Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Read my review of Bruce Watson's great book about the Bread and Roses Strike and take a look at my book "America on Strike" while you are at it. Click on book cover at right on this page.

Bruce Watson

Mills, Migrants, and the American Dream

Bread and Roses - 1912

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

My discovery of the Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts has provided me with an extremely interesting source of intellectual and personal insight.

Although I was born in Baltimore, Maryland my life from a few months old to age 27 was spent in Lawrence, Mass. My father and my mother were ex-mill workers - as were their fathers and mothers. My father was from the established English heritage and my mother descended from the later Eastern European migration. She was Polish.
I only worked briefly as did my older brother in a reconstituted worked-over enterprise that rented old mill space after the mills were abandoned by their textile owners. But even though I never worked in a textile mill, those mills played an ominous and hauntingly important part in my life.

The original mills were the reason for being for the city of Lawrence. First God built the mills and then he sent the people to work them. The mills came first and the people came second - and that is the history of the mills of Lawrence - and maybe mill towns all over America. And it is always interesting to me that when it was all over what was left was row upon row of empty red brick pyramids and mile after mile of drained sapped people and landscape. It was like a war zone where the weapon of choice was not explosives but a psychological sort of Neutron bomb.
Fighting for the jobs and positions at the mills basically determined the social status of the populous. From the 1840s to the 1950s the mills were the heart and soul and supplied the bread and the few roses that might have been scattered here and there throughout the city.

From approximately the time of my birth forward the mills were on a steady decline and by the end of World War II the mills had for the most part abandoned Lawrence. Unemployment through the late forties and onward through the fifties rose to over forty percent. That was a number that I had been seeking for quite some time. The 1929 Depression was only 30% unemployment. I knew the situation was serious because my dad was one of that 40%, but as is always the case - even with 40% unemployed, 60%still had a job. That 60% living at the time knew only too well how lucky they were, but their descendents have long since forgotten – or were never even made aware of the hardship of their neighbors. I found that 40% figure in this book by Mr. Watson.
Another question that had perplexed me is why I had never heard of this strike; why I had never seen any monuments in the city parks; why my parents and relatives never spoke of it; why the Nuns in grade school never mentioned such an event even in passing; why the Brothers didn’t teach it in high school; and the bigger question why the history books ignored the American labor movement almost entirely.

I first got interested in this subject matter by discovering, quite by accident, the Bread and Roses Strike. Researching this strike then led me to the labor movement in the U.S. and then in the world.

For me making this discovery was like finding the missing link or the lost piece of the puzzle. I truly feel now that understanding labor history or the history of the labor movement is the Rosetta Stone for interpreting our modern civilization. This is where our modern history begins - and this period in man’s evolution has not come to an end yet. It is the latest episode in a long continuous battle for freedom, dignity and equality.

Mr. Watson explains in his Epilogue that the history of the Lawrence Bread and Roses Strike was suppressed in the area because it had been a brand of shame for the city as a whole throughout the entire U.S. and throughout the world. Lawrence became a poster child for how not to handle a mill strike and how not to treat new immigrants, working women and children in America. The City (establishment) of Lawrence had been disgraced and shamed and they then proceeded to propagandize a “cover” story or a rationalization to hide and cover over what they had done and what had actually happened. And it worked because all that remained for the rest of the century was their version of the event. It is only until recently that the whole truth of the matter has been seeping out.

It seems to me that this is basically the same story with regards to the American Labor Movement. And the truth about it is also beginning to seep out.
Just as the Germans have been the last to admit the horror of the holocaust and the Japanese the last to accept the Rape of Nanking and their other World War II atrocities, America will be the last to admit its persecution of the working class and the working poor. America hates poverty - and it hates to accept or admit the fact of it even more.

America is filled with poverty, slums and industrial blight and it seems that it always has been - but yet most Americans will deny its very existence - and so it goes on and on and on.

Reading this book was more than a history lesson for me. Since I was raised in the area, every street name brought back an old memory; all the family names brought back friends and neighbors; and the stories brought back reason and insight into many personal mysteries.

I really enjoyed this book and I’m happy Mr. Watson wrote it. I will ad it to my collection of Lawrence memorabilia and labor union history.

I am left with the desire to read more about Lawrence and I know from other reading that there is a lot more to read. Every open door leads to another door yet to be opened.

Very surprising to me is the discovery that at Cornell University there is actually a school of Industrial and Labor Relations that offers a four year degree in labor studies. It was started in 1945 and is the only college in the United States offering such a degree. I intend to do a good deal of reading and learning at their web site. It should be fun.

Bread and Roses by Bruce Watson is a great read for anyone interested in history in general, and the Labor Movement in particular. This book should be required reading in every high school in the Greater Lawrence area - but I have no doubt that it is not and will not be in the future.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Fortress America - William Greider

Fortress America

By William Greider


By Richard E. Noble

Fortress America was published in 1998. At the time of the publishing of this book the Berlin Wall was gone and the U.S.S.R. had collapsed. With the disappearance of Russia as Public Enemy # 1 for the U.S., America was now in a quandary. The Cold War was over. What do we do about our massive military? Our Cold War enemy was gone. The Russian threat to our security was gone. Should we dismantle our military? Reorganize? Downsize? How do we do it?

Fortress America is a book that analyzed the problem in store for the U.S. in downsizing it military capacities.

I’m sure it was not Mr. Greider’s intention to present an apology on the impossibility of downsizing our military and the necessity for America to seek new enemies and unnecessary but available wars but this book, in my opinion, is a blueprint for just such a scenario.

Mr. Greider in his thought provoking manner, his exhaustive research and his presentation of the facts and figures, makes our present state of affairs obvious.
“If the world is at peace, why should America now have to remobilize? There are no persuasive answers at present.

“To justify the significant budget increases that might rescue the military from its dilemma of competing obligations, political leaders will first have to find convincing dangers – a rising threat of actual war, and on a very large scale. Until they can do so, military leaders must keep hacking away at their own institution … People in the armed services know this…
“The political base that always supported the Cold War defense structure endures, too, without a strategy for the future except to change as little as possible from the past.”

Mr. Greider goes on to talk about our “Military Socialism” and our basic socialized military industrial complex. He then explains the scope of this book.

“In short, our tour of Fortress America is about more than defense spending in an era of general peace. It’s about national vision and the limits of empire, about whether Americans really wish to govern the world with U.S. military power …
“This is a new world order that will require much more than the accumulation of weaponry, and it might even be subverted by a new global arms race.” (My italics)
Now let me point out, I haven’t left the introduction to this book yet; we have yet to hit page one.

The book begins with a tour of the massive weapons storage facilities at Fort Hood, Texas. Bradley fighting vehicles, Dragon missiles, M-1 Abrams main battle tanks, Humvees , HEMTTs, HETS, and more than two hundred Apache and Kiowa helicopters. There are forty eight separate equipment yards at Fort Hood – miles and miles of parking spaces with multimillion dollar units in every parking space.

“The Cold War is over, but not really, not yet …Too many tanks with nowhere to send them ... Defense spending, as one strategic analyst put it, has become ‘the new third rail of American politics.’ Most politicians are afraid to touch it.”

Then we come to the panic of peace.

“The Pentagon has been dumping old tanks like an army-navy surplus store conducting frantic ‘going out of business’ sales. Giving them away to friendly nations. Selling them at deep discounts. Offering them free to local museums. It dumped one hundred old Sherman M-60s into Mobile Bay off the Alabama coast to form artificial reefs for fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Several hundred more are being sunk along other coastlines for the same purpose. One year it gave forty-five tanks free to Bosnia and another fifty to Jordan. It shipped ninety-one tanks to Brazil under a no cost, five year lease, and thirty to Bahrain on the same terms. Another 160 were sold to Taiwan for $130,000 each, priced at ten cents on the dollar. Egypt got seven hundred free by picking up transportation costs … One way or another the Army has disposed of nearly six thousand older (1980 models) tanks during the last six years.”

To actually train men on all our fancy fighting equipment is too costly “It takes two thousand dollars an hour to operate a single M-12 tank in the field.” Instead we pay to build simulators. We have 25 million in video games sitting in one of our military video arcades.

Well, why don’t we mothball everything and then pull it out when we need it?
Unfortunately we can’t mothball very much in our new high-tech military. The electronics deteriorate; the crews take years to train, not weeks; things must be upgraded to stay on top or ahead of the competition. And in many cases we seem to be our own competition. Our independent “capitalist” arms merchants are selling to the highest bidder in the free market global arms race. Of course, we get dibs on the latest, most modern stuff – as long as we subsidize our arms manufactures with their storage costs, their labor costs and their research and development costs – cost plus contracts are nice too. And the fact that all American National arms merchants are basically one big interlocking network, doesn’t hurt the bottom line either.

The first time I read about this technique of selling to potential enemies was in The Arms of Krupp by William Manchester. When Adolf Hitler demanded the German arms manufacturer, Krupp, to stop selling arms to Germany’s enemies, Krupp threatened to take his whole operation, his knowledge and expertise, to Russia. Hitler and Mr. Krupp made a compromise. Krupp agreed to sell only last year’s models to Germany’s enemies. Hitler acquiesced.

They tried to dismantle Krupp industries after the war but found the task impossible. They denied Krupp the right to practice his “craft” in Germany. Kupp went to China and then to other international sites and became one of the richest men alive in his day.

“After the Cold War ended, the government added 2,662 Tomahawks and other missiles to its arsenal. It increased air power capabilities by modernizing 961 night-capable aircraft and 707 precision-guided munitions-capable aircraft.

“The Air Force has so many long range bombers – the old reliable B-52, the troubled B-1, the new stealthy B-2 that costs 2 billion apiece – that it cannot afford to keep them all in the air. Yet, if you can believe its plans, the Air Force intends to increase the operational bomber force 25 percent by 2001.”

But there is always hope Mr. Greider explains: “After all there is always the dim hope that somehow the circumstances will change. Maybe North Korea will invade South Korea. Maybe China will turn belligerent. The (our) nation’s political and military leaders seem to be searching forlornly for a “they” that can restore purpose to the country’s mighty armaments.”

If the reader hasn’t got the point yet, Mr. Greider takes us to a few more military bases and arms storage facilities. The costs are monumental.

Mr. Greider then takes us for a brief look at the investment side of Arms merchandising.

“A decade ago, fifteen leading contractors accounted for two-thirds of the Pentagon’s spending on weapons. By 1995 the list was down to eight. Now, (1998) there are three.”

“The companies can’t keep boosting stock prices by doing more takeovers since there’s nothing much to take over.”

“The point people miss,” Gansler says, “is not that the defense companies are making huge profits. It’s that they’re charging huge costs to government to pay for all of this excess capacity that they’ve got lying around. The government pays for all that. The problem is, if a company becomes a sole-source contractor and there is no competition, then they have no incentive to reduce costs.”

Now it is onto the Global market place.

“We’re serious about being a global company, and that means expanding our workforce outside the United States,” says Lockheed Martin.

“LockMartin itself combines seventeen different companies that have collectively eliminated more than one hundred thousand jobs.”

“The American motive for expanding NATO is selling weapons.” American arms producers are loaning new NATO countries the money to buy their weapons and then moving their factories to these countries.”

Now you know why Poland was upset with President Obama with the new Obama European defense strategy. We were rabidly approaching the boom days of the “Merchants of Death” back in the pre-World War I era – sell weapons to anybody, lie, cheat, steal but sell, sell, sell.

“Provoking inadvertent crisis may be profitable for weapons firms, but it does not seem to be in the national interest – or for that matter the world’s.”

I suggest that you all read Merchants of Death by Engelbrecht and Hanighen. You may have to hunt your library for it, but it will be worth your effort if your goal is to understand the present times. You can also read about the life and times of Sir Basil Zaharoff.

But what for the future? Can we bend the Iron Triangle (Pentagon, military, government). Can we design a meaner leaner military? Can we cut, lower costs, contain, or redesign our mammoth military complex?

“Even if futuristic ideas prove to be sound, the pentagon and the arms industry are still reluctant to give up what already exists – their vast arsenal of conventional overkill. They cannot have it both ways, one would think, but so far they are doing their best to accomplish just that, with very little resistance from the political system.”

In his conclusion Mr. Greider says that first the American people must “say no to empire.”

“The global economic system, led by the United States, governs trade, financial markets, and the rights of capital by imposing complex rules but insists that fundamental human freedoms are not a legitimate basis for global regulation. Raising questions of environmental protection, labor rights, or social equity – not to mention the democratic principles of free speech and freedom of assembly – is described as an intrusion on the trading system, possibly even an impediment to the spread of prosperity. National sovereignty (including America’s) is told to yield to the efficiencies of the global enterprise.”

Mr. Greider goes on and on with one good suggestion after another on transitioning from a militarist nation to a less militarist nation, but that is now all behind us and this book falls into the category of wasted effort.

In retrospect we see that Mr. Greider had it right in his introduction. Finding new wars to fight and devising a new Cold War was easier and much less demanding than attempting to restructure the Iron Triangle and bring America back to a peace loving, cooperative nation.

So if you are wondering why we have two wars going and military spending through the roof, you might pick up Mr. Greider’s book Fortress America for a description of the details. But it appears clear to me – war is easier and more profitable than peace – especially when our system has been set up to deal with it for the last 100 years. We can’t afford peace we have too much investment in war. Sadly achieving peace is too costly and too complicated. If you are hoping for an end to this “bully-bully” warmongering mentality it is going to take a lot more than wishful thinking.