Monday, December 31, 2007

Flint Sit Down Strike, Part II

The importance of the new governor, Frank Murphy, would become evident when GM chose to change tactics. Murphy, the former mayor of Detroit, took office on January 1, 1937. Because the situation in Flint remained peaceful, Murphy resisted pleas from Flint officials (particularly the mayor and police chief) and GM officials to mobilize the Michigan National Guard to remove the strikers from the plant. The situation remained peaceful for nearly two weeks--GM allowed the union to supply the strikers with hot food, the building remained heated, and the company security force made no move to attempt to interfere with the strike. The situation was relaxed enough that a number of strikers inside began to slip away to visit their families and sleep in their own beds, rather than on the car seats that served that purpose inside the factory.

This situation changed dramatically on January 11, 1937. Plant security turned off the heat, and prevented the delivery of a hot meal. By early afternoon, the Flint police force had massed in front of Fisher Body plant #3 (which supplied bodies for the Chevrolet factory across Chevrolet Avenue). The police began firing tear gas into the factory in preparation for their entry.

At this point, the Women's Auxilary Brigade (WEB) sprang into action. The WEB had provided support for the strike since the beginning, cooking meals and staffing a first-aid station; the group had also been enthusiastic picketers.
When the police began their attack, the women used the wooden handles of the picket signs to break the ground-floor windows of the factory to ventilate the building--which also allowed the men to throw the gas cannisters back out of the building. With the assistance of a fortuitous change in wind direction, the use of freezing water from the fire hoses and the prodigious use of door hinges from the roof of the factory, the Flint police withdrew from the "Battle of the Running Bulls" after a six-hour battle.

This changed the dynamic of the strike. Word of the battle was quickly relayed to Gov. Murphy, who was driven to Flint witha state police escort.

To be continued

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Flint Sit-Down Strike

Today is the 71st anniversary of the Flint Sit-Down Strike, begun December 30, 1936. This strike flung open the door that had first been cracked by workers at the Chevrolet Transmission Plant in Toledo, Ohio in 1935. Although AFL Local Union 18385 was successful in gaining recognition and a contract with General Motors, during the Thanksgiving vacation GM moved half of the machinery in the factory to another location, costing many new union members their jobs.

It became obvious to workers outside of Flint and Detroit that without a strong union presence in those two locations, their attempts to form a viable union would have little effect. During much of 1936, Wyndham Mortimer of Cleveland (another early UAW stronghold), Roy Reuther, and a variety of volunteers began quietly organizing workers in GM's hometown of Flint, Michigan. After a falling out with newly-elected UAW president Homer Martin, Mortimer was replaced by UAW Local 14 (former LU 18385, now a part of the Committee of Industrial Organizations) Robert Travis, who continued the organizing plan. A sit down strike by the UAW local in Cleveland propelled events in Flint along more quickly than planned; after GM employees were paid a Christmas bonus, Travis, with a small trusted coterie of workers employed at the huge Fisher Body No. 1 plant on S. Saginaw Street, planned to close down and occupy the factory.

On December 30, Kermit Johnson, after receiving the secret signal, made his way to the power switch that controlled the assembly line, threw it, and shut off power to the line. Silence briefly reigned on the shop floor, which was quickly overtaken by whooping and yelling as workers realized that they had seized control of the shop floor. Foremen were quickly overpowered and "escorted" from the premises. After briefly barricading office workers, the union allowed them to leave, as were workers who did not want to actively participate in the strike. Women employed in the plant were made to leave, even if they wanted to remain, in order to squelch any rumors of licentious behavior on the part of workers. Strike captains the remaining workers to squads and set up patrols, stockpiled door hinges to use as weapons, and readying fire hoses in case the factory was invaded by plant security and/or Flint police.

GM officials decided to initially downplay the situation; while refusing to negotiate with the union while the Fisher plant was occupied, the company did not attempt to invade the plant, either. Workers then settled in for a quiet New Year's Eve--and the inauguration of a new governor.

To be continued ...

Friday, December 21, 2007

More Solstice Stuff

Since I like to pretend to be a historian, let's look at the history of Christmas, to compliment yesterday's post. One of the treasured traditions of early Christmas celebrations was wassailing, when the peasants came to the lords' houses to seranade them, and then were "invited" in to partake of the lord's wine cellar (and usually whatever the lord had laying around the castle, as well). In return, the peasants were obsequious for most of the rest of the year. This kind of disorder was distasteful for our Puritan forefathers, but since they didn't control the political structure until establishing the "Citty on the Hill" in "New England", there was little they could do about it. Among the early laws drawn up in Plymouth, however, was the outlawing of public celebrations of Christmas (a law that remained on the books in Massachusetts until late in the 19th century). This new abscence of observation eventually won converts in England, as well, which provides a part of the backstory for Dicken's A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge threatens to make Bob Cratchit work for part of Christmas day.

I couldn't find a good video of wassailing (maybe I could wait until someone posts on office party? ...mmm), so this video will have to suffice, since it has "Here We Come a Wassailing" with footage of Stonehedge.

Now it is time, however, to recall what Christmas is really all about--"an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and 'this thing' which tells time"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Battle for Christmas

Since Winter Solstice is just around the corner, we should probably turn our attention to the holiday that usurped this grand celebration of the return of the sun, Christmas. Churches are now distributing signs for parishioners to put in their yards, urging their neighbors to "Keep Christ in CHRISTmas." This is certainly a noble sentiment; and indeed it would a better world if everyone kept the teachings of Jesus in mind year-round, as the clergy like to remind their audiences this time of year, as well. But I argue that is perhaps it is just as important to remember that there is only a 1 in 365 chance (or 366, if Jesus were born in a leap year) that December 25 really is his birthday.
Maybe that would assist in the effort to keep Jesus in our hearts all year long. In the meantime, let's just enjoy this little ditty from folkie Pat Godwin:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Columbine Massacre

Yesterday, Nov. 21, was the 80th anniversary of the Columbine Massacre--not the one you remember, but the state-sanctioned and capitalist-funded murder of five striking miners in the company town of Serene, Colorado, home of Rocky Mountain Fuel Company. The strike began when the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) called for a general strike to protest the execution of Ferdinando Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in April 1927 for allegedly murdering an armored car guard during a hold-up attempt; in reality, they were probably killed for their anarchist political beliefs.

The strike was wildly successful in the coal fields of Colorado, principally because working conditions there were so poor; in the previous decade, hundreds of coal miners in the state had died in mining accidents. Conditions for a successful labor action were about as favorable as one could expect in a state that viewed the Ludlow Massacre of the decade before as a success.

The Columbine Mine was one of the few mines still open; the owner of the mine had died in the months previous, and his daughter, a social worker, had taken over much of the responsibility for operating the mine--although she had not been able to assume complete control. Which is why the Colorado "rangers," plain-clothes police recently recruited, were standing on the outskirts of Serene barring entry to the strikers. A striker determined to exercise his right of free speech approached the gate, where he was grabbed and struck with a length of gas pipe, which the rangers were using as billy clubs. When angry strikers burst through the gate, the police retreated to the entry to the mine, where they set up a skirmish line and began firing on the crowd--allegedly aided by machine guns that had been set up. In the end, five strikers were killed, and countless others, along with wives and children, were included in that total.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nellie McKay

Just because ...

in the Bush era, we should all do the Zombie

JFK and Labor

The newspapers today will be filled with the question, "Where were you 44 years ago?" The day that the 35th president of the United States. As for myself, I was quite young, camped in front of the television, mystified as to the reason the usual fare of cartoons wasn't on the television. In fact, the assassination of Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, is much more vivid in my mind than the death that preceded it.

The observance of the Kennedy assassination is a good time to consider the Kennedy legacy on labor in the United States. Like his record on civil rights, Kennedy's record on labor is worse than is remembered. One must consider, for instance, the rather cool relationship between his attorney general--brother Bobby--and the labor movement; RFK is remembered for this confrontation with Teamster President James R. Hoffa, but he was also council for the McClelland Committee, which produced some of the legislation most harmful to the labor movement of any period in the twentieth century.

JFK also began the reapproachmente with business interests, which has led to the abandonment of the working-class by the Democratic Party

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why All Workers Need a Union

Lets say that you are a high performance, high-value employee. Your contract has recently ended, but your employee places great value on your remaining with the firm, and to keep you, they pay you a substantial bonus. Three months before your contract is up again, however, you are badly injured. You are badly injured because your employer has put you in a dangerous, high-risk situation that leaves you vulnerable to such injury--in fact, a number of your comrades suffer such injuries nearly every day, and some die as a result.

As a result of your injuries, you're disabled, and have to leave your employer. But, you didn't fulfill the complete term of your contract, and now your employer wants some of that bonus money back. What kind of heartless entity would do that. The United States Department of Defense, of course. Just ask Jason Fox. That's some down home compassionate conservatism.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Labor Department

I read on the AFL-CIO blog that they are looking for a new name for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)--or, at least, in the interest of truth in advertising, that they at least remove the word "labor" from their name--because nothing the Bush NLR Board has done can be construed as assisting either labor or workers.

The same is true for the Labor Department and its secretary, Mrs. Mitch McConnell, er... Elaine Chao. Labor Secretary?--to what purpose? The Worst President Ever should just shutter the place and make her Undersecretary of Commerce. Advocate for labor (that is suppose to be her role, by the way)? Let's look at one industry--mining. Under her watch, mining accidents have reached levels not seen since 1926. When there were tens of thousands more miners than work in the industry today. Her response to this surge in mining accidents? Cutting the budget of the Mine Health and Safety Administration, so that they can inspect even fewer mines. That's the way to look out for the well-being of workers, Mrs. McConnell!

In an administration of incompetents, she ranks only behind Bush himself. As the Master of Presidential Disaster would put it, "Heckuva job, Elaine."

Right-wing Racists

The publication of Paul Krugman's latest book, The Conscience of a Liberal has provoked several columns in the New York Times, and a bit of controversey in the blogosphere, as well. Many critics point to Reagan's opening salvo in Philadelphia, Mississippi, as the critical point of proof. This is, in my opinion, the apex of rightwing racism, and a critical point in convincing racist white Democrats that the new Republican party was the new political home for them. But that process began in 1948, with Strom Thurmond and his run as a Dixiecrat. Thurmond was then stroked by the godfather of modern Republican conservatism, Barry Goldwater, who helped convince Thurmond to switch parties in 1964--the same year, not coincidently, that Lyndon Johnson convinced Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. There is no conservative "movement" without the support of white racists. For more information, I suggest reading Dan C. Carter's The Politics of Rage and Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm; if those two works spark more curiosity, check out Kari Frederickson's The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pinky or The Brain

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Part of the inspiration to begin blogging again came from checking this rating for the blog posts yesterday, when the reading level was only undergraduate college level. I add one brief post, and I'm writin' like a freakin' genius. I'm going to keep this handy to show my dissertation committee.

Of course, it could also help explain why this blog has no readers. This should dumb it down sufficiently:

You'll have to excuse me now--I have to go plot how to takeover THE WORLD!


Saturday, November 17, 2007

The New UAW Contract

Much ink (and bytes) has been spilled over the newly negotiated contracts between the UAW and the Big Three automakers--particularly the two-tiered wage structure, which cuts the starting pay for new workers in half. Many of the workers are not happy with the results, either, but voted for the contract because, in their view, a job at $12 an hour, with some benefits, is better than no job at all. That is the economic reality in today's post-industrial capitalist system--those who own the means of production get to make the rules.