Movie Review

“Bisbee 17,” Directed by Robert Greene. 124 minutes

bisbee17

My movie buddy and I ordered tickets as soon as we heard there was a documentary on the Bisbee Deportation. Good thing we did, because they only scheduled three showings in our town. Most towns won’t get to see it at all. I wonder if they will show it in Bisbee, Arizona?

People who like artsy, independent movies for their own sake might like the film. People who judge movies on their effectiveness probably won’t. People who just want to see some honest working people’s history revealed at last will be glad they made “Bisbee 17,” but even then, I’m not sure they will like it.

The Wikipedia version, just telling the story straight, is a better way to find out about the forced deportation of 1,300 striking miners on July 12, 1917. I have always wondered how they carried it out, but the movie explains that very well.

The Phelps Dodge Mining company and its stooge sheriff deputized over 2,000 men. They made sure to get the Anglo-Saxons because they were targeting virtually every man who wasn’t. They armed those deputies and then started arresting all strikers and anybody who might support them, even people who only attended one meeting “just to listen.” One deputy arrested and deported his own brother, according to the movie, and never saw him again.

Then they marched everybody down to the railroad and loaded them on cars to nowhere. The sheriff announced that he would kill any who returned to Bisbee. The compliant (complicit) railroad company took them out into the desert and stranded them there.

The strikers were with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). They were supposed to have been represented by the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers but union complacence gave the energetic IWW a chance to move in. It’s not in the movie, but one of the main IWW organizers was my personal hero, Frank Little. Little ducked the deportation and went on to another copper miners’ strike in Montana, where he was lynched less than 3 weeks after the Bisbee Deportation.

The artistic movie man took advantage of the centennial re-enactment of the Bisbee Deportation to film the local people preparing for and carrying out their re-enactment roles. As they were all Bisbee people, most of them were also the descendants of the perpetrators. Many of them still held the same racist, chauvinist, jingoistic beliefs of their forebearers and said so in the movie.

Maybe the best scene is when one outraged man speaks to a planning meeting of Bisbee citizens and says, roughly, “Some of you are saying we have to tell ‘both sides’ of the story! That’s like telling ‘both sides’ of the holocaust!” He made a good point, but the re-enactors didn’t listen. The movie man didn’t, either. That’s the problem with “Bisbee 17.”

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON 89.3 FM “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9 Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

My summary of history in Texas is that it’s mostly junk. But here’s a great exception:

Book Review:

“The WPA Dallas Guide and History” written and compiled from 1936 to 1942 by the workers of the Writers Program of the Works Projects Administration. Published in 1992 by the Dallas Library

houstonviaduct

In 1912, the Houston Viaduct was the longest concrete bridge in the world

Congressman Martin Dies, the Joseph McCarthy of his day, was able to kill the WPA Writers Project before this book was published. He said that the Writers Project was “doing more to spread Communist propaganda than the Communist Party itself.” Fortunately, he died. Scholars used the manuscript as a primary resource, but hardly anyone else saw this wonderful history book for decades.

Years later, the good people associated with the Administration in the City of Dallas were able to get it published by the Dallas Public Library Texas Center for the Book, University of North Texas Press in 1992. I believe the Dallas library owns five copies. I read it in 2010, but it’s such a compelling book that I read it again in September, 2018. All of these WPA Guides are terrific! I just ordered the “WPA Guide to Texas.”

WPA Guide to Dallas is the most comprehensive history of the city. It includes names, dates, and exact places (on a 1940 map) of everything of importance here.

The Writers Project wrote dozens of historical guides. They intended to bring them all together into a comprehensive history of the United States. Martin Dies and the bureaucrats of 1940 were able to stop a lot of the publications. Every one of the “Guides” that I have seen is better than anything else on their subject. This one is certainly no exception.

During the Great Depression:

“Mellon pulled the whistle,

Hoover rang the bell

Wall Street gave the signal

And the country went to hell.”

The Roosevelt administration, faced with much criticism, changed the name from Works Progress Administration to Work Projects Administration and cancelled the writers project. Dallasites had to find a sponsor that would contribute at least 25% of the cost of the program. The Bureau of Research in the Social Sciences at the UT of Austin sponsored the Texas project.

Here are some of my notes from the book:

John Neely Bryan settled, by himself, on the banks of the Trinity 1841. The Beeman family soon came from Mustang Branch (Farmers Branch) to join him and he married one of them. He eventually sold out to Alexander Cockrell, who got killed in a gun fight. Sarah Cockrell then played a big role in developing the town.

Page 50: Jane Elkins was hanged for murdering a man named Wisdom in Farmers’ Branch, May 27, 1853.

Page 50: April 26, 1854 came the advance guard of the La Reunion colonists. They were followers of Charles Francois Fourier. French and Belgians bought 1,200 acres of land on the western side of the Trinity. “The whole population of Dallas turned out to celebrate the arrival June 16, 1855, of the main body of these idealistic European immigrants, and they were welcomed by a committee headed by their fellow countryman, Maxime Guillot, who acted as interpreter. Guillot had remained in the area after the failure of an earlier utopian community. //This was probably the Icarians of 1846//

P54 Account of the downtown 1860 fire, hanging of 3 slaves, exile of 1. Flogging of all the others.

Back in those days, there were so few men in Dallas that they had to take turns on the jury condemning themselves for gambling. Each would defend himself, then return to the jury box after being found guilty.

Dallas was the center of the buffalo hide trade, then a central cotton factoring area.

Mayor Ervay was jailed in 1872 for refusing to leave office after being ordered by carpetbag governor EJ Davis. By 1875 Reconstruction was over in Dallas.

P67 Really good narrative on Belle Starr, who had a livery stable “somewhere near Camp Street” specializing in stolen horses. (1875). She was shot in Eufala area, Feb 1889.

P68 romantic tale of Sam Bass

P90 1918 effort to start fireman’s union failed. In 1919 a widespread sympathy strike involving inside electricians, then building trades, and garment workers. Resulted in a walkout by linemen.

P 97 “The early months of 1934 were marked by agitation among the unemployed, organized by the Workers Cooperative League for rent, fuel, and clothes allowances in addition to groceries. The fight of local initiative against the depression continued unabated, resulting in the launching of an extensive public works program including the $1,000,000 Triple Underpass at the foot of Elm, Main and Commerce Streets .By the end of the year the Works Progress Admministration had also given employment to 3,000 workers in the city.”

P98 “…wave of mob violence and labor disorders in the summer of 1937 which culminated in the sending of Rangers to Dallas by Governor James V Allred, despite protests of local officials.”

P103: list of Mayors

P157: comprehensive list of labor organizing and troubles. Knights of Labor were here before April 1882. Typographers were the first AFofL union: April 6, 1885.

Carpenters had a successful strike May 6, 1890, for a 9 hour working day. “By 1896 there were twenty labor unions with an aggregate membership of about 2,000. On Nov 20, 1899, a charter was granted by the AFofL to the trades assembly of Dallas, the original central organization in the local labor movement. This assembly lasted until 1910, when on January 8 a charter was issued to the Central labor council, which still functions.” (1940)

P158 in 1919 the linemen struck Dallas Power & Light. “On June 11 a pitched battle with clubs and shotguns occurred at Routh Street and Cedar Springs Road, in which AJ Fisher, a former deputy sheriff employed as a guard for a crew of nonunion workmen, was killed and four men wounded, three of them strikers. Seven union members were arrested and on June 24 the grand jury returned indictments for murder against four: Al Shrum, WT butcher, Robert Roy, and WF Bohannon. Al Shrum was convicted of manslaughter October 27 and sentenced to three years imprisonment.”

ILGWU struck early 1935. Strike abandoned Jan 1936.

Just about all the labor actions listed failed.

In 1940, there were 52 local AFofL unions. //The CIO was largely unsuccessful until 1941 when Ford was organized//

Labor Temple at Young & St Paul was formally dedicated by Governor James E Ferguson, Jan 8, 1916.

Dallas [anti-union] Open Shop Association started 1918.

Pgs 157-160 have the best possible coverage of early Dallas labor organizations.

But the book goes on and covers everything of interest in the city and county. It has sections on Negroes and Hispanics.

P286 good account of La Reunion, the socialist colony that contributed so much to Dallas culture, including a good account of its final days at the beginning of the Civil War. There was a standoff with authorities and one man was wounded.

P296 words to “deep ellum blues” Good account of Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson

P311 Jack Johnson worked as a dishwasher in a Dallas restaurant, Delgado’s at 248 Main. He held local fights against other Blacks. This apparently was before he became champion in 1910.

Buy a used copy from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0929398319/ref=sr_1_1_olp?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538072737&sr=1-1&keywords=WPA+guide+to+Dallas

–Gene Lantz

I am on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

We always assume that Lizzie Borden was guilty of the axe murders of her father and stepmother.

Movie Review:

“Lizzie,” Directed by Craig Macneill. 105 minutes

Chloe Sevigny produced this film and carries almost every scene as the central character. She does a fine job of acting, but Kristen Stewart deserves tremendous credit not only for a fine acting job but also because she keeps stretching her capabilities by taking on more and more diverse roles. In this one, the vivacious star of all those “Twilight” movies plays a mousy little immigrant housekeeper.

The real Lizzie Borden was never convicted of all that whacking, but the literary Lizzie, it seems, will forever be guilty until proven innocent.  Recently, she’s also become a feminist trailblazer. She wouldn’t have acted out so murderously, we are given to understand in the movie, if she hadn’t been repressed in the 1890’s. I think this movie makes that point very well through the drama itself, through the tension we in the audience feel on Lizzie’s behalf, and decidedly not because of sermonizing.

lizzieborden

After the movie, you might want to decide about Lizzie’s culpability and motivations on your own. Wikipedia has a good treatment. You might also want to check out the 1975 made-for-TV version starring another very good and versatile actress named Elizabeth Montgomery. It’s free on YouTube. It’s also very good.

We liked the movie. It had a lot of tension and, all the way through, seemed very honest. Also, there were three union logos in the last frame.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM at 9 AM every Saturday Central Time. They podcast them on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

I enthusiastically recommend the content and ideas in Michael Moore’s new documentary, but I can’t actually recommend the movie.

Movie Review:

“Fahrenheit 11/9” Written and Directed by Michael Moore. 2 hours 6 minutes.

Michael Moore of Flint, Michigan, is probably the greatest satirist since Johnathan Swift. While his latest and most ambitious movie fulfills its purpose in illustrating virtually everything that’s wrong in Donald Trump’s America, it also highlights the inadequacy our response.

michael-moore

In Moore’s defense, one might say that listing today’s evils is necessarily a long and grim task. However, such length and such anger don’t fit well into a moviegoing experience. “I felt like I was getting beat up,” was my movie buddy’s summary.

Three or four, or maybe four or five, separate documentaries would have carried the message and made the point better. I wouldn’t mind a feature-length documentary on the scandal of lead poisoning in Flint, or on comparisons between Trump and Hitler, on the Florida teenagers’ response to school shootings, on the failures of our electoral system, and most certainly I wouldn’t mind a feature length documentary on the wonderful school employees of West Virginia. But trying to cover them all, and even more stuff, in one continuous documentary film?

Moore’s over-ambitious project took so much time that it squeezed out all the room that he used in his earlier films for humor. There are some great laughs in “Fahrenheit 11/9,” but only a few.

That’s not my main complaint.

Where Is the Solution?

In an interview introducing his film, Michael Moore said that its purpose was to get people to vote this November. But that isn’t clear at all in the movie. Even if it were clear, for whom would Mr. Moore have us vote? In this film, he lambastes the Democrats almost as much as the Republicans. That can only lead people to do exactly what Moore tells us not to do, stay home on November 6.

At one point, one of the characters featured tells people to join unions. But another part of the movie disparages unions.

Apparently, the outraged Michael Moore wants us to be outraged, but what does he want us to do about it? Many Americans are already outraged. Somebody needs to tell them to join unions and other progressive organizations and fight for a progressive program with a real, long-term social solution.

Otherwise, we’re just a bunch of simple-minded outraged anarchists.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM central time every Saturday. They podcast on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

Reverend L. Charles Stovall needed a ride home from the Dallas Labor Day Breakfast, and I was happy to get to spend time with him.

Stovall and Hickman at the Labor Day Breakfast in 2011

Almost as soon as he got in the car, he called Reverend Holsey Hickman to tell him that the annual breakfast is getting better and better. I wholeheartedly agreed.

The hard data showed that ticket sales were way over the 500 mark that we strived for over the last decade. Participation from labor, political, religious, and community leaders was far better. The three of us could remember when area unions had to scramble to even find even one religious leader to open the ceremonies. There were no community groups. Civil rights and immigrant rights weren’t mentioned.

National Unions Are Watching Dallas

This year, we had two national union leaders speaking: UFCW International President Marc Perrone and ATU International Secretary-Treasurer Oscar Owens. Perrone told the crowd, “We are the labor movement. We are the last and only hope for America.” He also said, “The fight for justice will go on forever as long as there are greedy bastards out there!” My favorite quote was one word repeated three times, “Organize! Organize! Organize!”

Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy was in the audience and trying to listen while admirers hustled him into one photo opportunity after another. Louis Malfaro, leader of Texas’ biggest union, the Federation of Teachers, presented the Linda Bridges award for outstanding union women to the Dallas AFL-CIO Political Director, Lorraine Montemayor. The applause showed how much everyone agreed with the choice. Montemayor said, “You are the backbone of this country!” Then, true to form, she began outlining some of the hard work planned for this election season.

The award for “Hero of Labor” deservedly went to DJ Garza of the UAW. As an organizer for the Workers’ Defense Project, Garza has made a difference in winning rights for Dallas workers. The “Community Champion” award went to Faith in Texas. They turned out many volunteers for the recent petitioning campaign to win paid sick time.

Political Leaders Know the Value of Union Support

I don’t know if Mark York, principal officer of the Dallas AFL-CIO and emcee for the breakfast, was able to mention every office holder and candidate in the audience. It seemed to me that they were all there. Texas governor candidate Lupe Valdez put it this way: “I work with unions because we want to do the right thing for every working Texan.”

Colin Allred, candidate for Congress in District 32 — one of the most closely watched races in America — wowed the crowd. Like many candidates this year, he is also a union member. Also on the dais were Congresspersons Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey. The Texas Democratic Party Chair, Gilberto Hinojosa, came to speak, as did  Senator Royce West, State Rep Victoria Neave, County Judge Clay Jenkins, Commissioner John Wiley Price, and Councilman Scott Griggs. Out in the audience, there were many more.

Look Back, Look Forward!

Us old timers can remember when the annual breakfast petered out for a couple of years. It was expensive back in the 1990s, and sometimes it just didn’t seem like it was worth the trouble. During those two years without the annual AFL-CIO breakfast, our little Jobs with Justice group seized the opportunity. We didn’t have the money for a banquet, so we fell back on time-tested labor tactics. We did car caravans to labor’s “hot spots” around North Texas. News reporters liked it, and we more than kept up the Labor Day tradition.

When the breakfast started again, Jobs with Justice worked to get faith leaders, especially Stovall and Hickman — because they were also major civil rights leaders — to come. We had to raise the money, but we soon had a table of ten religious and community leaders. Stovall and Hickman reflected the new, broader and more inclusive AFL-CIO that would extend its influence throughout the progressive movement.

This trend is extending. In 1999, the AFL-CIO began to reach out to undocumented workers for the first time in its history. Today, there are no barriers between the Dallas AFL-CIO and every aspect of the progressive movement. The Labor Day breakfast showed that we have made tremendous progress, and it points the way toward a future in which the progressive movement is truly focused on working families. In that future, nothing can stop us!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

Book Review:

Piketty, Thomas, “Why Save the Bankers? And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston New York, 2016. Dallas Library 330.94 P636W 2016

economics-vague

Apparently, publishers were looking for anything by Piketty after his world-shaking 2014 (in French, 2015 in English) book “Capital in the 21st Century.” This is only a collection of his essays on contemporary developments in Europe 2010-2015. He has a monthly newspaper column.

These are short and readable and, if nothing else, give a short summary of major economic developments in the European Union during the period. They also encapsulate some of his major recommendations for solutions to the capitalist crisis:

  1. The worldwide wealth tax espoused in his major work
  2. Additional economic integration — he calls it ‘federation’ — within the European Union. He particularly wants the EU to be able to issue common bonds and have common debt. At other times, he mentions other economic aspects of closer federation.

“Federalism, the Only Solution,” is the title of one very central essay.

Piketty doesn’t believe that austerity will solve any particular country’s crisis, consequently, he sees no reason why some countries (Germany and France) would force it onto other countries (Greece). He opposes what he calls “tax competition” between nations. It consists of lowering business taxes in order to entice more economic activity away from countries with higher taxes. He mentions Luxembourg and Ireland particularly.

At the end of 2017, Republicans in Congress drastically lowered taxes for businesses and wealthy Americans. One of their excuses was that other nations had lowered theirs already. Race to the bottom!

In a very general sense, Piketty sees the European Union as having unnecessary crises because they only partly joined their economies. Fiscal and monetary policy simply don’t work when they aren’t coordinated among the nations. What hurts one helps another.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio‘s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. 89.3 FM in Dallas. They podcast them on Itunes. If you are curious about what I actually think, check out my personal web site.

On this 125th Labor Day, there’s good news for our side:

winning-kid

The statistics recently shared by the AFL-CIO are pretty good:

  • 48% of unorganized Americans would join a union if they could. If you add the ones that already have a union, we’re a majority!
  • 262,000 new members joined last year
  • Union approval is at 62%, an all-time high

And you can add some local things that are impressive:

  • The Dallas Labor Day Breakfast has already sold more tickets than ever
  • The Dallas AFL-CIO has more staff and more participation than I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching for a long, long time
  • The Dallas AFL-CIO is playing a central role in several critical coalitions
  • My own local union has about 375 new members!

Look at the Trend

To really understand anything, don’t just look at what it is. Look at what it was, and look at what it is becoming. If you go back to the period between 1947 and 1995, you’ll see an American labor movement that was conservative, timid, and isolated. It was also losing two-thirds of its membership and most of its political clout.

The ice began to break in 1987 when five of the more progressive industrial unions formed Jobs with Justice to consolidate the movement and take new initiatives. In 1992, as part of Jobs with Justice, I attended a special conference on low-wage workers. In 1995, for the first time in 100 years, there was a disruption in the succession of leadership. The outgoing leaders of the AFL-CIO did not get to pick their own successors.

After 1995, things really began to happen. In 1997, they removed the anti-communist clause from their constitution and started trying to work with more people. In 1999, they stopped calling for deportations of immigrants and committed themselves to organizing everybody that works.  Since then they’ve greatly improved their outreach to women, to minorities, to gays, to environmentalists, to retirees, to workers in other nations, and anybody else that might help American working people.

And through that period, from 1995 to now, the progressive leadership from the top has sifted down into the affiliated unions, the Central Labor Councils, the rank and file, and the many other kinds of organizations that can make up a united progressive movement.

We’re Not Done

There’s a lot more to do. Way to many union members still think of themselves as superior because they have better jobs than ordinary Americans. Way too many ordinary Americans still think that the labor movement doesn’t share their interests. Way too many people don’t see the crisis we’re in and don’t see that organizing is the only way out of it. Way too many old habits persist.

But if you think of employers and employees as two different sides of a war, and if you realize that you belong on the employee side, you begin to appreciate the fact that our side is better informed and better organized than ever in American history. The employer side may have the option of destroying the world, that may be in their power to do.

But defeating our side is not one of their options.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program in Dallas 89.3 FM at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site