4.22.2015

everything is political: bewitched, george washington, will geer, and free speech

You may recall that my current comedy-before-bed TV sleep aid is a sitcom from my childhood: "Bewitched". I've been thoroughly enjoying watching its ridiculous, predictable humour and sometimes surprising messaging. I was in the middle of the eighth and final season when Netflix pulled the show. (Argh!) But thanks to our amazing world of media, I was able to switch over to YouTube, viewed on TV via Roku.

In Season 8, episode 21 and 22, Bewitched recycles a template from an earlier episode. In Season 1, daffy Aunt Clara (played by Marion Lorne) mistakenly brings Ben Franklin into the 20th Century, an opportunity for a hijinks and history lessons. When Marion Lorne died during Season 5, Aunt Clara's role was replaced by the daffy Esmeralda (played by Alice Ghostley), and it's Esmeralda who mistakenly brings George Washington into the present.

This is a well-worn conceit of magic and time-travel, but imagine my surprise when the Founding Father becomes a defender of the First Amendment and a critic of modern marketing!
George Washington, addressing a small gathering in a public park: Earlier I stood here and listened to some of you explain what is going on in this country. Things like assassinations, pollution, war - wars to end war that don't end wars. This does not please me.

[A man with long hair nods in agreement. "You tell 'em, George!"]

GW: Where is the voice of The People? Remember what my friend Tom Jefferson said? "What country can preserve its liberties unless its rulers are warned from time to time that the people reserve the spirit of resistance."

[Ordinary people all nod in agreement.]

Police officer, walking through small polite crowd that has gathered: OK, break it up, George.

GW: George? You will refer to me as Mr. President or General Washington.

Police: Sorry, General, but you have to break it up.

GW: And just what is it that you want me to 'break up'?

P: This rally. Unless, of course, you have a park permit to speak.

GW: The only permit I need is the Constitution of the United States.

Long-haired man: Hear, hear!

Crowd: Hear, hear! Right on!

GW: Hear, hear, hear.

Police: Why don't you be a good fellow and tell me where you escaped from.

GW: I have escaped from the past into the present, and I must say that what I have seen so far does not please me.

P: But you're gonna break it up or you're under arrest.

GW: Under the abstract theory of our government, a person is entitled to resist illegal arrest. We are allowed the right of free assembly under our Constitution.

[Crowd applauds.]
Later, at home, Washington wonders pointedly about his predicament.
GW: What has happened to this country that was founded on freedom? Does the Constitution still exist? The Bill of Rights?

Darrin: Yes, of course, Mr. President.

GW: Then why do The People not exercise their rights?

Samantha: Sometimes it's easier to be led than to lead. And a great many of our citizens prefer to stand on the sidelines and ignore their rights instead of defending them. They're called the "silent majority".

GW: Experience has shown that mankind is more disposed to suffer evils while those evils are sufferable than to right themselves and abolish those abuses.
In the second part of "George Washington Zapped Here," Darrin's boss Larry Tate seizes on the supposed Washington impersonator for - what else - an advertising campaign, and gets more than he bargained for. Even though it costs Darrin the account, Darrin is proud that the Father of the Country stood up for truth and authenticity.
GW, reading from script: '...and your clothes will be cleaner than clean and whiter than white.' How could anything be cleaner than clean or whiter than white?

Darrin: It's just a way of saying it, Mr. President.

GW: Doesn't make sense.

Larry Tate: So few things do these days. It's a sign of the times!

GW, reading: '...Then use the Whirlaway Washer, America's finest...' Is it really?

Tate: Would I lie to you, Mr. President?

GW: I don't know you well enough to make that judgement. Mr. Jameson, why is this America's finest washing machine?

Jameson, owner of the company, gritting his teeth, to Tate: Is this some kind of a put-on?

Tate: Mr. President, please, just read what is written.

GW: Not another word until you answer my question. After all, if my name is to be used, I will not have it tarnished by falsehood.

Tate: Look, it's a darn good washer. Now read it. Please.

Washington goes around the room, inspecting ads for various washing machines, reading out the name of each one.

GW: Superior Washing Machine, Ultra Washing Machine, Standard Washing Machine, Whirlaway Washing Machine. Each one looks very much like the others.

Jameson: Each one is very much like the others.

GW: Then why do you give them different names?

Darrin: It's called merchandising, Mr. President. You see, Whirlaway builds them, and then the stores put their own labels on them.

GW: In that case, Whirlaway washing machine is no better or worse than the others.

Darrin: Correct. [The ad man finds his ethics!]

GW: Then in good conscience I cannot say that Whirlaway washing machine is better than the others.

Jameson: I've had just about enough of this!

GW: And so have I, sir. Yesterday I was arrested for defending the Constitution of the United States. Today I am asked, in the name of honesty, to utter falsehoods. I will not lend my name to this deception.
But wait, there's more. George Washington is played by Will Geer. Geer is best known for his portrayal of Grandpa Walton on the hugely popular family drama "The Waltons," but he has other credits that may be more relevant. From Wikipedia:
Geer became a member of the Communist Party of the United States in 1934. Geer was also influential in introducing Harry Hay to organizing in the Communist Party. In 1934, Geer and Hay gave support to a labor strike of the port of San Francisco; the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike lasted 83 days. Though marred by violence, it was an organizing triumph, one that became a model for future union strikes. Geer became a reader of the West Coast Communist newspaper, the People's World.

Geer became a dedicated activist, touring government work camps in the 1930s with folk singers like Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie (whom he introduced to the People's World and the Daily Worker; Guthrie would go on to write a column for the latter paper). In 1956, the duo released an album together on Folkways Records, titled Bound for Glory: Songs and Stories of Woody Guthrie. In his biography, fellow organizer and gay rights pioneer Harry Hay described Geer's activism and outlined their activities while organizing for the strike. Geer is credited with introducing Guthrie to Pete Seeger at the 'Grapes of Wrath' benefit Geer organized in 1940 for migrant farm workers. . . .

Geer was blacklisted in the early 1950s for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As a result, Geer appeared in very few films over the following decade. Notable among them was Salt of the Earth which was produced, directed, written, and starring blacklisted Hollywood personnel and told the story of a miners' strike in New Mexico from a pro-union standpoint. The film was denounced as "subversive" and faced difficulties in its production and distribution as a consequence.
George Washington Zapped Here, Part 1 (GW in the park at 15:54-17:40 and at home at 19:30-20:07.)

George Washington Zapped Here, Part 2 (GW with the ad men at 14:42-16:55; Samantha defends First Amendment rights while Darrin looks on approvingly at 18:35-21:18.)

While writing this post, I found a wonderful excerpt from a study of Bewitched, courtesy of Google Books. The author, Walter Metz, compares the politics of that earlier Ben Franklin episode with those of the George Washington episode, and divines a change in the national mood. I found it interesting enough to want to hunt down this book. If you're also interested, go here, search for "George Washington" and read pages 108-112.

icymi: indiana woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for failed pregnancy

This month, four decades of anti-woman, anti-abortion hysteria in the US hit a new low.

Last August, an Indiana woman sought medical attention after a premature delivery resulted in the death of the fetus. The emergency-room doctor called the police.

In April, that woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

From WaPo:
Indiana woman jailed for "feticide." It's never happened before.

...Informed that officials were heading to her home, Patel told her doctors that she'd had a miscarriage and had left her stillborn fetus in a dumpster behind a shopping center. Still in his hospital scrubs, McGuire followed police cars to the scene and examined the fetus, which he pronounced dead on arrival. Patel was charged with child neglect, and later with killing her fetus, and on Monday she was sentenced to 20 consecutive years in prison.

The verdict makes Patel the first woman in the U.S. to be charged, convicted and sentenced for "feticide" for ending her own pregnancy, according to the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women (“NAPW”). Though Patel said she had had a miscarriage, she was found guilty of taking illegal abortion drugs. The Indiana statute under which Patel was convicted bans "knowingly or intentionally terminat[ing] a human pregnancy" with any intention other than producing a live birth, removing a dead fetus or performing a legal abortion.

Monday's sentencing brought an end to Patel's trial, but it may be only the beginning of the public debate about the details of her case. Patel's conviction has many pro-choice activists alarmed that feticide laws, initially passed as a means of protecting pregnant women from providers of dangerous illegal abortions and other sources of harm, are now being used against them.

"Prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes," Lynn Paltrow, executive director for NAPW, told the Guardian in August of 2014. "...No woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy."
From The Guardian, at the time of Patel's arrest.
A 33-year-old woman from Indiana has been charged with the feticide and fetal murder of her unborn child after she endured a premature delivery and sought hospital treatment.

Purvi Patel faces between six and 20 years in prison for feticide and up to 50 years imprisonment for neglect of a dependent when she goes to trial, currently scheduled for 29 September. She is the second woman in Indiana to be charged with feticide following the prolonged criminal prosecution of Bei Bei Shuai, who lost her baby when she tried to kill herself.

Women's rights advocates see the decision by prosecutors of St Joseph County, Indiana, to apply feticide laws against Patel as part of the creeping criminalization of pregnancy in America. At least 38 of the 50 states have introduced fetal homicide laws intended to protect the unborn child and in a growing number of states – including Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina – those laws have been turned against mothers.
I would offer only one correction: these laws were never intended to "protect the unborn child". The laws are being used exactly for their intended purpose: to police and punish women. Especially - or exclusively - low-income women. Because let's be clear: the US's "war on women" is also a class war. Women who can afford private treatment will never be subjected to these humiliations. On the other hand, with the middle class shrinking and poverty burgeoning throughout the US, increasing numbers of women must fear these nightmare scenarios.

What would policies intended to "protect the unborn child" look like? Laws that gave us: Fresh, healthy food that every person could afford. Free quality pre-natal care. Free quality medical care for every person. Free childcare for the children already born. Jobs that pay a true living wage. Clean water.

Policies intended to protect children - in any stage of their lives - don't criminalize pregnancy.

* * * *

Canadians take note: a fetal personhood law was floated as a private member's bill in the Harper government. The MP who sponsored the bill admitted that its purpose was to "recognize the humanity of the unborn child". The recent sentencing in Indiana is the direct outcome of that kind of language enshrined into law.

The bill was defeated after public outcry.

4.15.2015

today! fight for fifteen on 4-15

Today, working people across North America - and the world - will rally, demonstrate, and go on strike for two demands: fifteen and fairness.

In the US, fast-food workers are joined by childcare workers, contract (adjunct) teachers, airport workers, and other low-wage earners, as this movement continues to grow. They will demonstrate in more than 50 cities. They are demanding 15 and a union: a $15/hour minimum wage and the right to organize without fear of reprisal.

In Ontario, workers will demonstrate outside the Ministry of Labour in Toronto, demanding Fifteen and Fairness: a $15/hour minimum wage, decent hours for decent jobs, paid sick days, and labour laws that protect every worker.

There have been significant victories. Seattle and San Francisco raised the minimum wage in those cities to $15/hour; Oakland raised it to $12.25. Poverty-pay giants like Walmart and McDonald's have been forced to concede major pay raises, with more to follow.

Massive movements in New York, Chicago, and L.A. are getting huge media attention. Organized fast-food workers have succeed in bringing labour issues to the forefront, in a way we have not seen in decades. Public pressure is building.

In Ontario, labour activism set the standard a decade ago when they won a $10/hour minimum wage. Last year organized workers won a minimum wage indexed to inflation, an important victory. I have no doubt that the fight for 15 and Fairness will have similar results.

Learn how you can fight for better working conditions and support others who do: here and here. On Twitter: #15andFairness and #FightFor15.

4.12.2015

50,000 mexican farmworkers are on strike, and almost no one in north america knows about it

Did you know that 50,000 Mexican farmworkers are on strike?

If your answer is no, you have plenty of company. The Los Angeles Times is the only English-language mainstream media venue to regularly cover the strike. Canadian media, predictably, only wants to know how it will affect food prices.

These farmworkers harvest the fruits and vegetables that fill our supermarkets and our tables. They are paid $8 per day - that's right, not per hour, per day. They are gouged at company stores where they must purchase necessities, and see their pay routinely withheld without explanation. They are denied breaks and access to clean drinking water. They are not paid for overtime. Company housing is filthy and vermin-infested. Female workers are subjected to sexual harassment on a regular basis.

What decade, what century is this? The working class fights this battle again and again.

From Sonali Kolhatkar, writing in Truthdig:
Years ago the sparsely populated San Quintín area was converted into an industrial agricultural center by growers who imported indigenous workers from southern states such as Oaxaca. Bacon compared the dozen or so ranches in the area to the maquiladoras, or factories, that sprang up along the Mexican side of the U.S. border. He described the conditions of the labor camps where workers live as “really awful and terrible.”

Starting in the 1970s many of Baja California's workers began to cross the U.S. border through California into the Central Valley, and even to states like Washington. "These are all connected communities," maintained Bacon, which is why the San Quintín strike is big news among farmworker communities in the U.S. such as Washington’s Skagit County.

Sadly, it is not very big news elsewhere in the U.S. When the strike began last week, the Los Angeles Times was the only English-language media outlet in the country to initially cover it. (Since then, a week later, The Associated Press and others have begun to report on the strike.)
The farmworkers work for hugely profitable agribusinesses, including Driscoll's, the most popular berry supplier in North America, and a company that enjoys a labour-friendly image.

I didn't find much about how we can support striking farmworkers. The United Farm Workers - the legendary union begun by the late great Cesar Chavez - has a petition: sign here.

[PS: If you are interested in Cesar Chavez, it appears you should skip the movie. See this one instead.]

4.08.2015

what i learned at the cupe library workers conference

What did I learn at the CUPE Ontario Library Conference?

Technically, nothing. If learning means encountering something new, then no, this was not a learning experience.

But learning must also mean living with knowledge, absorbing it, seeing your theoretical knowledge translated into action. Understanding new configurations of that knowledge. Digesting it, assimilating it into our sense of ourselves.

In that sense, I'm learning this union stuff every day.

So here's what I "learned". (I learned that people are still overusing air quotes!)

All libraries everywhere have the same problems. Staffing levels are too low. Full-time jobs are disappearing. Positions are being deskilled. Work is increasingly precarious. It has been this way at libraries for a long time, but is now at a point where library systems are being destroyed. The ones that float do so at the peril of dedicated workers who are carrying burdens far too large.

Here's what else I "learned".

All unions everywhere face the same challenges. It's difficult to engage membership. There is anti-union sentiment even among union members. The same few activists do all the work. Members blame the union for conditions that rightly belong to the employer.

It's not a pretty picture.

And yet... I have so much hope. I have so much joy, and pride, and optimism.

I learned how some motivated organizers are successfully activating their memberships.

I learned how organizers harness anger and fear into positive action.

I learned about successful campaigns in Peterborough, Oshawa, Toronto, Brantford, and other Ontario communities.

I learned how union workplaces protect communities from the worst of the austerity agenda.

I learned how library unions struggle within larger locals of municipal employees who may not understand or value the contributions of library workers.

I learned how some library workers' unions don't include librarians. How full-time staff doesn't always support and value part-time staff. How library workers forge links with firefighters, transit workers, teachers, and custodians. How union-endorsed municipal councillors are fighting for good jobs in their communities.

I learned how some locals gave in to concessions and how membership - and their unions - suffered. How some locals fought off concessions and waged successful strikes.

Maybe I knew most of this already. But meeting other library unionists who are living it was exciting and inspiring. Meeting - brainstorming, sharing ideas, laughing, complaining, eating and drinking, communing - was brilliant.

And hey, guess what? I was elected to the library committee of CUPE Ontario, an interim member until elections next year. I am very proud to be recognized as someone worthy of this position.

4.07.2015

to ottawa for the 2015 cupe library conference

At this very moment I am on the train from Toronto to Ottawa, en route to the CUPE Library Workers Conference. This will be my first time attending this annual event. I don't know what to expect, but I'm super excited!

Last week I was off work for a few days for my annual Spring New York City fix, and this week for the CUPE Conference. Somehow I am managing to stay on top of things at the library. Being compulsively organized has its advantages.

I'm blogging courtesy of my old netbook, the first time I've turned it on in many months. Allan and I worked on it to see if we could resurrect it from the near-dead - deleting bloatware, cleaning out spyware, uninstalling every unnecessary application. I enjoy my tablet, and I've made my peace with touch-screen technology, but there's still no substitute for a real keyboard, especially for a speedy touch-typist like me.

So now I have a desktop, a netbook, a tablet, and - yes, it's true - a BlackBerry phone. It seems like having a tablet precludes the need for a good touch-screen smartphone, but... not sure where that will go. The only thing I really need from a phone is texting and the occasional voice call.

I hope to blog about the CUPE Library Conference, and this reminds me that I never managed to do my dispatches from OLA 2015, which I attended in January. I'll add it to The List.

Farmland is rolling by, complete with cows, sheep, and silos. A quiet train, a comfy seat, internet access, and pleasant scenery. There is nothing like train travel.

4.05.2015

mcdonald's announces phony wage increase: workers rising on april 15

The resurgent workers' movement scored a huge victory earlier this year, when Walmart announced it was raising wages - a step on the road to a true living wage and the right to unionize without fear of harassment. Other big corporations, such as Target, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls, followed with similar wage-hike announcements.

Naturally, it sounded like another important victory when McDonald's announced it was raising wages to $10/hour... until we read the fine print.
On Wednesday, McDonald's followed the lead of fellow low-wage employer Walmart, announcing a small raise that puts its starting pay at $1 above the federal minimum. By Thursday, however, workers had taken to the streets to protest what some are calling a PR stunt by the word’s largest fast food chain.

At issue: McDonald’s new $8.25 per hour salary applies only to the 90,000 employees at company-owned restaurants, not the 750,000 working for franchisees who decide their own pay policies. Some 90% of those making their living under the Golden Arches won’t see any change in their wage.
In New York City, workers and their supporters swarmed the streets outside a midtown McDonald's location, exposing the reality of the corporate giant's PR announcement. Gothamist - steadfastly in the workers' corner - spoke to some of the protesters.
"I pay $200 a week rent, I make $210 a week. I've got to borrow my sister's Metrocard, I gotta go to my mother's house to eat, stuff like that. It's hard. But I try, because I know in the long run, $15 and a union, that will pull me out of poverty. I'll be happy, buy my own MetroCard and stuff like that."'

Julia Andino, 20, from Brooklyn, works at a McDonald's on Broadway in Manhattan. She has a two-year-old child, and struggles to make ends meet. "My son is three, I have a $900 room I rent, I have bills, hospital bills I have to pay... supermarket, gone, babysitting services. Diapers, gone. It's difficult to live off. $15 isn't a lot, but it's something we can work with," said Andino. "This city will either eat you and spit you out, or you have to live. And I feel like it will be fair when I can come home and not be sitting on my bed crying because I can't maintain my son and my family."
This PR-driven wage increase that leaves 90% of workers behind shines yet another spotlight on extreme income inequality. Even a McDonald's that sees its profits plunging still reports billions in profit each quarter, and still supports a multimillion-dollar CEO. An article titled "McDonald’s $8.25 Man and $8.75 Million CEO Shows Pay Gap" compares "life in one of America’s premier growth industries" on both ends of the ever-widening spectrum. At the low end, life is a a constant struggle against homelessness and starvation.
Twenty years ago, when Johnson first started at McDonald’s, the CEO’s compensation was about 230 times that of a full-time worker paid the federal minimum wage. The $8.75 million that Thompson’s predecessor as CEO, Skinner, made last year was 580 times, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

McDonald’s is part of a larger trend of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, according to data from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. The pay gap between the average S&P 500 CEO and the average U.S. worker, which was 42 times in 1980, widened to 380 times in 2011 from 325 times in 2010, the umbrella group of 56 unions said.
The article quoted above makes excellent reading. What does it say about the current state of capitalism when the best stories about income inequality are from business venues like Bloomberg and Forbes?

On April 15, workers throughout the US will take to the streets in record numbers, demanding $15/hour and a union. This isn't just about Walmart and McDonald's, although the fight against shameful working conditions at those massively wealthy corporations has propelled the movement forward. It's about all people who work for wages that keep them in poverty, and in conditions that keep them afraid. As the Fight for 15 website says:
Millions of underpaid workers can’t support their families or make ends meet on hourly wages that haven’t kept pace with the bills – or their employers’ profits.

Enough! On April 15, fast food cashiers and cooks, retail employees, child care workers, adjunct professors, home care providers, college students, airport workers, and all of us who believe they deserve better are showing up in cities across the country to say ENOUGH. Be there.
In a movement that's been steadily growing for many years, the April 15, 2015 action undoubtedly will be the biggest demonstration yet, as more and more workers are emboldened to come forward.

You can support the struggle: by joining a demonstration, by visiting a picket line with words of support, by contacting McDonald's and other employers to tell them you support the workers' struggle, by Tweeting, by sharing on Facebook, and especially by donating.

4.04.2015

best of wmtc, 2014 edition

Every year since embarking on graduate school, then beginning to work full-time, I've thought: I have no time to write, I don't write any more. And every year, Allan chooses a sizable number of wmtc posts as best-of for that year. I'm always surprised at how much I've written.

I believe 2015 will finally change that. Adding my new union responsibilities to the mix seems to have displaced this blog. This time next year, we'll see if that proves to be true.

For now, this page has been updated. Thank you, as always, for continuing to read wmtc.