Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

Sara Ganim Wins December Sidney Award for Coverage of Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal

Ever since she broke the news in March that former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was under grand jury investigation for the alleged sexual abuse of a high school boy, 24-year-old Sara Ganim of the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa has covered the unfolding scandal with unrelenting determination.

Sandusky was indicted on multiple counts of sexual abuse and the University of Penn Board of Regents sacked legendary head football coach Joe Paterno and university president. Such a dramatic gesture might have deflected public outrage against the university, if Ganim hadn’t revealed in November that that authorities missed opportunities to investigate Sandusky, starting in 1995 with concerns about Sandusky’s treatment of a boy he later adopted.

A janitor told his supervisor that he saw Sandusky assaulting a boy in the shower at Penn State in 2000. The campus police investigated Sandusky for a similar shower incident in 1998, but no charges were laid. A member of the coaching staff said he told his superiors that he saw Sandusky raping a boy in the shower in 2002. Nothing was done to stop Sandusky, besides requesting that he not shower with boys at Penn State anymore.

The complaint that sparked the grand jury probe wasn’t lodged until 2008. The mother of a high school football player whose team Sandusky was coaching began to suspect something was wrong when her son started asking questions about databases of “sex weirdos” and Sandusky demanded to discipline the boy. The boy eventually told his mother that Sandusky had been abusing him.

The Penn State sex abuse scandal has been called the biggest story in the history of college sports, but Ganim inists it is a crime story, not a football story. The sexual abuse of children by authority figures within powerful institutions is not unique to Penn State. Read my interview with Ganim in The Backstory.

[Photo credit: PSUPix. Caption: “Penn State football coach Joe Paterno accepts a crystal football from Athletic Director Tim Curley in a post-game celebration of Paterno’s 400th win.”]

David Montgomery (1927-2011): Internationally Renowned Historian Struck Fear In Hearts of UK Auto Execs

This is the third in a series of posts honoring the memory of distinguished labor historian and Sol Stetin Award judge David Montgomery. (Part I, Part II)

Ever since late on the afternoon of December 2 when I received initial word of David Montgomery’s death, I have puzzled about what I might say that others have not said better and more fluently. There is little that I can add to Josh Freeman’s and David Brody’s encomia in this space or Jon Wiener’s on the Nation’s webpage. I can only second what others have said about Montgomery’s remarkable scholarship, and, in fact, I did so in print many years ago beginning with my review of his first book, Beyond Equality, and those that followed. Yet Brody perhaps was even more illuminating in suggesting that Montgomery’s greatest impact was on the graduate students that he trained at Pittsburgh first and then Yale, who became among their generation’s leading historians. In fact, I had direct experience of that impact when in the winter of 1973, the members of my graduate seminar in labor history at Binghamton met for a weekend in Pittsburgh with Montgomery’s students. That relatively small group of students included Shelton Stromquist, Ronald Schatz, Peter Rachleff, Peter Gottlieb, Peter Friedlander, and Bryan Palmer, all of whom have since made an enormous impact for the better on labor history in particular and history in general. For such accomplishments, Montgomery deserved to be the first recipient of the Sidney Hillman Foundation’s Sol Stetin Award.

Instead of repeating what others have written, let me reflect on a few moments of a personal relationship that lasted over half a century and began in the summer of 1961 when Montgomery came down from Minneapolis to teach summer session at Northern Illinois University, my first academic home. We were candidates for the same position at the University of Pittsburgh, that David won, and less than a decade later I succeeded him at the Centre for the Study of Social History at the University of Warwick where he and E.P. Thompson created the M.A. Program in Anglo-American Labor History. At Warwick I learned of the powerful impact that Montgomery had on British students and how he continued his political activism as well as his scholarship, speaking to Labour Party and trade union groups. It was his activism that caused the Rootes Motor Company (a subsidiary of Chrysler) to employ a private detective to investigate Montgomery and then seek to have him deported from England as an “undesirable person” through the offices of the university vice-chancellor. So it might be said that Montgomery’s influence led to the strike precipitated by the M.A. students in the Anglo-American Labour History program that shut down the university for the entire second term in 1970. Few American historians have had as great an international impact as Montgomery, whether through the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam or universities in Italy, Germany, France, and Latin America. Montgomery not only breathed new life into a stale historical backwater in the U.S., as Brody noted, but he did so as well on a global stage. He earned all the many honors that he received in a distinguished career, and his presence will be sorely missed by many too numerous to count.

Melvyn Dubofsky is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History & Sociology at Binghamton University. He is the winner of the 2011 Sol Stetin Award for Labor History.

Remembering David Montgomery (1927-2011)

This is the second in a series of posts honoring the memory of David Montgomery, a distinguished labor historian who served as the lead judge for the Hillman Foundation’s Sol Stetin Award.

David Montgomery deserved to be the first winner of the Sol Stetin Award because he was the preeminent labor historian of his generation. No one had as big an impact on what became known as the New Labor History. This was first of all because he brought to it a distinctive shop-floor perspective, derived I think from the decade he spent as a machinist and Communist organizer before he entered academics. Once he found his footing–his dissertation on the labor movement during the Civil War era, while impressive, was more conventionally conceived–Montgomery never deviated from the view that the central subject of labor history should be, as he wrote in an influential collection of essays, “the battle for control of the workplace,” that the battle should always be seen by labor historians from the perspective of the workers themselves, and be understood as essentially political and transformative in nature. Hence the reservations he held about the New Deal, which, he wrote in a prescient essay, “was simultaneously liberating and co-optive for workers,” at once rescuing them from the heavy hand of managerial control while opening “a new avenue through which the rank and file could in time be tamed and the newly powerful unions be subjected to tight legal and political control.” A challenging perspective like this one is the essential ingredient in energizing a field of study.

History is, of course, a joint enterprise, and others with different ideas, pioneers like Herbert Gutman, are also to be credited for the New Labor History. No new subject can be the product of one person. But more than anyone else, it was Montgomery’s scholarship, always passionately argued, that infused a subject that had been a backwater of labor economics into an innovative, core subject of study in American history. No one, moreover, excelled Montgomery as a graduate trainer, and especially in his years at Pittsburgh, he salted the field with a grand cadre of labor historians, many of them now occupying senior positions in the profession. They will no doubt be testifying in the coming days to what studying under Montgomery meant to them. But for a contemporary of David’s like myself, what I most admire is that he entered an essentially dead field and made a live subject of it. And it is for this, that at his death, I celebrate David Montgomery’s life.

David Brody is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Califoria, Davis and an affiliated faculty member at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkely. He received the Stetin Award in 2008.

Flash Conference: "From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street and Beyond--The Future of Networked Democracy"

What do Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party have in common? Find out at Tech President’s flash conference, “From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street and Beyond–The Future of Networked Democracy,” on December 12:

Monday night December 12, from 6:00-8:30pm at NYU, Personal Democracy Media will present a flash conference titled, “From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street and Beyond: The Future of Networked Democracy” with Ori Brafman, co-author, The Starfish and the Spider; Beka Economopolous, organizer, Occupy Wall Street; Marianne Manilov, co-founder, The Engage Network; Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder, Tea Party Patriots; Mark Meckler, co-founder, Tea Party Patriots; Clay Shirky, NYU, author, Here Comes Everybody; and Zeynep Tufekci, University of North Carolina.

The Hillman Foundation is an official conference media sponsor. Please join us for an evening of stimulating conversation. Tickets are $5. Space is limited, so register today.

Monday December 12, 6:00-8:30pm
NYU Kimmel Center for University Life
Richard L. Rosenthal Pavilion - 10th Floor
60 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012

Hashtag: #PDMteaows

[Photo credit: _PaulS_, Creative Commons.]

Labor Historian David Montgomery (1927-2011)

David Montgomery, the first winner of the Sidney Hillman Foundation’s Sol Stetin Award for Labor History and subsequently the award’s lead judge, died on December 2 at age 84.

Montgomery was the nation’s leading labor historian. His many articles and books, especially Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872; Workers’ Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles; and The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925, profoundly reshaped our understanding of the history of American workers.

More than other historians, Montgomery took his readers into the workplace, into the iron mills and railroad shops and munitions plants and electrical equipment factories of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which he saw as central to shaping workers’ consciousness and political struggles. The key to working-class organization and advance, for Montgomery, lay in the militant minority, in the shop stewards, radicals, ethnic leaders, and itinerant organizers who populated the landscape of industrial America. Clear-eyed about labor’s defeats as well as its victories, Montgomery had a firm faith in the power and ingenuity of working people in fighting for better lives and a better society.

David’s intense interest in the details of work life – workers’ tasks and routines, their efforts to control the pace of work, and their complex relationships to machinery, supervisors, and one another – reflected his own decade as a machinist and union activist in New York and Minnesota. As a young member of the United Electrical Workers (and of the Communist Party until 1957), he once arranged for W.E.B. DuBois to address his fellow workers during Negro History Week, typical of David’s lifelong commitment to anti-racism and his respect for the intellect and vision of his fellow workers. Only after FBI harassment got him fired from one job after another did Montgomery finally leave the machine shop for the groves of the academy.

After earning a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, Montgomery spent fourteen years at the University of Pittsburgh before being appointed the Farnam Professor of History at Yale University. He shaped labor history as much through his teaching as his writing. Thousands of students had the startling experience of hearing David speak for the first time; his normally shy demeanor changed at the podium, as he held forth about history with passion and in cadences more associated with the Petrograd Soviet than with the snoozy atmosphere of an academic conference or a university classroom. Montgomery trained several generations of graduate students who today hold senior positions in history departments all across the United States and who have pushed labor history forward in myriad directions. A dedicated internationalist, Montgomery co-founded and long edited International Labor and Working-Class History, which has promoted an ever more global and comparative view of the history of workers.

David never abandoned his core belief in solidarity even after he ascended to highest ranks of academia (including serving as president of the Organization of American Historians). Many New Haven workers remember him as the professor who, without fail, would show up at their picket lines, not the usual passtime for senior Yale faculty. In the machine shop, the library, the classroom, and on the picket line, David Montgomery spent a long fruitful lifetime fighting for workers’ advancement, equal rights, and social justice.

Joshua B. Freeman is Professor of History at the City University of New York and a Stetin Award judge. He has written extensively about the history of labor, modern America, and New York City.

#Sidney's Picks: The Best of the Week's News

  • A woman in Afghanistan was pardoned for adultery after she satisfied a judge she’d been raped, but her pardon came with some major strings attached. She’s expected to mary her rapist. Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times reports on Afghan women’s struggle for equality before the law.
  • Accidents continue to plague Louisiana’s oil refineries, Sue Sturgis reports for Facing South.
  • Talk about pay-to-play: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker wants to charge protesters for the privilege of demonstrating inside their own State Capitol, Jason Stein reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. [HT: Andy Kroll of Mother Jones.]
  •  Mike Elk of Working In These Times on this week’s big news at the National Labor Relations Board.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Koch Brothers Run Misleading Pro-Walker Ads Ahead of Recall Vote

The right wing kingmakers at Koch Industries have launched an ad campaign championing the record of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is currently facing a recall vote. The Kochs are longstanding Walker allies. Their PAC donated tens of thousands of dollars to his gubernatorial bid.

Sidney Award-winner Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy debunks several misleading claims from the campaign. The ads tout Walker’s record of cutting spending and taxes. However, spending will rise by nearly 8 percent in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Moreover, while Wisconsin corporations got big tax cuts, many working families will see their state taxes go up because Walker slashed the Earned Income Tax Credit program.

Bottari notes that the campaign recycles assertions made on Walker’s own taxpayer-funded website, “Reforms and Results,” which sparked an ethics complaint for alleged campaigning at taxpayer expense.

[Photo credit: Sue Peacock, Creative Commons.]


A Unemployed Seattleite's Journey to Occupy Wall Street

In this week’s New Yorker, George Packer tells the story of Ray Kachel, a 53-year-old Seattle man who crossed the country to occupy Zuccotti Park.

Kachel’s arc of downward social mobility will sound depressingly familiar to 99% of readers. It could happen to anyone who works for a living in a country with a minimal social safety net. Kachel eked out a living as a self-taught tech worker. Like most Americans, he had few assets and modest savings. After he got laid off, he went freelance. Then, his main client died and gigs dried up. His savings ran out. Over the summer, he was forced to sell off his possessions, even the digital tools he needed to work again.

Like a lot of people, Kachel found out about Occupy Wall Street on twitter: 

Kachel had four hundred and fifty dollars from the sale of his copy of Final Cut Pro. For two hundred and fifty, you could travel to New York City on a Greyhound bus. He had never been farther east than Dallas, but New York City was so dense and diverse, and so full of ideas and ways to make money, that if he could learn to exist there he could surely find a place to exist. On the last night of September, he went to bed telling himself, “Oh, this is just absolutely nuts, you can’t do that.” He woke up in the morning with a clear thought: This is exactly what I’m going to do.

Kachel’s journey is an effective foil for Packer to talk about the intellectual and social scene in Zuccotti, the tensions between “ordinary” occupiers and more sophisticated “activists,” and the galvanizing frame of “the 99%.” Highly recommended reading.

[Photo credit: David Shankbone, Creative Commons.]

My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable: White House Moves To Digitize Records

Good news for proponents of transparency and open government, from Richard Wolf of USA Today; the White House has a plan to digitize the Republic’s filing cabinets:

President Obama is ordering that government records be modernized, with an increased emphasis on digital documents.

The White House claims it’s the most significant step to improve the management of public records since the Truman administration 60 years ago.

“The current federal records management system is based on an outdated approach involving paper and filing cabinets,” Obama said in a statement. “Today’s action will move the process into the digital age so the American public can have access to clear and accurate information about the decisions and actions of the federal government.

The White House predicts that the switch will also save money.

[Photo credit: Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons.]

Catch-22: Airport Workers Forced to Work For Tips, Forbidden to Mention Tipping

Attendants who escort disabled passengers at O’Hare International Airport often earn less than minimum wage based on mangement’s extremely dubious assumption that the passengers will make up the difference in tips, Dave Jamieson reports for the Huffington Post:

CHICAGO, Ill. – Every day she goes to work at O’Hare International Airport, Elda Burke faces the same dilemma.

Burke, 30, works as a passenger attendant at the airport, escorting the elderly and disabled to and from their gates by wheelchair. Even though the airlines describe this as a free service, Burke’s employer has her working partly for tips, which is why her base pay is a low $6.50 an hour, somewhat like a restaurant server’s, rather than the typical Illinois minimum wage of $8.25.

But unlike diners at a restaurant, many of the passengers Burke will be escorting on their holiday travels this week won’t realize she’s working for tips – and by federal law, she won’t be allowed to tell them.

“We cannot say anything,” Burke says. “If we do that, they can fire us.”

Did you know that tipping airport attendants is customary? I didn’t. Maybe we don’t know because the attendants are forbidden to tell anyone that they work for tips. Talk about a Catch-22.

[Photo credit: Dan Shouse, Creative Commons.]