Race And The Building Trades Unions

 

"Hard Hat Riot", New York City, 1970

“Hard Hat Riot”, New York City, 1970

Erik Loomis over at LGM highlighted an important anniversary today in his “This Day in Labor History” series (WHICH YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE READING DAILY GODDAMMIT). Back in 1969 Nixon tried some Realpolitik-ing between organized labor and the Civil Rights forces by successfully forcing the lilly-whitest of all unions (except for maybe the POA), the Building Trades, to start allowing black members into their locals:

The Philadelphia Plan required that 6 Philadelphia area building trades create numerical “goals” for integrating their locals if they wanted to receive federal contracts. White construction workers around the country opposed this idea. They did so for a variety of reasons. Overt racism drove many, but it’s also important to remember that the building trades had developed traditions of passing jobs down to family members. Setting affirmative action targets meant that for every African-American granted a job, someone’s son or cousin or nephew was not getting a job. They also thought they had worked hard to rise in the world and believed that this was the government letting a special class of people equal them without working. Of course, racism also infused these last two reasons, not to mention the mental gymnastics it took to talk about how you worked so hard to get your job compared to these blacks when it was your dad who secured it for you.

For the building trades therefore, being forced to integrate was seen as a direct attack on the white male enclave they had created. This hard hat anger at the overall tenor of social and cultural change became manifested in the Hard Hat Riot of 1970, an event that unfortunately created a stereotype of unions hating hippies even though this was just a couple of building trades locals in New York. In Pittsburgh and Chicago, construction workers held sizable anti-integration rallies. In the former city, 4000 construction workers rallied when the city government halted all contracts to negotiate with African-Americans demanding integrated work. AFL-CIO head George Meany strongly criticized the plan, siding with his building trades over the civil rights movement that always had a complex relationship with organized labor.

As Long Beach is considering introducing more Project Labor Agreements into the City (which are VERY good for protecting workers rights) it is important that we member the not too-awesome recent history of this facet of organized labor and people of color. Ron Miller is a good and decent person who understands this complex relationship between race, class, and entry-level work. Additionally past projects by the LA/OC Building trades have proactively addressed the new way that contracts like modern PLA’s guarantee diversity  (via a “Disadvantaged Worker” provision).

However Long Beach residents, particularly those in the racially diverse (and economically depressed) 1st, 6th, 7th, and 9th districts should urge their council members to pay close attention to any proposed PLA for future large-scale construction projects inside of the city. A good apprentice program and job with a Building Trades Union  is a virtual ticket out of poverty and into the middle class, so an alert legislator should be wary of any contract that does not have strict standards for guaranteeing the permanent placement of disadvantaged workers inside of these publicly-funded projects.


My First 2016 Post (I’m So Sorry)

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If the Obama era has taught the left two things they have to be: 1) never underestimate how important the Supreme Court has become  over the past half-century, and 2) always be willing to push your candidate to the left when you have leverage. With that in mind let me briefly defend why I’m planning to oppose Hillary Clinton while simultaneously being conscious that she is our best chance at retaining the White House in 2016.

There is a tendency in Progressive circles to simply blame the various failures of the Obama administration on Citizen’s United. And indeed the decision does encapsulate several (if not all) of the important facets of why shit is fucked up and horrible at the moment. But even taking that idiotic decision into account, let’s not pretend that the financial sector wasn’t already heavily imbedded into our modern political apparatus- including the “renegade” campaign of then Senator Obama over Hillary Clinton.

In truth The Supreme Court operates as the nerve center of what was the white-reactionary movement in the last half of the 20th Century. In the Obama era there have been a plethora of unbelievably important, and undeniably radical decisions made by the 5-4 conservative majority that would never have been made if Conservatives still felt confident that they could ever win national elections again. Eviscerating the Voting Rights Act by a laughably cynical declaration of post-racial harmony, overruling one of Scalia’s few ideologically sound arguments concerning the extent of religious freedom, or bringing the commerce clause back to the 1870’s is not something a movement does unless they are aware that their days in power are numbered.

So the sole issue for me going into 2016 are the Federal Courts. I want Scalia and Thomas to be replaced by Goodwin Liu and Kamala Harris, all the vacancies in the District and Appellate levels to be filled, and more money going appropriated for keeping Ruth Bader Ginsburg alive indefinitely. Once that last vestige of more or less intractable Conservative political power (and yes I said political because there’s no conceivable way you can justify Shelby County as legally righteous decision built on stare decisis if you’re sober), the rest of the country can slowly undo the last 34 years of insanity (including the turbo crazy era starting in 2010).

Despite my myopic focus on recapturing the Supreme Court, I remain apprehensive with simply signing up with the Hillary Clinton juggernaut™/fleet in being that lazy pundits have loved to talk about since 2012. I don’t just doubt the political inevitability of Clinton’s candidacy (especially with Lanny Davis claiming that he’s going to be part of the movement and Mark Penn still being alive). I also have serious, and frankly justifiable doubts that Hillary won’t- from the standpoint of someone who gives a shit about poor people- be an awful disaster like her husband, or a massive disappointment like Obama. Hillary might have recognized the immense  political power being the face of 21st century progressive feminism, but she still retains her close ties to some of the most horrendous neoliberals in the world, and frankly I still don’t feel like voting for someone who thinks that “Welfare Reform” of “deficit reduction” are things that Democrats should ever be proud of championing.

But Hillary does have a much better chance in 2016 than she did in 2008, if just because her inexcusable vote for the War in Iraq might (depending on what happens with ISIS) be long forgotten by that year. Additionally the potential candidacies of Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, and Rand “George W. Bush on Weed” Paul, all personify the latest jaw dropping mutation in the brain-eating amoeba that is the modern Conservative primary voter- and that’s fucking scary given that voters have switched the White House after two terms of one party as of late. So what should someone like me, who genuinely believes in Progressive Taxation and economic redistribution, do?

We primary the fuck out of Hillary.

Someone will stand in her way. It could be Russ Feingold (unlikely), Deval Patrick (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), or (if we’re lucky) Bernie Sanders. Whomever this “leftist to be named later” is, we MUST put a serious level of effort into legitimizing this person on popular issues that otherwise will be ignored by Hillary v. Some Asshole once the general election starts. Policy positions including upholding Social Security, the restoration of food stamp cuts, raising the minimum wage, and the end to police militarization are all things that Hillary (and her fundraisers) would very much like to avoid talking about at all once 2016 starts to get serious- which is exactly why they need to remain in the conversation by way of a well-managed and populist-minded progressive challenger.

We finally need to stop looking at 2008 as anything less than a missed opportunity to create real systemic change. None of the Democratic candidates for President that year really represented the future (successful) direction of the party. Rather let’s conceptualize that year as our 1976- the four years before the major conservative revolution when Ronald Reagan was simply a very annoying challenger to Gerald Ford’s milquetoast evil.

I despise Hillary Clinton, but I have a small feeling of hope that her blatant opportunism (she was supporting efforts to criminalize flag burning in 2002 for fucks sake) is something we can utilize for us if we’re smart about it.


How Does This Keep Happening?

 

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The most recent edition of Radiolab focuses on the nouveau fascination with nihilism, or at least the extreme form of pessimism exhibited by people across traditional political lines as we enter the waining years of the Obama era in this county. From the legal standpoint we can also see a developing genre in popular books finally recognizing the inherent meaningless of our criminal justice system. Works like Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”, Greenwald’s “With Liberty and Justice for Some”, and Taibbi’s “The Divide” all highlight the now inherent (and incredibly harsh) biases within our penal system at large.

The continuing theme behind all of these works is the problem of consistency, and the recognition that a certain segment of the government is behaving without any semblance of accountability. What makes the lack of a policy-based response regarding police overreach is how broadly appealing this cause for concern is (and perhaps how undeniable it is when faced with the evidence) . This is a truly “bipartisan” matter, with progressives and liberals voicing their dismay over the discriminatory impact of police overreach, and conservatives identifying with the inherent unease with “big government” (just look at this remarkable post from CNN’s disgrace Erick Erickson).

But almost month removed from the Ferguson uprising, nothing of note is changing. Locally the grand jury case is getting almost intentionally buried, and Dana Milbank identifies one horrifying reason why this might be the case:

One might give [St. Louis County prosecutor] McCulloch the benefit of the doubt, if not for his background. His father was a police officer killed in a shootout with a black suspect, and several of his family members are, or were, police officers. His 23-year record on the job reveals scant interest in prosecuting such cases. During his tenure, there have been at least a dozen fatal shootings by police in his jurisdiction (the roughly 90 municipalities in the county other than St. Louis itself), and probably many more than that, but McCulloch’s office has not prosecuted a single police shooting in all those years. At least four times he presented evidence to a grand jury but — wouldn’t you know it? — didn’t get an indictment.

Locally here in Long Beach, a community far more diverse that St. Louis County, but with it’s own rather horrible recent history of officer involved shootings, we’ve recently elected a new progressive Mayor and passed a new budget. However at this time it seems highly unlikely that either actual structural changes to the police force, or the mechanisms necessary to ensure true accountability will be implemented anytime soon. As Retired LAPD Deputy Chief Stephen Downing wrote in the LA Register, our City Charter and budget have produced massive procedural blindspots that reduce the public’s necessary ability to properly regulate our police force:

The city of Long Beach is of such a size and complexity that supervision of the police department and authority over the police disciplinary process by the city manager are outdated, ineffective and subject to the many conflicts that arise with respect to the city manager’s relationship with the city attorney, police union, liability concerns, campaign contributions and the like.

What the [Mayor's] Transition Team should have recommended in addition to status quo governance measures is fundamental reform to the charter that will bring the city and its Police Department out of the Dark Ages. At the very least, the Transition Team should have recommended establishment of a blue-ribbon committee to study and recommend changes to the city charter that will accomplish – at minimum – the following reforms:

• The authority, powers and duties of the police department should be outlined in the city charter and the chief of police given disciplinary authority over all members of the department subject to civil service or court appeal.

• The chief of police should be made subordinate to a board of five citizen police commissioners, selected from residents, who serve as the policy head of the Police Department.

• The mayor, subject to City Council ratification, should appoint the board of police commissioners.

• The board of police commissioners should have hire-and-fire authority for an executive director and an inspector general, each provided with the necessary authorities and personnel to investigate, audit and make publicly transparent recommendations to the board related to all police functions, with special emphasis on use-of-force and shooting policy.

• The chief of police should be hired from a list of three candidates selected by the police commission and forwarded to the mayor. The mayor must select from the list of three, subject to City Council confirmation.

• The chief of police should be hired under contract for a five-year period, subject to renewal by the police commission for one additional five-year period and no longer.

• The board of police commissioners should have the authority to terminate the chief of police for cause, subject to mayoral and City Council approval.

• The City Council should have the power to remove the chief of police for cause by a two-thirds vote.

None of these reforms can in anyway be thought of a “pie-in-the-sky” hippy bullshit. Neither are they anti-union, “fuck the public sector workforce into the 1880’s” policy recommendations. As the grandson of a Boston Police officer (one that benefited directly from reforms brought on by this long forgotten Police strike), and a citizen of this wonderful city, I see no legitimate reason why these ideas are not being discussed on the 14th Floor. This is a basic discussion of instilling accountability for all- a concept that no one can deny in terms of its legitimacy and necessity.


“We all did it”

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It might be hard to believe given this heat wave, but we are finally approaching the end of this surprisingly terrible summer. Interestingly we are not giving into our usual nostalgia for major anniversaries, and instead we’re failing to make too many connections between our contemporary problems with regards to race and class, and the similarly explosive events a half-century ago.

The reasons for this lapse in historical analysis are pretty clear. Many of us have bought into the fallacy of a post-racial society (including the President who personifies this development), while others succeed by either denying that racism persists as an endemic problem today, or by recasting obvious racism as a necessity in society. But I feel that the vast majority of us recognize the problem and just choose to avoid talking about it, perhaps out of a deserved sense of shame that we failed to honor the sacrifices of past generations.

As a child of the south, and one in particular who was raised to spit on the Stars and Bars whenever I saw it, I have the benefit of never feeling the need to pretend that systemic racism is an apparition of past mistakes. No my (and I can’t emphasize this enough) public school teachers at the elementary level refused to censor the history that surrounded us. We learned about Medgar Evers getting shot in the back in front of his family. We learned about the three boys who were killed by regular townsfolk in Philadelphia Mississippi and thrown into an earthen dam. We visited 16th Street Baptist, and saw where four girls (who were are age at that time) had their lives cut short by a terrorist who looked like one of our uncles.

I continue to bring up the importance of my time in the south and the lessons my brave teachers imparted on me. I do this because I truly believe that this tendency to avoid the real controversy of racial and class-based violence, whether it is done out of a sincere need to preserve civil tranquility (or out of a cynical need to suppress actual systemic change), is only setting the stage for future conflict. Like Hannah Arendt, I do not believe that evil persists because our society is filled with blood thirsty sociopaths. Rather I see us, and particularly those with power and influence, as cowards. We choose to continue arming our police with military grade weapons, conscious of the potential repercussions, because doing actual work to promote positive change and equity would upset the social order. We choose to promote policies that needlessly punish the poor and provoke cancerous forms of income inequality out of the fear that we might appear “soft” on crime or on those who are supposedly “cheating” the system.

When this cowardice is sanctified into law it becomes a direct form of complicity in the violence and degradation that inevitably follows. And that is why speeches like these two are so important.

There is Dave Dennis explaining why he is “tired” of ordinary people refusing to acknowledge the collective responsibility that led to the deaths of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney (the last of whom he was eulogizing in this piece):

“I’m not here to do the traditional things most of us do at such a gathering…But what I want to talk about right now is the living dead that we have right among our midst, not only in the state of Mississippi but throughout the nation. Those are the people who don’t care, those who do care but don’t have the guts enough to stand up for it, and those people who are busy up in Washington and in other places using my freedom and my life to play politics with”

And finally there is the speech by a Birmingham area attorney, Charles Morgan Jr., who condemned the city he was living in for creating the environment that lead to the bombing of 16th Street Baptist (51 years ago yesterday):

Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.

A short time later, white policemen kill a Negro and wound another. A few hours later, two young men on a motorbike shoot and kill a Negro child. Fires break out, and, in Montgomery, white youths assault Negroes. And all across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say they wonder, “Why?” “Who?” Everyone then “deplores” the “dastardly” act. But you know the “who” of “Who did it” is really rather simple.

The “who” is every little individual who talks about the “niggers” and spreads the seeds of his hate to his neighbor and his son. The jokester, the crude oaf whose racial jokes rock the party with laughter. The “who” is every governor who ever shouted for lawlessness and became a law violator. It is every senator and every representative who in the halls of Congress stands and with mock humility tells the world that things back home aren’t really like they are. It is courts that move ever so slowly, and newspapers that timorously defend the law.

If hearing this makes you uncomfortable (or even angry)- good. Use that anger as a first step towards realizing that the Klansman isn’t the problem we face today. Rather the true roadblock to progress it is the politician who values the endorsement of a Police Union or an all-white neighborhood group over policies that promote human rights and social equity.

Witness the violence, recognize the real causes of these conflicts, and then do something about that resentment you feel.


The Soft Bigotry Of (And Low Expectations For) Dinesh D’Souza

Since when is going to Federal Prison and facing an unending stream of universal disdain for being a racist prick “winning?

D’Souza, perhaps remembering that two years ago he lost his job as president of a Christian college in New York City for carrying on an extramarital romance, feels the need to explain his new hobby in political terms. “My main goal through this is to annoy the Left, because you have all these guys railing on my Twitter,” he says, grinning impishly. “They’re just seething with envy. They’re like, ‘Shit!’ “

“We thought we’d buried him!” Schooley says, mimicking a seething liberal.

“Yeah, exactly,” D’Souza says. “You should just see the number of times there are articles on ‘Dinesh’s career is over.’ My career is apparently over every two years.”

Oh so you’re not even denying the fact that you’re in this business for the wingnut welfare, and that actual policy influence is way down on the list for you.

Mmy latest thing is tweeting out pictures of me with really attractive actresses,” he says, giggling. There he is, standing next to a blond woman. “This is the actress Kelly Carlson. She came to one of our screenings. She’s in, you know, Made of Honor.” (“Christie/Wife #6.”) He scrolls some more. “This is Stacey Dash, who’s in Clueless.” (“Dionne.”). “She’s a huge fan so she tweets out all my stuff.”

Also for all you out of work left wing raconteurs (HI THERE AND WELCOME TO THE CLUB GUYS), don’t let this adorable double standard of what can should be considered “mischievous political incorrectness” instead of “career ending hate-speech.”

It was also on campus that D’Souza began to hone his provocation skills. He rose to editor of the upstart Dartmouth Review, a mischievous conservative organ that seemed to strive chiefly for political incorrectness. Among the more reviled stunts it undertook with D’Souza as editor was its publication of a list of members of the campus Gay Student Association, which effectively outed a bunch of students. Then there was the anti-affirmative-action screed written in mock Ebonics (“Dis Sho Ain’t No Jive, Bro”) and the interview with a KKK member, accompanied by a photo of a man hanging from a tree

Yes D’Souza is “winning” indeed. Just how does that keep happening?


The NLRB Joins 21st Century And Rules In Favor Of Employee’s Free Speech Rights On Social Media

So about that kitten you "liked" on Facebook...

So about that kitten you “liked” on Facebook…

This is a very cool and good thing to happen:

The NLRB has affirmed its commitment to broadly protect employees who use social media to discuss workplace concerns.

In Triple Play Sports Bar, 361 NLRB No. 31 (August 22, 2014), the Board found unlawful the discharge of two employees for a Facebook discussion of their employer’s mistakes in income tax withholdings.  The first employee had simply “liked” a comment posted by a former employee

Was this horrible and malicious comment something defamatory, racist, disparaging of the companies product, or a release of trade secrets? Not exactly:

“Maybe someone should do the owners of Triple Play a favor and buy it from them. They can’t even do the tax paperwork correctly!!! Now I OWE money…Wtf!!”

COMPLAIN ABOUT A CRAPPY HR AND ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT? TO THE GALLOWS WITH YOU TRAITOR!

The second had posted the following comment: “I owe too. Such an asshole.” The employer fired both for disloyalty, defamation, disparagement and undermining the company’s public image.

“Defamation?” This is what happens when supervisors watch “Suits” and think that they are lawyers. And in case you thought that the “disloyalty” and other assorted reasons for termination seemed spurious the NRLB eviscerated them as well:

The Board found the Facebook communications “concerted” for purposes of National Labor Relations Act protection as the communications addressed a mutually held workplace concern regarding employee tax liabilities.  The Board then discussed whether the social media posts were rendered unprotected on grounds of disloyalty.  Because the comments were made off-duty and off-site, the Board found inapplicable its Atlantic Steel test, which analyzes whether face-to -face communications at the workplace between an employee and a supervisor are “so opprobrious” as to lose protection of the Act.

Again this company could have saved themselves the hassle (and money) and asked a lawyer who maybe had heard of this baseline employment case from 1979 before firing these two employees with cause. However (and I’m assuming here) that Strengthfinders doesn’t emphasize the importance of legal due diligence.

Finally, the Board struck down as overly broad the employer’s “Internet/Blogging” policy contained in its employee handbook. The policy provided:

…when internet blogging, chat room discussions, e-mail, text messages, or other forms of communication extend to employees revealing confidential and proprietary information about the Company, or engaging in inappropriate discussions about the company, management, and/or co-workers, the employee may be violating the law and is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment…

The Board found the ban on “inappropriate” internet discussions to be so vague as to unlawfully chill the exercise of protected communication rights.

This is a serious problem in labor law and policy. It’s surprising that neither wing of the political establishment has jumped on to address these sorts of inexcusable breaches in personal freedoms in the workplace, especially in a time of continued and unprecedented employment insecurity (it seems to me to be an issue that is perfectly set for populist pandering). It’s also another reason why this case and those empty spots on the NRLB should be giving us all nightmares.


This Is Not How A Functioning Democracy Declares War

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Maybe I’ve been watching too much VEEP and The Thick of it recently. Or maybe I’m still scared by my limited experience working with elected officials. But after watching this segment from Maddow about how the Pentagon essentially declared war on Syria and Iraq via a press conference, I’m starting to get that icky 2002-era paranoia again.

Maddow sees the recent progression in semantics (which starting with  the President’s speech this week about limited airstrikes, that then became the Kerry/Rice “counter terrorism action”, to the Pentagon’s insistence that “we are at war”)  as an intentional decision by the executive and legislative branches to avoid having to make a difficult election time vote about the issue. And that very well may be the case. However I have a different theory.

Viewing this progression from my vantage point and knowing how politicians and public safety officials (which are more analogous to the military than we would like to admit) operate on the local level, I truly believe that the military took it upon itself (for whatever reason) to simply cut the bullshit and insist on calling this conflict “a war”. Then as a result of this decision the electeds (out of a need to regain control and avoid the appearance of incompetence) just decided to adopt the military’s talking point about what we’re doing versus ISIS.

So essentially we might very well have decided to go to war because of a public relations embarrassment caused by our bellicose and all-too powerful elite warrior class.

It’s like an “Aristocrats” joke that was tailor made for 2014.