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Dear Mish Shedlock, shut up about unions

March 24, 2011

Mike “Mish” Shedlock posts today that unions are, essentially, unconstitutional because they take away worker’s unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The alleged collective bargaining “rights” of unions were attained over the years via tactics of coercion, bribery, fear-mongering, and vote-buying. Regardless of how attained, even in good-faith, politicians have no right to take away “unalienable Rights”.

Actually, Mish clearly has no grounding in American history. I imagine it’s easy to dismiss unions as unecessary when you’re a “registered investment advisor”. I expect one gets that job only after a fairly cushy educational career at elite universities which costs many thousands of dollars more per semester than the average American union worker makes in a year. There are still people in this country who do hard physical labor for a living, and people who haven’t yet attained (and probably never will attain) an income that allows them the luxury of hiring a “registered investment advisor.”

Mish, let me offer you a few thoughts, based in my perspective as a member of the American working class.

The collective bargaining rights of unions were attained over the years in response to the dangerous and frequently deadly working conditions American factory & mine workers faced in the 1890s through the 1930s.

Mish needs to pick up a history book and read about the 1894 Pullman Strike. A recession hit the country in 1893, and in response railway baron George Pullman decreased his rail workers’ wages despite their current 16 hour workday. He also (conveniently) declined to decrease rents & fees charged to his workers. What began as a wildcat strike of 3,000 Illinois Pullman employees eventually engulfed 250,000 workers in 27 states. Railroad owners managed to get their own attorney appointed by the President to “manage” the strike and the end result was President Cleveland sending in 12,000 US Marshals and US Army troops to quell the strikes. The troops killed 13 people and wounded nearly 60.

I invite you to a brush-up course on the American labor movement Mr. Shedlock. We’ll continue by covering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911. A fire broke out inside a multi-story New York sweatshop staffed mainly by new immigrants who who worked 9 hours a day on weekdays plus 7 hours on Saturdays, at piece-work rates. Workers on the 4th floor had no way to warn workers on other floors that a fire had broken out. Many workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. Workers tried exiting the building via the roof. In fact, many workers made it out using the building’s elevator until the heat of the fire melted the elevator’s rails. About 100 workers plunged to their deaths after gathering on a fire escape which warped from the heat and gave way. Onlookers watched as dozens of women jumped from the 8th, 9th or 10th floors to their deaths on the pavement in front of the Greenwich Village building. Ultimately, 146 women ages 16 to 23 perished.

The 1920s case of the Radium Girls would enlighten Mr. Sheldock a little bit. From 1917 to 1926 a company called US Radium employed about 70 or 100 young women to paint the dials on watches with a glow in the dark mixture of radium powder, glue and water. Factory owners & managers encouraged the women to shape their miniature brushes with their lips and tongue, while the owners and the scientists familiar with the effects of radium carefully avoided any exposure to it themselves; chemists at the plant used lead screens, masks and tongs. Five women eventually brought suit against the company, and an unknown number of women eventually died from radiation poisoning. Despite losing the lawsuit brought by the so-called Radium Girls, for years US Radium management cowed doctors and dentists into listing former factory workers’ untimely deaths as something other than cancer or radioactive exposure. Many womens’ death certificates stated cause of death as syphilis in an attempt to smear the women’s reputations and cast doubt on their lives, thereby casting doubt on the empathy due them in death.

How about the Free Speech Fight in San Diego, California in 1912? Union activists had taken to the streets, giving soapbox orations in support of workers’ rights to bargain collectively. Prominent citizens and business owners controlled the San Diego City Council at the time, and voted to to prohibit free speech in a 49-block area of the downtown area where activists had been congregating and speaking. Testing the new ban, 5,000 unionists gathered to hear a speech; the police arrested 41 people who and then charged them with felony conspiracy, instead of the misdemeanor charge of disrupting traffic the law prescribed. Unionists continued gathering and the city’s jails filled to overflowing. Police brutality was rampant, with reports of one elderly man being beaten repeatedly in the groin until he died. On the streets, police indiscriminately blasted their fire hoses into crowds of men, women and even children. Citizen vigilante groups grabbed activists out of the city jails, marched them out of town near the railroad tracks, and forced groups of them to run a gauntlet of 106 men, swinging at them with pick ax handles; one man’s leg was broken by a pick axe. A leading national unionist, Ben Reitman was abducted from his hotel room by citizen vigilantes and tortured with a lighted cigar, tar poured over his head and even an attempt to shove a cane up his rectum. Reitman later testified to those facts, and that the torturers forced him to kiss the flag and sing The Star Spangled Banner.

In the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937, police opened fire on a parade of striking steel workers and their families at the gate of the Republic Steel Company, in South Chicago. When the crowd of marching union workers met with the line of Chicago policemen blocking their path, the march turned deadly. Marchers in the front of the line argued with police, claiming their rights to continue walking toward the Steel Company’s building. A tree branch was tossed at the police lines and the police fired on the crowd. As the crowd fled, police bullets killed 10 people and injured 30. Nine people were permanently disabled and another 28 had serious head injuries from police clubbing. A Coroner’s Jury declared the killings to be ‘justifable homicide’.

Business intimidation of workers didn’t all happen in our great-grandparents’ age. Killings are rare – Karen Silkwood, 1974 – and the tactics have mostly shifted to the legal realm…. part of the backlash against Cesar Chavez‘s work in the 60s and 70s with what later became the United Farm Workers included states (including Arizona) passing laws that banned demonstrations during fruit harvesting time. When else would a strike by fruit pickers be effective?

Mish, I know investment advisors must be busy guys; you can even take the shortcut of watching the movie North Country about the workplace sexual harassment lawsuit settled in 1998 (Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co).

I’ve run  out of energy now, and have run waaaay over my allotted time of 30minutes to write a post for this blog. Mish, you tire me and you disappoint me. You clearly have NO IDEA WHATSOEVER about the history of unions’ struggle to organize in America’s history. Take a history course and until you do, keep your big mouth shut about the Constitution.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. JanetLee permalink
    March 24, 2011 1:54 pm

    The attacks on the idea of unions will continue. JAZ grew up in Michigan in a working class, auto industry family. He has seen the good that unions do. I grew up in the South. We have been brainwashed from the cradle against unions. We are afraid of unions. Why? A few years ago, a mass mailing was sent to nurses in the state. The letter was sent by a nursing union, extolling the virtues of unionizing. Within TWO days, every nurse at my hospital got a letter from our employer, reminding us that unionizing activity was grounds for dismissal in a right to work state such as SC. The Republicans don’t really care about destroying unions. They want to keep their base (the South) terrified of even saying the word. If the South loses its fear of unions, the GOP will begin to lose Southern states and that would be a disaster for them.

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