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This Day in Labor History: August 11, 1911

[ 27 ] August 11, 2014 |

On August 11, 1911, workers at the Watertown Arsenal in Watertown, Massachusetts walked off the job as the scientific management ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor began to be applied to their work. This resistance of corporate micromanagement of work was a last ditch attempt by American industrial workers to remain masters of their own labor, even within the factory system that had already degraded their skills and independence.

Frederick Winslow Taylor was an aristocratic Philadelphian who after a few years working as a manual laborer, chose to dedicate his life to making industrial labor more efficient and streamlined. He began managing some Maine paper mills before starting his own efficiency practice in Philadelphia in 1893. His first big job was with Bethlehem Steel between 1898 and 1901, when he was forced out for clashing with other managers, a frequent problem for the bullheaded Taylor.

Taylor believed that workers were nothing more than inefficient machines and like real machines could be time and trained to do more work at a greater speed for less money per unit, thus increasing both productivity and profit. Taylor himself publicized his work in his famous book, The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911. Interestingly. Taylor didn’t come up with the term “scientific management.” Rather, he borrowed it from Louis Brandeis, who coined it the year before in arguing a case about railroads before the Interstate Commerce Commission, borrowing from Taylor’s ideas to argue that railroads could raise wages without raising freight rates. Taylor fundamentally thought working people were stupid, a not uncommon belief for the Gilded Age. He said:

the labor should include rest breaks so that the worker has time to recover from fatigue. Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character. Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work.

Taylor’s ideas, and those of other pioneers of scientific management, became popular among the nation’s industrialists by the 1900s. As increasingly huge corporations sought to maximize profit, controlling the lives of workers on the shop floor became more appealing. While the industrial system had long exploited workers, in many ways, workers still ran the shop floors with a significant degree of autonomy. The long cherished freedom of individual labor had long disappeared by the early 20th century, but the masculine idea of a man having some control over his labor remained strong.

In 1909, General William Crozier, head of the Army Ordinance Department, visited Taylor about his methods. This military facility was one of the nation’s largest arsenals, established in 1816 but turned into a site of gun carriage manufacturing only in 1892. Taylor and his acolytes, particularly Carl Barth, began implementing Taylorist ideas of reorganization. This immediately got the attention of workers, not only in Watertown but around the country. The International Association of Machinists urged members to complain to their congressmen. But when Taylor sent Dwight Merrick to Watertown in May 1911 with a stopwatch to time workers, the workers erupted in fury. Taylor warned the officers to not completely implement a time study plan without prior preparation of the workers, but seeking quick results they did anyway. The workers then walked off the job after one worker refused to allow Merrick to time him and was fired for subordination.

The Watertown molders wrote to Lieutenant Colonel C.B. Wheeler, commanding officer of the arsenal:

Dear Sir: The very unsatisfactory conditions which have prevailed in the foundry among the molders for the past week or more reached an acute stage this afternoon when a man was seen to use as top watch on one of the molders. This we believe to be the limit of our endurance. It is humiliating to us, who have always tried to give to the Government the best that was in us. This method is un-American in principle, and we most respectfully request that you have it discontinued at once.

We feel justified in making this request, on the ground that some two years ago you told a committee of the molders that you were well satisfied with the output of that department; also Gen. Crozier gave his word to a committee that waited upon him in Washington that he would not install any part o the Taylor system that might be objectionable to the men; and we assure that this part of the system will not be tolerated by the molders.

I love this letter because you can really feel the outrage. These men are insulted. They have pride in their work and they work hard. And then some college boy with a stopwatch comes around and tells them they aren’t working hard enough! That new technology must be used to speed up their work! No way! Moreover, they show how often early Taylorism to be a total failure because rather than increase efficiency, they caused strikes. Taylor’s hard-headed ways of running these experiments routinely led to these problems and thus most of his personal work was a failure.

The strike itself was short, lasting only until August 18 when the fired worker was reinstated and the Ordinance Department promised an investigation of the new management techniques. Taylor was furious that the officers had not followed his plans to the tee and thus precipitated the strike and the bad publicity that went along with it. The strike led to hearings in the House Labor Committee over Taylorism. They were testy, in no small part because Taylor was not good at hiding his contempt for workers and their dignity. When asked by Rep. William Wilson, a former official of the United Mine Workers and future Secretary of Labor under Woodrow Wilson, about his method, Taylor said “the ordinary pig-iron man is not suited for shoveling coal because he is too stupid. But a first-class man who could lift a shovel weighing twenty one and a half pounds cold move a pile of coal lickety-split.” Wilson responded, “but what about the effects on a man who wasn’t first-class? Taylor dismissed the concern: “Scientific management has no place for a bird that can sing and won’t sing.” Wilson was furious: “We are not dealing with horses nor singing birds, but we are dealing with men who are part of society and for whose benefit society is organized”

Oh how antiquated, thinking workers were humans. Congress did act on the workers’ anger, first taking apart Taylor’s system at Watertown and later banning the use of stopwatches to time workers in factories. Taylor personally suffered a major setback here, but his ideas of scientific management and efficiency based upon making workers’ lives worse continued to advance. No one did more on this front than Henry Ford, whose vaunted $5 a day wage has given him an unjustified reputation as a humane boss. But the reality was that Ford extracted his pound of flesh for that $5, working laborers so hard and with such speed and efficiency that many simply could not hack the work there and had to quit. Treating workers like machines became central to American labor management practices, with the eventual hope to just replacing them with machines, a project that would prove quite successful beginning in the second half of the twentieth century and contributing significantly to the decline of working-class power and economic stability by the latter part of the century.

For further reading on these issues, see Sanford Jacoby, Employing Bureaucracy. I also borrowed some details from Hindy Lauer Schachter, Frederick Taylor and the Public Administration Community.

This is the 115th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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Today In Senseless Violence

[ 74 ] August 10, 2014 |

This is horrible:

The fatal shooting of a teen Saturday afternoon by a Ferguson police officer outside an apartment complex sent angry residents into the street, taunting police and firing shots.

Michael Brown, 18, was shot at approximately 2:15 p.m. in the 2900 block of Canfield Drive.

His mother, Lesley McSpadden, said the shooting took place as her son was walking to his grandmother’s residence.

Piaget Crenshaw, 19, said she was waiting for a ride to work when she saw a police officer attempting to place Brown in the squad car.

She then said she saw the teen, hands in the air, attempt to flee. Several shots hit Brown as he ran, Crenshaw said. She complied with a request that she give photos of the scene to authorities.

This is unsurprising:

“Stand your ground” laws hinder law enforcement, are applied inconsistently and disproportionately affect minorities.

Those were the main findings from the ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws. In a preliminary report (PDF) that was officially unveiled during a Friday session at the ABA Annual Meeting, the task force found that states which have some form of stand-your-ground law have also seen increasing homicide rates.

The task force, which was co-chaired by Leigh-Ann Buchanan of Berger Singerman and Jack Middleton of McLane Graf Raulerson & Middleton, conducted its investigation throughout most of 2013. It also found that stand-your-ground laws carry an implicit bias against racial minorities. In terms of the laws’ effects, the task force found that there was widespread confusion amongst law enforcement personnel as to what actions were justified and what were not.

As LGM reader PK observes, I guess the laws are working as intended…

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New York Nazi Camps

[ 31 ] August 10, 2014 |

The Nazis had summer camps for their youth–in New York. And of course they filmed it and it survived and now I am saying you should watch the footage.

Via

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The Labor Building the Abu Dhabi Artistic Institutions

[ 16 ] August 10, 2014 |

As Molly Crabapple reports, the Abu Dhabi elites have decided to purchase western culture and bring it to their city are doing so on the backs of horribly exploited immigrant laborers who lack rights. This is the same labor who dies building NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, soccer stadiums in Qatar, and now outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim. The workers fight back and fight back hard but between lacking legal status, the indifference of the involved western institutions, and violence, the odds they face are huge. And how do you stop it? To do so, you have to force legal regimes onto mobile capitalism, as some in the Abu Dhabi workers’ struggles understand:

Defenders of Western institutions in Abu Dhabi are right about one thing. They are not unique. The labor abuses at the Louvre or NYU are the same labor abuses that are happening throughout the UAE. The UAE is not the worst country for workers in the Gulf, and the Gulf is not the worst region for workers in the world. Most countries sustain themselves on the labor of transient, disposable people. This may be unofficial, as in the United States (our agricultural industry would collapse overnight without undocumented migrants), or it may be institutionalized, as in the UAE.

“Capital is global and derives its velocity from replicating the same model everywhere. Gulf Labor is arguing for a global, humane, and fair standard of labor and migration regulations to accompany, and slow down, global capital,” said Naeem Mohaiemen, a New York–based Bangladeshi artist who is a member of Gulf Labor. “The implications can be staggering. If Saadiyat implemented world-standard labor and migration rights, that could become a precedent for implementing the same standards in the entire region. Then people would ask, what about migrant labor in Malaysia? In Texas? And so on…”

These are indeed the questions we should be asking, arguing for a race to the top rather than a race to the bottom in workplace standards.

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Pleasing Without Making You Worried About What Other Men Think

[ 64 ] August 10, 2014 |

After Coca-Cola cut the cocaine after the formula, it was very important to let drinkers know that it was “pleasing without being effeminate.”

ButoUZTIIAAU5Bz

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China’s New Nuclear Look

[ 9 ] August 10, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at some of China’s new nuclear delivery systems:

The presumably accidental revelation of the PLA’s DF-41 road-mobile ICBM is only the latest indication that China is modernizing and reorganizing its nuclear arsenal.  Over the past decade, China has worked to modernize its nuclear delivery systems, both on land and at sea.  This work has helped narrow the gap between China and the US-Russia superpower tandem, although Chinese capabilities remain far behind.

This article tracks the most important recent developments in China’s nuclear posture, then discusses some of the political implications of these developments for Asia, the United States, and the rest of the world.

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Yes, Steven Salaita Was Fired, And No, It’s Not Defensible

[ 396 ] August 9, 2014 |

Via Corey Robin, Inside Higher Ed has an essay by current opponent of academic freedom Cary Nelson giving an extended defense of the firing of Steven Salita, along with a counterpoint from current supporter of academic freedom John K. Wilson.  It’s a close call which one ultimately makes the stronger case against the firing, and that’s not because Wilson fails to do the job.  Let’s start with the most important way in which Nelson and other supporters of the firing are trying to obfuscate the issue:

I should add that this is not an issue of academic freedom. If Salaita were a faculty member here and he were being sanctioned for his public statements, it would be. But a campus and its faculty members have the right to consider whether, for example, a job candidate’s publications, statements to the press, social media presence, public lectures, teaching profile, and so forth suggest he or she will make a positive contribution to the department, student life, and the community as a whole. Here at Illinois, even the department head who would have appointed Salaita agreed in Inside Higher Ed that “any public statement that someone makes is fair game for consideration.” Had Salaita already signed a contract, then of course he would have to have received full due process, including a full hearing, before his prospective offer could be withdrawn. But my understanding is that he had not received a contract.

To be clear, what Nelson is doing here is trying to bullsh…wait, I don’t want to put my academic career at risk by using bad words on a widely read public forum, so let’s say “sell a bill of goods” to people who don’t understand how the academic hiring process works, and “insult the intelligence” of those that do. I’ll turn things over to Wilson here:

One thing should be clear: Salaita was fired. I’ve been turned down for jobs before, and it never included receiving a job offer, accepting that offer, moving halfway across the country, and being scheduled to teach classes.

The remaining administrative approval necessary for Salaita to be hired was pro forma. He didn’t resign his position and move because he was a crazy risk-taker but because he had every rational reason to believe the job was his. Whether he had signed all the paperwork might be relevant to his legal remedies, but from that standpoint of norms and ethics the job was his, and if you believe in the principles of academic freedom they clearly apply in this case.

In addition, as Wilson effectively points out even if one assumes for the sake of argument that the strong protections of academic freedom shouldn’t apply here, this is still a terrible argument, an Ivan Tribble argument. People don’t have due process protections when they’re turned down for a job, but this still doesn’t mean that “does the candidate disagree with Cary Nelson about Israeli policy too stridently?” is a criterion that any responsible hiring committee should be taking into account. The “I would choose to have him as a colleague” line gives away the show here — this is supposed to be a professional process, not a consideration of who you’d like to be sharing cognac with at the 19th hole of the country club.

Most of Nelson’s bill of particulars consists of selected tweets. While they sometimes express ideas I don’t agree with in language I would be disinclined to use, can’t possibly be firing offenses. To add to this, he asks whether “Jewish students in his classes [will] feel comfortable” with his Tweets. At least here we’re talking about something (teaching) that is relevant to whether someone should be fired, as opposed to something that isn’t (whether someone disagrees with Cary Nelson’s political views too vehemently.) But leaving aside his obviously erroneous assumption that no Jewish student could agree with the substance of Salaita’s views, this is again a remarkably poor argument. First of all, as many people have pointed out, this proves too much; it’s just an argument that no faculty member should ever express a view on a controversial topic. And, second, it’s not as if this was Salaita’s first job out of a British PhD program; if he had any record of treating students who disagree with him about Israeli policy unfairly this would, presumably, come out in the evaluation of his teaching. If it didn’t, it’s not relevant.

As part of the LGM community we needn’t dwell on the fallacies of arguing that a retweet constituted an “incitement to violence”; let’s leave the War On Metaphor with Michelle Malkin’s lickspittles, please. Grasping at another straw Nelson asserts that Salaita’s “discourse crosses the line into anti-Semitism.” If there was evidence that Salatia was an anti-Semite, this might justify an exception to the principle of academic freedom. But the case for this hinges almost entirely on this one tweet:

Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.

Conveniently, Nelson provides the context of a previous tweet that makes it clear what Salatia was trying to argue here: “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror.” Now, I don’t actually agree with this argument, and I think we can reaffirm that Twitter is a poor medium for making too-clever-by-half points with potentially inflammatory terminology. But as evidence of anti-Semitism, this is nothing, unless you think Nathan Glazer is an anti-Semite.

And, finally, the punchline:

I also do not believe this was a political decision.

Clearly, when I gave the Bush v. Gore Award For Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Bad Faith to another candidate earlier in the week, I acted prematurely. If you’re trying to sell this argument, it’s probably best that your column not focus mostly on how you disagree with the person’s political views.

I’ll leave the final word to Berube:

Nothing in Professor Salaita’s Twitter feed suggests a violation of professional ethics or disciplinary incompetence. The University of Illinois is therefore clearly in violation of a fundamental principle of academic freedom with regard to extramural speech; moreover, your decision effectively overrides legitimate faculty decisionmaking and peer review in a way that is inconsistent with AAUP guidelines regarding governance. Those faculty members who engaged in the process of peer review for Professor Salaita cannot be said to have been unaware that he has strong opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict– as do many millions of people. To overturn faculty peer review on the basis of a Twitter feed, therefore, is to take a page straight from the Kansas playbook.

UPDATE: Nelson’s argument was not only sloppy and tendentious but in one instance relied on a falsehood. Nelson’s assertion that Salaita “had not received a contract” is demonstrably erroneous.

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The World’s Most Boring Con Artist

[ 20 ] August 9, 2014 |

Jeff Jarvis, forgotten but apparently not gone.

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It Was 40 Years Ago Today

[ 75 ] August 9, 2014 |

A crook resigned.

Jonathan Bernstein has a good Watergate primer.   Jeff Shesol didn’t get the memo explaining that Nixon was the most progressive major political official between FDR and Rand Paul.

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Confederate Freedom

[ 34 ] August 9, 2014 |

Color me shocked that a “nation” based on denying people freedom as its fundamental reason to exist would move to limit the freedoms of all its citizens.

But even as white Southerners grew used to applying for passports and presenting them when asked, the symbolic meaning of the domestic passport system was hard to ignore. Passes for travel had been an essential and unmistakable feature of Southern slavery since anyone could remember. All over the South, enslaved men and women were required to carry a written pass from their owners whenever they went outside the confines of their places of bondage. Those caught moving about without a travel document were brutally punished, either by their owner or by the South’s notorious slave patrols, armed units of white men who roamed the region’s roads, woods and swamps in search of itinerant slaves.

The problem with the wartime passport system was that it resembled the parallel method for governing slaves not only in theory, but also in practice. The documents required for white travel bore an uncanny similarity to those carried by blacks: Some merely noted the person’s name, destination and dates of permitted travel, but others also noted the height, hair color, eye color, complexion and scars of the traveler.

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Foreign Entanglements: Next Steps in Gaza

[ 0 ] August 8, 2014 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt speaks with Amir Tibon about Gaza:

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Friday Creature Feature: Frogs

[ 66 ] August 8, 2014 |

Here’s a fun little story: I was recently at the Little Rock Zoo with my family. We left the gift shop with a bunch of brightly-colored plastic frogs. Back at the hotel, my son asked me to “look them up.” I kept telling him, “Honey, they’re not real frogs. They’re just brightly painted frogs. Frogs don’t really look like that.” After being asked several times to “look them up,” I typed “yellow frog with blue legs” into my search bar. To my surprise, I immediately got results that matched PERFECTLY several of the frogs in my son’s new collection. It turns out that most of our new plastic pals were Poison Dart Frogs. And they come in just about every color of the rainbow.

 

 

LITERALLY. 

And then there’s this guy.

I’m speechless.

 

 

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