Posts Tagged ‘history’

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This week marks the 100th anniversary of the world-historic Easter Rising in Ireland. And, here in the United States, we’re getting quite an education—first, with 1916 The Irish Rebellion, a big, lavishly produced slab of prestige television (with none other than Liam Neeson as the narrator), available on 120 television stations in the United States and on the BBC; then, on Sundance, with Rebellion, a soap-operaish version of the same events; and, finally,  A Full Life: James Connolly the Irish Rebel, a graphic remembrance of socialist agitator, editor, and author Connolly illustrated by artist Tom Keough.*

I’ve only seen the two television series, so I can’t comment on Keough’s book.

In my view, 1916 The Irish Rebellion does an excellent job of providing the necessary background (at least for those of us lacking the basic, Irish secondary-school-book knowledge of the events—although it tends to exaggerate the U.S. connection (highlighted in the trailer) and to downplay the egalitarian and socialist impulses in the Rising’s anti-imperialism (which, I presume, the Connolly book serves to correct). And while Rebellion is more an intimate recreation than a documentary (and does take historical liberties and shortcuts in dramatizing, I would say melodramatizing, the events), it does highlight the role of women among the forces for and against Irish independence.

Still, both television series serve to shine a spotlight on the short-lived and ultimately failed rebellion that showed to the rest of Ireland (beyond Dublin), the British Empire (for which this was the beginning of the end), and the rest of the world (in a wide variety of socialist, communist, and national-liberation movements) that the dream of making and changing history was embodied by and yet could not be contained within the “terrible beauty” of 1916.**

 

*Here’s the appropriate disclaimer: while 1916 The Irish Rebellion was largely financed by the University of Notre Dame and written by Notre Dame professor Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, I played no role in the creation or dissemination of the documentary.

**It is precisely that terrible beauty that is taken up in Ken Loach’s film, Jimmy’s Hall, which takes place in 1932 and focuses on the post-1916 political tensions among the Catholic church, the state, the landowners, and the republican movement.

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Special mention

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The headlines (e.g., here and here) are all pretty much the same: Patricio Aylwin, who died yesterday, successfully guided Chile to the restoration of democracy.

But in the interests of real history (as with others, such as Jeffrey Sachs), we need to keep in mind what actually happened: Aylwin played a central role in the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973.

At the time, Aylwin was the president of the Senate and the president of the Christian Democrats. His led his party into an alliance with the right-wing National Party, forming the so-called Confederation of Democracy, which was opposed to Allende’s Socialist government and served to paralyze the activities of government. In the meantime (and in a campaign of covert action in Chile that stretched back to the 1960s), the CIA was paying some $6.8–8 million to right-wing opposition groups to “create pressures, exploit weaknesses, magnify obstacles” and hasten Allende’s overthrow—as revealed by the Church Committee (pdf) and in a now-declassified document from July 1975, “Agency Covert Action Operations in Chile Since 1962” (pdf).

Just one week before the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, Aylwin participated in drafting and then signing a congressional act to the effect that the Allende government “sought to impose a totalitarian regime” and asking the military to “help reestablish the rule of law.” This document, little noticed at the time, was later used as the main reason for the uprising of the normally apolitical Chilean military.

Much later, Aylwin did in fact participate in negotiations that led the government and the opposition to agree on 54 constitutional reforms, thereby making possible a peaceful transition to democracy. He was eventually elected president of the Republic on 14 December 1989, thus ending 16 years of the brutal military dictatorship.

Still, given Aylwin’s support (together with many other members of the Christian Democratic Party and, from abroad, by none other than Henry Kissinger) for the 1973 coup, history will not absolve him.

 

*For younger readers or those who may not closely follow events in Latin America, the title of the post refers to the title of the famous speech by Fidel Castro, “History Will Absolve Me,” which he delivered in his own defense on 16 October 1953 while in court (as one of about 100 defendants) after he led an attack on the Moncada Barracks.

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Throughout American history, whenever workers try to organize, they’re opposed by their employers.

That was true in the period of manufacturing, and then with the growth of the service sector. Now, it’s true in the so-called sharing economy.

Seattle [ht: sm] was the first city in the nation to allow drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft, as well as taxi and for-hire drivers, the right to collectively negotiate on pay and working conditions.

Back in January, Uber tried to stop workers from organizing by having their customer service representatives engage in union-busting by reading anti-union statements to drivers.

“Drivers choose Lyft to earn extra money when, where and for however long they can work,” a company spokeswoman told PCMag. “We continue to share concerns raised by city officials that the ordinance threatens the privacy of drivers, conflicts with longstanding federal labor and antitrust law, and may undermine the flexibility that makes Lyft so attractive both to drivers and passengers.”

Now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is suing Seattle over the new ride-sharing ordinance.

“This ordinance threatens the ability not just of Seattle, but of every community across the country, to grow with and benefit from our evolving economy,” Amanda Eversole, president of the Chamber’s Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation, said in a statement.

“Technology companies are leading the charge when it comes to empowering people with the flexibility and choice that comes with being your own boss, and that is something to be championed, not stifled,” she added.

Seattle’s ordinance—approved unanimously by the city council but opposed by Mayor Ed Murray—threatens the viability of that economy, the Chamber said.

The U.S. economy today is radically different from what it was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And, yet, some things have not changed: Workers are exploited and they try to organize unions to bargain over their wages and working conditions. Meanwhile, their employers do everything they can to try to stop them.

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Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, observes that only the older generation is keeping Hillary Clinton in the race, since Bernie Sanders is polling far ahead of Clinton among younger (18-44) voters.

More importantly, Piketty offers a look back to explain the attraction of Sanders’s progressive agenda today.

Reagan was elected in 1980 on a program aiming to restore a mythical capitalism said to have existed in the past.

The culmination of this new program was the tax reform of 1986, which ended half a century of a progressive tax system and lowered the rate applicable to the highest incomes to 28%.

Democrats never truly challenged this choice in the Clinton (1992-2000) and Obama (2008-2016) years, which stabilized the taxation rate at around 40% (two times lower than the average level for the period 1930 to 1980). This triggered an explosion of inequality coupled with incredibly high salaries for those who could get them, as well as a stagnation of revenues for most of America – all of which was accompanied by low growth (at a level still somewhat higher than Europe, mind you, as the old world was mired in other problems).

Reagan also decided to freeze the federal minimum wage level, which from 1980 was slowly but surely eroded by inflation (little more than $7 an hour in 2016, against nearly $11 in 1969). Again, this new political-ideological regime was barely mitigated by the Clinton and Obama years.

Sanders’ success today shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality and these so-called political changes, and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism. Hillary Clinton, who fought to the left of Barack Obama in 2008 on topics such as health insurance, appears today as if she is defending the status quo, just another heiress of the Reagan-Clinton-Obama political regime.

Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.

Meanwhile, the Republican party sinks into a hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam discourse (even though Islam isn’t a great religious force in the country), and a limitless glorification of the fortune amassed by rich white people. The judges appointed under Reagan and Bush have lifted any legal limitation on the influence of private money in politics, which greatly complicates the task of candidates like Sanders.

However, new forms of political mobilization and crowdfunding can prevail and push America into a new political cycle. We are far from gloomy prophecies about the end of history.

The only significant factor missing in Piketty’s analysis is the role of minority voters in relation to the Clinton machine. But that may change, as Sanders and his proposals receive more attention in the weeks and months ahead.

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The usual argument against substantially raising the minimum wage—to, say, $15 an hour—is that we don’t have any data to analyze the effects on unemployment of such a large increase. Better, critics argue, to settle for a much smaller increase, where the data indicate no substantial effects, one way or the other.

However, Teresa Tritch points out, U.S. history does offer a relevant example: 1950, when the minimum wage went from 40 cents an hour to 75 cents an hour, an increase of 87.5 percent.

The entire raise took effect on Jan. 25, 1950, just 90 days after the passage of the law that authorized it. Some 1.5 million workers saw their wages rise.

What happened then? Data sources from that era do not allow for the kinds of analyses that economists have used to evaluate the impact of more recent minimum wage increases. Moreover, in 1950, several industries were still exempt from having to pay the minimum wage, so direct comparisons between then and now are not feasible.

But this much is known: In December 1949, the month before the raise kicked in, the national unemployment rate was 6.6 percent. By December 1950, when the 75-cent minimum had been in place for nearly a year, it had fallen to 4.3 percent. By December 1951, it was 3.1 percent and by December 1952, it was 2.7 percent.

The higher minimum may not have caused the improvement, but it clearly was part and parcel of it.

There is no firm historical evidence to reject or support raising the minimum wage substantially. But what evidence there is indicates it is worth a try.

Note: the chart above shows percentage changes in the federal minimum wage (blue line) and the unemployment rate (red line). The fact that the red line is mostly in negative territory until the recession of 1953-1954 indicates that unemployment was decreasing.

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As everyone knows (or should know), the United States is an international outlier when it comes to incarceration rates.

According to the Hamilton Project,

The U.S. incarceration rate—defined as the number of inmates in local jails, state prisons, federal prisons, and privately operated facilities per every 100,000 U.S. residents—is more than six times that of the typical Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) country. A variety of factors can explain the discrepancy in incarceration rates. One important factor is higher crime rates, especially rates of violent crimes: the homicide rate in the United States is approximately four times the typical rate among the nations shown in this chart. Additionally, drug control policies in the United States—which have largely not been replicated in other Western countries—have prominently contributed to the rising incarcerated population over the past several decades. Another important factor is sentencing policy; in particular, the United States imposes much longer prison sentences for drug-related offenses than do many economically similar nations.

What that means if there are more than 2 million Americans in prison or jail.

Here’s how the incarceration rate has changed over the past 100-plus years of U.S. history:

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