Jeremy Slevin talks Massive Redistribution of Wealth

November 17, 2017

Jeremy Slevin, Associate Director of Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress joins RIck to talk GOP Tax Scheme that will raise taxes on working families and line the pockets of the ultra-wealthy. #GOPWINNING


November 17 “By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand”

November 17, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1785. 

That was the day the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York was founded.

Twenty-two skilled craftsmen, with the motto, “By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand,” met on Pine Street to form a benevolent organization that could provide cultural, educational and social services to craftsmen and their families. 

Two months later, founders met for their annual meeting. 

They represented many of the city’s trades including hatters, butchers, sail makers, bolters and comb makers. 

In his book, Chants Democratic, historian Sean Wilentz states, the General Society was “intended to be a semi-political umbrella organization for all of the city’s independent mechanics, to help oversee the trades and secure favorable legislation from local and national government. The group captured the ideal of mutuality and craft pride essential to artisan fraternities since the Middle Ages.”

The General Society opened one of the city’s first free schools at a time when there were no public schools.

It established a tuition-free Mechanics Institute, the General Society Library and Lecture Series.

The Mechanics Institute, founded in 1858, continues to provide free evening trades-related instruction.

The Library, established in 1820 is the second oldest library in New York City.

It is also one of the few remaining membership circulating libraries.

Its collections and archives span two centuries. 

The General Society continues its tradition of public lectures in the form of The Labor, Literature and Landmarks Series.

More recently, it has added the Artisan Lecture Series that features lectures by master artisans.

The series also promotes the work and art of skilled craftsmen.

The General Society has been at its current location at 20 west 44th Street since 1885.


November 16 Justice for Janitors

November 16, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 2006. 

That was the day mounted police charged 50 janitors and their supporters during a protest in Houston. 

SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign had been organizing for years throughout the South and Southwest. 

Modeled on success achieved in California, SEIU broadened their campaign to Houston and Miami. 

The union called a month long strike against the cities’ largest cleaning companies. 

Protests and civil disobedience actions continued throughout the strike. 

Hundreds of strikers routinely marched through the streets of Houston, beating drums and hauling bags of garbage into the middle of intersections to highlight the key services they provided to the city.

They were subject to repeated threats of firings and arrests. 

When police charged at the janitors, it served to turn public support in favor of the strikers. 

By the end of the month, Tom Balanoff and SEIU Local 1 in Chicago claimed victory for 5300 Houston janitors.

The Chicago local had been central to the three-year campaign in Houston. 

Incomes doubled and janitors finally had health insurance, paid vacations and holidays. 

The Chicago Tribune detailed the campaign in a November 25 article.

The union lobbied building owners and major corporations who held contracts with the cleaning companies. 

The union worked to gain a foothold among the janitors, sending in seasoned Latino janitors from Chicago to help with organizing. 

The SEIU also committed millions of dollars to the organizing drive, setting aside $1 million alone in strike funds. 

At a victory rally, union leader Flor Aguilar proclaimed, “No one thought that a group of poor Latinos form Houston would be able to win anything, but today we can lift our heads up very high.”




November 15 4 Workers Killed From Preventable Leak

November 15, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 2014. 

That was the day four workers were killed and a fifth injured during a chemical leak at a DuPont insecticide plant near Houston.

The plant used methyl mercaptan in its production of insecticides. 

24,000 pounds of the deadly chemical were released through two valves in a poorly ventilated building onsite.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board found numerous flawed safety procedures, design problems and inadequate planning. 

Days earlier, liquid methyl mercaptan had solidified in piping, causing a blockage. 

Workers attempted to clear it by spraying the pipes with hot water. 

They didn’t realize they had cleared the blockage, which then created high-pressure buildup of the chemical in other piping. 

When two workers went to drain those pipes in a routine procedure, they were overcome by toxic vapor.

Another two workers answering the subsequent distress call were also killed.

DuPont blamed workers for the release of the toxic gas. 

But the CSB found a number of violations. 

The building where the release occurred had an inadequate toxic gas detection system, ventilation fans were not working and workers were not required to wear additional breathing protection for tasks they performed there. 

Line-clearing procedures were faulty, routinely exposing workers to toxic fumes. 

The Board also found that DuPont worked to conceal from environmental regulators, as many as four major releases of methyl mercaptan two days before workers were killed. 

The CSB asserted that design flaws prompted months of clogs before the deadly incident. 

More generally, they noted the design of the building that housed the pesticide unit inherently increased the threat of exposure to workers and the public. 

DuPont opted to close the plant in 2016 rather than meet recommendations of federal regulators.




November 14 OSHA publishes its Lead standard

November 14, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1978.

That was the day OSHA published its lead standard. 

The standard reduced permissible exposure by 75% to protect nearly a million workers from damage to nervous, urinary and reproductive systems. 

As early as 1908, Alice Hamilton, the mother of occupational medicine, noted that lead had endangered workers as far back as “the first half-century after Christ.”

In their book, Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, historians Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner add that “throughout her distinguished career, Hamilton was deeply involved in uncovering the relationship between lead and disease in the American workforce.” 

Hamilton’s groundbreaking research on the effects of lead paved the way for a growing uproar against its continued use. 

After the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970, occupational and public health activists pushed hard for a lead standard. 

A new generation of industrial hygienists emphasized how unsound, industry-driven conclusions regarding “safe lead levels” impacted women workers and workers of color. 

Industry had long asserted that women and African-Americans were simply more susceptible to lead poison, which served to justify discrimination in hiring. 

Some unions accepted these terms, if only to demand a stringent lead standard that included immediate implementation of engineering controls.

But leading hygienists like Jeanne Stellman blasted these arguments. 

Stellman insisted such conclusions reflected racial and gender bias rather than any credible scientific evidence. 

She added that men, women and children, regardless of race or ethnicity, were all adversely affected by lead exposure. 

The final standard adopted was considered a compromise. 

Discrimination in hiring has continued and enforcement proves difficult.

But even a watered-down standard was too much for the lead industry.

They have been fighting it ever since.


November 13 A Workplace Safety Hero Dies in Suspicious Crash

November 13, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1974. 

That was the day Karen Silkwood was killed in a mysterious car crash. 

Though her death was ruled a one car accident, some maintain she was forced off the road. 

Silkwood was a union activist and representative for Local 5-283 of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers.

She worked at Kerr McGee’s Cimarron plutonium plant in Crescent, Oklahoma, making plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods.

Meryl Streep popularized her life in the 1983 film, Silkwood. 

Karen’s union loyalty only grew after the company crushed a strike in 1972. 

She was elected to the union bargaining committee just as the company moved to force a decertification election. 

She also served as a union health and safety rep. 

Silkwood found a number of apparent violations: routine contamination exposure, faulty respiratory equipment, falsified inspection records, and improper storage of radioactive material.

She met with OCAW leader, Tony Mazzocchi to highlight safety issues in a campaign to beat back decertification.

It worked.

Then Karen testified before the Atomic Energy Commission, worried about her own contamination. 

It was clear her home was contaminated too. 

She worked tirelessly to gather the documentation and the evidence, detailing the company’s life-threatening negligence. 

And on this day, Karen Silkwood was headed to Oklahoma City to meet Mazzocchi’s assistant, Steve Wodka and a New York Times reporter to present evidence she collected. 

She never made it. 

Her car was found with rear end damage, near skid marks, in a ditch along Route 74.

While the company attempted to smear her as a drug addicted lesbian who deliberately contaminated herself, they would eventually settle with her family for nearly $1.4 million. 

Karen Silkwood became a model and a hero for women workers and all those who fight for safe workplaces.



November 12 Ellis Island Closes Forever

November 12, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1954. 

That was the day Ellis Island closed its doors. 

More than 12 million immigrants had passed through its gates since its opening in 1892. 

Those steerage and third-class passengers coming to America were processed at the island between 1892 and 1924.

They were routinely subject to medical inspections to determine they were free of disease. 

Legal inspections included questions regarding birth, occupation, destination, finances and criminal record. 

Its busiest year was 1907 with more than a million arriving to enter the United States. 

During World War I, the Island was used as a detention center for presumed enemies and those considered foreign-born subversives. 

After Congress passed the restrictive Immigration Act of 1924, arrivals entering the country slowed to a trickle.

Then Ellis Island became primarily a detention and deportation center. 

During World War II, thousands of Germans, Italians and Japanese made up the majority of those detained, awaiting deportation. 

It also served as a military hospital for returning servicemen and training center for the Coast Guard. 

By 1950, Ellis Island served as a holding center for arriving Communists and Fascists, who were prevented entrance under the recently passed Internal Security Act. 

A Norwegian seaman who had overstayed his leave was released the day the Island closed and told to catch the next ship back to Norway. 

In 1965, President Johnson made Ellis Island part of the National Park Service.

A massive restoration of the Island began in 1984, organized by Lee Iacocca’s Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. 

It reopened as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 1990, featuring numerous exhibits, publicly accessible immigration records and the award-winning film documentary, “Island of Hope, Island of Tears.”


October 14 A Day of Protest in Canada

October 14, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1976. 

That was the day more than a million Canadian workers walked off the job in a Day of Protest. 

The Canadian Labour Congress called the general strike. 

Workers downed their tools against a three-year wage controls plan implemented by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. 

Trudeau had actually campaigned against wage controls during the 1974 elections.

A year later, the Liberal government introduced the C-73 Anti-Inflation Bill. 

It was considered the worst attack on labor since the 1930s, when bargaining rights were first legalized. 

Trudeau’s wage controls suspended collective bargaining rights for all workers and amounted to deep wage cuts. 

Public sector workers were hit hardest as many hospital, school and municipal workers teetered on the edge of desperation from already low wages made worse. 

But for a day at least, many industries across Canada came to a screeching halt. 

Forestry, mining and auto production all completely shut down. 

Many towns and cities were one hundred percent on strike, even among the non-union workforce. 

Saint John in New Brunswick, Sudbury, Ontario, Sept Iles, Quebec and Thompson in Manitoba were all cities where the strike was most successful. 

But elsewhere, the strike was uneven. 

Many public sector workers stayed on the job, while in cities like Vancouver, pickets successfully shut down bus service and newspaper deliveries. 

Most heralded the Day of Protest as a fierce show of power against a years’ worth of wage controls. 

But others argued that a one-day action was not enough. 

To combat the attacks on labor, any general strike would have to keep the country shut down until the program of wage controls was finally defeated.


October 13 An International Rescue Effort

October 13, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 2010.

That was the day thirty-three Chilean miners were finally pulled to safety after being trapped for sixty-nine days. 

Workers had been mining copper and gold twenty three hundred feet down, at the San Jose mine near the northern city of Copiapo, when the mine caved in, in early August.

The Compania Minera San Esteban Primera waited several hours to notify authorities and rescue efforts only began two days later.

Trapped miners initially tried to escape through ventilation shafts but found required ladders missing.

Each route they attempted was blocked by fallen rock or threatened additional collapse.

A state owned mining  y took over rescue efforts and soon they began, as Geologist Sorena Sorensen noted, prospecting for people. 

Initial exploratory boreholes failed to locate miners because mineshaft maps had never been updated. 

Rescuers had no idea whether miners were even still alive. 

Finally, seventeen days later, the eighth borehole reached them. 

The miners tapped on the drill and taped notes to it, alerting rescuers above they were indeed alive and well. 

Food, medicine and other supplies were lowered down to them as rescue efforts intensified. 

Mini cameras were also lowered down and the miners videotaped messages of their continued ordeal. 

They told how they continued to search for possible escape routes and agreed to ration their limited food supplies so they could all survive. 

The first of three drilling plans to free the miners began. 

It was an international effort. 

The Chilean Navy consulted with NASA to design and construct the rescue pods. 

Throughout the entire process, rescuers worked to prevent additional cave-ins and rock falls. 

Finally the extraction process began and in less than 48 hours all emerged as heroes.


October 12 A Unionized Resting Place

October 12, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1899.

That was the day union miners in Mt. Olive, Illinois began commemorating Miners Day.

Every year thousands came into town for a parade, music and speeches. 

Mt. Olive was the site of the only union-owned cemetery in the United States, established by UMWA local 728, in the aftermath of the Virden massacre.

A year before to the day, striking miners had been killed in a shoot out with company guards attempting to herd scabs into the mines in Virden, Illinois. 

But, as Mother Jones’ biographer, Eliot Gorn notes, the “train never unloaded its cargo and the company was forced to settle.”

The union hoped to erect a gravesite monument commemorating those miners who had been killed at Virden.

But they were refused by those who considered the fallen miners to be murderers, not martyrs. 

That’s when the UMW established the Union Miners Cemetery. 

On this day, nearly 10,000 turned out for the union’s memorial ceremony. 

The UMW unveiled a monument dedicated to fallen Virden miners, E.W. Smith, Joe Gitterle, Ernst Kaemmerer and E.F. Long. 

The day was filled with parades, music, laying of wreaths and speeches. 

Haymarket widow and radical activist, Lucy Parsons was among the speakers.

In his book Death and Dying in the Working Class, Michael Rosenow notes that her presence drew a direct connection between the fallen miners and the Haymarket martyrs, cut down while advancing the cause of labor. 

Thousands traveled to Mt. Olive every year for celebrations, including Eugene Debs, miners’ leader John Mitchell and Mother Jones. 

In 1923, Mother Jones asked to be buried with her boys, noting “they are responsible for Illinois being the best organized labor state in America.”