Sunday, June 26, 2016

Modern Muckraking

“Gray Mountain,” by John Grisham, 2015

Grisham is the writer of progressive lawyers.  His heroes are usually low-end attorneys who take on the good fight.  They battle corporations, the bureaucratic government, crooked lawyers and ‘experts,’ cops and racists.  His books consistently rank in the best seller lists because they are page-turners, skillfully plotted numbers that put you on the side of ‘right.’  In this case, it is the war against the wealthy coal companies in Virginia, West Virginia and eastern Tennessee who practice mountain-top removal, ignore black-lung disease and have millions of dollars to fight lawsuits against environmental degradation and the destruction of worker health.

Mountain Top Removal in the Appalachian Mountains
The biggest question is, of course, do these class actions and ‘good’ fights ultimately change who controls the U.S.?  It has certainly been proven, as was shown in the book ‘Class Action,” (reviewed below) that these legal decisions can have long-term progressive consequences for women, working class people, ethnic minorities, etc.  “Brown v Board of Education,” “Roe v Wade,” and others have been imprinted into U.S. culture.  Yet both these decisions reflect larger movements within society that impacted the legal system.  In that sense, lawyers come second to the movements.  Grisham does not show this, but instead focuses on the heroic lawyer.  Yet law is politics by other means and is directly connected to the class struggle.  In a society where private property is a legal right across the board, ultimately all of these defensive fights are waged against the prevailing legal structure.  Many times that capitalist legal structure is the problem itself, and not something that can be defeated in a court of law.

Grisham here starts with a familiar theme – the upper-middle class person thrown into poverty or unemployment due to social factors.  In this case it is the economic collapse of 2008 when a female real-estate contract attorney – Samantha Kofer – is laid-off from her job in a lucrative coporate law firm in Manhattan along with hundreds of others.  Upper middle-class people are not supposed to be laid off or fired or lose their loft, cappuccinos and martinis.  Samantha is oddly forced to seek ‘intern’ work in the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in remote Brady, Virginia in order to preserve her right to be recalled back to work.  So she ends up going to Appalachia to practice the kinds of law she has no experience of, or doesn’t like – wills, litigation, divorce, battery, TROs, black lung compensation – anything a small town lawyer might do in such a conflicted location.  Drugs, poverty and unemployment dominate the mountain towns.  Being a corporate real-estate contract attorney is probably the dullest job in law, and even Samantha is sick of it, but this at first is beyond her ken.

The predictable romance and ‘adventure’ follows while she is thrown into battles against greedy relatives who want to sell their land to coal companies; violent meth-heads who beat their wives; rich coal companies who attempt to intimidate her with goons and the FBI; a dying coal-miner who is denied black-lung benefits, which is a standard practice by the coal companies.  The unions have been destroyed in many of these coal fields.  Mountain top removal is the cheaper way to mine coal over the deep ‘vein’ underground mining that existed when unions were prevalent.  Grisham shows the environmental devastation of mountain top removal - streams and rivers polluted and destroyed, timber bulldozed, people killed by careening trucks and boulders, homes leveled. It is clear here that the destruction of unions and people also leads to the decimation of the land.

Samantha works with the Brady female legal-aid lawyers who are tough and stand up to the intimidation on a daily basis, and begins to enjoy the human companionship, shorter hours, nature and meaning of her new job.  Yet she still dreams of Manhattan, and considers her stay to be very temporary.  Like most upper-middle class people, she has family reserves.  Both her parents are high-level attorneys – her mother in the Justice Department, her father a former class action attorney, now funding class actions.  Both of these contacts come in handy in the fight against the coal companies.

Ultimately some stolen documents play a role in the litigation against the coal companies.  The edge between ‘legal’ and illegal is here walked through the book, with Samantha trying to avoid the marginal tactics that the opponents of the coal companies use in order to hold their own.  Grisham hints that always playing by the book is a losing strategy against such opponents. Shots ring out against enormous truck tires.  An odd sentiment for a lawyer, who is supposed to 'believe in the law.'

I’ll leave you with a quote from a coal miner in the book applying for black lung benefits, and his dealinsg with the well-paid corporate attorneys:
“I remember those guys in court, in front of the administrative law judge.  Three or four of them, all in dark suits and shiny black shoes, all strutting around so important.  They would look over at us like we was white trash, you know, just an ignorant coal miner with his ignorant wife, just another deadbeat trying to game the system for a monthly check.  I can see them right now, arrogant little shits, so smart and smug and cocky because they knew how to win and we didn’t.  I know it’s not very Christian-like to hate, but I really, really despised those guys.” 
He goes on:
            “They got the money, the power, the doctors, and I guess the judges.  Some system.”

Other books by Grisham reviewed below:  "A Time to Kill" and "Sycamore Row.

Red Frog
June 26, 2016

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Read Down Memory Lane

"Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens – Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown,  (2010-2014)” by Richard Wolff, 2016

This book certainly proves that blog posts and essays can become books.  Wolff is one of the few Marxist economics professors in the U.S. and for that we should be grateful.  However, as a professor he writes essays that are repetitive and seem to be aimed at freshman in college.  At this point, his book provides a helpful tracking of some of the issues involved in Obama’s corporate handling of the financial crisis that started in 2007.  Remember the ‘fiscal cliff?’ Or the “grand compromise’ with the Republicans?  The ‘debt commission?’ Or ‘government shutdowns’, ‘debt ceilings’ and attempts at ‘bipartisanship’?  Wolff is repeatedly inspired by the class analysis of Occupy Wall Street.  He also seems to be inspired by FDR and the history of the U.S. in the 1930s, constantly comparing it to the pro-Wall Street, neo-liberal response of Obama and the Democratic Party to a similar situation.  In a familiar litany, the banking industry, corporations and the rich – the 1% - were saved, while ‘Main Street’ was left behind.

Spain's Mondragan Corporation
Wolff’s main contribution is his advocacy, along with people like Stanley Aronowitz, of workers’ self management, which he calls ‘worker self-directed enterprises.’ (WSDE)  Mondragon in Spain is his shining example – a massive, democratically-run organization that avoids layoffs and high pay differentials and is involved in many different businesses, employing 85,000 people in 2010.  It is a combination of 100 cooperatives and WSDEs.  It survived the collapse of the Spanish economy after 2007 quite well.  He compares the bureaucratized ‘actually existing socialism’ of the USSR, Eastern and Central Europe, the PRC, Vietnam and Cuba to WSDE enterprises and points to their failures in democratizing the workplace, which he thinks is the real or only reason that led to their collapse.  He makes a good case for making workers’ self-management part of any ‘transitional program’ towards real socialism – which he says the USSR and the PRC never had.  Wolff thinks one reason that ‘really existing socialism’ failed was because the ‘standard’ definition of socialism only meant government ownership and control of production. 

In a way, Wolff is most closely associated with the views of the International Socialist Organization (“ISO”).  He now sees China as ‘capitalist.’  His brief descriptions of the problems of the socialist and communists movements is laughably vague ...perhaps intentionally so.  He preaches socialism over and over again with one prime transitional demand – workers’ cooperatives and little else.    

Wolff dances around whether socialized ownership of production and national / international planning should be part of a socialist program, or even a real emphasis on political democracy through work and geographic counsels. Instead he points to the 13.7 million U.S. citizens working in 11,400 employee stock ownership plan companies. (ESOP)  He insists that enough decentralized WSDEs will lead, in the right context of capitalist economic turbulence, to a peaceful transition to socialism.  This, of course, is dubious. 

As experience has shown in the U.S., cooperatives, ESOPs, communes, 'non-profits' and other businesses not run directly by capital can revert back to private ownership, can collapse or can ape capitalist businesses.  Which figures, because they are surrounded by a sea of capital. Socialism in one firm?  Not really.  If cooperatives proliferate, they ultimately will set one group of workers in a cooperative against another cooperative.  Since they are not part of a plan, ultimately they would have to be coordinated.  Cooperatives are certainly an improvement over the top-down, shareholder/owner profit model of the typical capitalist corporation however.  That is their progressive character. 

Here are some nuggets from Wolff’s essays:

  1. Unlike Monthly Review, Wolff has charts that show U.S. capitalist profits (perhaps not overall growth) rising from 1975 to 2007.  And profit is the name of the game.  In 2014 they were around 10% AFTER taxes.  This is the flip side of the ‘stagnation’ argument and one that undermines it. 
  2. Wolff has charts that show U.S. corporate taxes dropping since WWII.  Corporations paid the majority of taxes in 1943 – which was the last time they paid more.  In 2008 individuals paid 3.5 times in taxes what corporations paid.  In 2009 corporate taxes were 7% of the total.  Payroll and individual taxes accounted for nearly all of the rest.  Payroll taxes for working-class people even went up in 2013.  As Marx pointed out, taxes are a weapon of upward distribution - so the Tea-Party had it right!  They are administered by a capitalist state and voted on by a capitalist-dominated congress, not some neutral party. 
  3. Wolff takes down Keynesianism and our resident NYT Keynesian, Paul Krugman… the economist who promoted Clinton, the Un-Keynesian.  He calls Keynesianism “capitalism’s plan B.” 
  4. Wolff does come out clearly for socialized banking, due to the sector’s collapse world-wide. 
  5. He has an interesting article on Harvard students walking out of some Econ 101 basic class because it only promoted Freidmanite capitalism. 
  6. Wolff is irritated that Marxism is not allowed in the so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’ in the U.S., but says that due to the 2007 crash that is changing slowly.
  7. Wolff repeated lampoons the ‘circulation of capital’ as U.S. corporations and the rich don’t pay taxes, while recessions reduce individual and sales tax receipts.  The billionaires instead promote austerity by laying off government workers and not funding government unemployment or foreclosure programs.  This after crashing the economy and getting bailed out by the same government going into debt!  The prime buyers of government bonds – i,e, government debt – are these same people.  So when the government goes into debt because of lack of taxes, because of economic recession, they issue more bonds.  And these same scoundrels collect the interest!  As they say, coming and going, coming and going. 
  8. The ‘bailout’ of Greece was really a bailout of the European banks.
  9. Wolff coins the phrase ‘scapegoat economics.’  Think Greece, unemployed people or Latinos.  Anyone else you’d like to blame?
  10. A ‘market’ does not equal capitalism, as markets exist in many types of economies.
This book is a primer to the last 8 years if you need one.  But most of its arguments are by now very familiar and are NOT as the title shows, about the deepening of the present capitalist crisis in 2016.  There is no looking forward at all, except on the issue of WSDEs.

Another book by Wolff reviewed below:  Occupy the Economy.” Use search box, upper left.
And I bought it at Mayday Books
Red Frog
June 15, 2016

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bernie Burned

The UnWelcome Guest

Bernie Sanders has been like an unwanted guest at a private party, crashing the domain of glitzy champagne swillers with his shabby appearance and unkempt ideas.  The Democratic Party (‘DP’) and the media had crowned Clinton queen a year or more ago and have done it repeatedly since then.  Now they have finally gotten resolution in their eyes.  Obama has anointed his successor and even Elizabeth Warren is endorsing Wall Street’s candidate.  Though there has been no convention vote yet, so this is the last installment of prematurity.  Clinton did win the most votes in the DP primaries which is the key thing here, by hook or by crook.

Sanders Electoral Rally
Sanders will not sway the super-delegates, but his continued high-lighting of these power brokers is useful in exposing the DP as a highly Undemocratic Party. (“UP”)  The super-delegates were designed to prevent another take-over of the nominating process by the unwashed grassroots, as happened in 1972 around McGovern.  They are a sort of star chamber of conservancy. 

UP debates were scheduled so people wouldn’t watch.  The UP chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz showed unalloyed favoritism to Clinton. The UP held closed primaries to keep ‘independent’ voters from voting, washing away 3 million voters in New York and many in California.  Ultimately independents have no place in the nominating process in these and some other states.  They reduced polling places, as in Puerto Rico.  They struck young people off the ballots, as in Brooklyn.  The lied about violence in Nevada at the UP convention.  They allocated more delegate votes to Clinton than she got in actual votes in several states.  The UP held caucuses in which they were totally unprepared for the volume, as in Minnesota.  Even polling machines became suspicious.   I could go on, but you get the point.  International organizations have ranked the U.S. very low in actual democratic processes, and this is further proof, even from the ‘good’ guys.

The ‘Sheepherder’

Nevertheless, Bernie will kiss the ring and urge his voters to vote for consigliore Hillary Clinton at the convention.  This after getting a few concessions on the platform – a platform that no one, least of all Clinton, will take seriously. Maybe DW Schultz will even get demoted, but don’t bet on it.  Clinton herself publicly said that none of Sanders’ ideas interested her.  She will instead move to appeal to Republican moderates and even conservatives – being a Republican moderate herself.  A section of neo-con Republicans has already endorsed her over Trump. Her political positions?  “I’m a woman and I’m not Trump.”  That is it. 

Is it good that a capitalist party has finally, in 2016, nominated a women for president?  Of course.  Could they have picked a better women?  Of course.  Feminists and socialist parties ran women for president since 1872.  Many other capitalist countries have already had female leaders.  Now the U.S. capitalists have caught up!  Warren, whose narrow issue is economic regulation, will be captured and tamed if she becomes VP, unless some kind of rebellion breaks out that even Clinton and the UP can’t control.  But for Warren to accept a VP spot in this context is clueless.
The Pyromaniac

So what are the millions of voters who backed Sanders to do, in an immediate sense?  This is something the miniscule left hasn’t ever had to consider.  The ultra-left will not vote.  The disgusted will not vote.  The right-wing socialists – DSA, CP, Committees of Correspondence – will dutifully vote for Clinton.  The UP represents a wing of capital, and voting for it is the essence of any ‘popular front’ between the ‘people’ and the ‘good’ businessmen against the ever-present ‘right.’  Since the right will never go away, this is a permanent strategy by these forces.  The majority of the rest of the left will vote for Jill Stein, candidate of the progressive middle-class Green Party, or some other 3rd Party, perhaps socialist, candidate. 

Some leftists called Sanders a ‘sheep-herder” and, barring the insult to regular people contained in this comment, that is exactly what he is.  He has led new voters into the blissful, clutching arms of the UP.  But he was, as I noted on January 31 in these pages, a ‘pyromaniac’ too.  He took Occupy Wall Street’s line and moved it into electoral politics. He exposed the domestic UP for what it was – neo-liberal, full of nice words and vicious policies, funded by corporations and the rich, basing itself on identity politics as the fount of their capitalist wisdom.  This is how the UP gets the population to line up with the ‘nice’ rich.  He showed that Clinton will say anything to get elected. (Cue TPP, Keystone pipeline, fracking, etc.) In other words, he has exposed the UP more than any other major candidate. Being a ‘domestic’ guy and a social-democrat, he couldn’t crush Clinton where she is also vulnerable, in her incessant war-mongering, as he is a nationalist too.  Let’s take bets on Clinton's first intervention … Ukraine!  After all, the U.S., NATO and other ‘allies’ are conducting massive war games right now on the Russian border.  Obama, with his ‘peace prize’ dangling from his neck, just smiles.

The ‘Bernie or Bust” movement is a symptom of the ‘pyromaniac’ side.  While some Sanders supporters will dutifully ‘fight the right’ and vote for Clinton, many others will stay home or vote Stein.  The Green Party vote will be bigger this year, and not for anything they have done… but only because of the Sanders movement.

A Little Lenin Would Go A Long Way

So is Sanders a personality cult like Jesse Jackson or does he have an organizational plan beyond the convention?  What about his staffers or supporters?  Sanders himself has not formed an organization and that shows he doesn’t really understand mass politics.  To take a page from Lenin or Trotsky or any logical Marxist, you need an organization to carry anything through.  And that is the missing link which all the left-liberal intellectuals, commentators, authors, journalists, bloggers, entertainers, TV comics and professors never mention.  In their hundreds all the ‘big names’ never commit to or mention organizational issues or any changes in them.  They just bitch about the present capitalist reality.  By default everything drops back into the UP’s lap.  These are not leaders, much as they claim to be.  This is what we really have to talk about.

Socialists, Greens, Labor

Well, things are brewing.  There are several efforts on the socialist left attempting to form an electoral front.  One had a large 2015 meeting in Chicago and was attended by Socialist Alternative, the ISO, Black Agenda Report and others.  The other is from the socialist right around the Communist Party or their cast-offs in the Committees for Correspondence, as well as the official social-democrats in DSA.  They want ‘independent politics’ but include an alliance with the Democrats as part of their written program.  In effect, leading everyone right back to the popular front they both have championed since WWI / 1914 or Stalin / 1934.  The “Working Families Party” in NY is one of their templates.  In actuality they are all about promoting a ‘progressive’ Bernie wing in the Democrats, as was clear from a recent talk by a local supporter here at Mayday.

Then there is the Green Party, which has been a stagnant organization for years.  Oddly, nearly every candidate in Minneapolis/St. Paul that has run for the Greens is a small progressive businessman.  I’m not sure if this is true in other locations, but I found it indicative.  They do not have a labor component.  Stein, a doctor, is making appeals to Sanders to join the Green ticket, so the Greens are not unaware of what is going on.  As I noted, any enlarged vote for Stein will come from the “Bernie or Bust” contingent.  Now more than 50,000 people have signed a petition for Sanders to run as an independent.  And there are indications that Sanders’ staffers are looking at forming a “Progressive Party’ similar to the left-populist organization of the late 1880s-1890s.  Many Sanders supporters are saying the same thing.

Will the labor movement itself form anything?  In the U.S., the large Labor Party of the late 1990s failed to run candidates in the face of opposition from DSA’s Sweeney, at that time head of the AFL-CIO.  Occupy got some AFL-CIO groups to support them.  Other groups have attempted to form a labor-based organization since then, like the Mass Party of Labor. When the MPL failed to support other leftists running on similar platforms, that organization went into hibernation.  Candidates from Socialist Alternative in Seattle and Minneapolis got endorsements from some labor unions like SEIU.  Sanders got 4 labor internationals and many locals and regionals to support him.  What is clear from these recent historical examples is that, right now, the labor movement itself will not form an independent electoral organization until people OUTSIDE labor start the process.  You first!

Reds of the World, Unite!

Trotsky would have made Socialist Alternative, Socialist Action and Socialist Appeal – all U.S. Trotskyist organizations - form a joint working group in preparation for unity.  No such front exists to this day, probably because no one of Trotsky’s authority exists anymore.  (I might add that the DSA/CP/CoC should also block, just to make political sense!) An anti-capitalist mass movement in the U.S. – which is growing – will force ostensible Marxists to work together in a Left Front, in spite of their own highly prized theoretical positions, small group mentalities and personality conflicts.  This has already happened in Europe.  Most left workers and independent radicals in the U.S. constantly wonder why there is this plethora of tiny left sects.  Whether they be Maoists, Trotskyists, unrepentant Stalinists, China-supporters, Guevaraists, anarcho-syndicalists, DeLeonists, Euro-Communists, Socialists – perhaps even the occasional Social-Democrat – they all are anti-capitalist to various degrees.  The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were in one organization for 12 years in a far more politicized context than the one the U.S. left finds itself in now, and that lasted until the situation in Russia advanced to a certain point - and WWI happened.  The present U.S. left pretends to be ‘past’ that, but it has never even got to that stage.

Activism Over-Acting

Then there is the ridiculous profusion of single-issue organizations – 1,000s probably – that have one concern a piece.  As if ‘holistic’ or ‘connected’ or ‘the matrix’ or ‘society as a whole’ is some fantasy and not the overwhelming reality.  Nearly every organization out there is focused on one aspect of capitalism, but like the blind man in the room, thinks the elephant trunk is the whole animal.  Time to turn the lights on and see the elephant.  Organizations should work together as part of an anti-capitalist front, but this might only happen if things get really rough. 
So what is to be done?  There is no doubt that this movement has energized and moved millions of people to the left. But if no left organization comes out of the Sanders movement, then this round of mass activism will again have come to naught.   Of course personal experience can be used to build on in the future, the next time around.  Until it is forgotten and, like Ground Hog Day, we have to start all over again.

P.S. - In 3 days June 17-19, 3,000 activists gathered in a 'People’s Summit' in Chicago to embrace a continuing resolution to building a 'broad, bigger progressive' movement. This event involved some social democrats, but it shows that there is an organizational residue from the Sanders campaign.  Frances Fox Piven, NNU, Naomi Klein and other activists addressed the conference. 

P.P.S. - Stein made the bourgeois news the week of July 7, indicating Sanders was welcome on the Green ticket. 

Red Frog
June 10, 2016

Friday, June 3, 2016

Women From the North Country

“Class Action” by Clara Bingham and Laura L. Gansler, 2002

This is the book on which “North Country,” the movie starring Charlize Theron, was based.  It is a deeply disturbing look at gender discrimination at Eveleth Mining in the 1970s-1990s after the iron mining companies were first forced to hire women by the Federal EEOC in 1974.  This order happened at the height of the radical women’s liberation movement in the U.S. – it was not something the government came up with on their own.  Eveleth is a town on the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota, not far from Duluth, which is at the head of Lake Superior in the U.S.  Its mine produced taconite pellets – a lower-grade iron used for steel-making.  This book is far darker than the film due to its in-depth treatment of the miseries suffered by the claimants in the subsequent lawsuit, which went on for 10 years.  As one feminist put it, making ‘martyrs of feminist pioneers’ is not the best thing. 
The Film - Easier than the Book
Some thoughts.  Anyone who has worked in a working-class, blue collar environment knows there is always a group of men that look down on women and sexualize all women – and some play along with that happy horseshit.  They are never a majority and that was attested to in this case, in which male miners pointed out that the worst offenders were maybe 30 out of 700+ men.  Most of these 30 guys probably had no romantic relationships; were crude, insensitive, macho, dumb, odd, ugly, old or alcoholic, and desperate for female attention.  Their chances of long-range marriages or girlfriends are slim to none.  The real problem was the majority of the other miners – and even the union - did not come to the women’s aid.   This is a betrayal of labor solidarity. 

This first group of clueless men are the ones really exposed in this book.  For years the women endure sexist graffiti, posters and pictures; sexual and physical contact; insulting statements, sexist verbal and practical jokes; hostile threats, ‘shunning,’ aggressive mistreatment, even attempts at physical harm – to the point that they avoid going to the bathroom  or certain locations and  carry weapons in their boots.  This activity was coming from foreman, fellow workers, lead workers and white-collar managers.  Yet many are afraid to complain too much for fear of losing their jobs or alienating their co-workers.  They put up with the abuse to survive.  In the lawsuit, this is of course used against them.

Some of the symptoms displayed by rape victims occurred among the mine women too – which shows what a constant level of sexual harassment can do.

What is predictable is that the company – Eveleth Mines, owned by a consortium managed by  Oglebay Norton based in Cleveland Ohio - ignored the few complaints or did the minimum to rectify the situation.  To top it off, Local 6860 of the Steelworkers (USWA), did little to nothing about the issue and ultimately blocks with the company when the legal action starts.  It chooses to stand by the sexist miners over their own female members.  Neither the union nor the company wanted a policy against sexual harassment, and only due to the lawsuit does one eventually come about.   The union claimed that no union member could testify or betray another union member to the company, which is certainly a good policy. But unless the union itself took action internally, this justified a minority being abused.

The USW itself was behind the economic and social curve, as U.S. capitalism brought 12 million women workers into the workforce by 1980.  Instead of adjusting to the growth in the working-class, the union attempted to ignore it – much as unions initially tried to not organize immigrant workers in a later period.  

What is also predictable is that the Minnesota Dept of Human Rights / Attorney General’s office dropped action against Eveleth Mines, bowing to pressure from its own Democratic Governor Perpich, a Ranger.  Democratic politicians – the real fighters for women’s rights - after the fact!  Also predictable is that the local paper, the Mesabi Daily News, along with the rest of the Minnesota press, ignored the story until the Wall Street Journal made it national news.

This book focuses on the personal stories of the female miners, who had had hard lives and were poverty-stricken before getting the high-paying union mining jobs at Eveleth.    It tracks what happened to them after the suit is filed, even while they are still working, focusing on the lead plaintiffs Lois Jenson and Pat Kosmach.  Several suffer from PTSD, most suffer from isolation and they all had various detrimental effects.  A class action on their behalf was ultimately filed by an aggressive pro-employee firm in Minneapolis, Sprenger & Lang in 1988. 

This is also a legal story about the history of gender discrimination law in the U.S.  This lawsuit – “Jenson et al. v Eveleth” – was the first successful certified class action based on a sexist ‘hostile work environment’ theory.  In the Appeal, it set a precedent for limiting abusive discovery in cases involving sexual issues.  That Appeal set another precedent by showing that the burden of proof in these cases falls on the defense, not the claimants.  Yet it once again highlights the defense tactic of painting claimants as ‘nuts and sluts’ – similar to that used in rape cases.   Notably the lead trial and deposition attorney for Eveleth Mines, who dragged each female class member through the mud, was a woman, Mary Stumo, counsel at Faegre & Benson a Minneapolis law firm.  No ‘sisterhood’ here.  Wonder how long some upper-middle class female lawyers would last in a sexist environment?  We’ll never find out...

The capitalist legal system does not show up well.  “Justice” takes too long.  It took 1 year for the state discrimination claim, 5 years for the class action certification, 3 more years for the award decision and 2 more years for the Appeal on the award.  It was incredibly expensive – attorney bills running into the millions of dollars.  And the courts varied in quality.  After the successful class certification stage of the case, an elderly, red-nosed magistrate in bed with the corporate figures in Duluth presided over the ‘damages’ phase of the trial - and ultimately sided with the firm.   He allowed abuses of discovery and offered tiny amounts as awards.  He discounted all expert witnesses in psychology and even falls asleep on the bench. 

At the end, few who knew how this would proceed would even start, given the time, energy and emotional stress.  If it wasn’t for persevering women and lawyers, this mess would have gone nowhere.  

What is the class angle on this?  Obviously sexism functions just like racism or ethnic hostility to break up the working class.  It allows the worst, most conservative sector of the class to internally dominate. Many male miners were afraid that ‘women’ would take their jobs, as unemployment and layoffs are a constant feature of mining life.  Yet before they were hired, many of these women were mostly living alone in poverty and raising children.  The discriminatory sub-text was that women should only work low-paying jobs on the Range as retail clerks, waitresses, secretaries or bank tellers and that all high-paying jobs would go to men.

The role of the union was also sad.  The Local’s leaders claimed that the lawsuit would bankrupt the union and lead to the men being laid-off.  Yet the Union was actually named not as a defendant but as a third-party, since the result of the trial might change the union contract.  They were brought in on a technicality.  The company HR department head thought that women should never work in a mine in the first place.  The corporate headquarters in Cleveland refused to settle, refused to institute a real policy against sexual harassment, and in the end spent much more money than they ever thought.  These were the obdurate forces arrayed against 18-30+ women.

Another thought.  As a Minnesotan, I am very familiar with the Range. I lived in Ely as a young boy and return there often.  My mother’s father was a Finn miner who got injured and started a bar with his tiny ‘workers compensation’ money, in order to get out of the mines.  I attended the 1977 USW strike there and knew people who worked as miners around Virginia.  It is a very close ‘frontier’ community, where you can live there for 30 years and still be considered an outsider.  Its chief benefits are the beautiful woods and lakes, but the isolation can also kill – by alcohol or drugs. 

The ‘red’ Finns and ‘black’ Eastern Europeans that settled there were ostracized by the corporations and the more conservative ‘white’ Swedes and Norwegians.  Gus Hall(berg), former leader of the Communist Party, came from there and one of his relatives even worked at Eveleth at the time of this book.  It was and still can be a center of labor struggle, from the 1907 strike led by Mother Jones’ and the Western Federation of Miners – which was 25% Finns - to the 1916 IWW strike that was influenced by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.  Note the involvement of women labor leaders.  But in 1974 that had changed.

What this struggle reveals again is that the labor movement has to return to its roots and not pretend it has a seat at the bosses’ table or is a ‘club’ protecting only SOME of its members.  A union protecting its own members would have cut this legal nightmare short.  Unionization of all women would do the same.

 Also see below for reviews on books about women's oppression, especially "Missoula." 

And I bought it at Chapman Street Books in Ely, Mn.
Red Frog
June 3, 2016