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A Titanic Defeat

[ 191 ] February 15, 2014 |

The United Auto Workers lost its attempt to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga after Tennessee politicians interfered to defeat the vote when VW acquiesced to unionization.

In a defeat for organized labor in the South, employees at the Volkswagen plant here voted 712 to 626 against joining the United Automobile Workers.

The loss is an especially stinging blow for U.A.W. because Volkswagen did not even oppose the unionization drive. The union’s defeat — in what was one of the most closely watched unionization votes in decades — is expected to slow, perhaps stymie, the union’s long-term plans to organize other auto plants in the South.

A retired local judge, Samuel H. Payne, announced the vote results inside VW’s sprawling plant after officials from the National Labor Relations Board had counted the ballots. In the hours before the votes were tallied, after three days of voting at the assembly plant, both sides were predicting victory.

The vote this week came in a region that is traditionally anti-union, and as a result many said the U.A.W. faced an uphill battle. The union saw the campaign as a vital first step toward expanding in the South, while Republicans and many companies in Tennessee feared that a U.A.W. triumph would hurt the state’s welcoming image for business.

It’s hard to overstate what a terrible defeat this is. Here you had the company suggesting the UAW enter their plant so they could create the American version of the German works council that would be illegal without a union election (would violate the company union provisions of the National Labor Relations Act). The UAW will never receive a more favorable opportunity in the American South and just like its failures in the 90s, it came up short. From what I have read so far, it does not seem the UAW messed up the campaign. They did agree with VW to not do home visits, since those went against German union norms. If the UAW had conducted home visits, no doubt they would have more effectively fought back Bob Corker and Grover Norquist and the outside group propaganda. But if they had pushed home visits from the beginning, they wouldn’t have had a campaign because VW wouldn’t have gone along.

So why did it fail? We can’t blame it all on the politicians and scaremongering. Yes, that probably clinched the failure, but it did not turn 712 votes. There were almost certainly several hundred no votes from the beginning. Why? First, the white South has always been very difficult to organize. A combination of ideas of self-reliance, the fact that unions are seen as something northern with Yankee ideas, the impact of evangelical religion, and a culture that united rich whites and poor whites through racial solidarity that also created other ties within communities that cut across class have all made unionization strikingly difficult. For an additional example of the last point, see how the people of West, Texas rallied around the fertilizer plant owner last year after his facility caused an explosion that wiped out half the town. They went to church with him after all. So there are long, historical struggles to unionize white workers here that go back to the textile towns of southern Appalachia in the 20s and the failure of Operation Dixie in 1946. And while I have not seen any demographics on the racial breakdown of workers in Chattanooga, pretty much all I’ve seen in interviews are white; at the very least, it seems to lean pretty heavily white. So outside groups tainting the UAW with Obama no doubt helped, but it doesn’t explain 712 votes.

There’s also the specter of capital mobility looming over the plant. Even though VW said it wasn’t moving the plant, this was a major theme of the outside groups and it does seem to have affected some workers. Despite left-leaning labor activists beating up Big Labor for a lack of union democracy, far and away the top reason for labor’s decline is the jobs disappearing to nonunion states and to foreign nations. Given what capital mobility did to Detroit and the subsequent almost mythological role Detroit has played in American culture, it becomes easy to taint the UAW with the decline of Detroit, which was a central part of the anti-union strategy. On top of that, the UAW having to agree to two-tiered contracts so the Big Three auto makers would keep jobs in Michigan and Ohio, contracts that drastically lowered wages for new workers, did not lend itself to potential new members thinking the UAW was going to make their lives better. That’s a tough spot for the UAW to be in and the blame goes to capital mobility because if the UAW doesn’t agree, those jobs are gone and Lansing and Toledo and other union towns are just dead. So long as corporations can move at a whim, it will be tremendously difficult for labor to win meaningful victories.

But I think another major reason for this loss was that it was never clear to many workers why they were joining a union. Some claim to have been UAW members in the past and had a bad experience, which is the kind of low-level complaining fairly common in all unionized workplaces, often by people who lost a grievance or who screwed up and the union didn’t take on their hopeless case, or they weren’t friends with the shop steward, or whatever. Who knows. But in any case, the usual union victory results from dissatisfied workers organizing with demands. That really wasn’t the case here. To quote a union organizer friend of mine, “If the vote becomes “Can we trust the Union?” instead of “Should we unite to solve our problems?”, the boss wins.” I think this is fundamentally what this vote was about.

The UAW is considering filing to have the election thrown out because of Bob Corker’s intimidation and there is a real chance he crossed the line. But this is probably a dead campaign. And it’s hard to see how the UAW or any union comes into southern factories and wins major victories at this point. Incredibly dispiriting.

Instincts Gone Wrong?

[ 41 ] February 15, 2014 |

Along with a lot of Kentuckians, I’ve generally been impressed with Rand Paul’s purely political skills. During his initial campaign, there was grudging acknowledgment that he could probably win in circumstances favorable to insurgent Republicans, but that he had not displayed much in the way of political acumen, and was unlikely to make much of a splash beyond being the Senate’s resident curiosity.  I think that’s largely been proven wrong, as Paul has taken advantage of his platform to increase his visibility without  reducing his viability.

I do wonder about this, however:

Blame is also owed to the media, in [Paul's] way of looking at it. “I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this,” said Paul, adding: “He took advantage of a girl that was 20-years-old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that and that is predatory behavior.”

Excuse me while I choke on my coffee. Those eager to dredge up the past, would be wise to dredge accurately. The suggestion that the media gave Clinton a “pass” suggests that at the time this was happening, the libertarian ophthalmologist was perhaps too busy to read what was in the newspapers.

Half the voting public may now be too young to recall the details, but as a card-carrying member of the media then and now, I can say that my workplace at the time, the Washington Post, was so transfixed by poor Monica Lewinsky that you could hardly go to the water cooler or the cafeteria or the pens-and-notebooks cupboard without being presented by a colleague with some new detail of what might or might not have transpired between the president and his beret-wearing intern. This was true at every other newspaper or magazine. The story consumed every sentient being in the nation’s capital, including dogs, cats, members of Congress and anybody remotely aware of the Starr report and its salacious footnotes, which people read out loud to one another at the breakfast table.

I could be terribly wrong, and revisiting Monica Lewinsky might indeed prove a political winner in 2016 in a way that it did not in, say, 1998.  I’d be pretty goddamned surprised if that were the case, however.

 

This Day in Labor History: February 15, 1907

[ 25 ] February 15, 2014 |

On February 15, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt and the Japanese government signed the so-called “Gentlemen’s Agreement” to stop the migration of Japanese to the United States. This came about after the organizing of whites on the west coast against Japanese immigration, as whites steadfastly maintained their states were for the white man alone. Not only had the Japanese entered the labor market in a number of low-wage areas after the end of Chinese immigration in 1882, but they also managed to make a legitimate go of it on farms that whites had failed to make work. The outrage over Japanese labor competition was but one episode in a long history of west coast labor opposing people of color.

West Coast employers wanted cheap labor. The region received very little immigration from southern and eastern Europe like the east, so they had to be creative. Originally, western employers hired the Chinese to do menial work, but the angry response from west coast labor that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first major legislative victory for organized labor in the nation’s history, ended that supply in 1882. So employers turned to Japan. Japan in the 1880s was modernizing rapidly, but was still poor. Encouraging migration was a useful way to undermine internal social problems. Almost immediately after 1882, Japanese migration to the United States soared. Much of this was to the sugar plantations of the American soon-to-be colony in Hawaii, but large numbers came to California, Oregon, and Washington as well. There they would serve as a key part of the low-wage labor force for the next sixty years.

Japanese workers entered the growing agricultural industry of California, especially sugar beets. By 1902, 9 contractors supplied Japanese labor to farmers. Wages were originally high but when slashed in 1902, 500 Japanese and 200 Mexican workers organized the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association in 1903, winning some important early victories in raising wages in the fields. Others worked on railroads. Many Japanese women worked in domestic service for whites, often in very difficult conditions.



Japanese celery harvesters, California, circa 1920

Many Japanese went into the timber industry as well. Japanese mill workers on Washington’s Bainbridge Island lived in “Jap Town,” which consisted of several hundred people. This large community had a Baptist church and Buddhist temple, a baseball diamond, and multiple shops that served both Japanese and white customers. Kihachi Hirakawa, a Christian minister in a Washington logging town, remembered all the Japanese laborers living together and the long nights of gambling that kept him up. He fretted about the all-male aspect of these communities, recalling three hundred or more Japanese workers, but only eight or nine families. Whites resisted even these relatively small numbers. In 1904, the Panel and Folding Box Company of Hoquiam, Washington “put on a night crew of Japs” because they “have been unable to secure a sufficient number of girls.” The mill’s manager, a man named Finlayson, defended himself from accusations that he had tried to undermine white labor and simply claimed that “if forced to employ Japs, it will only be to supply that cannot otherwise be filled.”



Tsukamoto and Nakamura Laundry, Salem, Oregon, 1919

Whites became even more angry when Japanese began leasing land (California had laws against Asians owning land) and starting families, seeking permanency in their new home and offending the white Californians who had defined their state as a place of free white men from the time of the gold rush. They were growing fruits and vegetables and would pretty quickly become important and successful small producers within the California agricultural economy. Of course, interracial sex happened too. One farmer wrote to the California legislature:

Near my home is an eighty-acre tract of as fine land as there is in California. On that tract lives a Japanese. With that Japanese lives a white woman. In that woman’s arms is a baby. What is that baby? It isn’t Japanese. It isn’t white. I’ll tell you what that baby is. It is a germ of the mightiest problem that ever faced this state; a problem that will make the black problem of the South look white. All about us the Asiatics are gaining a foothold.

Like in the 1870s and 1880s in California, anti-Japanese fervor began dominating west coast politics in the 1900s. San Francisco passed a law to segregate Asians out of public schools while west coast politicians wanted Washington to end this yellow peril. Organized labor lent its support to the effort. White workers believed any job held by a Japanese was a job stolen from a white man. In 1905, 67 labor unions met in San Francisco to found the Asiatic Exclusion League to eliminate the perceived Japanese and Korean threat to their jobs, much as they had so successfully done in 1882 against the Chinese. Such organizations would continue until World War II. In 1908, the Laundry Workers and Laundry Drivers Union began the Anti-Jap Laundry League, urging whites to boycott doing business with Japanese laundries. Attacks on Japanese immigrants grew. A laundry operator said, “The persecutions became intolerable. My drivers were constantly attacked on the highway, my place of business defiled by rotten eggs and fruit; windows were smashed several times.”

Japanese-American railroad workers

By 1907, the Japanese government was happy to keep their citizens in Japan, as the nation’s rising imperial ambitions meant holding onto potential industrial workers and soldiers. President Theodore Roosevelt, having just negotiated the end to the Russo-Japanese War, did not want to anger the increasingly powerful Japanese who were concerned about the treatment of their citizens abroad. So Roosevelt and the Japanese government came to an informal agreement. The U.S. would not pass a bill to exclude the Japanese and would force California to repeal its school segregation bill. In return, the Japanese government would take steps to halt immigration.

This effectively ended large-scale immigration from Japan to the United States, although the agreement did not apply to Hawaii and thus migrants could go to Hawaii and then to the mainland, although relatively few did. Japanese men in the U.S. could also send back to Japan for wives, leading to the thousands of picture brides coming to the U.S. in the next couple decades. By the time Japanese immigration ended, about 400,000 had migrated to the United States. West Coast employers, still seeking cheap foreign labor, turned their attention to the new American colony of the Philippines. Since the Philippines was actually American, stopping the importation of that labor would prove much more difficult for white labor, although they would eventually accomplish it in 1932, at which point employers began bringing in Mexicans (or did so after the Great Depression anyway).

White resentment remained strong and the anti-Japanese scare after Pearl Harbor was also an excuse to expropriate Japanese property and again turn the west coast into a white man’s haven.

There is a very large literature on Japanese immigration and the backlash to it. I took much of this, including the good quotes, from Ronald Takaki’s Strangers from a Different Store. On the experiences of Japanese women, see Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Issei, Nisei, War Bride. The material on logging in the Northwest comes from my dissertation.

This is the 93rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Political Shows on the TeeVee, Ranked

[ 113 ] February 14, 2014 |

The Thick of It > Veep > House of Cards (UK) > House of Cards (US) >>>>> The West Wing >[infinity] The Newsroom.

You’re welcome!

…a few explanatory notes:

  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive — on the classy end I haven’t seen Borgen and have only seen scattered episodes of Yes, Minister a long time ago, and on the poppier side I’ve never seen Scandal.
  • Commenters are right that really only the first series of the British House of Cards holds up well.
  • Accept it for what it is, and the American version is pretty entertaining.  A lot depends, I guess, on how much you like Spacey in full scenery-chewing mode (I’m a fan.)  The excessive power of the House Whip doesn’t bother me so much — 1)the bias towards green laternism in drama is understandable, 2)at least the power doesn’t primarily come from rhetoric, and 3)locating the power in Congress is at least a useful corrective.  As drama, though, I agree that at least with respect to Season 1 (just starting #2) that at its worst wasn’t plausible enough for its initial pretensions but didn’t always succeed as premium junk either.
  • Despite being essentially a straight comedy, Veep actually presents a more accurate picture of Washington than either HofC or the Sorkin shows.  Focusing on the vice president is a brilliant solution to the green lantern bias I mentioned above; political drama normally requires that characters be able to make stuff happen, but of course here the powerlessness of the lead character is a central joke.  Like a lot of comedies the first season was uneven, but the second was extremely good.
  • Am I underrating The West Wing?  Probably.  As I’ve said, I’m not even a full-time Sorkin detractor; given an interesting story and a director to push back against his worse tendencies, as in The Social Network and Moneyball, I can find his dialogue very entertaining.   But on his own and with banal political points he very much wants to teach you, I just find the thing too insufferable to enjoy its good points.  Admittedly, as I said when discussing the dreadful The Newsroom, I’m probably excessively influenced by the 9/11 episode, which arguably had the highest pretension-to-achievement ratio of any middlebrow popular entertainment with Something To Say between Sting’s “Russians” and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The rhetorical speeches of Sorkin’s political characters reach a deadly combination of boring and irritating way too often. 

Remember Your Wait Staff Tonight

[ 118 ] February 14, 2014 |

A 14th century image of the beheading of St. Valentine

If you, like me, are forced to go out to dinner on this corporate created holiday of love expressed through consumerism, remember your wait staff and don’t contribute to their exploitation by being a cheap tipper. Plus poor tipping contributes to the poverty of women.

And a sexist one. Seventy percent of restaurant servers are women, so effectively when you enforce a policy that says “It’s O.K. to pay tipped workers less than ‘regular’ workers,” you’re discriminating against a job largely done by women and reinforcing the age-old notion that women’s work is worth less than men’s.

It’s almost as if servers have to interview with the people paying the majority of their wages — customers — every time a new person sits down; their income is dependent on our judgment and largesse (and, we hope, our sense of fairness). And when you listen to Saru Jayaraman, co-director of ROC-United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and a woman who hears workers’ stories daily, you realize even more what an unjust situation this is: “The level of sexual harassment is four times higher in restaurants than in the average of other sectors, and there are endless stories of women being sent home to dress more sexually — to show more cleavage, for example.”

On Thursday, ROC-United had its annual “2/13” day of action, calling on us, and Congress, to “love your server” and raise the tipped minimum wage. Valentine’s Day is the second busiest restaurant day of the year, after Mother’s Day. Thank that server — who is not going out to dinner with her loved one, she’s waiting on you — and think about this: For 23 years the federal tipped minimum wage has stood at $2.13. Isn’t it time to change that?

Yes. Yes it is. To the federal minimum wage. Which will hopefully soon surpass $10.

The traffic in law degrees will be permitted, but controlled

[ 43 ] February 14, 2014 |

And there will be the peace.

Legal education has been ground zero for practically all of the major challenges facing higher education: rising tuition, rising student debt, a contracted job market, and resulting questions about the utility and value of the degree. Unsurprisingly, there has been a steady drumbeat of bad publicity that has exposed the sausage-making side of law schools to unprecedented scrutiny.

As a result, applications are down more than a third in just three years. First-year enrollments are at their lowest levels in almost 40 years and down 24 percent since the rec­ord high just three years ago. Moreover, declining Law School Admission Test registrations, a proverbial canary, suggest those enrollment trends have yet to bottom out.

That has led colleges to lay off faculty and staff members and to revisit pricing strategies; a few have even gone as far as lowering tuition to attract more students—an unthinkable move during the boom. But lost in the din of negativity is a milestone that deserves cautious celebration: Law schools, as a whole, are more racially and ethnically diverse than ever.

Readers of ITLSS may remember Aaron Taylor as the law professor who promotes the quasi-bankruptcy provisions of federal loan programs as “back end scholarships.”

Now he’s back, celebrating increasing law school “diversity” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Translation: Members of demographic groups possessing on average high amounts of financial and cultural capital, and the social options such capital enables, are fleeing law school in droves, and are being replaced by members of demographic groups with less capital and fewer options. (Median household income among Asian Americans is 34% higher than among Americans overall, and 21% higher than that of white Americans, and I am disaggregating the data on minority enrollment to reflect this).

Indeed the relevant numbers are a good deal more striking (or starker, depending on one’s perspective) than Taylor’s analysis reveals.

Consider:

In 2009-10 whites and Asian-Americans made up 43,546 of that year’s entering ABA law school class.

This past fall these groups sent approximately 30,375 matriculants to law school — a decline of 30.2%.

Meanwhile, while 8,101 members of ethnic minority groups (excluding Asian-Americans) enrolled in ABA law schools in 2009-10, approximately 9,300 members of these groups matriculated in the fall of 2013 — a 14.8% increase.

Highly qualified minority applicants are in great demand at elite law schools, and the proportion of minority matriculants at such schools has remained stable.

What appears to be happening is that sub-elite law schools, and in particular low-ranked law schools, are selling (quite literally) the social cachet traditionally associated with the legal profession to members of traditionally marginalized groups. The historical fact that members of such groups, and in particular young people in these groups, are especially vulnerable to exploitation by powerful social actors ought to raise a red flag for anyone considering the meaning of these statistics.

At least he knows who’s more important

[ 83 ] February 14, 2014 |

GUY AT SEK’S DOOR: Hey friend, it’s windy, ain’t it?

SEK: I guess.

GUY AT SEK’S DOOR: Mind if I park in your driveway?

SEK: A little. I might need to use it.

GUY AT SEK’S DOOR: Thanks, I’ll just be a while.

SEK: I didn’t say “Yes.”

GUY AT SEK’S DOOR: You want me to park in the street?

SEK: It’s not a heavily trafficked road.

GUY AT SEK’S DOOR: It’ll just be a while. I won’t block you in.

SEK: You will, in fact, be blocking me in. And what happens when my wife gets home?

GUY AT SEK’S DOOR: Can’t she park on the street?

The head SEK doesn’t have explodes.

Finis.

Eugenics Will Never Die

[ 72 ] February 14, 2014 |

Better keep the underclass from reproducing. Will destroy the race or something.

A prison doctor investigated by the California medical board after ordering tubal ligations without state approval is responsible for hundreds of other inmate sterilizations, The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

Dr. James Heinrich also has a history of medical controversies and malpractice settlements both inside and outside prison walls. Female patients have accused him of trying to dictate their reproductive decisions, unsanitary habits and medical malpractice.

Despite that history, Heinrich was not only hired by the prison system, but also kept on once a federal judge appointed a receiver to clean up the prison’s medical system.

Heinrich, 69, retired from Valley State Prison for Women in 2011 after six years. Federal authorities rehired Heinrich as a contract physician, and he continued treating inmates at Valley State though December 2012.

An earlier CIR investigation, published in July, found that more than 100 tubal ligation surgeries took place without the required state approval from 2006 to 2010. At the time, prison documents indicated there were 148 of those surgeries. Analysis of subsequent data and documentation provided under the state Public Records Act shows there were 132 because some were double counted.

The women were signed up for the surgery while pregnant at the two women’s prisons that house pregnant inmates, the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. Valley State became a men’s prison in 2013.

Why, it’s almost like this nation still oppresses women, people of color, and the poor.

St. Pasta Diving: Let the Embarrassment Commence

[ 208 ] February 14, 2014 |

The year-long mourning of Derek Jeter is going to be pretty much the most annoying thing ever.  One thing to say at the outset is that by the standards writers have used to convict Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, I have no idea what the basis for the claim that Jeter is the “clean” star of the era are.  I mean, he played in the 90s and aughts, and showed remarkable durability and skills retention for a middle infielder, so he should be presumed guilty, right?  It’s tautology all the way down.

Anyway, I’m sure there will be all too many chances to come back to the PED issue — let’s deal with some arguments about NERDS who are insufficiently respectful of the perfect man.  We’ll have Allen Barra throw out the first strawman:

If one had to synthesize most of the recent Jeter coverage under one headline, it would be: Is Derek Jeter a True Hall of Famer or Is He Overrated?

The answer, of course, is “both.” Barra doesn’t cite anyone claiming that Jeter isn’t a Hall of Famer, presumably because (cranky exceptions because This is America aside) they don’t exist. Again, it’s not “an issue of his being overrated exactly; it is more an issue of his being fawned over.” Sportswriters certainly overrated him as a defensive player, but he’s still an obvious Hall of Famer and virtually nobody disputes this. The problem is that there are many great players who aren’t treated to this kind of routine hagiography, and many of the same sportswriters who engage in this ceaseless fawning over Jeter are keeping multiple players who were as great or greater than Jeter out of the Hall of Fame for no decent or coherent reason.

Since I’ve been baited, however, I can’t resist concluding with this:

No, Really, What the Hell is the Matter With Kansas?

[ 221 ] February 14, 2014 |

Needless to say, Kansas’s new bill authorizing both private and state discrimination against gays and lesbians is an utter disgrace:

But even worse are the provisions that allow state employees to withhold services from gays and lesbians. “The sovereign,” as John Paul Stevens observed, “must govern impartially.” This bill is a direct shot at this basic principle of democratic governance. It is bad enough to permit private businesses to discriminate; to allow public officials to discriminate is even worse. As the Daily Beast‘s Jamelle Bouie puts it, “[a]mbulances can refuse to come to the home of a gay couple, park managers can deny them entry, state hospitals can turn them away, and public welfare agencies can decline to work with them.” Allowing state officials to deny services to same-sex couples is about as stark a designation of second-class citizenship as one can imagine short of bringing back George Wallace to deny gays and lesbians access to the University of Kansas.

…Pierce has more. I’ll get to it eventually, but the timing of Damon Linker’s latest call for unilateral surrender in the culture war was perfect.

Colonialist Labor Relations with Every Cup of Tetley

[ 48 ] February 14, 2014 |

The tea industry, as exploitative as most of the rest of the food industry. Turns out Tetley likes its labor extra exploited, as if the British still colonized India. Must add to the flavor.

The abusive conditions for APPL workers are consistent with conditions in the sector as a whole. They are rooted in the colonial origins of plantation life which continue to define the extremely hierarchical social structure, the compensation scheme, and the excessive power exercised by management.

The tea workers of Assam and the adjacent area of West Bengal come from two marginalized communities — Adivasis (indigenous people) and Dalits (the so-called “untouchable” caste) – whose ancestors were brought from central India by British planters. They remain trapped in the lowest employment positions on the plantation, where they are routinely treated as social inferiors. …

Workers live in cramped quarters with cracked walls and broken roofs. The failure to maintain latrines has turned some living areas into a network of cesspools. APPL is failing to provide adequate health care, both in respect of quality and access. Medical staff are poorly-trained and frequently absent. …

At one plantation, while the manager lauded the old and new mechanisms in place to ensure that pesticide spraying happened safely, and stressed the absence of any gaps, the research team watched a group of sprayers walk past his window with chemical tanks on their backs and no protective gear at all on their bodies.

Chroncling the One Percent

[ 72 ] February 14, 2014 |

If the New York Times wasn’t there to chronicle the 1% and their real estate choices at least 2-3 times a week, who would remember this oppressed class?

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