Thursday, December 28, 2006

1917, Bush, and the Death of Labor

You know how CSPAN has those book talks at bookstores, about some arcane or great historical figure or event, and they tell great stories, and make you want to read the book? Well, I checked out some books at the library the other day, and there was this new non-fiction titled "Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917," by Michael Punke, and I figured, there's one of those books!

So I checked it out, and boy, howdy, who knew! I'm reading this book, which goes far beyond the mine disaster, and into the burning issues of labor rights, stagnant wages, politics, Constitutional rights, slander and slime. If I didn't know better, I would think I was reading about the Bush Administration. Here's a brief excerpt to show what I mean:

Through the summer and fall of 1917, though, the tone of the council [Montana Council of Defense-catchy, no?] began to assume a different character. The Helena Independent, with Will Campbell [take your pick, Brooks, Goldberg, Bennett ad nauseum] as its editor, began to emerge as the councils "unofficial mouthpiece." Editorials that once focused on topics such as physical fitness... began to take a sharper edge.

Frustrated by reports of college professors questioning the war, for example, one Campbell editorial bemoaned the lack of draconian deportation law. "[I]t would be an excellent thing if he or she were escorted down to the sea shore or to the border and kicked out of the country never to return." ... "The loyal Americans are almost ready to vote Wilson a dictator and hurry congress to intern camps or old men's homes."

Frankfurters renamed Hot Dogs, sauerkraut renamed liberty cabbage, threats, business monopolies putting profit before people, war profiteering by the same, labor unions demonized for having the effrontry to demand for safer work places and better wages to keep pace with inflation and/or rising corporate profits, corporate media hawking for their corporate masters, immigration and racism as a wedge to divide workers, fear mongering by the people in charge, it's just like what we have happening today. And throughout it all, stuck in the middle again, hard working Americans paying the price with their lives.

That is what Bush/Cheney and their corporate masters want, others have said they long for the days of McKinley and this mess in Butte was part and parcel of that era, robber barons and corporate monopolies, this time Standard Oil controlling the copper industry and the State of Montana. And you thought it was the religious nutjobs that drove Bush? No, that's just another of his great legacies, by pandering to those freaks and giving them power, he's set off wars of religion all over the world including here in the US. And good luck controlling that absurd and irrational force, but that's for another post.

Michael Punke has an interview, here, that talks about the book and the issues of the day, and gives a good flavor for it. And here's a strong article from him that hits hard at the essence of the labor/management flashpoint, appropriate to not just miners, but immigration, BP North Slope oil, and so on, While a new law represents a positive step for miners, there's a real risk that it will prove a distraction from the change that's needed most urgently -- ongoing enforcement and oversight.

Ah yes, oversight, the bane of George Bush and Friends. That's the essence of the problem, they do not want you to know what they're doing, because what they're doing is screwing you and me to their benefit. NSA wiretaps? Spying on Americans so they can control the newsmedia and silence critics. Cheney's Oil Executives meeting? Well, duh. Medicare drug plan and hiding the true costs? Big Pharma rolls in profits. Iraq invasion, it's all about the oil, but they'll never tell us that, even though the idiot President slipped and sorta did a few weeks back, that's just because he's really not that smart. And it just never stops.

I close with this last quote from Punke's article, my bold. It speaks for itself. Let me just add, that Mr Punke is a lawyer and he worked for Sen. Baucus and in the Clinton White House, including some time on the NSC working in trade areas.

Federal regulators and mine officials like to point to the broad trend toward improved safety. Last year, for example, saw the lowest number of mine fatalities, 22, in U.S. history. In 1950, by comparison, 643 U.S. miners died. And there are certainly other countries where things are worse. The calamity-ridden Chinese mining industry is on its way to yet another year in which more than 5,000 miners will die.

But surely the bar in the United States should be set higher than either 1950s America or present-day China. Mine safety, after all, is not the Manhattan Project.

But if it interferes with profits, it might as well be.


iamcoyote said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same. But democracy has always been at odds with the powermongers, hasn't it?

Looks like a very interesting book, I'm going to look for it. Wish I wasn't at work, (and running behind, I might add), I'd be lost in your links. Gotta wait for quitting time!

I'm going to be updating our blogroll this weekend - is it okay to link you? I don't know if there's an etiquette or not; just thought I should ask.

Duckman GR said...

This book just gets better and better. Or worser and worser! The Sedition act of 1918 was directly linked to what they were doing in Montana, and Wilson's lovely law was meant to do one thing only, squash dissent. How Constitutional! And the rhetoric, jeebus, it sounds like a bunch of c lister bloggers got a hold of the printing presses!

The more things change, indeed.

And, why yes!!!!!!, please feel free to link me. I really don't think you need to ask, although I've seen that people sometimes let others know that they've done so, but I don't think there are any rules per se.


iamcoyote said...

Cool! I just got the keys to the blog, so I'm gonna look it over in the morning, and give it a go this weekend. Unfortunately, I have to go into the office, so it may not show up until Sunday. I'll let you know!

I'm curious, did you ever see the show Deadwood? It was pretty brutal, but addicting, and though the mining was gold, I've never seen a more authentic portrayal of the old west. Your post reminded me of it, because the whole series was about the encroachment of America on the wild west. Riveting, I thought.

Duckman GR said...

I have not, but I'll look into it. I've been thinking that organized labor really needs to rebuild itself, they are one of the major pillars of a free, capitalistic society, and now, like then, their weakness gives the corps a free hand to use and abuse us in their quest for profits for the next quarter, nevermind the costs. And without a free press, its even harder to counteract the holders of capital.

So that's my New Years Resolution, to Rebuild Organized Labor, and to beat Truth into David Broder.

That's doable, no?

iamcoyote said...

Of course it's doable. I see the stirrings of it everywhere now.

And you should be able to find all three seasons of Deadwood on dvd now, I have the first two, and will soon get the third. Beware, tho, it's violent and has lots of profanity and sex. But it's like Shakespeare in the old west. Amazingly done, and the dialogue is brilliant. Sometimes hard to follow, but worth the effort.

Seven of Six said...

Duckman, I was doing some research last year on Labor organizer Frank Little. I came across all this stuff that lead to the Anaconda Mine. He was murdered.

I keep explaining to my wife that when she talks about the Union, to explain to the people she trains, that people have lost their lives for the the gains they see.
In fact they are still dying in third world countries all the time.

Corporate interests is indeed dirty business!

Duckman GR said...

Yeah, his lynching caused all sorts of bad shit at the time. Just amazing how even as technology and circumstances change, human nature doesn't keep up!