A big “thank you” to all those who died in the Chicago rail yards so that we might have the day off to grill hot dogs… Happy Labor Day

I know it’s probably cheating, but here’s something that I posted more than half a decade ago on the occasion of Labor Day. If anything, I think it’s even more appropriate today, seeing as how Michigan has since become a so-called “right to work” state, and we now how have an unquestionably anti-worker administration running our country.


As some of you probably know, Labor Day was first celebrated here in the United States in 1882. It wasn’t, however, made a national holiday until 1894, in the wake of a bloody strike by employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company, an Illinois-based manufacturer of luxury rail cars. It all began when the company, after having cut the wages of workers across the board by as much as 25%, refused to reduce the rent charged to these same workers, who lived and worked in the company town of Pullman, Illinois. And, from there, the strike spread throughout the railroad industry… The following extended clip comes from the Kansas Heritage Group:

…The strike went peacefully, but after several weeks the Pullman management had not changed its position and the strikers were desperate for aid. During the strike, the American Railway Union had convened in Chicago because it was the rail center of the United States. The recently formed American Railway Union had 465 local unions and claimed the memberships of 150,000 workers. Since, the Pullman workers were an affiliated union on strike in Chicago the ARU offered to send arbitrators for the Pullman cause. The Pullman workers refused this aid, even so the ARU under the leadership of Eugene Debs decided to stop handling Pullman cars on June 26 if the Pullman Union would not agree to arbitration. The stage was set for the largest strike in the nation’s history.

On June 26, the ARU switchmen started to refuse to switch trains with Pullman cars. In response, the General Managers Association began to fire the switchmen for not handling the cars. The strike and boycott rapidly expanded, paralyzing the Chicago rail yards and most of the twenty-four rail lines in the city.

On July 2 a federal injunction was issued against the leaders of the ARU. This Omnibus Indictment prevented ARU leaders from “…compelling or inducing by threats, intimidation, persuasion, force or violence, railway employees to refuse or fail to perform duties…” This injunction was based on the Sherman anti-trust act and the Interstate commerce act and was issued by federal judges Peter S. Grosscup and William A. Woods under the direction of, Attorney General, Richard Olney. The injunction prevented the ARU leadership from communicating with their subordinates and chaos began to reign.

Governor Altgeld of Illinois had been hesitant to employ the state militia to put down the strike instead relying on the local authorities to handle the situation. However, he said he would use the National Guard to protect property. Above all Governor Altgeld did not want federal troops to intervene. However, the issuing of this federal injunction and the fact that mail-trains might be delayed caused President Grover Cleveland to send in federal troops from Fort Sheridan. On July 3, Federal troops entered Chicago against Governor Altgeld’s repeated protests. Governor Altgeld protested by writing President Cleveland on July 5, saying, “…surely the facts have not been correctly presented to you in this case, or you would not have taken the step, for it seems to me, unjustifiable. Waiving all questions of courtesy I will say that the State of Illinois is not only able to take care of itself, but it stands ready to furnish the Federal Government any assistance it may need else where…” Despite these repeated protests by Governor Altgeld, President Cleveland continued to send in federal troops.

The reaction of the strikers to the appearance of the troops was that of outrage. What had been a basically peaceful strike turned into complete mayhem. The mayhem began on July 4, with mobs of people setting off fireworks and tipping over rail cars. The workers started to tip railcars and build blockades in reaction to the presence of the federal troops. In addition to this, there was additional level of chaos caused by the ARU leaders’ inability to communicate with the strikers because of the federal indictments. The rioting grew and spread then on July 7, a large fire consumed seven buildings at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Jackson Park. This burning and rioting came to a zenith on July 6, when fires caused by some 6,000 rioters destroyed 700 railcars and caused $340,000 of damages in the South Chicago Panhandle yards.

At this time in the Chicago vicinity, there were 6,000 federal and state troops, 3,100 police, and 5,000 deputy marshals. However, all this manpower could not prevent the violence from peaking when on July 7, national guardsmen after being assaulted, fired into the crowd killing at least four (possibly up to thirty) and wounding at least twenty. The killing continued when two more people were killed by troops in Spring Valley, Illinois. All this violence started to cause the strike to ebb and on that same day Eugene Debs and four other ARU leaders were arrested for violating the indictment. These officers were later realized on $10,000 bond. The strike was failing rapidly, so the ARU tried to enlist the aid of the AFL in the form of sympathetic strikes. When this was refused the ARU attempted to abandon the strike, on the grounds that workers would be rehired without prejudice except were convicted of crimes however, this offer was refused by the General Managers’ Association. The strike continued to dwindle, and trains began to move with increased frequency. The strike became untenable for the workers and on August 2 the Pullman works reopened.

This strike was truly monumental if some of the figures for lost revenues are looked at. The railroads alone lost an estimated $685,308 in expenses incurred during the strike. However, the railroads lost even more in revenue an estimated $4,672,916. In addition, 100,000 striking employees lost wages of an estimated $1,389,143. These costs are just the localized effects of the paralyzation of the nation’s rail center and do not include the far ranging financial effects. The manpower used to break the strike was also immense. The total forces of the strikebreakers both government and private were: 1,936 federal troops, 4,000 national guardsmen, about 5,000 extra deputy marshals, 250 extra deputy sheriffs, and the 3,000 policemen in Chicago for a total of 14,186 strikebreakers. In addition to these figures there were also twelve people shot and killed, and 71 people who were arrested and sentenced on the federal indictment. This strike had other far ranging consequences. The federal government took an unprecedented step in using indictments to make any form of a strike essentially illegal and supported this action by deploying federal troops against the will of the states.

The results of the Pullman Strike were both enormous and inconsequential. They were enormous because the strike showed the power of unified national unions. At the same time the strike showed the willingness of the federal government to intervene and support the capitalists against unified labor. The results were inconsequential because for all of the unified effort of the unions the workers did not get their rents lowered.

So, several men in Chicago lost their lives, labor had been struck a tremendous blow, and President Grover Cleveland, fearing an even greater worker revolt, pushed the national holiday through Congress in order to appease the masses. And, now, we celebrate the day by grilling out and taking one last dip in the pool.

Here’s to all the men and women who died so that we might enjoy the 40 hour work week, safe working conditions, and all the rest of it… Let’s enjoy the fruits of their labor while we can, because God knows we’ll see kids working in coal mines again in our lifetimes. To do otherwise, after all, would be Socialism.

update: A link to the following graph was just left in the comments section. I thought that it deserved to be up here, where it had a greater likelihood of catching your attention.

[note: I posted the above update in 2011. If you have access to a more recent graph showing how both middle class income and union membership have fared over these last half dozen years, let me know.]

update: I was going to write something, here at the end of this post, about the people Trump has tapped to push forward his labor agenda, but, as luck would have it, I just happened across a new post at The Cap Times of Madison that said it better than I ever could. Here’s a clip.

…(Trump) has made that plain by assembling an administration that is packed with political grifters who have made it their business to defend sweatshops, depress wages and tip every balance toward multinational corporations.

Trump’s National Labor Relations Board picks — Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel — have been greeted with scorn by advocates for a living wage and workplace fairness. As Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Emanuel during his confirmation hearing: “You have spent your career at one of the most ruthless, union-busting law firms in the country. How can Americans trust you will protect workers’ rights when you’ve spent 40 years fighting against them?”

Trump’s Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, has a miserable history of aligning with right-wing and corporate interests. After law school, Acosta clerked for Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito. Alito is now the U.S. Supreme Court’s aggressive foe of worker rights. Acosta, who served briefly as a George W. Bush appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, went on to face harsh criticism for the partisanship he displayed on voting rights cases while leading the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

As labor secretary, Acosta has remained on the wrong side. Just weeks ago, he appeared before the annual gathering of the militantly anti-labor American Legislative Exchange Council — along with anti-union zealot Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education.

Trump’s pick to serve as deputy secretary of labor, Patrick Pizzella, has an even more troubling record than Acosta. A former campaign staffer for Ronald Reagan who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, Pizzella was once employed by the viscerally anti-union National Right to Work Committee and later joined the firm that scandal-plagued lobbyist Jack Abramoff was associated with before his 2006 conviction on federal charges that included attempted bribery.

When Alaska Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski proposed legislation to raise wages for workers in the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. territory that corporations used to get a “Made in the USA” label on sweatshop products, Pizzella lobbied for the sweatshop owners…

Speaking of sweatshops, today’s post was brought you by Ivanka Trump.

update: OK, it’s present day again, and Donald Trump has said that he’ll be blocking pay raises for all federal employees. It would appear that, in his opinion, there’s just not enough money to make cost-of-living increases possible. [Trump said that austerity, at least with regard to this issue, is necessary in order to “put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course.”] I know what you’re thinking… How is it possible that we don’t have any money, as we were told that the GOP’s $1 trillion corporate tax cut would essentially pay for itself, as the economy would grow, and offset any short term losses with regard to federal revenue? Well, that never happened. The Republicans slashed corporate taxes, telling us that we’d all see big pay raises, and assuring us that we wouldn’t see cuts to federal programs. And pretty much the opposite happened. According to the most recent report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal deficit is going to grow by another $804 billion in fiscal 2018. And worker pay didn’t rise – it fell, as companies, for the most part, decided not to invest their newfound wealth by investing in their people and their facilities, but instead used it to buy back stock, increasing shareholder wealth. Here’s just one of many charts from Bloomberg about the screwing of the American worker post-Trump. The blue line represents the hourly wage of the American worker.

Now that the American workers are beginning to wake to the lie of Trumpism, and the fact that it was never really about lifting up “the forgotten Americans,” but further enriching the members of the American oligarchy, there seems to be something of a correction underway, with momentum building on the left. And all the Republicans seem capable of saying in response is, “Socialism!“, as though the negative connotation of that single word might in itself be enough to make those losing their jobs and their healthcare say to their hungry kids, “Well, at least we aren’t evil socialists.” But, really, that’s all the Republicans now have. They’ve got fear of Socialism, and overt racism. Their bag of tricks is otherwise empty.

Here, if you don’t want to take my word for it, is Congressman Adam Schiff telling it like it is.

So, yeah, every little thing our ancestors fought for back in the late 1800s is going to have to be fought for again, against adversaries with more to lose, and more weapons at their disposal.. Good luck, friends.

[note: All of the above was posted last year on Labor Day. I’m sure, since it was posted, there have been other serious assaults to the rights of American workers, all of which should be included here. Unfortunately, though, I have designated today my Annual Day of Yard Work©, and I’m already behind schedule. If you have items that you think should be added to this litany of assaults, please leave a comment.]

Posted in Corporate Crime, Economics, History, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Five things you need to know about Trump’s wall

As we’ve discussed, with the economy slowing, and a recession on the horizon, Donald Trump desperately really needs for his base to come through for him on Election Day. As his support withers among suburban white women, farmers, and college educated independents, he needs to keep his diehard supporters happy. And, sadly, that means more racism. It means more stories about the deportation of immigrants receiving life-saving medical treatment here in the United States. It means more cruelty against South American children in U.S. custody. It means more tacit approval for white nationalists. And it means more lies from Donald Trump about how he’s building a wall at the southern border to keep out foreign invaders (i.e. people of color)… To put it simply, Donald Trump knows that, if he loses the election, he’ll face prosecution, and he’ll do anything in his power to stop that from happening, even if it means leading America into an all out race war… There’s a lot to talk about, but, for today, I just want to note five quick facts about the “big, beautiful wall” he says he’s building at our southern border.

1. If Donald Trump and the Republicans had really wanted the wall — if it were really a priority for this administration — it would have been green-lit in 2016, when the GOP had control over every branch of the government. The truth, however, is that they knew it was a stupid idea from the get-go… They knew it was a totally impractical waste of money. They knew that, when Trump first promised his magical wall while on the campaign trail, illegal border crossings were at a 50 year low. They knew that every study showed the idea of a wall to be an impractical, expensive, and ineffective means of controlling illegal immigration. And, when push came to shove, the Republicans and Trump demonstrated that all they really cared about was cutting taxes for the super-wealthy and making it easier for corporations to destroy the environment, regardless of what might have been said on the campaign trail… So, yeah, Trump promises the wall every election cycle, but he knows it’s stupid, and he doesn’t really give a shit about it. It’s just a way to gin up the racist base. Nothing more.

2. Trump says the wall is going up very fast. The truth is, it isn’t… A few days ago, Donald Trump shared the following on Twitter, claiming that his wall is going up “very fast.”

The truth is, not a single mile of new wall has been built under Donald Trump’s administration. While some barriers have gone up (like those seen in the above tweet), they were just replacement panels, put up to take the place of sections built under previous administrations. And this isn’t just “fake news” being perpetuated by the liberal media. Last week, the conservative news organization Axios reported, ““(Trump’s) administration cannot tell us when it will add its 1st mile of new wall to a border area that doesn’t have pre-existing barriers.” And Shepard Smith said the following on Fox News. “The president made border security a mainstay of his message dating back to the campaign with ‘build that wall and Mexico will pay for it,’ though that last promise is long gone,” Smith said. “Despite the president’s claims to the contrary, there’s no new wall. Existing barriers have been replaced. Same span. The total of repaired barrier is about 60 miles along that 2,000 mile border.” [This doesn’t, of course, mean that Fox is now a legitimate news source. As Dan Pfeifer recently said, Smith and a few others “are massively overpaid by Fox explicitly so they will do this performance once in a while so Fox can continue to get American corporations to help pay for White nationalist propaganda at all hours of the day.”] So, regardless of what you might have heard, the truth is that Donald Trump hasn’t put up even a single mile of his long-promised wall.

3. Donald Trump recently offered pardons to his aides if they could help him get some of the wall built prior to the election… As much as Trump knows that a wall would be ineffective, he also knows that he has to start construction if he wants to keep his terrified racist base happy. But there are significant barriers standing in his way. One of the many problems with Trump’s magical wall is that much of it will have to be built on what is now private property. And, a few days ago, Donald Trump instructed his aides to start aggressively seizing this land, without any concern for the legality of doing so, promising to use his presidential pardon power to keep them out of prison. [According to sources, he also urged them to illegally fast-track billion of dollars worth of construction contracts, and disregard environmental legislation that might slow down the building of the wall.] This act alone, according to legal scholars, constitutes bribery on the President’s part, and Democratic lawmakers have promised to investigate it. [For what it’s worth, a senior White House official did not deny that Trump promised pardons for those who would help him get the wall built, even if it meant breaking several laws. Said official claimed, however, that he was merely joking.]

4. Illegal immigration was actually down before Trump took office. His policies have increased it… I said it at the outset, but it bears repeating. When Donald Trump took office, talking about the threat of Mexican rapists and gangs invading the country, illegal immigration was at a 50-year low. Through his policies, however, he has made matters much worse, and it certainly isn’t helping that he’s slashed aid to Central America, which is increasing instability in the regions, and forcing more families to travel north in hopes of securing asylum.

5. In advance of Hurricane Dorian making landfall in Florida, the Trump administration transferred $155 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)… Perhaps because he doesn’t understand the severity of hurricanes, or appreciate the importance of FEMA, Donald Trump approved the movement of $155 million from the FEMA to ICE, where it will be used to fund migrant detention camps on our southern border. As presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg recently said, “Taking money Congress authorized to protect people facing disaster in order to indefinitely detain asylum seekers is unconscionable.”

There’s more that I could say, but that’s pretty much the gist of it…. There is no new wall, regardless of what Trump would have people believe. And he knows that, if he’s to have a shot at staying in office, it’s not going to be enough just to have the most cruel and racist immigration policy in recent American history. He knows he needs to actually build a real wall, and he’s encouraging members of his staff to break the law in order to see that happen. And, speaking of those cruel immigration policies, he’s also diverting money from disaster relief to pay for them… So, yeah, things kind of suck right now in America.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Economics, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

“Honk if You Love Donald Trump!”

A few days ago, I was listening to the punk rock classic Anarchy is Stupid in my car, when it occurred to me that it might be time to revisit the underlying conceit of the song. For those of you who aren’t well versed in rock and roll history, the song was recorded live almost 30 years ago, here in Ann Arbor, by the criminally under-appreciated band Prehensile Monkey-tailed Skink, and, like much of their music, it’s not only incredibly juvenile, but deliberately confrontational in both style and substance. The song starts with one of the band members yelling, “How many of you out there think the system sucks?”, and “How many of you think anarchy is better?”, only to be answered each time with enthusiastic shouts of assent from the crowd. Then, as the crowd waits for what’s next — knowing that they’re about to be whipped up into an antisocial, window-smashing frenzy — the band yells back, “Well, you’re stupid”, sucking every last bit on energy out of the room… Well, as I was sitting there in my car, thinking about this, it occurred to me that Trump supporters probably deserve a similar fate to those kids, who, back in ’92, espoused anarchy without really understanding what it was that they were championing.

I’m still not exactly sure what form this should take, but I suppose it could start with a giant MAGA-red banner on Washtenaw Avenue, right between Ypsilanti’s incredibly phallic water tower and the Eastern Michigan University (EMU) campus, inviting Trump supporters to proudly lay on their horns to demonstrate their loyalty. [Maybe it could say something like, “Let the America-hating academics at EMU hear what real patriotism sounds like!”] Then, about a thousand feet down Washtenaw, just as cars are coming over the top of the hill, I’m imaging that there could be another sign, essentially saying, “Well, you’re stupid.”

I like the idea. And I want to do it. But there’s one thing stopping me. And that’s the fact that, while it might feel good to lure Trump supporters into a trap like this, and then laugh at them, it wouldn’t do anyone any good… I’m guessing, at best, we might get a few good photos of Trump supporters shaking their fists and yelling out their windows upon seeing the second sign, or maybe a video of one of them launching into a racist rant, but nothing meaningful would come of it. And that’s kind of what I’m puzzling over tonight.

I’m wondering how this idea could, with a little work, be turned into something positive. For instance, what if, instead of a sign saying, “You’re stupid”, there was a sign that said something like, “If you honked, we have therapists who can help.” OK, maybe that wouldn’t work, but I do like the idea of big white tent full of social workers volunteering to help people start their deprogramming. Or, how about this… What if the second sign just said, “If you honked, we now have your license plate number and your photo, and you’re going to be assigned to one of Obama’s deep state reeducation camps.” OK, that would be mean-spirited. We don’t want to antagonize these folks, and further stoke the fires of paranoia… I think it has to be something kind. Something that invites introspection. Something that doesn’t just shout, “Gotcha!”, as gratifying as that might be. But I still haven’t figured out what that might be.

OK, I’m going keep thinking about it, but it’s time for me to introduce my son to Sterling Hayden right now, so you’ll have to start the brainstorming session without me.

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

The United States, absent on climate

It’s old news by this point, but, during the recent G7 summit in Biarritz, France, Donald Trump not only lobbied hard to get Russian dictator Vladimir Putin reinstated in the group, and made the case to have next year’s event at his failing, bedbug infested Doral golf club, but, like the coward that he is, he dodged his fellow world leaders on the subject of climate change, hiding in his room during the session in which the largest threat to humanity was being discussed, and then lying about why he’d skipped the meeting. [The White House put out a statement saying that Trump couldn’t attend the session on climate change, as he was involved in meetings with the heads of Germany and India, but that turns out to have been a lie.]

The truth is, Donald Trump, who plays a tough guy on Twitter, lacks the courage to sit at the same table as his fellow world leaders and talk about climate change. He doesn’t want to talk about the fact that the Amazon is burning, or that this past July was the hottest month in recorded human history, or that the Arctic Ocean has already lost 95% of its oldest ice. He doesn’t want to look at these other world leaders, who he knows are much smarter than he is, and attempt to defend his absolutely indefensible comments about how windmills cause cancer, and climate change is a hoax. So, instead, he hides like a coward. And, at some point, when the coast is clear, he shuffles back out on stage to condemn renewable energy, and make the laughable assertion that he knows “more about the environment than most people,” because, as a developer, he’s had to pay for environmental impact studies to be conducted. [I’ve paid to have environmental impact studies to be conducted. It doesn’t make me an expert in climate. It just means that I know something about the sub-surface contamination left behind by gas stations, dry cleaners, and the like.] But that’s not the worst of it. After making these ridiculous claims, he then had the audacity to actually brag, as you can see in this video, that the United States is producing more oil and gas under his administration… You know, the stuff that’s actually causing the warming that’s going to kill life on earth.

The picture at the top of this post shows Donald Trump’s empty seat at this G7 meeting on climate change. It’s an incredible photo, in that it perfectly illustrates our abdication of leadership on this, the most important issue to ever face humanity. I’m hopeful that, one day, if we somehow survive this, it figures prominently in every elementary school history text in America. [I think this photo should be used instead of a photo of Donald Trump in the White House, after he’s gone.]

Coincidentally, while Donald Trump was avoiding reality in France, news broke that he — this man who knows “more about the environment than most people” — had, on multiple occasions, proposed to his aides that we should attempt to dissipate hurricanes by detonating nuclear bombs inside of them, like they did in the movie Sharknado… So, on second thought, maybe it’s a good thing that the rest of the world is moving on without us on climate change, and everything else. We no longer have anything serious to offer.

Posted in Environment, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The neon sign from my grandfather’s old bike shop is once again hanging in Frankfort

Remember how, a few days ago, I told you that the site of my paternal grandfather’s old bicycle shop in Frankfort, Kentucky had recently been reopened as a brewery? Well, since I posted that, I’ve come into possession of two more photos. The first is of my grandfather, Augustus Charles Maynard, counting change at the old Cycle Center. [I’d always thought that he looked like a mix between Bing Crosby and Don Knotts.] The second was taken a few days ago by one of my father’s step-brothers, at the Goodwood Brewery. According to my uncle, the owners of the brewery had found the old neon sign from my grandfather’s bicycle shop in the basement, and had it refurbished. In the third photo, which I shared in my earlier post, you can see what the sign looked like in its previous life, hanging in front of 109 West Main Street.

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments


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