by Lindsay Beyerstein
How our blog got its name
Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”
Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.
It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.
Clear It With Sidney
The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century, a new book by Peter Dreier, names Sidney Hillman as one of the leading lights of the social justice movement. I spoke to Dreier about the book and Hillman's legacy.
The book is a kind of Who's Who of social justice in America. Dreier honors three types of luminaries: organizers and activists, politicians, and intellectuals. Hillman's achievements span all three categories. He was a dazzlingly successful organizer of immigrant garment workers; he went on to become trusted adviser to Franklin Roosevelt and an architect of the New Deal; and he was an intellectual founder of social unionism.
Social unionism is the idea that a union should fight for more than higher pay and better working conditions. Hillman believed that the union should serve as a center of social, intellectual, and family life. This model was very appealing to immigrant workers who were pleased to find an American institution that would welcome them with open arms and teach them how to thrive in a new country. Hillman's later support of the welfare state was a natural extension of this community-oriented approach to politics.
Dreier attributes Hillman's success as an organizer partly to his eclectic background. He was a Chicago garment worker who came to the U.S. from Lithuania as a young man after serving time in prison for revolutionary politicking in Russia. He was also an intellectual who had studied to be a rabbi as a young man. Even before coming to the U.S., he pored over the social thought of Marx, Darwin, and Mill.
"Hillman was an empathetic member of the working class," Dreier said, "He understood that ordinary people could do extraordinary things."
“He wasn't a great public speaker, but he was persistent and clever, and he knew how to find other people with talent,” Dreier added.
Hillman rose to prominence during the Hart, Schaffner, and Marx strike of 1910. Tens of thousands of Chicago garment workers, led mostly by women, walked off the job. While many male garment workers laughed at the women, Hillman joined their cause. In 1914, at the age of 27, he became the first president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a post he held until his death in 1946.
Chicago was a hotbed of social protest. Hillman forged friendships and allegiance with progressive leaders including Clarence Darrow, Jane Addams, Frances Perkins, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (all listed among the 100 Greatest Americans).
As an adviser to FDR, Hillman helped shape the New Deal and the nascent welfare state. He pushed for public works, unemployment insurance, and a more equitable distribution of wealth.
Sidney Hillman’s career shows how the radical ideas of one generation become the commonsense ideas of the next.
[Photo: Sidney Hillman (left) and David Dubinsky of the ILGWU, Kheel Center @Cornell University, Creative Commons.]
A handful of New York City workers went head-to-head with the Hot & Crusty bakery and won, the Village Voice reports:
In one of the most remarkable underdog stories in recent labor history, 23 low-wage restaurant workers at a Hot and Crusty Bakery location on the Upper East Side have won a surprising victory.
The bakery's owners closed it August 31 after the workers successfully formed a union, but the workers fought back, briefly taking over the bakery on its last day and maintaining a 24-hour picket and street cafe through the following week.
Saturday, it was announced that new owners had taken over the bakery, and had signed binding promises to reopen the bakery within 15 days, rehire its workers, recognize their union, and institute a hiring hall, giving the workers control over the hire of new employees.
Hot & Crusty closed down the shop at 63rd and 2nd Ave in Manhattan after a super-majority of its 23 employees voted to unionize.
The victory is all the more remarkable because most of the Hot & Crusty workers are undocumented. The workers prevailed despite management threats to use their immigration status against them.
No one was expecting a tiny handful of mostly undocumented workers to win such concessions from a powerful ownership team led by Mark Samson, a managing partner at the private equity firm Praesidian Capital. Workers say management used their immigration status to threaten them, and spent more than $500,000 on a union-busting consultant and lawyers.
"It's historic. It's pretty much unprecedented," said Nastaran Mohit, an organizer at the Laundry Workers Center, which helped train and support the bakery workers. "The depth of support really helped, but the other thing that made the difference was the willingness of the workers to escalate."
The Laundry Workers Center was instrumental in bringing about the original vote to unionize. The bakery workers also had the support of allies including SEIU 32BJ, student groups, and Occupy Wall Street.
[Photo credit: SashaMD, Creative Commons.]
- Josh Eidelson of Working In These Times has the latest on the Palermo's Pizza labor dispute.
- Hillman judge Harold Meyerson compiles a history of American labor in photos for the American Prospect.
- The Radio Rookies, young reporters at WNYC, examine the effects of stop-and-frisk in the Bronx. They really put NYPD chief Ray Kelly on the spot in a one-on-one interview.
- In honor of Labor Day, ProPublica compiled a great set of stories on the dismal state of occupational health and safety in the United States. [Submitted by reader EF]
Macy's longest-serving employee is retiring after 73 years of hard work and activism:
Can you imagine working in the days when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House and the biggest movie at the box-office was The Wizard of Oz?
Rose Syracuse, can do you one better, because she was actually living those moments. The 92-year old has been working for a whopping 73 years at the Macy's Herald Square flagship store in New York City. Rose, also a member of RWDSU Local 1-S, is now announcing her retirement. [UFCW blog]
Rose was a founding member of Local 1-S, and she fought to unionize her workplace:
Speaking with RWDSU, Rose pointed out that "the union fights for you. They really help you. Otherwise how could you do it all by yourself? Nobody would listen to you." We couldn't agree more. Rose's statement reminds us that the point of a union has not changed from 73 years ago: when sticking together, we have a voice that will be listened to.
[Photo credit: iJammin, Creative Commons.]
Homicide Watch is a young journalism startup that reports on every single murder in Washington, DC. No other media outlet comes close. Murder victims in DC are disproportionately black and poor, and their stories are underrepresented in mainstream media coverage. Homicide Watch provides an invaluable service to members of beleaguered communities.
Shirky describes the site's innovative design:
Homicide Watch matters because they are more than just thorough, they’re innovative. They’ve designed the site like a set of feeds and a wiki rather than like the crime section of a newspaper. The home page shows the most recent updates on all pending cases. Each victim gets their own page, where those updates are aggregated. Every murder is mapped. Every page has the tip line for the detective assigned to the case. Every page hosts a place for remembrance of the victim.
This way of working isn’t just technologically innovative, it’s socially innovative, in a way journalism desperately needs. The home page of Homicide Watch shows photos of the most recent seven victims; as I write this, all seven, are, as usual, African-American. Like a lot of white people, I knew, vaguely, that crime was worse in black neighborhoods than in white ones, but actually seeing the faces, too often of kids not much older than my own, makes it clear how disproportionately this crime is visited on African-Americans.
Homicide Watch has received national recognition for its journalism and its innovative design. The site's co-founder and sole full-time reporter, Laura Amico, has received a prestiguous Niemann Fellowship at Harvard. Homicide Watch needs to raise enough money to hire a reporter to replace her during her yearlong stint at Harvard.
The most dedicated users of Homicide Watch can't afford to pay for it. So, Laura and Chris Amico are reaching out to those who care about socially conscious journalism to help keep the site alive.
As of Wednesday morning, the Homicide Watch Kickstarter had over $20,000 in pledges, putting the campaign a little over halfway towards its goal of $40,000 with 8 days left in the campaign. Remember, they only collect those pledge dollars if they meet the $40,000 threshold. So, keep those pledges coming.
- Most of the jobs created during the economic recovery are low-wage positions, whereas most of the jobs lost during the recession paid middle class wages, Catherine Rampell reports for the New York Times. This "hollowing out" of the workforce is linked to government layoffs.
- A Fair Labor Association audit of Apple's Chinese manufacturing facilities reveals that the company has pushed its leading manufacturer, Foxconn, to clean up some of the worst abuses without altering its exploitative labor model, Michelle Chen reports for In These Times.
- 200 members of the AFL-CIO braved the heat in Tampa on Wednesday to protest the Republican Party's anti-union agenda outside the Republican National Convention.
- New York City is poised to overhaul its housing authority based on the recommendations contained in a damning report that paints the New York City Housing Authority as inefficient and top-heavy with highly paid appointees. Two of the five members of the restructured board will be residents of NYCHA housing, up from one member out of four today. (via Sidney's Picks reader Elizabeth W.)
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons]
The cover story we've all been waiting for, snarky muckraker Matt Taibbi tells the true story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital for Rolling Stone.
Javier Mondar-Flores Lopez is an indigenous Mixtec farmworker in Southern California, he started working in the fields at the age of seven. He told his story of hardship, resilience, and activism to David Bacon of New America Media:
"Growing up in a farmworking family -- well, it's everything I ever knew. Whenever I got out of school, it was straight to the fields to get a little bit of money and help the family out. That's pretty much the only job I ever knew. In general we would work on the weekends and in the summers. When I was younger it would be right after school, and then during vacations.
My sister Teresa slept in the living room, and one night, when I was doing my homework at the table, I could hear her crying because she had so much pain in her hands. My mother and my other sister complained about how much their backs hurt. My brother talked about his back pain as well. It's pretty sad. I always hear my family talk about how much they're in pain and how's it's impossible for me to help them."
There are three bills working their way through the legislative system in California that would improve the lives of farmworkers like Javier, including one that would require overtime pay after 8 hours of work.
[Photo credit: Lettuce field, by Tom_Focus, Creative Commons.]
2012 Hillman Award-winner Sarah Stillman has an eye-opening story in this week's New Yorker about how police departments routinely enlist untrained youths as pawns in the drug war. Teens arrested for minor drug offenses are recruited to participate in dangerous sting operations involving weapons and hard drugs. Some, like 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman are murdered on the job. In the wake of multiple fatalities, a movement is afoot to reform the confidential informant system to protect the rights of young people, particularly those whose judgement may be clouded by addiction.
[Photo credit, Bodgan Suditu, Creative Commons.]
Kristina Rizga spent 18 months reporting inside a school reputed to be among the most troubled in San Francisco, as measured by standardized test scores. She was surprised to discover that the instution seemed to be doing much better than its test scores suggested:
If you wonder why you haven't read many accounts of how these questions are playing out in real life, there's a reason: It's easier for a journalist to embed with the Army or the Marines than to go behind the scenes at a public school. It took months to find one that would let me play fly on the wall. Once Guthertz opened the door at Mission, it took months more for some teachers, wary of distortion and stereotyping, to warm to me. In the end, I'd spend more than 18 months in Mission's classrooms, cafeterias, and administrative offices, finally watching the Class of 2012—including a beaming Maria—show off their diplomas.
The surprises began almost right away. Judging from what I'd read about "troubled" schools, I'd expected noisy classrooms, hallway fights, and disgruntled staff. Instead I found a welcoming place that many students and staff called "family." After a few weeks of talking to students, I failed to find a single one who didn't like the school, and most of the parents I met were happy too. Mission's student and parent satisfaction surveys rank among the highest in San Francisco.
Read the rest at Mother Jones.
[Photo credit: MrCharly, Creative Commons.]