Historian. Wrote A History of America in Ten Strikes. Words @lefarkins. Oregonian in RI. Extremely unromantic takes on the labor movement. Beer. Music. The West
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Jun 19 • 11 tweets • 2 min read
Today is a good day to note why my Twitter bio reads "Extremely unromantic takes on the labor movement"
Everyone approaches politics in different ways. Labor people are often very romantic about the past and the future, if not the present.
May 6 • 41 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: May 6, 1882. President Arthur signs the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first major law in American history that came from the labor movement. Let's talk about this terrible legacy of racism in the labor movement.
It is useful to think of Chinese exclusion in the context of Gilded Age capital and labor. With capital so overwhelming labor and the free labor ideology of whites controlling their own future through hard work, white labor looked for any solution to the crisis.
May 5 • 33 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: May 5, 1886. The Wisconsin National Guard opened fire on strikers in Milwaukee fighting for the 8-hour day, killing 7 workers. Let's talk about the Bayview Massacre, one of the worst moments of the 1886 strike wave!
The mid-1880 was a heady time for American workers. It finally seemed like some victories were possible. The rise of the Knights of Labor provided a loose structure by which workers could organize.
May 4 • 45 tweets • 6 min read
This Day in Labor History: May 4, 1886. The Haymarket bombing took place, leading to 8 dead cops and the death sentences of 7 innocent men. Let's talk about the complexities behind this famous event.
The aftermath of the Haymarket bombing showed the fear American capitalists had of working-class ideologies, the lack of civil liberties during the Gilded Age, and the tenuousness of labor organizations during these years of class formation.
May 3 • 33 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: May 5, 1911. Wisconsin created the first workers compensation program, followed almost immediately by Washington and most of the Northwestern states. Let's talk about why workers comp was needed and why it was actually a pro-employer program!
The 19th century was terribly dangerous for workers.
May 2 • 6 tweets • 1 min read
This story is a great example of my thesis that the current union wave is in performatively liberal companies that attract a certain kind of worker and customer but still treat workers like crap. See the opening quote here.
Meridian, a 17 year old trans worker: “I thought, what is an environment that I want to be in, in this very small-town job? And Starbucks appealed to me because they seemed like a very progressive company and I thought I would be in good company there.”
Exactly what I'm saying.
May 1 • 31 tweets • 4 min read
This Day in Labor History: May 1, 1943. Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9340, authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to seize the nation’s coal mines after the United Mine Workers of America refused National War Labor Board arbitration!!!! Let's talk about it!
This incident demonstrated both the intransigence of UMWA head John L. Lewis to state power and the limited tolerance even the Democratic coalition at labor’s peak would have for unions acting outside of strict boundaries.
Apr 29 • 28 tweets • 4 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 29, 1899. Miners in the Coeur d’Alene district of northern Idaho blew up a mine, part of the long struggle in those mines by miners for dignity against companies determined to have total control over workers!!!!! Let's talk about it!
This was part of the often violent industrial warfare between workers and companies in the mining camps of the West, violence where companies held the vast majority of the responsibility.
Apr 28 • 30 tweets • 4 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 28, 1941. The Supreme Court ruled in Phelps-Dodge v. National Labor Relations Board that Phelps-Dodge and other companies who had strikes could not place workers on a blacklist and ordered them to hand over back pay as well!!
This important ruling undermined one of the major tactics companies used to crush unions and is one of the few pro-worker Supreme Court rulings ever.
Apr 27 • 35 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 27, 1944. The U.S. Army takes over Montgomery Ward because its head Sewell Avery refused to recognize workers' unions!
This remarkable incident shines a light on a number of major issues concerning organized labor, corporations, and government during World War II.
Apr 21 • 30 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 21, 1894. Bituminous coal miners went on strike in one of the big strikes of that decade. Let's explore it, with particular attention paid to the coalfields of Alabama!
This early attempt to fight against employer oppression and the extremely low wages of the mines failed pretty badly, in the face of overwhelming state violence, employer intransigence, and the deep poverty of the miners.
Apr 20 • 41 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 20, 1949. United Steelworkers of America members severely beat Maurice Travis, the president of Mine, Mill, costing him an eye. This is perhaps the most grotesque incident in the sordid history of the CIO kicking communists out of the unions.
The history of communists in the labor movement is complicated. United Mine Workers of America president and CIO founder John L. Lewis was politically pretty conservative; in fact he was a lifelong Republican.
Apr 19 • 35 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 19, 1911. The Grand Rapids furniture workers strike begins, which is an excellent way to get into the really critical role of religion in labor history, as some religions will basically ban union members from their congregations. Makes it hard!
By the late 19th century, Grand Rapids had become the center of the American furniture industry. With the region’s vast hardwood forests in close proximity, it’s hardly surprising that some upper Midwest town would center the furniture industry.
Apr 18 • 29 tweets • 4 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 18, 1912. Coal miners along Paint Creek & Cabin Creek in West Virginia went on strike to protest the terrible conditions of their lives. This event served as the beginning of the West Virginia Mine Wars that dominated the state over the next year.
The isolation and geography of West Virginia allowed coal companies to dominate their workers like no other employer in the nation, except for arguably landowners with southern black sharecroppers.
Apr 17 • 45 tweets • 7 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 17, 1937. Tobacco workers in Richmond, Virginia went on strike in what became pioneering civil rights labor organizing in the South, laying the groundwork for the rise of the Black labor struggle after World War II!!!!
The 1930s were a heady time for Black organizing in the South. The New Deal changed the equation of what was possible in America. Even given the many racist aspects of the Roosevelt era programs, Black organizers found new opportunities in the New Deal.
Apr 6 • 25 tweets • 4 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 6, 1712. A group of slaves gathered in Manhattan, setting fire to a building on Maiden Lane, near Broadway. When whites gathered to put out the fire, the slaves attacked with hatchets, guns, and swords. Let's talk about the NYC Slave Revolt!
The Dutch had brought African slaves to New Amsterdam, but day-to-day, those slaves had a relatively high amount of freedom, at least compared to other slaves in the Americas.
Apr 5 • 33 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: April 5, 1938. Oral arguments began before the Supreme Court in the case of NLRB v. Mackay Radio and Telegraph Company, which opened the door for scabs to permanently replace strikers. Let's talk about the Court being hostile to workers, yet again!
The silver capitalist John Mackay started what became Mackay Radio & Telegraph in 1884 to provide transatlantic telegraph service. The company expanded into radio and other telecommunications over the years.
Apr 4 • 21 tweets • 3 min read
This Day in Labor History: August 4, 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray while in Memphis to support a strike by the city’s sanitation workers. Let's talk about the context behind this and the racism these workers had to overcome!
In the spring of 1968, Martin Luther King was organizing his Poor People’s Campaign.
Mar 17 • 37 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: March 17, 1921. Soviet forces crush the Kronstadt Rebellion, deciding that the USSR would in no way be a workers' state, a fact that might surprise the DSA foreign policy committee today given their absurd tweets about Putin. Anyway, let's talk about it
One of the great contradictions of Marxism is the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Mar 15 • 23 tweets • 4 min read
This Day in Labor History: March 15, 1940.
John Ford’s film version of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, was released to universal acclaim. This was perhaps the greatest moment of the cultural left during the Great Depression.
Let's talk about the great book and film!
Of all the New Deal-era art that broadly made up the Popular Front, none were more well-remembered and beloved than the book and film versions of The Grapes of Wrath, despite and possibly because neither Ford nor Steinbeck was closely associated with that movement.
Mar 14 • 36 tweets • 5 min read
This Day in Labor History: March 14, 1954. The great labor film Salt of the Earth premiers. Let's talk about this amazing production, the workers behind it, and the anti-communist hysteria that plagued it being showed!
On October 17, 1950, miners in Grant County, New Mexico went on strike against the Empire Zinc Company. These workers were led by the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, or Mine, Mill for short.