Tag Archives: labor

May Day

May Pole at the FarmMay Day, when the weather cooperates, celebrates a time of year when the intoxicating beauty of Spring reaches even the most frozen, internet-addicted soul. Known as Beltane in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, it is a worker’s holiday in much of the world. May Day stands across the Wheel from another disreputable holiday the Celts bequeathed us–Halloween. It’s a time to test boundaries. May Day will be Occupied this year.

At this latitude, we usually don’t get into our groove during Earth Month. Most years, May is when the world blooms– this warm April being an exception. America celebrates Labor Day at the end of Summer, and the change of the seasons not at all, officially. That’s okay, nature celebrations don’t take to official sanctions.

In this week’s New York Times the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood mentioned New England’s own Nathaniel Hawthorne as a writer worth re-visiting. I checked it out and darned if his writing isn’t subversive, Pagan and kind of gay (if a rainbow scarf counts). Here is what happens when the Puritans meet the May Pole dancers…

Here might be seen the Savage Man, well known in heraldry, hairy as a baboon, and girdled with green leaves. By his side, a noble figure, but still a counterfeit, appeared an Indian hunter, with feathery crest and wampum belt. Many of this strange company wore foolscaps, and had little bells appended to their garments, tinkling with a silvery sound, responsive to the inaudible music of their gleesome spirits. Some youths and maidens were of soberer garb, yet well maintained their places in the irregular throng by the expression of wild revelry upon their features. Such were the colonists of Merry Mount, as they stood in the broad smile of sunset round their venerated Maypole.

Had a wanderer, bewildered in the melancholy forest, heard their mirth, and stolen a half-affrighted glance, he might have fancied them the crew of Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change. But a band of Puritans, who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.
Within the ring of monsters appeared the two airiest forms that had ever trodden on any more solid footing than a purple and golden cloud. One was a youth in glistening apparel, with a scarf of the rainbow pattern crosswise on his breast. His right hand held a gilded staff, the ensign of high dignity among the revelers, and his left grasped the slender fingers of a fair maiden, not less gayly decorated than himself. Bright roses glowed in contrast with the dark and glossy curls of each, and were scattered round their feet, or had sprung up spontaneously there. Behind this lightsome couple, so close to the Maypole that its boughs shaded his jovial face, stood the figure of an English priest, canonically dressed, yet decked with flowers, in heathen fashion, and wearing a chaplet of the native vine leaves. By the riot of his rolling eye, and the pagan decorations of his holy garb, he seemed the wildest monster there, and the very Comus of the crew.

“Votaries of the Maypole,” cried the flower-decked priest, “merrily, all day long, have the woods echoed to your mirth. But be this your merriest hour, my hearts! Lo, here stand the Lord and Lady of the May, whom I, a clerk of Oxford, and high priest of Merry Mount, am presently to join in holy matrimony. Up with your nimble spirits, ye morris-dancers, green men, and glee maidens, bears and wolves, and horned gentlemen! Come; a chorus now, rich with the old mirth of Merry England, and the wilder glee of this fresh forest; and then a dance, to show the youthful pair what life is made of, and how airily they should go through it! All ye that love the Maypole, lend your voices to the nuptial song of the Lord and Lady of the May!”

As history tells, the Puritans won. Still, they never quite succeed in pulling all the dandelions out of the lawn. Hawthorne has a lot to say to us today, in this short story. Read it all here,–The May Pole of Merry Mount, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

And as history is stranger than fiction, here’s one link to that renegade ‘English priest’, Thomas Morton, founder of New Caanan. If the Puritans had followed Morton’s lead and made peace with the Native people, what new path might our country have taken?

There’s 49 Other States


From Think Progress
, a year ago this guy would have gotten a ticket, not tossed in the slammer…

Alabama’s economy is suffering because of HB 56, the state’s draconian immigration law, as workers flee out of fear. State Sen. Scott Beason (R), who sponsored the anti-immigrant bill in the Alabama legislature, once called it a “jobs bill,” but the state’s immigration law is leaving entire industries without enough workers instead.

And the extreme law, which legislators are now reconsidering, could seriously damage the state’s reputation as well after police arrested a German Mercedes-Benz executive last week under the immigration law. Mercedes opened its first American manufacturing plant in Vance, Alabama in 1993, spurring a trend of foreign car makers and suppliers opening factories in the state. They may be rethinking that decision, however, after one of their German executives was arrested for simply not having his passport with him.


Read the rest here.

Think Progress links to a story in Associated Press

[Alabama Governor, Robert]Bentley, a Republican who signed the illegal immigration law earlier this year, called the state’s homeland security director, Spencer Collier, after hearing of the arrest to get details about had happened, Collier said in an interview.

“Initially I didn’t have them, so I called Chief Anderson to find out what happened,” Collier said. “It sounds like the officer followed the statute correctly.”

Collier said he didn’t know how Bentley found out about the arrest, and Bentley press secretary Jennifer Ardis referred all questions to Collier.

Collier said he has made at least a dozen similar calls to law enforcement agencies that made arrests under the law to see how it is being handled, and he said his call to Anderson wasn’t prompted by the fact a Mercedes executive was arrested.

“It’s just to make sure they’re using best practices and following the law,” he said.

If I were cynical, I’d take a perverse pleasure in the fact that the un-named Mercedes exec probably didn’t ‘look illegal’.

Bloomberg Business at msnbc has a detailed article about Why Americans Won’t do Dirty Jobs.

The short version is that these jobs are so difficult, dangerous and poorly paid that in an American economy workers lose money doing them. The only way to make it work is to send the American dollars to a poorer country where the value is greater. Bloomberg describes workers toiling 13 hours for $60. And this bears further investigation– an American worker trying to make a job in the fields..

In a neighboring field, Cedric Rayford is working a row. The 28-year-old came up with two friends from Gadsden, Ala., after hearing on the radio that farmers were hiring. The work is halfway complete when one member of their crew decides to quit. Rayford and crewmate Marvin Turner try to persuade their friend to stay and finish the job. Otherwise, no one will get paid. Turner even offers $20 out of his own pocket as a sweetener to no effect. “When a man’s mind is made up, there’s about nothing you can do,” he says.

NO ONE WILL GET PAID??? I’ll bet this is some ‘independent contractor’ deal where the workers get no hourly wage, no social security, no workers comp. insurance. This bears further investigation.

Alabama and other states that erode workers rights, health and safety are left with an economy that depends on jobs that do not pay a living wage. Governor Bentley has just dug deeper into the pit. Scapegoating immigrants won’t solve Alabama’s problems. Supporting workers rights is essential, but won’t offer any short-term political gain, and is not in sync with the Republican Party.

Mercedes, y’all can come up here. We could use some good jobs and we don’t arrest people for forgetting their driver’s license.

Happy Beltane

The MayPole

May Day has many meanings across the centuries. Perhaps the primary one in the Northern Hemisphere is that you can put the ice scraper in  the trunk and hope the gods don’t smote you.  This year we have the unusual good fortune to have the first of May on a Sunday with mild weather and sunshine. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

A tree died for this MayPole, but not in vain. (May 1,2011)

May 1, 2012– What a difference a year makes! Occupy Providence made it through a bitter winter and has not gone away or lost faith. Here are some May Day thoughts in a time of growth and change…

May Pole at the FarmMay Day, when the weather cooperates, celebrates a time of year when Spring reaches even the most frozen, internet-addicted soul. Known as Beltane in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, it is a worker’s holiday in much of the world. May Day stands across the Wheel from another disreputable holiday the Celts bequeathed us–Halloween. It’s a time to test boundaries. May Day will be Occupied this year. Who knows what labor will be up to by Labor Day?

In this week’s New York Times the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood named Nathaniel Hawthorne as a writer worth re-visiting. I checked him out and darned if his writing isn’t subversive, Pagan and kind of gay (if a rainbow scarf counts). Here is what happens when the Puritans meet the May Pole dancers…

Here might be seen the Savage Man, well known in heraldry, hairy as a baboon, and girdled with green leaves. By his side, a noble figure, but still a counterfeit, appeared an Indian hunter, with feathery crest and wampum belt. Many of this strange company wore foolscaps, and had little bells appended to their garments, tinkling with a silvery sound, responsive to the inaudible music of their gleesome spirits. Some youths and maidens were of soberer garb, yet well maintained their places in the irregular throng by the expression of wild revelry upon their features. Such were the colonists of Merry Mount, as they stood in the broad smile of sunset round their venerated Maypole.

Had a wanderer, bewildered in the melancholy forest, heard their mirth, and stolen a half-affrighted glance, he might have fancied them the crew of Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change. But a band of Puritans, who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.
Within the ring of monsters appeared the two airiest forms that had ever trodden on any more solid footing than a purple and golden cloud. One was a youth in glistening apparel, with a scarf of the rainbow pattern crosswise on his breast. His right hand held a gilded staff, the ensign of high dignity among the revelers, and his left grasped the slender fingers of a fair maiden, not less gayly decorated than himself. Bright roses glowed in contrast with the dark and glossy curls of each, and were scattered round their feet, or had sprung up spontaneously there. Behind this lightsome couple, so close to the Maypole that its boughs shaded his jovial face, stood the figure of an English priest, canonically dressed, yet decked with flowers, in heathen fashion, and wearing a chaplet of the native vine leaves. By the riot of his rolling eye, and the pagan decorations of his holy garb, he seemed the wildest monster there, and the very Comus of the crew.

“Votaries of the Maypole,” cried the flower-decked priest, “merrily, all day long, have the woods echoed to your mirth. But be this your merriest hour, my hearts! Lo, here stand the Lord and Lady of the May, whom I, a clerk of Oxford, and high priest of Merry Mount, am presently to join in holy matrimony. Up with your nimble spirits, ye morris-dancers, green men, and glee maidens, bears and wolves, and horned gentlemen! Come; a chorus now, rich with the old mirth of Merry England, and the wilder glee of this fresh forest; and then a dance, to show the youthful pair what life is made of, and how airily they should go through it! All ye that love the Maypole, lend your voices to the nuptial song of the Lord and Lady of the May!”

As history tells, the Puritans won. Still, they never quite succeed in pulling all the dandelions out of the lawn. Hawthorne has a lot to say to us today, in this short story. Read it all here,–The May Pole of Merry Mount, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

And as history is stranger than fiction, here’s one link to that renegade ‘English priest’, Thomas Morton, founder of New Caanan. If the Puritans had followed Morton’s lead and made peace with the Native people, what new path might our country have taken?

Cheap Labor in the Hot Zone

Alternet posts this article from the site WhoWhatWhy.com The author, Russ Baker, cites a 1999 article from the Los Angeles Times exposing the unconscionable use of low-wage workers as a human resource to do the dirty and dangerous maintenance work that keeps nuclear power cheap.

Kunio Murai was a struggling farmer from the wrong side of the tracks when he was recruited to work as a day laborer in a nuclear power plant near this farm town. The pay was triple what he could make anywhere else, and he was told that the work would be janitorial.

One day in 1970, he and a co-worker were ordered into a room to mop up a leak of radioactive cooling water. They wore ordinary rubber gloves, but no masks or additional protection. Murai recalls wrapping a cleaning cloth around a pipe that was spewing steam. They worked for two hours, and afterward the needle on Murai’s radiation meter pointed off the scale.

“I thought it was broken,” Murai said. It wasn’t. Within six months, he said, his joints swelled painfully and his teeth and hair fell out.

Murai is one of tens of thousands of people who have worked over the years as subcontractors in Japanese nuclear power plants, doing the dirty, difficult and potentially dangerous jobs shunned by regular employees.

In the wake of Japan’s worst nuclear accident, a nuclear fission reaction Sept. 30 [1999] at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura, ugly allegations have surfaced of labor abuses, lackadaisical attitudes toward safety, inadequate worker training and lax enforcement by regulators in the country’s nuclear industry.

Workers at the JCO Co. plant in Tokaimura, about 80 miles northeast of Tokyo, were mixing uranium by hand in stainless steel buckets to save time. The ensuing nuclear reaction exposed as many as 150 people to radiation, according to the final report issued this month by Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission. One worker died from a lethal dose of radiation, and another remains hospitalized.

As Russ Baker notes, this quote from the LA Times calls the accident in 1999 ‘the worst’. The accident has all the elements– expedience, exploitation of workers and neglect of safety– that took the life of Robert Peabody fifty years ago in Rhode Island. In fact, it is the same type of accident, a critical reaction caused by unwarned workers, leading to severe radiation exposure.

The proponents of nuclear power cite multiple safety systems, and the necessity for these systems is a measure of how potentially deadly the technology is– as we see today in Fukushima.

After Chernobyl, Russians who lived in the vicinity of the disaster were prey to panic and despair. They had not been honestly informed by the authorities, and had no way to measure the risk to themselves and their families. Substance abuse, abortion and even suicide followed. The people of Japan, whose suffering is so great, deserve an honest assessment of the damage. Measuring the effects of the accident on the population will require years of tracking a cohort of millions, and that is assuming that there is political will to obtain that information. The cancer statistics from Chernobyl and from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suggest that the increase in cancer risk is real, but so variable and affected by other factors that it takes groups of hundreds of thousands to measure. There’s reason to be optimistic that most individuals who live in the track of the radiation release will not personally suffer health effects.

And of course, there’s no immediate risk.

In our fifteen-minute news cycle the nuclear industry just has to hope nothing more blows up. As in the case of the top scientists who assured the public that the tobacco industry would never put an unsafe product on the market, the nuclear industry is keeping a narrow focus on the health effects so far. Hey, it’s not as bad as Chernobyl– that’s the new safety standard.

Reading about the heroic efforts of workers at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, I wondered why top scientists, trusted authorities, and people much smarter than me, could get workers into the most dangerous areas, but not bring in food, blankets or protective equipment for them. Even in this dire emergency there are priorities. Perhaps you’ve read about the Fukushima Fifty, who expect to give their lives, now or later, to save the public.

A complete and honest accounting will reveal that the nuclear industry, like all human enterprises, is subject to human error, expediency, shortsightedness and corner-cutting. There have been accidents and near-misses since the beginning. Human nature is not something we can change. We have no business creating radioactive hazards that will last for thousands of years, or putting cities in harm’s way. And this, for lack of will and imagination to find better answers.

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