This Day in Labor History: March 5, 1972. Angry young workers at the GM factory in Lordstown, Ohio go on strike against their terrible jobs, GM, and the UAW! Let's talk about Lordstown and its outsized importance for the late 20th century!
They were angry about sped-up work at their factory, but ultimately this was a young and diverse workforce angry at the degrading and mind-numbing nature of industrial work.
The 3-week strike received national attention as much for the generational rebellion it summed up as the labor strife itself.
This Day in Labor History: March 4, 1915. President Wilson signed the LaFollette Seamen’s Act, creating standards for working conditions on boats that the U.S. would enforce on all ships stopping at American ports. Let's talk about American law creating a race...to the top!
In the early 20th century, working conditions on ships were dire. Many ships were barely seaworthy. Sanitation on the ships was grotesque. A race to the bottom developed in sailing as manufacturers looked to reduce their transportation costs.
In 1840, 80 percent of the U.S. carrying trade was in U.S. vessels. By 1883, it was 15 percent. Seamen called for “emancipation” from their shipowners. Penalties against desertion were still draconian.
President Herbert Hoover signed the Davis-Bacon Act, establishing a requirement for the government to pay local prevailing wages on public works projects. Let's talk about what has been an issue often falsely used against the trades!
The law was prompted by Robert Bacon, a congressman from New York who allied with former Secretary of Labor (1921-30) Senator James Davis. A contractor in Bacon’s home district built a new VA hospital.
Rather than hire local workers, he brought in low wage African-American laborers from Alabama. Bacon worried about the government undermining local wages and he sought to put a stop to it. It took the Great Depression to make Bacon’s bill a political possibility.
This Day in Labor History: March 2, 1937. U.S. Steel signed a contract with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. Let's talk about this titanic victory for the early CIO!
This victory for SWOC was not only a critical early win for what would soon become the Congress of Industrial Organizations, but also ended an era of U.S. Steel being a leader in opposing any labor organizing.
It would certainly not end the resistance of steel companies to unionism, but it would make the eventual organizing of the industry quite likely.
To say, as some are, that Biden didn't really support the Amazon workers because he didn't say "Amazon" in the video is a big mistake. It would have been direct interference in a union election to do so. A huge mistake. Everyone knows who he is talking about.
Biden said workers should have the choice whether they wanted a union without employer interference. That's right! That's the correct message. To say they should vote for a union is the equivalent of the employer intervening in workers' choice. You don't want that.
I think there's a lot of ignorance out there about what unions actually do and how they operate and what happens in a union election because we want our politics to be presidents making big statements that make us happy. But that's not how it works.
Me, I think Freddie is a disturbed and pretty awful person who has treated a lot of people--myself included--in ways far out of bounds of any ethical considerations. But again, this I guess is OK if you hate the Democratic Party hard enough.
What I find interesting about this is that both Beltway media types and purportedly left media types will go full tribal warfare in defending their friends no matter how awful the story or behavior.
First term Obama was pretty horrible on labor. I don't think he would have raised one finger to pass the Employee Free Choice Act even if Democrats had kept the 60 vote majority in the Senate through the 2010 elections.
In a lot of ways, you can follow the slow decline of the respectability of neoliberalism through the Obama years, as he slowly moved left as the ideas he came of age with in the Clinton years became discredited. And now Biden shows just how discredited they are.
But Obama is still the type of guy who thinks techbros really are smarter than most of us.
As a born Westerner, watching the media fawn over horrible governors like Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom and Gina Raimondo and Charlie Baker and then seeing them all suck at the second look is infuriating. Hey media, there are other states out there!
I got three governors for you:
Kate Brown, Oregon
Jay Inslee, Washington
Michelle Lujan-Grisham, New Mexico
These are governors who know how to run a state. Also not horrible people! But I realize the media would have to not be incredibly lazy in order to profile them.
And we can't have an incredibly lazy media, I mean why would someone want to spend time in [checks notes] Santa Fe or Olympia when they could just never leave the Beltway!
This Day in Labor History: February 27, 1869. The great workplace health and safety reformer Alice Hamilton is born. Let's learn about this unsung hero of the working class struggle!
Hamilton was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana and was encouraged by her parents to achieve the education she desired. She wanted to become a doctor, which was very rare for women in these years.
But in 1893, she received her medical degree from the University of Michigan and at first dedicated herself to working with women and children, seen as more fit for the few women professionals at this time that settlement houses, for instance, were being established.
This Day in Labor History: February 26, 1972. A Pittston Coal Company slurry dam collapsed in Logan County, West Virginia. The ensuing flood of coal slurry would kill 125 people and demonstrate once again the contempt the coal industry has for the people of West Virginia!
Coal slurry is basically the toxic leftovers of modern industrial coal production. This was less of an issue in the days of underground mining, but with strip mining and later mountaintop removal, large scale residue became a real problem.
The coal is sifted and processed, washed of impurities, and transported to market by rail or boat. The leftover is the slurry. It includes heavy metals including arsenic, mercury, beryllium, manganese, selenium, cadmium, as well as a whole slough of toxic chemicals.
This Day in Labor History: February 25, 1999. 74,000 home healthcare workers in Los Angeles voted to join the Service Employees International Union. Let's talk about this critical moment in modern unions!
This moment demonstrates the growth of what is today the second largest union in the nation and its strategy to organize workers laboring in hard conditions without much contact with other home health workers.
Home health care work is a rapidly growing field and one where workers have a hard time. Like most care work, the pay is low, sometimes at or close to the minimum wage.
This Day in Labor History: February 24, 1912. Police in Lawrence, Massachusetts brutally beat mothers and children in order to suppress sympathy for their strike from spreading across the nation. Let's talk about the Bread and Roses strike!
Lawrence, Massachusetts was one of dozens of New England cities that had become textile centers by the early 20th century.
The region had pioneered the nation’s Industrial Revolution through textile factories; the nation’s first modern factory was in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in the 1790s and the first large-scale textile community was in nearby Lowell, Massachusetts.
This Day in Labor History: February 23, 1959. The AFL-CIO Executive Council, meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, passed a resolution to create the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, an early attempt to organize the farmworkers at the bottom of the American labor force!!
While Americans idealized agricultural work from the Jeffersonian beginnings of the nation, underlying the agrarian myth was very hard work. For Jefferson himself, that work was done by enslaved black labor.
The family farm was a real thing in America of course and was the fundamental basis of free labor ideology that fed northern beliefs about capitalism and was the base reason why northerners opposed the expansion of slavery.
I have now completed by Alan Greenspan obituary, clocking it at 3,200 words of contempt for his terrible economics and wonderment that a fervent believer in the radical sex and selfishness cult of Ayn Rand could be given the keys to the global economy.
The fundamental differences between Rand and NXIVM are not entirely clear to me.
Except probably that the NXIVM dude is a better writer.
This Day in Labor History: February 22, 1860. 3,000 shoemakers in Lynn, Massachusetts went on strike, beginning the nation’s largest strike before the Civil War. Let's talk about it!
Traditionally, shoemaking was a part time job for farmers and fishermen when the season allowed it. Men cut and shaped the leather while women and children sewed the main part of the shoe to the soles.
But in 1852, Singer sewing machines began to be used, deskilling the labor and creating more of a proletariat than a skilled craft labor force.
I've spent the last few years in my own personal research trying to wrap my head around the various forms of rural and right-wing resentment in the Northwest and it's all just stuff like this. Liberals and the modern right are just on completely different planets.
Liberals: "Here's this new technology that could keep the planet alive."
Conservatives: "Why don't you just come and kidnap my children into sex slavery while you are at it!"
This Day in Labor History: February 20, 1893. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad went into receivership. This was the first step toward the Panic of 1893, the greatest economic crisis in American history prior to the Great Depression! Let's talk about its impact on workers!
The nineteenth century economy was inherently unstable. With a weak central government and lot of hostility to centralized control of the economy, it did not take much to tank the economy. Booms and busts were common.
In the post-Civil War era, the railroad was the dominant industry.
This Day in Labor History: February 19, 1910. The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company fired 173 union members to bust a strike of its drivers, leading to a general strike and general uproar, culminating in an all-too-rare victory for workers in the early twentieth century!!!
Streetcar workers often had it pretty tough in the Gilded Age, making the field one with strong union support from workers.
In 1909, the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees Local 477, the American Federation of Labor-affiliated union for streetcar drivers, wanted to win a contract for the Philadelphia drivers. This was not some radical union.
This Day in Labor History: February 17, 1992. Graduate students at Yale University went on strike. Time to put aside my animus for elite institutions to discuss graduate school unionization, since this is the strike everyone wants to talk about. So let's!
Still, before we get into this, I do have the make the principled point that the focus on the Yale graduate students instead of the many other graduate students who unionize is the same process by which the New York Times only talks about Yale and Harvard. Elites beget elites.
Graduate student unionization has long been controversial on college campuses. Are graduate students primarily students or apprentices?
This Day in Labor History: February 14, 1940. A group of Navajos write a letter of protest against the livestock reduction program the government forced upon them. Let's talk about how the New Deal transformed Navajo work culture in a shockingly negative way.
The four Navajos were named Scott Preston, Julius Begay, Frank Goldtooth, and Judge Many Children. They wrote, in part, "The Navajo Indians are not opposed to grazing permits as such, in fact we believe they heartily approve them if the manner of issuance is fair...
....and the limits are sufficiently high to permit the family to exist.
For instance, in our own district (No.3) the sheep unit is set at 282. If a person has 5 horses, that would be the equivalent to 25 sheep; 1 head of cattle is the equivalent of 4 sheep....