Posts from December 2005

Proceedings

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that the Molinari Society would be meeting in New York at the APA Eastern Division meeting, and that the topic for the day was going to be the debate between thick and thin libertarianism. I was invited to comment on both of the essays, which I think went well, except for the inconvenience of having nowhere to print them out and therefore having to read them off of my laptop screen at the presentation; ah well. In any case, I’ve been asked to put my remarks online; they may not be the easiest thing in the world to follow if you haven’t read the essays I’m commenting on, for obvious reasons (if versions are posted on the Internet, I’ll link to them from here and from my remarks). But there is some material that might be of general interest, such as my discussion of the different ways in which a version of libertarianism might make demands for thick rather than thin commitments, and my discussion of the ways in which a libertarian labor movement ought to relate to the government (distinguishing depoliticized unions from anti-statist unions) and to other social justice movements (distinguishing thin unionism from thick unionism). In any case, here’s the links:

  • Remarks on Jan Narveson’s Libertarianism: the Thick and the Thin, in which I discuss Jan Narveson’s defense of libertarianism as a thinly moral doctrine and try to distinguish five different senses in which a version libertarianism might be said to be thick. (I said four in the remarks in spite of listing five; oops. I think because I did not count the first, entailment thickness, as a genuine form of thickness at all — since it merely amounts to saying that libertarians should, indeed, be libertarian.)

  • Remarks on Jack Ross’s Labor and Liberty, in which I discuss different takes on labor history and the prospects for reclaiming the tradition of pro-liberty, pro-labor radicalism.

Enjoy. Feel free to direct any comments on the remarks to me personally or to the backtalk section here.

Happy 2006, y’all.

Over My Shoulder #4: Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor

You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is again from Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor.

Paradoxically and simultaneously, industrial unionism–though born of the radicalism of Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco–became a new mode of enforcing the contract. Attempts to seize back the initiative from foremen and time-study experts were met, now, with directives from industrial union leaders to stay in line until a greivance could be properly negotiated. Soon, union dues would be deducted automatically from wages, so that officials no longer needed to bother making personal contact and monthly appeals to the loyalty of members.

Meany, treating industrial unionists at large as enemies, could not for many years grasp that events were bringing the CIO’s elected officials closer to him. He was steeped in a craft tradition to which the very idea of workers united into a single, roughly roughly egalitarian body hinted at revolutionary transformation. But many less conservative sectors were equally surprised by the course of the more democratic CIO unions toward the end of the 1930s. A triangle of government, business, and labor leadership brought about a compact that served mutual interest in stability, though often not in the interests of the workers left out of this power arrangement.

Not until 1937 did business unionism confirm its institutional form, when the Supreme Court upheld the Wagner Act. Now, a legitimate union (that is to say, a union legitimated by the National Labor Relation Board) with more than 50 percent of the vote in a union election became the sole bargaining agent for all. Unions stood on the brink of a membership gold-rush. The left-led Farm Equipment union could that same year, for instance, win a tremendous victory of five thousand workers at International Harvester in Chicago without a strike, thanks to the NLRB-sanctioned vote. But union leaders also prepared to reciprocate the assistance with a crackdown against membership indiscipline. The United Auto Workers, a case in point, arose out of Wobbly traditions mixed with a 1920s Communist-led Auto Workers Union and an amalgam of radicals’ efforts to work within early CIO formations. The fate of the industry, which fought back furiously against unionization, was set by the famed 1937 sit-down strikes centered in Flint, which seemed for a moment to bring the region close to class and civil war. Only the personal intercession of Michigan’s liberal Governor Murphy, it was widely believed, had prevented a bloodbath of employers’ armed goons retaking the basic means of production and setting off something like a class war. Therein lay a contradiction which the likes of George Meany could appreciate without being able to comprehend fully. The notorious willingness of UAW members to halt production until their greivances were met did not end because the union had employed the good offices of the goveronr (and the appeals of Franklin Roosevelt) to bring union recognition. On the one hand, a vast social movement of the unemployed grew up around the auto workers’ strongholds in Michigan, generating a sustained classwide movement of employed and unemployed, lasting until wartime brought near full employment. On the other hand, union leaders, including UAW leaders, swiftly traded off benefits for discipline in an uneven process complicated by strategic and often-changing conflicts within the political left.

The continuing struggle for more complete democratic participation was often restricted to the local or the particularistic, and thanks to a long-standing tradition of autonomy, sometimes to insular circles of AFL veterans. For instance, in heavily French-Canadian Woonsocket, Rhode Island, a vibrant Independent Textile Union had sprung up out of a history of severe repression and the riotous 1934 general textile strike. The ITU remained outside the CIO and set about organizing workers in many industries across Woonsocket; then, after a conservatizing wartime phase, it died slowly with the postwar shutdown of the mills. To take another example, the All Workers Union of Austin, Minnesota–an IWW-like entity which would reappear in spirit during the 1980s as rebellious Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers–held out for several years in the 1930s against merger. A model par excellence of horizontal, unionism with wide democratic participation and public support, the AWU (urged by Communist regulars and Trotskyists alike) willingly yielded its autonomy, and in so doing also its internal democracy, to the overwhelming influence of the CIO. In yet another case, the Progressive Miners of America, which grew out of a grassroots rebellion against John L. Lewis’s autocratic rule, attempted to place itself in th AFL that Lewis abandoned, on the basis of rank-and-file democracy with a strong dose of anti-foreign and sometimes anti-Semitic rhetoric. Or again: the AFL Seaman’s Union of the Pacific, reacting ferociously to Communist efforts to discipline the sea lanes, stirred syndicalist energies and like the PMA simultaneously drew upon a racist exclusionary streak far more typical of the AFL than the CIO.

These and many less dramatic experiments died or collapsed into the mainstream by wartime. But for industrial unionism at large, the damage had already been done to the possibilities of resisting creeping bureaucratization. Indeed, only where union delegates themselves decreed safety measures of decentralization, as in the UAW in 1939 (against the advice of Communists and their rivals), did conventions emerge guaranteeing participation from below, to some significant degree.

–Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor, 119-121.

Prayers and silence

In this wide open space … under the blue sky, we stand together as God’s children, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a flattened coastal suburb of Banda Aceh, capital of Indonesia’s Aceh province after leading a minute of silence.

It was under the same blue sky exactly a year ago that mother earth unleashed the most destructive power among us.

The tsunami left about 230,000 dead or missing in 13 Indian Ocean countries — nearly three quarters of them in Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra — and made 1.8 million homeless.

Some women cling desperately to hope their children somehow are still alive.

In my heart, I still believe they are alive, said Yasrati, 38, who placed smiling photographs of her 13-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son in a local newspaper. They are still somewhere, I don’t know where but I can still feel it.

This is my instinct as a mother.

A 9.15 magnitude undersea earthquake off Sumatra triggered tsunami waves up to 10 metres (33 feet) that smashed into shorelines as far away as East Africa, sweeping holidaymakers off beaches and erasing entire towns and villages.

In southern Thailand, people from many parts of the world joined Thais in remembering the 5,395 known dead and nearly 3,000 listed as missing.

In Sri Lanka’s southern town of Peraliya, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim priests chanted blessings at the site where 1,000 people died when their train was bowled over by the tsunami.

The Sri Lankan flag was lowered to half-mast as new President Mahinda Rajapakse oversaw two minutes’ silence to mark the moment the tsunami hit. He placed a floral wreath at the foot of a cresting wave-shaped memorial.

In India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands, groups of people walked from village to village observing silence in memory of those killed, while Nicobarese tribals in interior hamlets lit candles, the Press Trust of India reported.

A year after the unprecedented tsunami, an estimated 1.5 million people are still living in tents, temporary shelters or piled in with family and friends across the region.

— Tomi Soetjipto, Reuters (2005-12-26): Asia marks tsunami anniversary with prayers, silence

Pimchai Chudum holds a rose in memory of her brother during a tsunami commemoration ceremony in Khao Lak, Thailand

Pimchai Chudum; Khao Lak, Thailand.

Over My Shoulder #3: from William Lloyd Garrison’s On the Constitution and the Union, December 29, 1832

You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This week’s is not bus reading; it’s plane reading. Also a source for transcriptions for the Fair Use Repository (a note about that shortly). I give you a passage from William Lloyd Garrison’s On the Constitution and the Union, from The Liberator of December 29, 1832:

There is much declamation about the sacredness of the compact which was formed between the free and slave states, on the adoption of the Constitution. A sacred compact, forsooth! We pronounce it the most bloody and heaven-daring arrangement ever made by men for the continuance and protection of a system of the most atrocious villany ever exhibited on earth. Yes–we recognize the compact, but with feelings of shame and indignation, and it will be held in everlasting infamy by the friends of justice and humanity throughout the world. It was a compact formed at the sacrifice of the bodies and souls of millions of our race, for the sake of achieving a political object–an unblushing and monstrous coalition to do evil that good might come. Such a compact was, in the nature of things and according to the law of God, null and void from the beginning. No body of men ever had the right to guarantee the holding of human beings in bondage. Who or what were the framers of our government, that they should dare confirm and authorise such high-handed villany–such flagrant robbery of the inalienable rights of man–such a glaring violation of all the precepts and injunctions of the gospel–such a savage war upon a sixth part of our whole population?–They were men, like ourselves–as fallible, as sinful, as weak, as ourselves. By the infamous bargain which they made between themselves, they virtually dethroned the Most High God, and trampled beneath their feet their own solemn and heaven-attested Declaration, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights–among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They had no lawful power to bind themselves, or their posterity, for one hour–for one moment–by such an unholy alliance. It was not valid then–it is not valid now. Still they persisted in maintaining it–and still do their successors, the people of Massachussetts, of New-England, and of the twelve free States, persist in maintaining it. A sacred compact! A sacred compact! What, then, is wicked and ignominious?

–William Lloyd Garrison (1832), On the Constitution and the Union, from William Lloyd Garrison and the Fight Against Slavery: Selections from The Liberator. Edited with an Introduction by William E. Cain. The Bedford Series in History and Culture.

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