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This Day in Labor History: August 20, 1866

[ 9 ] August 20, 2015 |

On August 20, 1866, the National Labor Union, the first labor union federation in U.S. history, demanded Congress implement a national 8-hour day. It led to a partial and fleeting success, but the NLU story is an important moment in American labor history as it represents an early response to the onslaught of capitalism upon workers who suddenly found a class-based system developing in what was promised to be a white man’s democracy.

The trade union movement had roots early in American history but had never really taken off, in part because the system of American employment was still in the pre-Civil War years by and large artisan and farmer based. Where you did see large concentrations of industry, unions formed such as in the Lowell mills. But the nation was changing rapidly in 1866. The capitalist revolution of the Civil War was beginning to be felt by workers. Factories were growing and money was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. Long hours, low pay, and dangerous working conditions in factories, railroad yards, and mines were becoming part of the everyday experience for workers.

Unions began to develop in these industries, but there was no national federation to organize and guide them. That’s what the National Labor Union intended to do. Founded at a Baltimore conference in 1866, it was a precursor to the Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor. It wanted to bring together all of the current unions in its umbrella and take a political and bargaining approach to solving problems, as opposed to striking which was quite controversial even among workers at this time. It favored arbitration as its preferred labor action. It also wanted a Labor Party to challenge both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The NLU’s leader William Sylvis was an interesting individual. In 1846, at the age of 18, Sylvis became an iron molder, which was someone who poured hot slag into wooden patterns to shape the final product. This was hard, tough, dangerous work. He soon became active in Philadelphia’s union movement and was elected secretary of his local in 1857. In 1859, Sylvis called for a convention of all the iron moulders locals around the nation. He was elected president of what became the National Union of Iron Molders. He spent the Civil War building the union where he instituted a number of innovations, including creating the first ever national strike fund, through mandatory dues payments by members. Sylvis was also a major supporter of unions of female workers, particularly Kate Mullaney’s Collar Laundry Union. Sylvis would later invite Mullaney into a leadership role within the NLU, making her the nation’s first female union executive.


William Sylvis

The NLU did invite all workers, including farmers into the organization. But as would be the case with the AFL, its core membership was the skilled building trades. Also like the rest of the labor movement of the time, the NLU held white supremacy as a central guiding point. It was segregated and while there was a black chapter, it was ineffective and small. Sylvis actually opposed this segregation; although he supported Stephen Douglas in the 1860 election, he believed that all workers had the same issues and would have preferred one integrated organization. It took years of fighting recalcitrant unionists to even allowed the Colored National Labor Union to exist alongside the NLU. The federation also called for the exclusion of Chinese workers from the United States, which would eventually be the first legislative victory for the American labor movement in history.

The major legislative aim for the NLU was the passage of the 8-hour day. As capitalism developed, the 8-hour day would become the ultimate goal for much of the American labor movement. It was the call to arms for the Knights of Labor in the 1880s, so much so that the Knights basically lost control of its exploding membership by 1886. Union after union would call for this over the next decades and it was not achieved nationally until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, and even then only partially.

Amazingly the NLU actually achieved an early victory on the 8-hour day when in 1868, the government created the 8-hour day for federal employees. But this was a very limited win as most of the government agencies then reduced wages to go along with it, which was very much not what the NLU wanted. When President Grant ordered departments to stop reducing wages, most just ignored him and he did not press the issue. Ultimately, little concrete benefit came of the 8-hour day announcement.

Frustrations with the federal employee 8-hour day and loopholes in laws in New York and California that made similar statues unworkable combined with the growing concern in the post-Civil War period about monetary policy to turn the NLU in a starkly political direction. It focused its energy on electoral politics and monetary reform, specifically the issuance of greenbacks, as well as providing public land for settlers as opposed to the huge land grants given to railroads as an incentive to build transcontinental lines. This did not exactly excite workers. Many locals believed in “pure and simple unionism” that kept workers out of politics. Thus the NLU became increasingly divided as it prioritized politics over workers’ concerns. While Sylvis claimed the NLU had 600,000 members, he was exaggerating significantly. At its peak, it might have had 300,000. That number declined as the 1860s became the 1870s. Sylvis dying in 1869 at the age of 41 helped speed the decline as the federation lost its guiding light. The NLU dissolved in 1874 after its membership plummeted in the Panic of 1873.

So ultimately, we should see Sylvis and the NLU as an important ancestor of both the Knights of Labor and the AFL. The NLU was an early attempt for workers to collectively find ways out of the inequality arising during and after the Civil War and for all its limitations, was probably more successful than any other organization before the AFL.

This is the 155th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.


Against Arctic Drilling

[ 23 ] August 20, 2015 |


As Rebecca Leber observes, Clinton’s break from the Obama administration is good policy and good politics:

The environmental group 350 Action, among Clinton’s harshest critics on climate issues, offered rare praise Tuesday for Clinton’s leadership—while noting she still hasn’t taken a concrete position on the group’s top target, the Keystone XL pipeline.

“This is a hugely encouraging sign from Hillary Clinton, and it’s in no small part thanks to activists in Seattle, Portland, and around the country who’ve placed their bodies on the line to put Arctic drilling and the broader issue of climate change on the political map,” 350 Action spokesperson Karthik Ganapathy emailed the New Republic. “It’s not easy to stand up to Big Oil, nor to break with a sitting President from within your party—so Secretary Clinton deserves real credit for that.”

In some ways, a candidate’s position on Arctic drilling is more consequential than the Keystone XL pipeline. President Barack Obama’s final decision on the proposed pipeline is expected to come soon, whereas the next president will set the agenda for offshore drilling, including in the Arctic. According to federal estimates, the U.S. Arctic contains 30 billion barrels of undiscovered oil: the equivalent of running the Keystone XL pipeline at full capacity for 75 years, even if you count the added carbon emissions from tar sands oil, according to Natural Resources Defense Council Arctic Director Neil Lawrence. If Keystone is ever built, the State Department has put the pipeline’s lifespan at roughly 50 years.

An Integrated System of Abuse

[ 75 ] August 19, 2015 |
Pearl harbour.png

“Pearl Harbor” by USN – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Great post from Jill Filipovic on Twitchy:

Twitchy may be one of the most powerful political platforms online, but its role as an organized harassment tool is almost never discussed. Founded in 2012 by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, the site has half a dozen editors who troll Twitter for content to post; each post consists of a tweet or series of tweets along with some brief and often outraged commentary. Malkin sold Twitchy to Salem Media, a for-profit Christian company in 2013, but the religiosity of its new owners has not shifted its acidic content. (Malkin and several current Twitchy editors did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment, and Salem Media did not return emails and phone calls requesting comment)…

While Twitchy’s content is tweet aggregation, its purpose seems to be filling insatiable reader rage. Many of the tweets posted to Twitchy are put on there seemingly for the express purpose of demonstrating how stupid or evil Twitchy believes the tweeter to be (although the site occasionally posts tweets from allies, cheering them on for shutting down enemies). The Twitchy team embeds the tweets into the posts, making it easy for their users to click through and engage with the tweeter directly.

And “engage” they do.

Erik, of course, felt the brunt of Twitchy harassment back in the day. The existence, and clear purpose, of Twitchy is one of the reasons why I struggle to take seriously the hand-wringing of Decent Liberals about how the PC folks with the Black Lives Matter and the Humorless Feminism are going to ruin everything by creating a Backlash. Twitter has already been weaponized; while self-restraint is often a virtue, there’s nothing that liberals and leftists can do to un-weaponize it. There is no pending backlash that could be avoided by telling the feminists and minorities to be quiet, because the “backlash” isn’t a counter-attack; it’s a pre-emptive strike.

Charity begins at Yale

[ 90 ] August 19, 2015 |


Vic Fleischer has a piece in the NYT arguing for a federal law that would require non-profit higher ed institutions to spend at least 8% of their endowments every year (the usual percentage spent is 4% to 4.5%, and it’s often based on several-year average of the endowment principal, so when endowments are going up rapidly, as they have been recently, the actual percentage spent of the current endowment total can be far lower).

This hoarding behavior is especially obnoxious, given where a lot of the money that is spent ends up going:

Who do you think received more cash from Yale’s endowment last year: Yale students, or the private equity fund managers hired to invest the university’s money?

It’s not even close.

Last year, Yale paid about $480 million to private equity fund managers as compensation — about $137 million in annual management fees, and another $343 million in performance fees, also known as carried interest — to manage about $8 billion, one-third of Yale’s endowment.

I am but a simple country faux-lawyer, largely untutored in the ways of high finance, but this seems like a truly fantastic ripoff of what one of its former presidents called the best finishing school on Long Island Sound. Yale paid six percent of that portion of its endowment managed by the Masters of the Universe to said Masters, for their priceless 480 million dollars-worth of wisdom?

How could whatever marginal investment value the wizards of hedge fundery provided over, say, a dart board, justify this kind of fee structure? The answer is . . . look over there, a new student center!

Kenneth C. Griffin, a hedge fund manager, gave Harvard $150 million in 2014. In May of this year, Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman and co-founder of the private equity giant Black-stone, pledged $150 million to Yale toward a new student center. John A. Paulson, another hedge fund manager, topped them both when he gave Harvard $400 million in June.

While nobody has suggested that quid pro quos were involved in these cases, these gifts high-light the symbiotic relationship between university endowments and the world of hedge funds and private equity funds.

“Symbiotic” is a polite word, but I can think of another biological metaphor which might more accurately capture the increasingly intimate relationship between elite universities and the .001%.

. . . Howard, in comments:

This kind of behavior at colleges, foundations, and other non-profits, is one of the great case examples of the interlocking nature of the one-percenters. There quite literally is no case at all to be made for the fees paid to hedge fund and private equity managers: after-fee returns can easily be shown to lag a simple s+p 500 index fund over any meaningful time increment.

And yet, institution after institution goes right ahead because no one questions it: everyone – the board, the administration, the money managers themselves – is complicit and paid off in one way or another, as Donald Trump is only too happy to remind us.

Preschool Begins

[ 97 ] August 19, 2015 |

My son entered preschool today. I have been taking care of him 85% of the time by myself for the past four years (I was pretty much by myself when he turned 2) so dropping him off in his class had me feeling a mixture of sad and relieved. I’ve been really busy the past few years. And that hasn’t allowed me to be the best blogger in the world. But I think that’ll change now. It’s been cool sharing trifling, fun stuff with you all but I’m really looking forward to doing stuff that’s a maybe a wee bit more serious and substantive.


In the meantime, I found this on twitter:

I was like:

Then I was all like:

Then someone made me a t-shirt:

Have a nice day!

You Gonna Take A Feel-Good Hollywood Biopic From Someone Who Slapped Beat the Crap out of Dee Barnes?

[ 84 ] August 19, 2015 |

Dee Barnes on Straight Outta Compton:

Three years later—in 1991—I would experience something similar, only this time I was on my back and the knee was in my chest. That knee did not belong to a police officer, but Andre Young, the producer/rapper who goes by Dr. Dre. When I saw the footage of California Highway Patrol officer Daniel Andrew straddling and viciously punching Marlene Pinnock in broad daylight on the side of a busy freeway last year, I cringed. That must have been how it looked as Dr. Dre straddled me and beat me mercilessly on the floor of the women’s restroom at the Po Na Na Souk nightclub in 1991.

That event isn’t depicted in Straight Outta Compton, but I don’t think it should have been, either. The truth is too ugly for a general audience. I didn’t want to see a depiction of me getting beat up, just like I didn’t want to see a depiction of Dre beating up Michel’le, his one-time girlfriend who recently summed up their relationship this way: “I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat on and told to sit down and shut up.”

But what should have been addressed is that it occurred. When I was sitting there in the theater, and the movie’s timeline skipped by my attack without a glance, I was like, “Uhhh, what happened?” Like many of the women that knew and worked with N.W.A., I found myself a casualty of Straight Outta Compton’s revisionist history.

Dre, who executive produced the movie along with his former groupmate Ice Cube, should have owned up to the time he punched his labelmate Tairrie B twice at a Grammys party in 1990. He should have owned up to the black eyes and scars he gave to his collaborator Michel’le. And he should have owned up to what he did to me. That’s reality. That’s reality rap. In his lyrics, Dre made hyperbolic claims about all these heinous things he did to women. But then he went out and actually violated women. Straight Outta Compton would have you believe that he didn’t really do that. It doesn’t add up. It’s like Ice Cube saying, “I’m not calling all women bitches,” which is a position he maintains even today at age 46. If you listen to the lyrics of “A Bitch Iz a Bitch,” Cube says, “Now the title bitch don’t apply to all women / But all women have a little bitch in ‘em.” So which is it? You can’t have it both ways. That’s what they’re trying to do with Straight Outta Compton: They’re trying to stay hard, and look like good guys.

Straight Outta Compton is hardly unique in this respect — biopics tend to whitewash, even when they’re not done with the cooperation of the subjects. And, of course, misogyny from both art and artists is depressingly common, and does not in itself mean that a biopic of very influential artists is unjustified. I would suggest, however, that at a minimum Straight Outta Compton not be called “unvarnished.”

From the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Calhoun, An Ongoing Series

[ 233 ] August 19, 2015 |

Roger-Taney-in-1858Mister, We Could Use A Chief Justice Like Roger Taney Again

Chalk up another crackpot position that’s gone utterly Republican mainstream:

On Sunday, business mogul Donald Trump came out in support of ending birthright citizenship — and on Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker joined him.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said recently that he didn’t think the party needed to go that far in trying to crack down on illegal immigration. But during his run for governor in 2010, according to the Columbus Dispatch, he reiterated his longtime support for ending birthright citizenship.

When Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul first ran for the Senate in 2010, he said he didn’t “think the 14th Amendment was meant to apply to illegal aliens.” He has since pushed for a constitutional amendment. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said the issue needs to be re-examined as well.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has also stated his support for altering the 14th Amendment…

And on Monday night, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal joined the debate, tweeting, “We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.”

Even South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime supporter of immigration reform, has called for a consideration of a change in the Constitution because he believes immigrants will simply “drop and leave” their kids in this country.

Taken together, that’s a solid chunk of the Republican field. And for a political party desperately trying to improve its standing with Hispanic and other minority voters, it could portend a damaging bend toward nativism.

If the Republican Party has ever accomplished something good, contemporary Republicans will do what they can to purge any trace of the preemptive heresy from the books.

Amanda Terkel has a good companion piece on the history of denying citizenship to various classes of people.

Upcoming Out of Sight Events!

[ 35 ] August 18, 2015 |


Two upcoming Out of Sight events for you all

First, my Brooklyn book talk with Sarah Jaffe will be aired on CSPAN2 at 7:45 pm Sunday evening. I warn you, I gesticulate a lot. Don’t get too close to your television set. If you don’t have cable, it should be on the CSPAN BookTV website after it airs. Plus now Lemieux can’t brag anymore that he was the only LGM writer on America’s most popular network.

Second, all you Yinzers out there should be coming out to see me next Wednesday afternoon. That’s right, I am visiting exciting Pittsburgh, where I am giving a talk at Big Idea Books at 1:30 pm. Weird time I know. But who in western Pennsylvania has jobs anymore anyway thanks to our good friend capital mobility? So come on out!

Third, and this is a ways off, but I will be appearing in Cambridge at Porter Square Books on Tuesday, October 6 with the one and only Laura Clawson from Daily Kos interviewing me. All you Massholes and whatever they call people from southern New Hampshire should be there.

Fourth, I will be giving a public lecture at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York on November 10. So if you are in the Hudson Valley, mark your calendars for an evening of fun happy times about joyful events going on in the world today. And perhaps a random dead horse reference.

Please note my east coast friends that I am basically willing to go anywhere I can drive to do an event if you can help me set up a venue.

Also, if any readers want to write a review of the book on Amazon, I would appreciate it. That stuff helps move a few copies. The press told me they are pretty happy with the sales but there’s only 3 reviews there which could be better.

The NIMBYs of Nickelsville

[ 37 ] August 18, 2015 |

File:Nickelsville at T-107 Park 01.jpg

Erica C. Barnett has a gift for writing about NIMBYs that parallels Edroso on wingnuts: a light touch on the commentary with an eye towards the absurdity of it all, while not getting in the way of them hang themselves with their own words. (Great examples here, here, especially here.) The most recent NIMBY outrage is the overwrought reaction to the planned location of a homeless encampment on a block of city property in Ballard. (Danny Westneat, of all people, explains how unfounded the fears are here; more background here, on the charge that such places increase crime in the neighborhood see here) Barnett says what very much needs to be said here:

No one, including the few (mostly homeless, formerly homeless, or homeless advocates) who spoke in favor of the encampment, called the opposition “classist”–that, along with “racist,” is the third rail of Seattle’s white progressive politics–but whatever possible conclusion is there when a group of mostly upper-middle-class, mostly white, mostly homeowning residents gang up on a group of disenfranchised people sleeping on park benches or in their cars and say that they, as a class, are shiftless alcoholics and drug addicts (as if addiction was a choice) who contribute nothing to society and instigate crime and the loss of property values?

How else can we describe parents who say they don’t want their children exposed to a less-fortunate class of people, whose basic humanity is suspect because they haven’t pulled themselves up by their bootstraps into the middle-class existence so many of those wealthy homeowners received as their birthright? And what are we supposed to make of people who literally say they can’t be anti-homeless because they once took an individual homeless person into their home, just like your racist friend who says he can’t be racist because he gets along just great with the black people who serve him?


As someone who has often recieved a fair amount of pushback for suggesting that people’s stated desire to restrict to housing supply in their neighborhoods is motivated at least in part by classism, I can’t help but feel a little bit vindicated here. The mask slips a bit more often when it comes to homeless people, rather than ‘low income’ people generally.

Trucker Safety and You

[ 20 ] August 18, 2015 |


One of the points I make in Out of Sight is that the impact of industrial production is shouldered almost entirely by workers because when consumers get exposed to pesticides, for example, they are angry and empowered to demand changes. This is one reason why Cesar Chavez understood that motivating white consumers was more effective in creating the change he wanted than organizing the farmworkers themselves (which had its own problems). One way this has had a real effect was that the agricultural industry developed new pesticides that are intense but dissipate quickly. These nonpersistent chemicals thus intensely affect workers, but who cares about them, so long as my strawberries and apples are fine in the store. Once it doesn’t affect us, the burdens of pesticides are out of sight again.

This type of situation is pretty common throughout America, with companies far more concerned about angry consumers than their own workers. But there’s one area where there’s a surprising lack of consumer activism over the worker safety issues that can then affect them. And that’s the trucking industry. The pressure on truckers means tired drivers which mean crashes and death that can affect any of us any time we drive, as Tracy Morgan found out last year. I’m surprised that drivers–AAA to start with but other organizations as well–haven’t organized campaigns to make trucking safer.

Of course the busting of Teamsters locals and the move to nonunion companies where workers don’t have the voice to fight for themselves doesn’t help.

Nellie Brown, the director of Workplace Health and Safety Programs at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said drivers’ schedules are to blame. “A lot of their schedules are erratic, so people don’t truly have regular sleeping hours,” she said. “You end up with people who are horribly sleep deprived, and this kind of problem is a terribly nasty one.”

Chronically fatigued truck drivers present a danger not just to other people on the road. According to Brown, they are more likely to suffer from long-term health issues such as diabetes, cancer and various heart conditions. She said the proliferation of online ordering and just-in-time delivery practices must take a large share of the blame.

“We’re just asking more of the human body and brain than we can really do, and we’re creating the expectation that people can order things and have them by the next day,” she said.

Others have pointed the finger at declining union membership in the trucking industry. Labor membership has been on the decline across the U.S. for decades. From 1970 and 1990, the percentage of for-hire truck drivers who were union members dropped from 60 percent to 25 percent. As of 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that just 17.4 percent of workers in transportation and material moving occupations are represented by unions.

Art Wheaton, the director of western New York labor and environmental programs at Cornell University, said unions representing truck drivers tend to bargain for additional safety provisions to fight exhaustion and then see to it those provisions are enforced.

“Many of the nonunionized companies tend to try to reduce costs, and sometimes it is at the expense of reduced safety, not only for the driver but for the general public,” he said.

Given that this could kill you or me today or tomorrow, why don’t we talk about this more?

The End of Clickbait

[ 43 ] August 18, 2015 |

Not that headline writers won’t continue to write it, mind you, they simply will never be able to top this.

An Appeal!

[ 65 ] August 18, 2015 |
Pursuit Special.jpg

LGM: The Last of the V8 Interceptors “Pursuit Special” by Ferenghi – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

We’ve arrived at LGM’s Fundraising Appeal! We try to limit this exercise to once a year, unless Loomis endures another financial catastrophe, including but not limited to spending his entire book advance on a bag of magic beans or some such bullshit.

(If the above button doesn’t work, try the one on the near right sidebar)

LGM is not a non-profit in the technical sense of the term, and none of our readers are under any obligation to toss a quarter into the tip jar. This site has survived, in no small part, because people continue to read, engage, and comment. That said, the writers (not to mention the owners!) don’t make anything approaching what they deserve for the amount of time they put into the site. Your donation will go in part to increasing the remuneration of the contributors, but will also go to the following tasks:

  • Investigating and engineering a redesign that will improve speed and readability on both desktop on mobile
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  • Paying guest authors, some of whom choose to donate their fees to worthy causes
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We deeply appreciate any contribution that you could make. This blog has been around for a very long time, and if it weren’t (very mildly) profitable, I doubt we’d still be here, doing the things we do.

But don’t take my word for it:

    • “Whatever else you can say about Lawyers, Guns and Money, it would never run references to vodka or Trent Richardson into the ground.”  Scott Lemieux, the Guardian
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I’ll let our biggest fan have the last word:

What, do you guys have that little to do that you spend so many hours obsessing over my every move? Don’t you have families? Hobbies? You could write a fucking dissertation with all of the time and words you’ve wasted, trying to prove to the world that I’m irrelevant by following me around like TMZ. What kind of a pack of tweens gets so bizarrely fixated on somebody with no power over their lives whatsoever? It’s like your some pathetic guy relentlessly hitting “refresh” on his ex-girlfriend’s Instagram.

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