Air Date 12/22/2021
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: During today's episode, I'm going to be telling you again about a podcast I think you should check out and the coffee they sell. It's called UnF*cking the Republic, so keep an ear out mid show when I tell you all about it.
And now, welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast in which we shall take a look at some of the history of labor struggles in America, and the current wave of strikes that is giving renewed energy to the labor union movement and the struggle for better working conditions for all.
Clips today are from On the Media, Jacobin Radio, Intercepted, Unf*cking the Republic, Economic Update, and The Thom Hartmann Program, with additional members-only clips from On the Media and UnF*cking the Republic.
Lessons from the Luddites - On the Media - Air Date 12-10-21
[00:00:43] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: In his book," Breaking Things at Work," the Luddites are right about why you hate your job. Mueller makes the case that the Luddite workers weren't technophobes, but rather tech savvy pioneers.
[00:00:57] CHARLIE WARZEL: These are skilled craftspeople. So, they're very good at using technology, in fact, and very perceptive about what the effects of technology will be on their trade.
And they immediately perceive that these new factory technologies create textiles of lower quality, that lower wages, and undermine entire communities of families, towns, regions.
And, in fact, that is, ultimately, what happened to these places. To see the Luddites is somehow irrational-- we can only do that from the vantage point of 200 years later, thinking that what happened to them was, sort of, inevitable, and they should have just given up.
I think if you were in their position, uh, you would probably do something similar to what they did.
[00:01:42] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: And what exactly did they do, and how did they manage to organize themselves to do it?
[00:01:48] CHARLIE WARZEL: They would go on these, kind of, midnight raids, and smash up gig mills and stocking frames.
But they actually engaged in a lot of other practices. You know, they would have protests, they would have strikes.
But one thing that I think is really valuable to think about was how these practices and machine breaking required a deep community solidarity that really shifted the balance of power.
[00:02:14] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: For a while, at least. You said it worked, the factory owners were terrified, and wages went up. But then they sent in the troops.
[00:02:23] CHARLIE WARZEL: More troops than they had fighting Napoleon on the continent. And they were able to crack down effectively on the rebellion.
But this kind of militant opposition to technology doesn't stop, even if the Luddites themselves lost the battle.
In fact, you had similar kinds of rebellions in France. They actually were so successful that factories closed for another 20 years, and they didn't even try to use those machines until the next generation.
[00:02:52] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: It is interesting, the international element of this: a hundred years after the Luddites took action, the Industrial Workers of the World, which was a massive organization of transient workers and unemployed people in the U S, published pamphlets on the power of sabotage.
[00:03:09] CHARLIE WARZEL: There was this flourishing of interest in the "Wobblies," which was a kind of interesting, vibrant millieu of these grassroots activists and militants and workers.
[00:03:20] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: And "Wobblies" were members of the Industrial Workers of the World.
[00:03:23] CHARLIE WARZEL: Exactly. And something that these Wobbly writers shared with the Luddites is they said, "Well, sabotage can be something that workers do,..." but this is a kind of parallel response to what they called capitalist sabotage, which is when rotten food was put out for sale, or products were adulterated, right? This is the same time that Upton Sinclair's writing "The Jungle." you have really poor quality in some cases, dangerous and deadly products being sold.
And so they said, "Well, if they can sabotage people in the name of profit, we can conduct sabotage in the name of attacking their profits."
[00:04:02] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: Okay. During the depression, you write that the International Workers of the World "initially held up some hope for technocracy, but eventually the group tired of these visions," you wrote. "They do not have a program for accomplishing things," wrote the IWW, then they completely exclude the class struggle. So there's nothing left to discuss there.
[00:04:26] CHARLIE WARZEL: Yeah. So by the 1930s, the IWW, wasn't what it used to be. Membership had dropped off quite a bit. And there was this weird, out there, intellectual movement, speculation about "We'll have a fully automated society, technology will solve all of our problems..."
This movement, called the Technocracy Movement-- interestingly, still, kind of, around, at least they have a website. But ultimately the people behind that movement didn't really have a kind of politics. They held out a lot of visions of, "Technology will erase work, people will be out of work, what should we do?" They had ideas around, you know, state support, transition to a new mode of production, things that people are writing books about today.
But for the Wobblies, they said, "Our politics are the politics of class struggle, because, fundamentally, you're in capitalism, which means there's an antagonism between bosses and workers. And all politics has to flow from that."
And I think that is also something we need to think about in our current moment, right? It'd be really nice to say, "Oh yeah, we have the technology. It could give abundance to everyone."
But it's not going to come to us purely out of the development of technology. It's only going to come from some kind of political struggle.
Victory at Starbucks, Struggle at Kellogg's Part 1 - Jacobin - Air Date 12-13-21
[00:05:43] JOHN LOGAN: I will start by just talking about the character of the corporations themselves. As you said, both the former CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, who is probably the person who's most closely associated with the company, the former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, they're not your typical diehard Republican, anti-union, union busting... Bezos owns the Washington Post. Howard Schultz has been associated with Democrats for a long, long time. But, when you look at the actual labor model, the business model and the labor practices within the company, all of this talk about high starting wages, about socially progressive policies within the workplace, about benefits, college tuition, various things, that's all very well, but really, at the core, they have, what I would say, is quite dystopian, quite depressing model of algorithmic management, low wage labor, disposable workers, and no independent voice at the workplace, and obviously that's extremely important.
So, they think this is the future of work, that they have it figured out, that they can afford to offer, whether it's $15, $16, maybe some cases $17 an hour starting pay, they can talk about certain benefits that in theory sound really good, however there are some things we have to say about all of those. One of the things, and this is true at Starbucks, it's also true of Amazon, the starting pay on the face of it is not bad at all, but you don't get to move up. You can be there for years, and years, and years, and you're not earning much more than you were when you started off.
So the opportunities for progression, the opportunities for career advancement, the opportunities to earn a livable wage are very limited, and that's part of the reason that people leave in such high numbers. And the fact that they do leave in such high numbers means that many of the other benefits that these companies tout are actually often not available to them because they don't stick around long enough to take advantage of the benefits.
There have been many other things during the pandemic. Some of them were just so traditional, what we would consider to be traditional, union issues to do with health benefits are to do with other, sick pay, really important benefits, obviously during a pandemic, but some of it was very much pandemic and COVID related. There were concerns about safety practices within the stores, but just more than that, just the concern about a lack of employee voice, and a lack of, for want of a better way of putting it, respect and justice on the job.
And so, on the one hand, these are the kind of workers who would benefit enormously from unionization. We know this from the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, if you compare workers in these types of food service jobs, unionized workers versus non-union workers, the unionized workers do so much better.
They do better in wages, but wages is actually not the key the difference, the real difference is in benefits and health benefits, and pension benefits, and those types of things. It's an absolutely enormous difference. But, they also do better in terms of having an independent voice at work, and as I say, I think with the, especially during the COVID pandemic, what we've seen is a lot of agitation, a lot of organizing that's going around, but I think the issues were always there, but they've really been heightened as a result of the COVID pandemic.
Strike Wave Workers Flex Their Muscle in Tight Labor Market Part 1 - The Intercept - Air Date 11-10-21
[00:09:44] NAUSICAA RENNER - WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE INTERCEPT: Last week, more than 30,000 healthcare workers, working for Kaiser Permanente, provided a 10 day notice to the company that on November 5th, they would go on strike.
[00:09:55] VOICEOVER: More than 90% of Kaiser Permanente's U S workforce opted to authorize a strike, which could be the largest in the country so far this year...
Last month, union members voted 96% in favor of striking...
Nearly 2000 Kaiser Permanente workers here in Hawaii could be going on strike soon...
Unless something changes, 3,400 Kaiser workers from Oregon and Washington will walk off the job along with workers from five other states.
[00:10:21] NAUSICAA RENNER - WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE INTERCEPT: The plan for workers to strike comes after months of failed negotiations between healthcare worker unions and Kaiser, the national nonprofit hospital behemoth.
[00:10:32] VOICEOVER: I have been fighting for equal pay for equal work since the beginning of time. It's a straightforward concept!
[00:10:41] NAUSICAA RENNER - WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE INTERCEPT: And the weekend before they announced the strike, union workers marched in Southern California.
[00:10:46] VOICEOVER: Brothers and sisters, let us go forward and win! Solidarity today, solidarity tomorrow, solidarity forever! Thank you very much!
[00:10:57] NAUSICAA RENNER - WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE INTERCEPT: The main point of contention during contract negotiations is a proposal by Kaiser to establish a two-tier wage system. What this means is future Kaiser workers will be paid less than current workers.
The union is also demanding a 4% permanent increase in wages, while the company is only proposing 2%.
In a statement to The Intercept, Kaiser emphasized its appreciation for its essential workers during the pandemic, and outlined a number of temporary benefits it had provided them.
An updated proposal from Kaiser to workers still includes a second tier, with a significant pay cut.
[00:11:35] KIMBERLY MULLEN: Well, we don't want a two-tier system, and they seem to be holding fast on that two-tier system, with a reduction in pay and benefits for new employees that would be coming, which would ultimately divide us. And that's an old union busting technique of dividing and conquering.
[00:11:52] NAUSICAA RENNER - WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE INTERCEPT: That's Kimberly Mullen, and a registered nurse with Kaiser Permanente in California.
[00:11:57] KIMBERLY MULLEN: The challenge with the two-tier system is, when you have people doing the same work for considerably different pay, it builds animosity towards union member, against union member.
It causes division, and sometimes it will affect care of patients, with the animosity, and, "I don't want to take care of that," or, "I don't want to do that. Why... why are they getting this assignment? Why am I getting that assignment? They get paid more than I do, why don't they do this, or that?"
It could cause some kind of internal strife among the union members.
[00:12:32] VOICEOVER: So brothers and sisters, this is not a company in financial crisis. So why is Kaiser acting like this when it thrived-- it THRIVED!-- during the pandemic? Because of you working people, union people, they made money during the pandemic. Why? Because you go in every day, take care of patients, you risk your own health and safety to do your job.
[00:13:03] NAUSICAA RENNER - WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE INTERCEPT: Workers at the rally told the intercept that in the past year and a half, they've worked long, difficult hours because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
[00:13:11] KIMBERLY MULLEN: It has been scary. It has been challenging. I've been afraid of taking something home to my daughter. We have changes in PPE requirements. We have changes in rules every day.
It's been scary. And it's been emotional, um, taking care of patients who have COVID, and being their only support system, not letting anyone else in. You cry with them behind a mask and goggles and PPE and full gear. You hold their hand with a gloved hand, and, you know, some distance, still being afraid, but you need to be there emotionally for your patients that are dying and suffering because they don't allow their support system in.
Um, it's, uh, it's been very emotional, is what I'll say.
Um, and, uh, despite all of that, we come to work and we endanger ourselves, and we've endangered our families and our loved ones, just so we can take care of the community. And, um, to be, like, offered something that would ultimately divide us, and knock us down, it's quite insulting.
And it's like, um, well we're saving the world. they're planning our demise. And planning to divide and conquer us, while all we were trying to do is save the world through this pandemic.
Make no mistake about it: each and every one of you are indeed heroic. And you should be treated like heroes. You should be compensated, and respected, like the heroes that you are.
You know, all across the country, healthcare professionals are overworked, under-respected, and struggling-- Struggling!-- to continue in a profession that they love.
Labor Unions From Pullman to Kelloggs. Labors long, hard road. - Unf*cking The Republic (UNFTR) - Air Date 12-18-21
[00:15:07] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: Ah, Kellogg's, the maker of life-sustaining food, like Pop Tarts, and Frosted Flakes. Stuff that's really good for you. No, not just good, "There grrreat!" Taking a look at their top-line financials, we see some pretty healthy stuff, just like their Pop Tarts. Kellogg's turned a profit of about $1.7 billion on 13 billion in sales in 2020, and good news folks, revenue and profits are set to increase this year by 9%, as they've already posted a profit through three quarters in '21 of 1.4 billion. "Woo-hoo!"
And yet on the ground, the workers at Kellogg's are battling management over contract negotiations that would see a split in tier compensation for new and less tenured workers at the plants. As The Jacobin reports, quote, "Sales are up. Steve Cahillane, Kellogg's CEO, made roughly $11.6 million last year. And the company recently authorized $1.5 billion in stock buybacks to boost shareholders returns." End quote. The dispute between labor and management boils down to Kellogg's desire to create a tier system that would provide fewer benefits to new members. So the workers contend that this would create ill will between tiered members and put tenured members on the chopping block during periods of cost cutting. And by the way, that's exactly why governments and companies do this.
What should be lauded about this is that the Kellogg's workers aren't fighting for their individual current rights. They're fighting for future members. If there was ever a noble struggle, this is it. And that's not obviously the way that Kellogg's views it.
The world is a mess. Supply chains are disrupted, and costs are rising. They view their actions as timely and responsible, ultimately protecting their more important constituency: shareholders. And here's where I want to dissect the Wall Street Insider speech, so we can all listen to how this goes in real time.
Let's go through this together and we'll translate what the Kellogg CEO is saying to Wall Street in a recent investor relations interview with CNBC. Take a listen.
[00:17:14] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: And we had a very strong quarter. You know, we drove volume, we drove price. We drove mix, uh, you know, our brands, how the very well, despite all the supply chain challenges.
[00:17:23] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: So to begin, Kellogg's had a very strong quarter. That's on top of a strong trailing 12 months in growth in revenue and cash flows, as we said before. So the key here is that they drove, what he says, volume price and mix. So "driving volume and mix" means that they just sold a lot across their portfolio, more sugary cereal and Cheez-Its to the world. No great innovation, just sold a lot. But it's the price driver that should get everyone's attention. He said that volume increased, which contributed to the growth of sales, and that makes sense. But they also raised their prices. And we know that this was just a decision to drive profit because he ends the clip saying they did all of this, despite supply chain issues, which makes one wonder whether they actually experienced any issues or whether they're just using that as a talking point, because if you had supply chain issues, I mean, real ones, you wouldn't drive more volume, you would drive less.
It's perfectly rational to increase prices to maintain margin if you're having volume issues. But here he's saying they had no problem distributing and increasing the volume, and they raise prices. So if you listen carefully, you'll hear Milton Friedman laughing in his grave. Anyway, let's continue.
[00:18:35] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: Our international business performed exceptionally well, led by our Armea region. Highlight on Africa. Our Europe business had 16 consecutive quarters of growth, a really outstanding performance in the UK and Russia. So broad-based across the patch for us. But as you pointed out, price mix was clearly an important driver for us.
[00:18:55] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: 16 straight quarters of growth in Europe. And Kellogg's is doing the Lord's work by introducing Pringles and Pop Tarts to the African continent. No vaccines for you, but here's some diabetes in a can. No hint of supply chain issues there, but at least he acknowledges that in addition to expanding into new markets, they were able to raise prices despite little to no pressure to do so. Just greed. This is what greed sounds like.
[00:19:21] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: There's obviously a lot of supply chain challenges, a lot of things to overcome. But when we look at where we've been over the course of the last several years, you know, more and more our snacks business especially stands out and it's really been driving sustainable, robust, dependable growth for us. So we see that continuing.
[00:19:39] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: There's that fucking supply chain thing again. It's pretty much all we've heard about in corporate media. And I'm fully acknowledging that there are still inventory issues and buildups at the ports and companies are struggling to find containers and we're working through existing stockpiles of inventory all over the world.
But we're talking right now about fucking potato chips and Frosted Flakes. You don't get to say that you're obviously working through supply chain issues while at the same time saying you're exploding in new international markets and increasing the volume of sales. These two things do not go together. But that's Wall Street, everyone.
If there's a prevailing sentiment, true or not, go with it and claim it for your own.
[00:20:17] CNBC HOST: Steve, let's talk a little bit about the labor piece of the puzzle right now, the fact that your workers that are unionized that are striking have rejected the most recent offer you've put in front of them. How is that factoring into your forecast and what is it going to take to see a deal actually manifest?
[00:20:32] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: Okay. Game on, motherfucker. Here we go.
[00:20:35] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: What I say about that is, you know, we're obviously still in negotiations with our people. We want our people back. I mean, they performed so heroically throughout the course of the last 18 months.
[00:20:45] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: Stop! Okay, Steve, fuck you. Fuck you and your essential-worker-you-performed-heroically bullshit. Fuck you. Fuck your $11 million paycheck and fuck your pandering. Heroes when you need them, shit heels when you don't. Continue.
[00:21:02] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: The workers we're talking about are specific to our four US cereal plants. And they have right now a contract that's expired that has industry-leading wages and benefits. And we are putting in front of them, we put it in front of them increases in compensation. So there's no takeaways, despite what some may have said, there are no takeaways. It is an excellent offer. We want our people to see that offer. We want our people back. And, we're working very, very hard to make that happen.
[00:21:33] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: It's not the issue, Steve. That's what makes this a noble fight and what makes you a fucking pariah. These workers are standing up for the ones to come, not themselves. He's reframing the issue in the most patronizing way possible saying they're heroes, but also greedy. The next bit is Steve-O answering a question about inflation and if he thinks it's going to be around for awhile.
[00:21:54] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: And so we don't, we don't see any kind of mitigation in commodity pressures and cost pressures. And what you're seeing is all these friction pressures, you know, logistics, all things supply chain, still being disrupted. And so we're planning on it continuing for the foreseeable future. So we're not predicting an end to it. And we're looking towards productivity and what we call revenue growth management.
[00:22:18] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: Friction, commodity pressures, logistics, supply chain issues, just the fucking kitchen sink explanation behind this.
[00:22:27] CNBC HOST 2: And w how does price figure into that equation?
[00:22:30] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: Yes, Steve, how does price figure into this equation? Now listen to the whole thing here. It's masterful.
[00:22:37] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: Well, price is important. Price is one of the levers for us. And we don't talk prospectively about pricing, but when you look at what we've done over the course of this year, we've actually been ahead of it. So we've been able to cover all the commodity types of costs that we've seen. And we do that through price, we do that through mix, we do do that through assortments, all sorts of things, but what we really try and keep at the center plate is our consumer and making sure that we're driving value for the consumer. So as we need to take price, we talk about the right to take price or deserving of taking price, asking consumers to pay more because we're giving them more in terms of innovation, in terms of value.
[00:23:18] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: Okay. Did you hear the word soup in the beginning about price? Let's just play that back
[00:23:23] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: Over the course of this year, we've actually been ahead of it. So we've been able to cover all the commodity types of costs that we've seen. And we do that through price, we do that through mix, we do that through assortments, all sorts of things....
[00:23:38] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: Price, mix, assortment, all sorts of things, he says. What the fuck does that actually mean? It's not all sorts of things. It's just raising prices. Underlying demand is strong. They have no supply chain issues as evidenced by their increase in volume and new markets. They are inflation. He said it directly. They, quote, "got ahead of commodity pricing issues." How? By raising prices. You, Steve, you are inflation. If you got ahead of it, then you're the driver.
You see how this shit works? Talk about opportunistic capitalism. People are home, locked in, eating more snacks. So they just raised their prices and conveniently blamed it on factors that are not their factors. They just saw a chance to raise prices and they fucking took it. But don't worry, because he's also sensitive to the consumer.
[00:24:30] STEVE CAHILLANE - CEO, KELLOGG'S: As we need to take price, we talk about the right to take price or deserving of taking price, asking consumers to pay more because we're giving them more in terms of innovation, in terms of value.
[00:24:42] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: The right to take price? You're deserving of a raise because you drove value somehow? Steve, if you give the same product at a higher price, that is not the definition of value. And taking price? What the fuck is that? Innovation? Oh, please, tell me how your latest Cheez-It innovation was so fucking groundbreaking. You deserve the right to, quote, "take price"? This is standard Wall Street euphemism bullshit. Taking price? Here's the real translation: we raised prices because we could, and no one could stop us. Our supply chain is fine. In fact, we're humming. More business than ever. More volume than ever. And we raised prices because we wanted to. That's the honest response here, but you're listening to a masterclass in Wall Street fucking bullshit.
And they'll turn all this shit around on the heroic workers by saying that they're greedy. That's why we have inflation. That's why we hate workers. That's why the corporate media is complicit in these narratives. And that's why we need financial and news literacy training to spot this fucking bullshit a mile away. And that, my dear Unf*ckers, is why we need unions.
Victory at Starbucks, Struggle at Kellogg's Part 2 - Jacobin - Air Date 12-13-21
[00:25:57] JOHN LOGAN: I think it's really important to really write exactly what you said, that, if this Starbucks organizing were just happening in isolation, you think, "Well, it's a really great story. But maybe it will lead to something, maybe it won't."
But it isn't! You know, it's happening at a time where an increasing number of workers all over the country are talking union. And not just the usual suspects; you know, you've, you know, online media workers, you've got tech workers, you've got museum workers, gallery workers.
[00:26:30] SUZI WEISSMAN - HOST, JACOBIN RADIO: Even whiskey workers!
[00:26:32] JOHN LOGAN: Yeah. Yeah. All sorts, you know.
So, I mean, again, the numbers, you know, individually are not always huge, but collectively there's clearly some kind of change that's been happening.
And as you said, we've had a wave-- I'm not calling a strike wave, but a wave of strikes. Um, you know, I... I'm... threatened strikes that Kaiser, at the University of California, uh, you know, a lot of big employers, at Harper's...
Wonderful victories, at UC, too, amongst lecturers. They got fabulous contracts, because of the threatened strike there.
And, you know, parts of the, you know, this, sort of, enormous number of people quitting their jobs, as well, was also a form of protest. I mean, it's the kind of form of protest you get when you don't have any, sort of, like, more collectivist type of action available to you. You know, you can stay and improve the conditions, you know, but you leave, you know, like you said, "Stuff, this job!" you know, "I'm going to get another one there."
So, all of that's happening.
As you said, I mean, again, if you were just to... to look at the Kellogg strike in isolation, you would think, "Oh no, this is, kind of, reminiscent to a lot of the strikes that we saw in the seventies, eighties, and nineties;" where workers went out and, you know, they were either threatened with permanent replacements being brought in, or they were actually permanently replaced.
And, you know, most of those strikes ended badly for the unions and for the workers involved. And that has contributed massively to the huge decline we've seen in strike levels in the United States. Now, we're talking about this, uh, as a strike wave for some type of upsurge in the number of strikes, but it has to be understood in the context of, we're... we're starting in very, very low levels, you know; the past decade, and the past two decades, in fact, you know, I mean, strikes were in, like, the three, four hundreds, you know, per... Large industrial stopwatches, even in the early seventies, you know, in the late forties, they were sky-- you know, the number was off the charts.
Now, we're, typically, down to, like, you know, eight, or 10, or 15 maybe, in a big year, you know, of major work stoppages. And that includes lockouts as well as strikes. So, the numbers...
[00:29:14] SUZI WEISSMAN - HOST, JACOBIN RADIO: We are talking, we should just say, the private sector, because we saw spectacular teachers strikes in the public sector throughout 2018. But, yes, go ahead.
[00:29:23] JOHN LOGAN: No, no, you're absolutely right. I mean, that was the, sort of, sign that something was changing in 2018.
But even if you look at the types of workers who have been going on... on strike, you know, it's been disproportionately teachers, education workers, librarians...
[00:29:42] SUZI WEISSMAN - HOST, JACOBIN RADIO: Health care workers...
[00:29:44] JOHN LOGAN: Health care workers, et cetera. It hasn't been a lot of traditional industrial workers like you used to see, you know, we, we, you know, anyone... Phelps Dodge, Caterpillar, like, you know, all of these big iconic strikes.
But, as I said, it was because... Now... Why...Why did that happen?
So, you know, most people, again, and you'll probably... might have some familiarity with the 1937 Supreme Court case Mackay Radio. And it was actually the first time the Supreme Court came up, and said... and it wasn't even the main point of the case. But it did, sort of, indicate, uh, in the case, that, yeah, it was lawful... You, you could not fire a worker for going out in an economic strike, but you could permanently replace them. It was one of these things that it does make a difference in law.
[00:30:42] SUZI WEISSMAN - HOST, JACOBIN RADIO: A distinction with a difference?
[00:30:43] JOHN LOGAN: Well, you know, in terms of the worker, you know, they're still out of a job.
So, but the thing was, in the thirties, forties, fifties, we didn't have this, sort of, like, huge wave of... new... the use of permanent... like, replacements and threatened use of permanent replacement-- with the one exception of the American South.
You know, when the CIO tried to operate the textile plants in the Carolinas during Operation Dixie in the forties and fifties, this was a very, very common tactic, you know, that they would, sort of, threaten to-- and, they would in fact, replace workers-- who went out on strike.
But in most of the rest of the country, where collective bargaining was far more entrenched, this didn't go on very much.
And, you know, there are some disputes amongst historians-- there's a very good labour historian at Georgetown, Joe McCartin, fabulous historian. He wrote a very good book about the PACTO strike, the air traffic controllers strike, in 1981, where Ronald Reagan broke the union, and threw the... the leaders of the union in jail, and, uh, replaced all of the workers.
And, you know, that book, which is a wonderful book, wonderful historian, but it, sort of, describes PATCO as a, so-called, "PATCO moment." You know, PATCO changed everything, because it was essentially giving the green light to employers who wanted to take hard lines in terms of breaking strikes; that the federal government says, "It's okay to do this. If they can play hard ball, you know, bring in permanent replacements, then it's okay for you to do it too."
The reality is actually a little bit more complicated, because, I mean, I've read a lot about this, but I published a bunch on it too. But, you know, so it really... the big change really happened in the 1970s. You know, if you look... the bureau of labor statistics puts out a publication called "Employers Bargaining Objectives" every year. And this was one of the questions that they used to always include: was, you know, "If you have faced industrial action, or if you were to face industrial action, would you use permanent replacements? Would you threaten to use permanent replacements?"
And then numbers that said they would either use them, or threaten to use them, just went up astronomically in the 1970s.
And, I mean, there are labor history books, very good ones, that talk about the seventies as this pivotal decades. You know, that was really when the Business Round Table, and some of the most conservative, reactionary members the corporate community sat down and said, "You know, we can't tolerate these high labor prices anymore".
And, you know, Doug Fraser of the UAW famously called it, you know, engaging in a one-sided class war. You know, the capitalist side, the employer side, was engaging in war against unions and workers, but they weren't fighting back.
So, this phenomenon of pur... permanent replacements really, sort of, dates back... I mean, you know, it dates back to the thirties, and it was used in the South, but it really dates back to the seventies, eighties, nineties, and contributed massively to the decline of strikes.
Now, having published three or four articles, you know, I, when I started graduate school, the AFL CIO's legislative priority was trying to get legislation banning permanent replacement workers. They tried it during , the first Bush, you know, Bush I, and then they tried it during Clinton administration; you know, same old story. Just couldn't get it through the Senate, you know? And so it died.
And... and, you know, I just started graduate school. I wrote a few papers about that, published them. I thought, you know, by the time I started my first job at London School of Economics in 2000, I thought this had completely disappeared as a live issue.
You know, I thought, "Well, it was one of these things that used to be a really good, big deal. It used to be really important. And it's definitely important in terms of understanding the... The huge decline in industrial action in the United States, but we're not gonna see a surge of permanent replacement and high-profile strikes," but here we are.
Class Struggles in the US Today - Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff - Air Date 12-2-21
[00:35:01] PROF RICHARD D. WOLFF: I want to talk again, one more time, about the labor shortage that isn't there. There is no labor shortage. There never was a labor shortage.
If you actually look at the number of people quitting their jobs, more American workers quit their jobs in 2018 and 2019 that did it last year and this year. Only it's a big, hot topic now.
And you know why? Because employers want those people back at work. And they don't want to pay them more, and they don't want to improve the work conditions. They want to save money on work conditions. They want to save money on workers. They want to recoup the profits they didn't get during the pandemic of 2020 and 2021.
And so they want to squeeze more profits out. And talking about a labor shortage might get them some government programs to help them profit at the expense of the working class.
Nothing illustrates that better than the half dozen Republican states where Republican legislatures are now debating passing laws to allow 15 and 16 year old young people to work more hours than they were allowed to before. Doing more jobs than they were allowed to before.
A hundred year struggle in the United States to outlaw child labor is under attack as this country goes backwards compared to every other country.
And in order to drive that home, I wanted to give you, again, a comparison between what the Western European countries have done, and what this country is doing. A comparison made even more poignant-- even more-- by the very modesty of what the Build the Back Better Bill of Mr. Biden promises to accomplish.
In Europe, across Europe, five week paid vacation is the norm for all workers, because it's the law. You want to really help people? Do that. Most workers in America don't get five weeks paid vacation at the end of a 30 year stint, if they're lucky enough to have a 30 years stint, for an employer.
European countries have freedom of choice ;they don't allow a monopoly in politics, two parties that look very similar, trading off, the way we do. They don't allow monopoly... monopolies in politics, any more than they allow them in the economy. We do. We oughtn't to.
The following countries in Europe have zero tuition to go to college-- not to community college, all the colleges! Ready? All public schools, which is how most people get an education... I'm just going to read you the name of the countries: Germany, Norway, Iceland, Austria, France, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, and Poland. We're going to give a few community college help. It's not enough.
Can Child Labor Solve Labor Shortage_ The GOP Thinks So... - Thom Hartmann Program - Air Date 12-2-21
[00:38:03] THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez I think correctly says we don't actually have a labor shortage. We have, in her words, a shortage of dignified jobs. She says we have a dignified job shortage.
But Republicans think that they've got a solution to the problem.
There are employers looking for employees and they don't want to pay more money. So what do you do? Well, hey, let's have 14 year olds go to work. We did that once before in America, you know? This was the Supreme Court back in the days. So one of the first things that they did, striking -- I believe this was right after Franklin Roosevelt became president -- was striking down child labor laws.
But the story is in the Labor Tribune, labortribune.com: Republican-controlled legislatures in several states have come up with a novel way to stem the effects of an ongoing labor shortage: loosen child labor laws governing the number of hours or the times the teenagers are allowed to work. And this is a 14 and 15 year olds. Hey, let's just let them go to work. Right. It makes perfect sense, huh? And the Wisconsin Restaurant Association is like, Hey yeah, this is a great idea. Bring in the 14 year olds! They can serve tables. On the other hand, the AFL-CIO is like, What? And Senator Chris Larson, the Democrat from Milwaukee in Wisconsin, he says, I think if those employers are looking for workers, what frankly the market should dictate is that they should be raising wages and offering additional benefits, which actually works. People will work for you if you provide them with a decent working environment and reasonable pay and benefits.
Sylvia Allegretto, who is a labor economist and the co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, told an interviewer at Salon, quote -- and by the way, I think this really gets to the nub of this issue right now -- she said, "A lot of families are in such dire economic conditions that they might agree to send their kids to work because of necessity. But that's the problem," she says. "If you get up and go to work every day, you shouldn't be living in poverty. You should not be living in such dire situations."
Families should not need their children to work 30, 35 hours a week, which is what they're proposing in some of these states, in order to keep the family's head above water. Children, 14 year olds should be studying for school. They shouldn't be flipping burgers. Unless it is, as I pointed out when I was 14 or 15, I was flipping burgers, but I was limited to, as I recall, it was on Saturdays. I hit my Saturdays. But the increase, she goes on to note, "the increased reliance on American teenagers to work more hours is also leading to a number of negative outcomes for children who are forced into the labor market at younger ages, including higher rates of substance abuse and high school dropouts, research shows."
And this is where we have to make a fundamental decision as a nation.
Do we want to basically accommodate employer's desire to have low wages and no benefits by telling poor families yeah, you can send your kids to work 30, 35 hours a week. No problem. Forget about those kids ever growing up to be really successful because typically that these days requires at least a college education or, you know, some sort of trade training so that you can get a good union job. Forget about that. Consign your children to a lifetime of poverty. But hey, the employers don't have to pay as much. Do we do that? Do we go the Republican route? Or do we do what the Democrats are saying and structure our country and our economy in such a way that diminishes poverty?
I mean, it's crazy that the number of medical bankruptcies in the United States is probably going to be around a million this year. And it was probably around a million last year. It takes a couple of years for the numbers to get sorted out and everything, but it was 640,000 the year before the pandemic. And you got a lot of people who got sick with COVID, ended up in the ICU, have a million dollar hospital bill now, and no way to pay it.
And yet the number of medical bankruptcies right across the border in Canada, a country that shares a common language with us by and large, culturally is very similar, demographically as similar to us, the number of medical bankruptcies in Canada, zero. The number of medical bankruptcies in Europe, zero. Taiwan, zero. South Korea, zero. Japan, zero. Here in the United States, a million.
And that's just like one symptom. That's just one little indicator of how screwed up our system is. That if somebody in your family gets sick, the entire family can go broke.
The other thing that we have is almost $2 trillion worth of student loan debt. Again, you don't find this in other countries. Sure. If you want to go to Harvard or Princeton, maybe you can take on a student loan, in these other countries. But you know, Germany, all the state universities and colleges are absolutely free. There's over 300,000 foreign students in Germany going to college right now for free. And if you're a German citizen, not only do you get free tuition, but in some cases they will subsidize your books and your rent. Which by the way, it's not unique to Germany. This is common among Western European countries. We're the only country in the world that has saddled an entire generation with student debt. And by the way, prior to the Reagan administration, there was no student debt problem in America. In fact, prior to Reagan becoming governor of California, the entire University of California's college system, one of the best in the world, was entirely free or damn close to it.
Abraham Lincoln, as president of the United States, took federal lands all across the United States and created 56, took 56 large tracks of land that could be worked for money. They could be logged or they could be farmed, turned into farm, agricultural land or whatever, and that agricultural land could produce revenue. And called these "land grant colleges." They were 56 colleges that Lincoln put into place -- Michigan State University was one of them -- where the college had the ability to make enough money that they could provide free education or very, very cheap education to their students. My mother went to Michigan State University and graduated back in the 1940s magna cum laude in English, which is why I'm pretty good at English. And she put herself through MSU with a summer job up in Charlevoix, Michigan, where she grew up as a lifeguard. And on weekends, through the rest of the year, propping and washing airplanes at the Lansing airport. She did that mostly though in exchange for flying lessons. But I mean, it was like College was not an issue. We're the only country with this.
And so we're looking at this, like this is impoverishing families. It's creating a terrible challenge just for daily life. And the solution that the Republicans have is let's let 14 year olds work, 30 hours a week instead of letting the market work and essentially having the marketplace force employers to raise wages and benefits.
Strike Wave Workers Flex Their Muscle in Tight Labor Market Part 2 - The Intercept - Air Date 11-10-21
[00:46:27] NAUSICAA RENNER - WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE INTERCEPT: I also wanted to get your thoughts on the labor movement, and progressives, and... you're in the labor movement, you're also a progressive person-- you worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign, for instance-- how do you see those two things mixing? I mean, like, what is the labor movement's role, in the progressive movement? Does it have a role, or how do you think it could be stronger?
[00:46:53] JONAH FURMAN: You know, you look at the labor movement across... whatever, the OECD countries, or the most advanced capitalist countries. In almost every case, there's a labor party that forms sometime in the late 19th century, early 20th century. And it's, essentially, because you have these unions that fight for workplace rights and, you know, conditions and wages and things-- the bread and butter stuff of being someone who works for a living.
But there's inevitably things that go beyond your workplace, whether it's, sort of, social issues like, you know, unemployment when you don't have a job, or if it's that your whole industry is facing something that your one employer can't fix across the board.
So, in every case, there's always a political expression of the union movement. And in every other country, you know, every other comparable country, there's been a political party that forms on that basis. They call them labor parties. And in the UK, it's called "Labour." Literally that's their large social democratic party.
In this country, our labor party, in so far as it exists at all, is submerged somewhere inside of the Democratic Party. Basically it's... it's a junior partner, it's a pinky toe of, it's an appendage of... but the union movement doesn't have its own independent expression in the United States, politically.
Which is really complicated because it means that the unions are in the same party that a lot of their bosses are. So, they would be at different sides of the negotiating table for a union contract, where they're at the same side of the table, negotiating national politics.
So progressives, you know, exist somewhere in that party with them. They're often on the same... in the same wing, same corner of the Democratic Party, but often not. There's, you know, mismatches all the time.
The way labor has acted politically has been to be a junior partner of the establishment of the Democrats. Which means that, often, what their narrow short-term interest is, is to support what the party wants.
So when we saw, for example-- this is a great example-- Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the largest union in the AFL-CIO labor federation, came out saying, "Let's pass the infrastructure bill before we get a deal on reconciliation." This was a break with Progressive's on the inside baseball of this stuff.
And what was so strange about it is that she's the head of the American Federation of Teachers. Very little of what her membership wants from these congressional acts is in the infrastructure piece that she was supporting. It's much more in the reconciliation piece that she was arguably imperiling, if you take the progressive strategy for it.
And why would a teacher's union president do that? Well, the best way to understand it is because she's trying to act as part of the Democratic Party, not as part of the labor party.
So progressives are occasionally, frequently, sometimes, at odds with, you know, the unions as political actors.
And part of it is also that the unions have, in a lot of cases, have gotten so small, or so not-present, uh, as parts of, you know, just the percentage of your constituency as a congressperson, that's union is much smaller. So Democrats still rely on endorsements and dollars from unions, but in terms of being in touch with actual union members who put those concerns in a clear way outside of the sort of political apparatus of the tops of the labor movement, I don't think progressives hear that much from rank and file union members.
I don't know how much The Squad is in touch with rank-and-file John Deere workers. And that would have been true decades ago, that the progressive wing of the party is close to the UAW, and close to the members of the UAW, and in touch with those members as constituents of their district.
Because the UAW has shrunk so much, because the union movement has shrunk so much, it's less of a part of the daily political life of the progressive wing of the party.
So there's just a big disconnect here. I think everything I've seen from the progressive wing of the Democrats is, you know, 'Please union members! Come! Be involved! We want you to be our base! We wish you were our base! We wish our base was unionized! We'd love to make that happen!"
There's big structural issues that have kept that disconnect alive, and how it expresses itself politically is, for the most part, their... labor and the progressives are in the same minority faction of the Democratic Party, occasionally at odds, occasionally aligned, but neither of them are big enough to team up and overcome the corporate influence of the party.
Let alone, you know, defeat the GOP.
Lessons from the Luddites Part 2 - On the Media - Air Date 12-10-21
[00:51:35] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: And your book wasn't at least initially just a response to how Luddites have been miscast and misremembered. It was inspired by all the renewed discussion about automation in the workforce.
[00:51:48] CHARLIE WARZEL: Yeah. So there was a lot of discussion seven or eight years ago. From economists from people working in industry.
Wow. We're going to automate a lot of different jobs and those people that work in those positions, they're going to be out of luck. So what is going to happen? But you also have this kind of interesting moment in leftist and progressive politics of people saying, well, maybe that's not so bad. Sure in our current world, it's really bad not to have work because we need wages to live.
But what if this was a kind of leverage to enter a new society where we don't have to work to live and that automation creating greater wealth could actually be a vehicle for a post-capitalist politics.
[00:52:36] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: I understand that logic, you don't get leveraged. If you don't have something to hold over the heads of the people who are making all the money automation, the fifties caused a huge wave of unemployment in the black community automation at a huge impact on the Housewives.
I mean, historically washing machines were a huge deal, but it did actually increase the work. Overall of the homemaker.
[00:53:03] CHARLIE WARZEL: I agree a hundred percent with you, Brooke. The way that automation works is not simply, it gets rid of work, it redistributes work and it changes the approach to work in a variety of different ways.
Sometimes yes, jobs are eliminated. In other cases, jobs are de-skilled and degraded. In the case of the Housewives new technologies, rather than saving them work expectations, rose. So they were still doing just as much work as before. In fact, the only thing that's gotten women to spend less time on chores is burden sharing with their partners.
So it's actually feminism that saved women, not technically. And yet the people
[00:53:45] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: that you are talking about seem to be echoing John Maynard Keynes, who predicted his grandchildren would work only 15 hours a week due to technological advance. That technology is not only inevitable, but it's inherently good for workers.
Even if it's carried forward by the likes of tech billionaires,
[00:54:04] CHARLIE WARZEL: right? If you think that the technology itself is neutral and it's like, well, sure. When it's bill gates in charge, that's bad, but maybe, you know, if it's Bernie Sanders in charge, it could be different. These technologies have a politics already.
And a better approach to take is to understand the impact from the perspective of the people who are being affected by it. I think what we have to do is take seriously. How to make work dignified, safe, to allow people to be creative and fulfilled, to listen to the complaints that people have to the struggles they're facing and think about reshaping work along those lines, rather than just assuming technology's just going to solve the question for us.
[00:54:48] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: Nick is a form of power that can actually disempower workers. You wrote that? One of my goals in writing this book is to turn Marxists into Luddites. My argument boils down to this to be a good Marxist is to also be a Luddite. And while I want to make Marxists into Luddites, I also have another goal. I want to turn people critical of technology into Marxists.
[00:55:14] CHARLIE WARZEL: Technology is developed under capitalism. There's a lot of dissatisfaction with technology out there. People hate Facebook. People are concerned about climate change, but the response to that can vary quite a lot. I want people to see that the problems of technology are part of the problems of the economic system in which that technology is being
[00:55:38] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: developed.
Well, generally good. If it isn't used to disempower. I mean vaccines.
[00:55:46] CHARLIE WARZEL: Well, I'm not opposed to vaccines. I'm not opposed to all technologies, but I think you have some examples, for instance, the Soviet union, right? Oh, we're for the workers, but you know, we, we also need to make stuff, so we'll just use existing technologies.
And what happened was. Workers were disempowered workers were unhappy at work workers engaged in sabotage at work. There was a lot of problems with that production process because they had a brief debate, but ultimately decided that what they needed to do is develop the productive forces. You see something similar in China.
I mean, it's playing out in a different way and they've done some impressive things there, but people work incredibly hard doing really degrading jobs.
[00:56:26] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: How do you determine when a technology is good? There's an endless history of unintended consequences.
[00:56:32] CHARLIE WARZEL: Of course, someone who I think is really interesting Marxist thinker on work and technology is Harry Braverman, who was himself, a factory worker, and goes on to become a socialist and a writer.
And he wrote a book about technology. It comes out in 1974. What he says is, you know, why is the technology always about management? So I'll be at scientific management. What if we took a bottom up perspective? What if we took seriously the way that workers experience their jobs and incorporated. Their values, their desires, their needs into the technology, because that's not what happens now, even when it gets branded that way, the way technology is developed is in the interest of accumulation and the interest is of controlling workers.
And so he offers it's a brief moment in this long, but very much worth reading books. This is how you have science and technology without saying, we just need to go back to nature. We need to, you know, leave industrial society. I don't think that's a very good solution. I like vaccines. Okay. Something that I truly believe is if you want to understand how things are made and how to make it better, talk to the people who are involved.
[00:57:40] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: So, if you'd incorporated the weavers in the creation of those industrial frames,
[00:57:46] CHARLIE WARZEL: you could imagine a world, right? Where certain kinds of textile production remained in control of these weaving communities. And they could adopt new technologies and they did adopt new technologies. What if they had been as successful as the free and open source software hackers?
Maybe my jeans would last a little while.
Labor Unions: From Pullman to Kelloggs. Labors long, hard road. Part 2 - Unf*cking The Republic (UNFTR) - Air Date 12-18-21
[00:58:03] HOST, UNF*CKING REPUBLIC: Gather round, Unf*ckers! Before we get to all the hootin' and hollerin' about Striketober, Starbucks and Kellogg's, I want to take you back in time a bit, back to the Industrial Revolution. You know, that period that libertarians and Milton Friedman acolytes masturbate to? An economic period built on brutalizing workers and exploiting child labor.
In fact, the 1900 census showed that 6% of the workforce was composed of child labor because, lesson one, corporations, left to their own devices without proper regulations, are inherently evil. The US government attempted to reform this practice with the National Review Board, but it relied on states to implement measures to protect children.
It wasn't until 1916 that Congress passed the first national reform called the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act, specifically prohibiting child labor. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled this unconstitutional, leaving the practice in place for two more decades, proving, lesson two, that old men in robes are the fucking worst and hardly blind to justice.
Child labor wouldn't officially be outlawed until 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act, a law almost identical to Keating-Owen, was passed and successfully defended at the Supreme Court.
Three years prior to this, however, something called the Wagner Act was passed and had far reaching consequences for owners and labor. Much of what was contained in the act remains hotly contested even today, or with steadily undone over the next several decades through legislation hostile toward unions. Crafted by Senator Robert Wagner, the Wagner Act was considered the, quote, "Magna Carta of the labor movement."
In his book, The State of the Union by Nelson Lichtenstein, the author says Wagner, quote, "guaranteed workers the right to select their own union by majority vote and to strike, boycott and picket. And it enumerated a list of unfair labor practices by employers, including the maintenance of company-dominated unions, the blacklisting of union activists, intimidation and firing of workers who sought to join an independent organization, and the employment of industrial spies." Endquote. Wagner was long overdue. Prior attempts to codify workers' rights had nearly all ended in disaster. It wasn't that unions didn't exist prior to Wagner, but they were largely mistrusted by corporations and politicians who viewed them as collectivist threats.
I want to offer two examples from this era, the height of the industrial revolution, that I feel are extremely relevant today, because the men in power were considered to be good and benevolent: Andrew Carnegie and George Pullman. The former enjoys several historical rewrites to paint him through his charitable work as one of the most magnanimous Americans who ever lived. ["When's it get good?" "Keep your shirt on, let me read"]
Carnegie was a titan, one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. He's known today as the great philanthropist of the ages. But the story of his accumulation of wealth is the same as all other preposterously wealthy individuals: built on the back of, and at the expense of, labor. At the height of his power in the late1800s, Carnegie controlled a vast steel empire that he would ultimately sell to JP Morgan, who consolidated steel holdings in a trust known as US Steel.
And if it wouldn't annoy 99 so much, this is where I would have inserted a clip of Hyman Roth telling Michael that their gambling enterprise, who is bigger than US Steel, but I'm not going to do that. ["I, on the other hand, have no such qualms." "Michael,we're bigger than US Steel."]
While it's true that Carnegie would devote his life after selling his interest to philanthropy and education, there's one event that marred his reputation during his lifetime: the Homestead strike. Carnegie's workers were part of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and were working under an agreement in the 1880s that was set to expire. Rather than renegotiate in good faith, the company worked actively against the union to try and break it up instead. Over a period of a couple of years, tensions finally boiled over and the workers went on strike. But because Carnegie had, until this point, paid lip service to the working man, he was in a bind. Rather than lose face, he took off on a long vacation to Scotland and left his anti-union chief, a dude named Frick, in charge of handling the strike. During this time, all hell broke loose. Carnegie's corporation compelled law enforcement to force the workers to end the strike, and hired an outside agency called the Pinkertons, a private contracting security firm that essentially employed armed goons to do the dirty work where the wouldn't. After initially rebuffing the Pinkertons, the employees were ultimately overwhelmed and the strike ended in brutal fashion, with several dead and the union defeated.
Then there's good old George Pullman, the railcar tycoon who went so far as to build an entire town for his employees. Pullman was a true innovator and a man of the people, until he wasn't. Pullman owned all the real estate in his Illinois town where his employees worked and gave them housing, with the rent being deducted from their paychecks. And everything was rather fine and dandy and Pullman was the darling of capitalists far and wide for creating a benevolent working utopia.
But when a recession hit and orders for his Pullman rail cars slowed down, Pullman instituted wage cuts across the board, but only for his workers. The only problem is that Pullman executives saw no such pay cut, and the workers saw no reductions in their rent. This left most of the employees in a dire situation that pushed them to the brink and forced them to strike.
Like Carnegie, Pullman had his limits, only he didn't flee the country. But he did hide from the press for a long time. And while he hid, the Pullman strike turned into a national railway strike in solidarity, and it nearly brought the nation to its knees. Pullman enlisted the support of the Cleveland administration, whose attorneys coily argued that the rail strike was prohibiting mail from being delivered on time and was therefore a national emergency.
Now, here again, the government sent in federal troops to beat back the strikers. The strike itself was organized by some of the most prominent figures in US history and really important people in years to come in the fight for social justice: Samuel Gompers, who actually punked out like a bitch at the last minute; Eugene Debs, arguably the most famous socialist in US history; and Clarence Darrow, famed liberal attorney and activist.
But in the end, the workers still lost. Debs was jailed. Strikers were beaten, and the government proved that it would always intervene on the side of big business. As Philip Dray writes in There Is Power in a Union, quote, "The movement learned decisively that it had no friends in Washington, and that the federal government would not hesitate to send soldiers to confront workers pressing legitimate grievances. Most disturbing was the government's use of an antitrust law to halt union organizing and even gag communication from a union's leaders to its members, a throwback to the supposedly discarded notion that routine labor union activity represented a combination or conspiracy dangerous to society." Endquote. But hey, at least the Pullman strike made Congress feel guilty enough to give us Labor Day. Sorry about all the corruption, murder and suppression. Here, have a day. Someday you'll be able to get a 50% discount on a mattress and a bed frame on this day as we force all retail operations to open in celebration of consumption.
I wanted to start with this because as we jumped forward and a little tale today, it's clear that we've found ourselves right back at the beginning of the struggle, with powerful forces working against the working class, the working class working against itself, and government and elites aligned with the billionaire class, still believing in the myth of benevolent capitalism.
[01:05:39] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with On The Media, highlighting the inherent need for political struggle, alongside labor and class struggle;
Jacobin Radio undercut the labor friendly veneer of companies like Starbucks and Amazon, who offer relatively high starting wages;
Intercepted explained the strike at Kaiser Permanente;
UnF*cking the Republic broke down the Wall Street bullshit of Kellogg's CEO;
Jacobin Radio explained the context in which we are seeing this current wave of strikes;
Professor Richard Wolf on Economic Update discussed the labor shortage that isn't;
as did Thom Hartmann while explaining that it is a raise in wages, benefits, and working conditions, rather than child labor, that we need to catch up with the rest of the world;
and Intercepted described the fractured nature of the relationship between elected progressives and the labor movement.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips from On the Media, taking more lessons from the Luddites;
and UnF*cking the Republic, correcting the record on Andrew Carnegie, the Pullman Porter strikes and the origin of Labor Day.
To hear that, and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your new members only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted. No questions asked.
And now we'll hear from you.
Fear that Democrats will lose the House - Alan from Connecticut
[01:07:08] VOICEMAILER: ALAN FROM CONNECTICUT: Hey, Jay. It's Alan from Connecticut, calling in with regards to some comments from the wisdom piece, when you were talking about democracy and midterm elections.
You were talking about, you know, "fear" might work, and now maybe the time for fear.
And then you talked about the midterm elections, that we should hope and... and try for Democrats to hold on to control, but, and you said, I think I hate to even say this out loud, that the Republicans might, likely take, you know, it's possible, that they'll take control.
And so, with regards to that fear piece, and the speaking out loud, and the fact that Democrats are too reserved, and so forth, I think it should be the other way around.
I think we should be saying. "Hey if we're not careful, if we don't do something, Republicans are going to take control, and you should be fearful of that. And so what are you going to do as an individual to stop that from happening?" And that should be the message being sent out.
Not, "Oh, well, we're going to try to hold on..." No, they... we are going to lose control. And that's probably the reality from where I... I look at things. We are going to lose control, unless a bunch of you people stand up, and get out the vote, and talk about it, and get things done.
Like that's the reality of it, because if we sit back, like, "Yeah, they'll probably work out, but maybe it won't." Well, it's not going to work out.
So anyway, that's my two thoughts on... on the comment that was said there. Thanks. Stay awesome, wear your mask and wash your hands.
Thoughts on multiiple tiers of humans - Nick From California
[01:08:44] VOICEMAILER: NICK FROM CALIFORNRIA: Hey, Jay, it's Nick from California.
I was finishing up uh, second to last episode that's posted, and I heard Quai's comment about, essentially, do you think there are different tiers of humans.
And I, at first I didn't necessarily connect every dot that was being made. I don't... doing the thought experiments, and then thinking about conservatives I know, I think there's something really strong there, actually; about, essentially, do you believe there's multiple tiers of humans, with some being lesser than you. And that sort of is one of the bigger dividing lines, and translates into where people fall in American politics, or in politics in general.
And I was really struck by it. I think there's a lot there to unpack. And, um, I need to think about it some more; but that's... I thought that was a really novel way of framing the place we're in. And I have to think about whether it truly funnels people into: the people who want to establish the... keep the status quo, people who believe there multiple tiered humans; versus those who are progressive, we think there's only one tier.
I don't know. I just, to be honest, I just think that that thought just needs to... to be meditated on by all of us, because I really think there is something truly insightful about Quai's insight regarding conservatism, or progressivism, and wanting to change the system versus keep the status quo.
It changed the way I may look at things, but I have to think it through more. But it just got inspired to call in and say, wow. It was a really good voicemail. That got me to think a lot.
[01:10:40] VOICEMAILER: NICK FROM CALIFORNRIA: Okay, Jay, I've got it. Can't be as simple as saying that people who reduce people into two tiers of humans is the answer, because then that would be to basically force people into two camps of humans: those who think there are two tiers of humans, and those who don't.
So it gets a bit recursive there.
So I think the problem I had with it, is that, it is a little bit simplistic to suggest that the answer can be suggested to be that that's the major dividing line. Because any dividing line by that is, you know, again, just classifying people as different tiers of humans.
But, that said, I haven't thought my way through it. There's a lot of about what he said, as far as, people who see us as one humanity, versus those who see us as, you know, superiority wise, inferiority wise... there is something there, there. I haven't fully thought it through.
Anyway, I really thank him for his voicemail. It was really thought provoking. I think there's a lot of good substance to be unpacked, and I still have a more thinking to do.
But I realized when I said, wait, something about it strikes me, I realized what it was.
Thank you. Probably won't call back. Take care, man. Stay awesome.
Final comments on how progressive thinking embraces equality while conservative thinking often requires division
[01:12:08] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line, or wrote in their messages to be played as a VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at 202 999 3991, or write me a message to [email protected]
So we just heard from Alan and Nick; first of all, Alan was referring to the live event that I did earlier this week, a little Q and A, a little "Ask Me Anything." And, I don't know if the way Alan is describing what I said is accurate or not, but it is not how I feel.
So I'll go ahead and clarify, now, that I actually agree entirely with Alan's point; I have no fear about describing the upcoming 2022 midterm elections as, uh, "Not looking great right now. And that, that should strike fear into the hearts of all democracy loving Americans."
What I recall thinking, when discussing these elections coming up on the live event, was that I had seen an elected Democrat on television talking with some television host, and the host pointed out the, kind of, obvious thing, that all the data is pointing to Democrats losing the House of Representatives in next year's election. And the elected Democrat would not accept that as a premise, and said, "No, no, no, no. I don't think that's what's going to happen."
And I thought, "Okay, great. Why? Based on what? What strategy is this? Is this just a hope for the best sort of strategy?" Or should we, as Alan was saying, strike fear into the hearts of people and say, "Yes, we are going to lose these elections if we do not mount up right now and do everything we can to stop that from happening." That's the strategy that I certainly agree with.
Alan seems to be on the same page and the idea that elected Democrats would prefer to sweep aside all the evidence that is to the contrary is, uh, almost certainly to their detriment.
Second up: Nick had lots of thoughts, some... some, uh, contradictory, you know, within himself, just as... as he was, sort of, processing what Kwai had said in a previous voicemail an episode or two ago.
And I'll... I'll start with this. First, Nick, what you need to understand right up front, is that there's two kinds of people in the world: those who think that all of humanity can be divided neatly into two groups; and those who don't. [Rimshot]
But to attempt to clarify the point that Nick is tripping over: I think that what Qwai is describing is a difference in the way people think; whereas the examples he gives of conservative thinking express a difference in the fundamental humanity, and/or inherent equality of different groups.
For instance, I could say that there are approximately two schools of thought on our criminal justice system. The first is that, we incarcerate people of color at higher rates than white people because of racist structures in the system that create that outcome. The other school of thought, is that racialized groups, people of color, are naturally more criminal than white people.
Now, me saying that is dividing people into two groups, or two ways of thinking. But neither of those ideas suggest something inherent about any member of either group. You can have either of those thoughts, and it doesn't mean anything about your equality as a human.
But the difference in those two beliefs actually does imply exactly that about the target group. So the progressive belief, also the belief that all evidence points to, is that the disparity in incarceration is the result of systemic forces. Whereas the conservative idea isn't just an alternative perspective on cause and effect; to hold the conservative idea requires a belief in a fundamental difference between peoples based on membership in a racialized group.
Or maybe what the smart ones will say is that "It's just the difference in culture, rather than racialization," which is just a more refined way of, on one hand, dog whistling racism, but primarily, to distract away from systemic forces, and to ignore that as... as a factor.
The same goes with the question of homosexuality being a choice, which Kwai brought up. To believe that homosexuality isn't a choice requires no judgment of anyone, but the reverse does. To believe that homosexuality is a choice requires the belief in separate kinds of people.
So dividing people based on their ideas is very different than dividing them based on one's perceived understanding about something inherent within people.
It's, frankly, a bit like believing in reverse discrimination; where conservatives argue that it's discriminatory to not allow them to discriminate. "Oh, I thought you were supposed to be the open and accepting ones, who accept people for who they are. But now you're not even accepting me and my bigotries for what I am. What a hypocrite!"
It's obviously absurd when phrased that way, but it sounds like it almost makes sense for just a minute when you hear someone say it in a much softer way. Like, "I don't want to be forced to make a cake for someone because of my religious beliefs."
But it's all really just a, sort of, ham-handed reversal of logic that does not hold up. Discrimination is a river that does not flow in both directions at once.
And making such a claim, suggesting the different racialized groups of people, or people with different sexual attractions, are inherently different, is the first step on the path to dehumanization. Not necessarily. It is possible to see two groups as, somehow, fundamentally different, but still equal, but it is a whole lot easier to go down the path of superiority and inferiority once you create a dividing line, than if you start with the understanding that we are all fundamentally one people.
So Kwai, in a sense is creating two groups of people, pointing out that people think differently, but he is not taking the next step of questioning their humanity or their inherent equality as humans. In fact, he is doing the opposite, by reaffirming everyone's equality.
So Nick's concern that Kwai might possibly, sort of, accidentally be recreating the exact illogical phenomenon of dividing people arbitrarily into two groups, I think, is not quite hitting the nail on the head, with this issue. But it did give me a good excuse to clarify. Which I always like.
And, in Nick's defense, he said, in a portion of his voicemail that I cut out, that he was calling late at night, and wasn't really at his sharpest. So, I'm sure that he has figured out all these clarifications on his own by now.
If you have comments, questions, or something you would like to just barely misunderstand so that I can help clarify it, give us a call at (202) 999-3991, or send me an email to [email protected]
That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Scott, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together.
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So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.