Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East. History nerd, linguistic geek, and devoted news junkie.
9242 stories
·
42 followers

This Day in Labor History: December 15, 1921

1 Share

On December 15, 1921, the Kansas National Guard arrived to break up women’s marches in support of a strike of coal miners in southeastern Kansas. That intervention, done with the open support of United Mine Workers of America president John L. Lewis who hated the independent and socialist UMWA local in that state, demonstrated the response to socialist and democratic organizing in the post-World War I era.

In 1919, the UMWA went on strike nationally. The Kansas local, led by the socialist Alexander Howat, joined the strike. Kansas governor Henry Allen decided to break the strike. He spoke at halftime of the Kansas-Missouri football game to ask KU students to volunteer as strikebreakers, a common tactic at that time. Many, especially fraternity members, happily became scabs or enforcers. The state took over the mines and busted the strike, starting a very bad decade for the UMWA. In the aftermath, Allen decided to forestall strikes by creating a special court of arbitration. Called the Kansas Court of Industrial Relations, it outright banned strikes in the state and could lead to state takeover of key industries to keep them running. It allowed for collective bargaining but took away any enforcement mechanism.

Meanwhile, UMWA District 14 hated it. They had every intention of pushing the mine owners and the state to demand their rights. Miners called the law making the new court the Kansas Slave Act, directly making connections to the important legacy of slavery in that state and the battles of the 1850s that led to the Civil War. A series of unauthorized strikes followed. Howat was jailed. These strikes didn’t also just make Allen angry–although he also sensed opportunity and hoped to be the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1924–they also infuriated John L. Lewis.

Lewis is one of the most complicated and conflicted people in American history. The man who created the CIO and organized the millions of American industrial workers, largely using communist organizers, also despised communism, voted Republican, and brooked absolutely no opposition to his dictatorial control over his union. Anyone who defied Lewis was evicted from the union, replaced by a yes man. Lewis responded to Howat’s strikes and jailing by expelling him and his supporters from the UMWA. This divided workers both nationally and locally, but most of them in Kansas stuck with Howat. The miners struck again to protest Howat’s jailing.

This time, the miners’ wives held a meeting on December 11. The meeting, closed to men except for one speaker, consisted of great anger at the coal operators, the governor, and John L. Lewis. Calling the law the “Allen Industrial Slavery Law,” they vowed to stand in solidarity with their husbands so that their children wouldn’t become slaves. Explicitly using family rhetoric around motherhood, they hoped to take the fight to the governor. While the men had not taken a particularly radical stance in their strike and had even jokingly referred to it as a vacation, after this meeting, the women announced a march to shut down every mine in the district. The next morning, they headed to a local mine to turn back scabs. The men followed at a distance. They succeeded. For the next three days, the women went to local mines and attacked scabs, often by throwing red pepper in their eyes, overturning their lunch buckets, and then stealing their coffee and pouring it on them. These women were not messing around. Mostly immigrants, they were disappointed in the lies of the American Dream. Many had come from socialist backgrounds in eastern Europe. The struggle for them was basically the same in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the United States. At the same time, they used the American flag to make their demands on the state and employer, going so far as to make captive coal bosses kiss the flag, a reversal of how right-wing vigilantes treated socialists during the Red Scare.

The media went ballistic. Calling them Amazons, they demanded the state intervene to preserve law and order. Allen had no scruples about doing that. Saying that the strike was illegal, the state attorney general wanted to prosecute the entire district under the state’s vagrancy laws, long used to control labor, whether that of the IWW or black laborers in the South. Cities began cracking down on civil rights, closing public facilities, and otherwise making it impossible for union members to meet. The U.S. district attorney ordered the arrest of all non-citizens participating in the march; he later noted gleefully how many had fled Kansas. Given the number of immigrants involved, bootlegging busts became effective, particularly as alcohol production was traditionally women’s work. Several leaders were arrested and convicted of various offenses. Basically, the entire state apparatus came down hard on these strikers, all with the approval of John L. Lewis, although his support made no meaningful difference.

Howat himself distanced himself from the women’s actions quickly, even decrying the idea that of going to camps to bust scabs. To what extent this was a rhetorical strategy of a man in prison and to what extent heartfelt belief, I really don’t know. But the District 14 newspapers actually didn’t cover the women’s actions much, even before the suppression set it. Perhaps male union officials were uncomfortable with women taking the lead in the strike, which did not reinforce their rhetoric of independent men fighting what they saw as slavery. Howat used a lot of this masculine rhetoric, talking about the strike as a “fight where it took real men to stand the test, men with manhood and courage and determination, men who could not be browbeaten and bulldozed and driven back to the mines like cowering slaves.” Not much room for independent women in this worldview.

That said, the movement didn’t just disappear. When Mother Jones visited southeastern Kansas in 1922, she told the women “Go out and raise Hell! Your agitation is awakening the nation!” Those with American citizenship worked to elect candidates, even though the strike itself was long over by the fall of 1922. They ousted both the county sheriff and the judge who had sentenced their leaders. The Democrat who opposed Allen’s industrial court won a rare statewide victory for the governor of Kansas that fall. On the other hand, District 14 was basically destroyed in the aftermath. Striking miners were blacklisted and violence between scabs and strikers continued long after the strike was lost. The UMWA got crushed in districts like this around the nation in the 20s, but Lewis was also perfectly fine with the elimination of rebellious regions who defied him.

Later in the 1920s, a series of Supreme Court decisions overturned the Kansas Court of Industrial Relations’ rulings and the cost of the thing and the legal defenses led the state to turn against it as a waste of money. It was disbanded in 1925. Alexander Howat, who returned to the union and then was banished by Lewis again, ended up spending his last years cleaning street gutters in Pittsburg, Kansas. John L. Lewis became the most powerful labor leader in the United States. The women? They remained involved in their community and in politics, but I’ve never seen anything about their long-term histories.

This post was based on Benjamin Goosen’s 2011 article, “‘Like a Brilliant Thread’: Gender and Vigilante Democracy in the Kansas Coalfields, 1921-1922” in the Autumn 2011 issue of Kansas History. Thanks to all the historians whose work makes a series like this possible.

This is the 291st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Read the whole story
hannahdraper
1 day ago
reply
Washington, DC
Share this story
Delete

Sondra Locke

2 Shares

Sondra Locke was nominated as best supporting actress in her first film role, an adaptation of Carson McCullers’s great novel The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. After many subsequent roles, she had the fortune and misfortune to be cast in The Outlaw Josey Wales, where she immediately attracted the attention of the star and director, who she would both almost exclusively work with and live with for several years. After he decided to ghost her, he also decided to ruin her career:

Things grew progressively worse. By early 1989 they barely saw each other. Locke suspected that he was tapping the phones. (He later confirmed in a deposition that he was.) Though she knew things were bad, she was unprepared for the abrupt end to their 13-year relationship one day in April. While she was on the set of “Impulse,” Eastwood changed the locks to their house. He had her clothes boxed and removed, and it swiftly became as if she had never existed. Panicked, confused, Locke sued. In acrimonious depositions, Eastwood called his former lover his “occasional roommate . . . for 10 years.” Still, she settled when he seemed prepared to give her what she really wanted: the opportunity to work. The linchpin of the accord was a deal at Warner Bros. where Locke would develop scripts to direct.

But three years into that deal, and after more than a dozen rejections by the studio heads of every script she brought them, she realized that the deal was a sham. Neither Eastwood nor Warner Bros. had intended her to work; she was meant to disappear. So she sued again, this time for fraud. In court Warner Bros. Chairman Terry Semel said Locke’s inexperience was the reason none of her scripts was approved for production. Eastwood, meanwhile, testified that he’d been victimized by Locke’s suit after years of supporting her and casting her in movies. He said, “I felt it was like social extortion of a kind, blackmail or whatever you want to call it.”

But when Locke settled this suit in 1996 for an undisclosed sum, she felt vindicated; the deal came after the jury went into deliberations and seemed poised to rule in her favor. As it turns out, it was. “We didn’t buy Mr. Eastwood’s argument,” says juror Yvonne Beltzer, a newswriter at KNBC in Los Angeles. “We felt that he had bought his way out of a palimony suit. More or less 11 out of 12 people had come to the same conclusion.”

This is how the Hollywood Reporter initially headlined her obituary:

Do you ever feel we’re not making any progress? R.I.P.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Read the whole story
hannahdraper
2 days ago
reply
Washington, DC
Share this story
Delete

“The Owl’s Legacy”: delectations from an ancient Greek palate

1 Share

THE PLAYS of Aristophanes, an ancient Athenian comedian, are scatological and lewd—anybody who cannot see that has simply failed to understand them. But when the cult of the classics was at its height in Victorian Britain, many a pupil did fail: the text was read in a bowdlerised version, one that skipped risqué lines or used footnotes to mask the meaning. In today’s more liberal climate works such as “Lysistrata”, which describes a sex strike by ancient Athenian women, are performed and enjoyed in all their bawdiness.

It is only one example of the way the legacy of ancient Greece, which is massive and diverse in itself, has been subjected to an even wider range of historical refractions and readings. That makes it maddeningly hard to figure out what the “real” classical Greece was, what it has meant for posterity, or whether such questions are even meaningful.

Still, these matters can be explored, and playfully. Such is the purpose of “The Owl’s Legacy”, a 13-part enquiry which was made for television in 1989 but...Continue reading

Read the whole story
hannahdraper
3 days ago
reply
Washington, DC
Share this story
Delete

The Burmese Restaurant at the Heart of 'Chindianapolis'

1 Share
article-image

In the cities of food-obsessed Myanmar, ethnic minority cuisine is easier to find than ever before. But while diners in the capital feast on dishes from the states of Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan, food from the state of Chin is still a rarity. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has seven major recognized ethnic groups, besides the Bamar majority: the Chin are one. Given that Chin cuisine is elusive even within Burmese cities, it might be a surprise to find chefs cooking authentic Chin sabuti in America’s heartland.

Sabuti is something of a hybrid dish, and one that exemplifies Chin cuisine. “If you don’t know sabuti, you’re not Chin,” says Than Hre, owner of the Chin Brothers Restaurant and Grocery in Indianapolis, Indiana. While the diet of Myanmar’s Bamar majority is based around rice, easily grown in the central lowlands, the use of corn typifies food from mountainous Chin country. Sabuti is a meat and white corn soup, with the corn ground according to an Indian method, Hre says. The ground corn is then stewed with beef or pork bones, offal, and split peas. In Myanmar, sabuti is served alongside bottles of salt and MSG powder. Atop each table at Chin Brothers, there are also small containers of salt, chili, and MSG.

article-image

Even off the menu, sabuti remains a firm favourite of Hre and his family. “We grew up on it,” Hre says. It’s not the only Chin offering at this Burmese restaurant. They also serve vok ril, a Chin pork blood sausage. While Hre recreates flavors from the tiny village in the state of Chin where he spent his childhood, other Burmese minority foods may prove equally intriguing to Burmese and non-Burmese alike. Shan and Rakhinese noodles both feature on the menu, and popular dishes from across Myanmar are available on request.

To many, the restaurant provides a taste of home. When Chin Brothers offers breakfast on Saturdays, the restaurant bustles with customers. Many come for the breakfast dish of pe pyot, sprouted yellow beans boiled with turmeric and fried onions. According to Hre, Chin Brothers “also serves as a meeting place for the Chin community.” In Myanmar, most socializing takes place in tea shops, but there were no Burmese tea shops in Indiana when Hre arrived in 2002.

Hre was among the first group of Chin in Indianapolis. Hre, his wife, and his young son came to the United States from Myanmar via Guam, clutching only a single bag of belongings. Chin migrants were fleeing persecution by the military government, including human rights abuses: from forced labor to arbitrary killings. In Myanmar, ethnic minorities suffer under programs to create a single Burmese national identity. One notorious example, the government maltreatment of the unrecognized Rohingya minority, is widely considered ethnic cleansing. Chin people are especially targeted for their religion: Chins are 85% Christian in a country that’s nearly 90% Buddhist. As a Bible student at Chin Christian College, Hre was involved in actions against the government and began to attract attention. He fled to Guam in 2000, and hasn’t visited his homeland since. “I'm scared to go back.”

article-image

Though only three percent of Myanmar’s population are Chin, they comprise more than 80% of all Burmese migrants in Indiana. While Christian crosses were destroyed in Chin State, in Indiana Chin people have established more than 40 churches. Once some Chin had arrived in Indianapolis, the community attracted others: currently, around 17,000 live in the Hoosier State, earning its capital the playful moniker “Chindianapolis.” Hre says Indiana’s appeal lies in its warehouses and factories, where jobs are plentiful. “Most Chin refugees have only finished high school,” Hre says. “But here, the pay is good, you can work overtime, and they have good benefits and a decent salary. Here we can have a house and a car and a job. If we work hard, we can have the American dream.”

Work hard Hre did, juggling two jobs: one in a Best Buy warehouse in the day, while cleaning offices on nights and weekends. After five years, he purchased a former Indian grocery store. But when he went to officially register the change of ownership, he hadn’t even chosen a name. “I didn’t have any business experience,” he says. “I hadn’t thought about it.” He settled on “Chin Brothers.” The term Chin covers a number of different tribes and sub-tribes (exactly how many is contested) who speak more than 20 languages, not all of whom even accept the term Chin. But according to Hre, “We all are brothers and sisters. We are all Chin.”

But thanks to politics, business wasn’t always easy. When Hre opened the grocery store in 2007, the United States had comprehensive sanctions on Myanmar, deeming its military government a threat to national security. “We couldn’t import any products from Myanmar, so we got everything packaged in Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia. Once the products had been packaged elsewhere, they could be exported to the US,” says Hre. “It was a lot of trouble and very expensive.” However, after democratic elections resulted in a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy in 2016, the United States government lifted its sanctions. Then, Hre could import products directly from Myanmar.

article-image

The grocery store could almost double as an exhibition on Chin identity. For sale are Chin bibles, English/Chin dictionaries, and traditional costumes featuring the famed Chin weaving, alongside Burmese staples such as lahpet, fermented tea leaves, Rakhine noodles, and dried shrimp powder. Despite having no experience as a chef, Hre recognized the need for a community hub. After about a year and a half of running the grocery store, he opened the adjoining Chin Brothers restaurant.

Hre made the decision not to sell alcohol at Chin Brothers. “I’m not opposed to alcohol, but it’s not part of our culture and I don’t want to prioritize it just to increase profits,” he says. Instead, Chin Brothers offers a wide range of beverages reflecting Burmese tea shop culture. The drinks include an array of indulgent options, perhaps closer to desserts: Din chin, drinking yogurt served with jaggery syrup, and moh let saung, tapioca balls or sticky rice in coconut milk, sweetened with palm sugar. For those without a sweet tooth, Burmese green tea is a revelation: it has a milder, more rounded flavor than Chinese green tea, with hints of caramel, grass, and smoke.

article-image

Hre estimates a fifth of his customers are non-Chin Indiana locals. Hre’s wife, who manages the restaurant, often talks curious American customers through their first sampling of Chin food. “She’s good at talking to people. I’m too blunt,” Hre laughs. Chicken fried rice is a popular introductory dish at the restaurant, as is the Burmese take on Chinese hot pot, since it can be enjoyed by a group.

Hre is deeply committed to his community, but he’s still keen to adapt. “If you want to do business, you have to have an open heart for change,” he says. He’s a board member of the Chin Community of Indiana, an organization that helps new migrants find work opportunities and prepares them for interviews. He is also a proud member of the Indiana Chin Baptist Church. When the first Chin police officer was inducted earlier this year, Hre and other community leaders attended his graduation from the academy.

Just as Hre described the Indian influence on sabuti, the influx of the Chin and Chin cuisine into Indiana illustrates how lived cultures aren't sealed or static. Chin identity is flourishing in this unlikely haven. “We remember our motherland, but when we became citizens we promised to support and defend the nation,” says Hre. Initially, Indianapolis locals “had a little bit of concern” about Chin migrants, says Hre. But “now they accept us: we cooperate and work together.”

Read the whole story
hannahdraper
3 days ago
reply
Washington, DC
Share this story
Delete

The Landlord Asks for a Christmas Rose

2 Shares

A single red rose every Christmas, and a snowball at Midsummer—that’s what one landlord in medieval England charged his tenants. In an era before refrigeration and greenhouses, he might as well have commanded them to spin straw into gold.

The demand was impossible by design. It symbolized that the tenants stayed on the landlord’s generosity, that he could terminate their lease at his whim. Yet this landlord was far from alone in asking such odd payment. There was another who, every year, had one of his farms present him with a right-hand glove, and the other with a left. Others called for a fat hen every Christmas, or a ginger root, or a pound of cumin.

In 1623, John Salkeld willed to his son Thomas, “the house now building in Rock, for 60 years, paying a peppercorn yearlie to my son John.” Charging a rent of a single peppercorn was a common practice between relatives, as it allowed them to retain the rights of landlord and tenant without fleecing their family members.

There are a few examples of these odd nominal rents continuing to the present day. One such tradition dates back to 1381, when the wife of Sir Robert Knollys planted a rose-garden without first seeking permission from the City of London. The City imposed a rent of a single red rose from the garden every year, to be presented to the Lord Mayor. Although Sir Robert and his wife are long buried, to this day, the city continues to exact its yearly penalty.

These curious practices reflect the philosophy of land ownership that developed under the feudal system. In this system, the king was considered to be the true owner of the land. He granted his lords estates, in exchange for their loyalty. They, in turn, granted parcels of their estates to vassals.

In this light, we can start to make sense of the petty payments, in blossoms and peppercorns, that medieval landlords demanded from their tenants. They weren’t rents in the way we use the term today. Rather, they were symbols of interpersonal ties and obligations. The lord swore loyalty to his king, the vassal fealty to his lord. The services and gifts tendered from these oaths were ways of reinforcing their debt, not of discharging it.

In effect, the system of land ownership was based on a hierarchy of personal relationships, an interconnected network of services and obligations. This is why, rather than exchanging money, which is abstract and impersonal, lords and vassals often paid for their tenures with idiosyncratic and even intimate gifts and gestures. Bringing the king a cup of wine at breakfast, setting up his chessmen, tying his boots, holding his head when he got seasick: With these small, tender acts, called “serjainties,” lords retained the claims to their grand estates.

The coronation, in particular, was crowded with these ritual duties. There was a lord to bear the sword, a lord to support the king’s scepter arm, a lord to carve the king’s meat, and a lord to bring a wash-basin for the king to clean his hands. One lord had the solemn task of presenting the king with a “mess of Pottage,” a rather sickening-sound mash of chicken brain, almond milk, and vinegar. The most exciting role, though, was King’s Champion. On the coronation day, the Champion would ride into the hall on horseback, throw down his gauntlet, and offer to fight to the death any false traitor who challenged the king’s right to the throne.

Although this part of the ceremony was abandoned in 1838, the serjeanty still exists. Let us hope that the current holder of the office, a 63-year-old accountant named Francis John Fane Marmion Dymoke, is never called upon to fight for the Queen’s honor.

If you don’t relish the idea of fighting for the king’s honor, you might prefer the office of farting for his amusement. One serjeant, Roland Le Pettour, was obliged to come before the king every Christmas and “Dance, Puff up his Cheeks and let a Crack.” Roland held thirty acres by grace of his spectacular flatulence. Sadly, in later years, the service was judged to be indecent and converted to a payment of 26 shillings.

The post The Landlord Asks for a Christmas Rose appeared first on JSTOR Daily.

Read the whole story
hannahdraper
3 days ago
reply
Washington, DC
Share this story
Delete

Why campaigns to stop child marriage can backfire

1 Share
In Malawi, human rights campaigns might have limited or even negative impacts.
Read the whole story
hannahdraper
3 days ago
reply
Washington, DC
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories