, known as the Rebels, don a logo that features the Confederate flag waving from a sword. The school’s Facebook page shows football players running onto the field beneath the Confederate flag after bursting through a homecoming banner on which a hand-drawn version of the battle flag is the most prominent feature.

“Since all of this has come about, our community has stood behind the logo and the flag,” Hurley High principal Pamela Dotson told The Huffington Post this week, echoing comments she made first to the Bristol Herald Courier.

This can get pretty nasty too. Unlike a state, which will have some level of racial and ideological diversity, on the school district level you may have very little racial or ideological diversity at all. This is going to be outsiders coming in and telling us in rural Kentucky or Alabama that we can’t have our flag–and our school symbol.

These are necessary fights–the American swastika must be driven from public life–but it’s going to as ugly as you can imagine.

Basin and Range

[ 23 ] July 10, 2015 |

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Good on Harry Reid to push so hard against the Cliven Bundys of his state and make his legacy protecting huge swaths of land from development. And good on his political skills for pushing it to the top of Obama’s land agenda, to the point where 700,000 acres will soon be named Basin and Range National Monument. And in these days of intensely partisan land conservation struggles, it is remarkable for its size and for the president’s willingness to go around the complex politics that most recent national monuments have undergone to slowly build some kind of local consensus around designation. That’s all about Harry Reid’s political career and his political acumen.

Obama did officially protect Basin and Range today, along with 300,000 acres at Berryessa Snow Mountain in California and the Waco mammoth site.

Malaysia: A Leader in Human Rights Once It Joined the TPP!

[ 10 ] July 10, 2015 |

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It’s amazing the progress Malaysia has shown in human rights ever since Obama decided the Trans Pacific Partnership was his top priority.

The United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centers, U.S. sources said on Wednesday, a move that could smooth the way for an ambitious U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.

The upgrade to so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” status removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama’s signature global trade deal.

A provision in a related trade bill passed by Congress last month barred from fast-tracked trade deals Malaysia and other countries that earn the worst U.S. human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the U.S. State Department.

I wonder if there has been any news out of Malaysia recently on its human trafficking problem?

Lawmakers are working on a compromise that would let Malaysia and other countries appearing on a U.S. black-list for human trafficking participate in fast-tracked trade deals if the administration verified that they have taken concrete steps to address the most important issues identified in the annual trafficking report.The graves were found in an area long known for the smuggling of Rohingya and local villagers reported seeing Rohingya in the area, but Malaysia’s Deputy Home (Interior) Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has said it was unclear whether those killed were illegal migrants. The discovery took place after the March cut-off for the U.S. report.

The State Department would have needed to show that Malaysia had neither fully complied with minimum anti-trafficking standards nor made significant efforts to do so to justify keeping Malaysia on Tier 3, which can lead to penalties such as the withholding of some assistance.

In its report last year, the State Department said Malaysia had reported 89 human-trafficking investigations in the 12 months to March 2014, down from 190 the previous year, and nine convictions compared with 21 the previous year.

In the latest year to March, Malaysia’s conviction rate is believed to have fallen further, according to human-rights advocates, despite a rise in the number of investigations. That reinforced speculation Malaysia would remain on Tier 3.

“If true, this manipulation of Malaysia’s ranking in the State Department’s 2015 TIP report would be a perversion of the trafficking list and undermine both the integrity of this important report as well as the very difficult task of confronting states about human trafficking,” said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who had pushed to bar Tier 3 countries from inclusion in the trade pact.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said he was “stunned” by the upgrade.

“They have done very little to improve the protection from abuse that migrant workers face,” he said. “This would seem to be some sort of political reward from the United States and I would urge the U.S. Congress to look long and hard at who was making the decisions on such an upgrade.” Malaysia has an estimated 2 million illegal migrant laborers, many of whom work in conditions of forced labor under employers and recruitment companies in sectors ranging from electronics to palm oil to domestic service.

Malaysia has done all it needed to do–become important to Obama’s trade agenda. At this point, it can use all the slave labor it wants, knowing Obama will do nothing. Promoting pharmaceutical companies’ rights for long monopolies over profitable medicines and allowing corporations to sue nations for raising their minimum wage or implementing new pollution controls is far more important than the human rights of migrant laborers in southeast Asia for this administration.

The Despair of Climate Scientists

[ 141 ] July 10, 2015 |

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If I were a climate scientist, the despair I would feel about the future of the planet would make it difficult to live. It’s bad enough reading about climate science. And the scientists here who are making claims that “we can do this and save ourselves!” are stating opinions that really sound pretty distant from where their own science leads them. If “we can do this!” includes 100 million refugees in Bangladesh as a starting point, we aren’t really doing well. And as for comparisons between the sudden shift in gay marriage and a possible sudden shift in doing something about climate, they are cheap, easy, and disconnected from reality since a) fighting climate change means taking on huge corporations and gay marriage does not and b) gay marriage is a freedom issue and that has a particular appeal to Americans while climate change does not.

Films With All the Dialogue by White Characters Taken Out…

[ 21 ] July 9, 2015 |

….are very, very short.

Obama’s Workplace Safety Record

[ 24 ] July 9, 2015 |

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Elias Isquith has a Q&A with Jamie Smith Hopkins and Jim Morrison from the Center for Public Integrity, which has released a new series of reports on workplace safety in the United States. They have pretty harsh words for President Obama:

Were you surprised to hear David Michaels, the head of OSHA, speak so frankly to his agency’s lack of capability? That isn’t something you hear from government officials especially often, regardless of whether it’s true.

JM: I found that striking. They’ve actually been saying that for several years. In 2013, OSHA put out a press release saying as much. They said that our limits don’t protect workers in the vast majority of cases. I’ve told Jamie and my co-workers that I can’t recall another federal agency publicly saying, Sorry, but we really can’t do a whole lot. You are on your own. That’s pretty much what OSHA has been saying for a couple of years. It’s amazing.

JSH: What they’re arguing is not that they don’t want to do anything, but that they’ve been hemmed in by core decisions and other things that prevent them from issuing rules in a timely fashion. Rules do get put out, but very slowly.

People assume Democratic presidents are more pro-regulation than Republican ones. Has that proven to be the case during the Obama years?

JSH: There has been one health rule that has been put out during the Obama administration. Certainly when you compare it to 20 or 30 years ago.

JM: Simply put, the Obama administration really isn’t any better or much better than the Bush [administration]. It’s not a good record.

No it’s not. Now, one issue is of course OSHA funding. And while Obama has not made this, or workplace safety generally, a high priority, certainly Congress holds no small amount of fault here. Still, the Obama administration could do a lot more through reorienting OSHA toward more efficient ways of dealing with risks on the job and through executive orders. The only president who ever really valued OSHA to the point of making it a political priority was Jimmy Carter. And that’s too bad. One would have hoped that an event like the West, Texas factory explosion would have put a jolt into American politics that we need to take safety and health more seriously, but it completely disappeared from the national conversation by the next news cycle.

Work More!

[ 142 ] July 9, 2015 |

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Jeb Bush’s hands are far apart to indicate he wants workers to labor all the hours

Jeb Bush really is a man of the New Gilded Age. His beliefs about labor are truly Lochner-esque.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Wednesday that in order to grow the economy “people should work longer hours” — a comment that the Bush campaign argues was a reference to underemployed part-time workers but which Democrats are already using to attack him.

During an interview that was live-streamed on the app Periscope, Bush told New Hampshire’s The Union Leader that to grow the economy, “people should work longer hours.”

He was answering a question about his plans for tax reform and responded:

“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

That’s just what we need in this country, people working longer hours. After all, the American worker has already become incredibly productive and Americans already work ridiculously long hours compared to Europe, but there might be more profit to be squeezed from their bodies and their brains if they were to work, say, a 12 hour day. Really, the ideal should be the workers of Bangladesh and Cambodia. Those are people who know how to work long hours!

Jeb later said this was taken out of context yadda yadda, but his labor policy would be absolutely horrible as president.

This Day in Labor History: July 9, 1948

[ 7 ] July 9, 2015 |

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On July 9, 1948, the International Labour Organization signed The Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention. Unfortunately, the United States Senate never ratified it, showing the difficulty international standards, labor and otherwise, have always had in becoming law in the United States and the damage that can do for the effectiveness of these agreements. It also suggests just how limited labor rights really are in the United States compared to much of the world.

The International Labour Organization came to be in 1919 as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. As the U.S. never ratified that treaty, it did not join the ILO until 1934. The ILO became significantly more important after World War II as it became closely associated with the United Nations. The UN asked the ILO to create a series of conventions immediately after the war, making the request official in 1947.

The Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention is one of the 8 conventions that make up the core of international labor law. It is a very basic document. Article 1 urges all ILO states to follow the following direction:

Article 2

Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organisation concerned, to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation.

Article 3

1. Workers’ and employers’ organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.

2. The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.

Article 4

Workers’ and employers’ organisations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.

Article 5

Workers’ and employers’ organisations shall have the right to establish and join federations and confederations and any such organisation, federation or confederation shall have the right to affiliate with international organisations of workers and employers.

Article 6

The provisions of Articles 2, 3 and 4 hereof apply to federations and confederations of workers’ and employers’ organisations.

Article 7

The acquisition of legal personality by workers’ and employers’ organisations, federations and confederations shall not be made subject to conditions of such a character as to restrict the application of the provisions of Articles 2, 3 and 4 hereof.

Article 8

1. In exercising the rights provided for in this Convention workers and employers and their respective organisations, like other persons or organised collectivities, shall respect the law of the land.

2. The law of the land shall not be such as to impair, nor shall it be so applied as to impair, the guarantees provided for in this Convention.

Article 9

1. The extent to which the guarantees provided for in this Convention shall apply to the armed forces and the police shall be determined by national laws or regulations.

2. In accordance with the principle set forth in paragraph 8 of Article 19 of the Constitution of the International Labour Organisation the ratification of this Convention by any Member shall not be deemed to affect any existing law, award, custom or agreement in virtue of which members of the armed forces or the police enjoy any right guaranteed by this Convention.

Article 10

In this Convention the term organisation means any organisation of workers or of employers for furthering and defending the interests of workers or of employers.

Yet this was too far for the United States. In fact, the United States has only ratified two of the eight fundamental conventions. The U.S. voted for the convention within the ILO and Harry Truman sent it to the Senate for ratification in 1949. Secretary of State Dean Acheson assured the Senate that the U.S. would need no legal changes to comply with it. But 1949 was not an auspicious time for international labor conventions and the U.S. Senate, not in the aftermath of the Taft-Hartley Act and the rise of McCarthyism. John Bricker, the isolationist and anti-union senator from Ohio led the opposition, saying the ILO “wants to become the economic overseer of all humanity.” The fear of international supremacy over American law also motivated many senators to not support the ILO and other international legal frameworks. Bricker, based in no small part on his opposition to the ILO, attempted to get constitutional amendments ratified that would significantly reduce presidential power to agree to international law and in 1954 his amendment failed in the Senate by one vote after Dwight Eisenhower personally intervened against it. The Senate never ratified the convention. Conservatives have occasionally spoke out for ratification over the years, including George Schulz, Elizabeth Dole, and even Orrin Hatch. But it has never again received serious attention.

Today, 153 nations have ratified the convention. Among the 30 nations who have not ratified it are North Korea, Belarus, and the United States. It’s not a dead letter either. Last year, Somalia signed it. But not the United States. It undermines American credibility on labor issues worldwide. When the U.S. lectures about democracy, as it has since the early days of the Cold War, labor issues and the freedom of association are usually part of that critique. Yet many at home and abroad have noted that, once again, the U.S. does not practice what it preaches because it won’t pass the basic ILO conventions. It’s not as if the U.S. never passes ILO conventions. For instance, in 1999, the Senate ratified an ILO convention against particularly exploitative forms of child labor. But a serious commitment to international labor rights is of little interest to many senators, indicative of a nation that has not passed major pro-labor legislation since 1938. In fact, the US has ratified only 14 of the 188 ILO conventions.

We might ask whether such agreements make a difference. Obviously Somalia does not all of a sudden lead the world in labor rights. Nor do other signatory nations Bangladesh, Guatemala (which signed it under the leadership of Jacobo Arbenz), or Honduras. Enforcement matters and the ILO doesn’t have enforcement rights. Yet in a world of rampant global labor exploitation, often led by Americans companies operating internationally, it’s quite telling that the United States refuses to sign on to basic international labor rights. Like any international agreement, it’s strength is largely determined by the most powerful members. In the U.S., whether in international law or international agreements to stop Bangladeshis from dying in factories making clothing for Walmart, the nation’s political and business leaders refuse to commit to anything that might hold the powerful accountable.

I borrowed some of this from Steve Charnowitz’s paper, “The ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Its Future in the United States.”

This is the 150th post in this series. I guess that’s a sort of milestone. Previous posts are archived here.

Angry Goldwater

[ 29 ] July 8, 2015 |

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Barry Goldwater is PISSED and he’s pounding that desk to let you know it.

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