June 24, 2008

Bye George

I missed much of George Carlin’s early career, so first came to his comedy by the time he was a dirty old man- a wise, wise-ass grandpa. At the end, Carlin appeared in all black, a belligerent mime. After forced trips to church in high school, I made him (a recovering Catholic too) my personal anti-catechist.

Whether his target was religion, class hierarchy, empire, over-consumption, language use and censorship, bankers, sexual custom, or the general failings of human nature, Carlin told polite society and euphemized conventional wisdom to fuck off. H
e was a master of wordplay, lewd sound effects, and a pacing physical comedy that drove it home.

And he was versatile:
(He raised a generation as the out of place narrator for the pre-school hit show "Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends," which could only have been part of some community service stint for swearing in front of a class of Kindergarteners.)

Carlin’s bullshit detector was devastating, but he used simple means of inquiry to dissect authority and ideology. And drawing simple questions about “the way things worked” all the way out to their illogical end, he was able to lay bare the absurdity of so many bankrupt American mythologies.

Carlin on "the greatest bullshit story ever told":

On "the american dream:"

Here's what they're calling Carlin's last interview (in Psychology Today). Originally slated for a back page, they published it nearly in full on the web.

June 19, 2008

Ralph Nader Takes on the Big Market

Ralph Nader is the tireless advocate for fairness, but also an uncanny prophet. He was on Democracy Now today decrying Obama as "a corporate candidate from A to Z." However reviled by the Democratic Party, which wants to rope reluctant progressive left votes into their coalition without earning them, Nader continues his crusade (see interview in the WSJ) against a corporate establishment that wants to convince us of its inevitability.

This time, Nader's delving into the world of sports, turning a critical eye towards NBA corruption stemming from favoritism given to "big market" teams that can draw larger viewership, sell more tickets, and bring in more revenue for the league. And all politics aside, he's got a pretty mean set shot from 4 feet.

Nader was out front on the latest scandal surrounding unsavory officiating and alleged game fixing by the league. He wrote a letter to NBA commissioner Daniel Stern in 2002, after sitting in the stands at game 6 of that year's Western Conference conference finals. The prime-time darling LA Lakers came back to beat the Sacramento Kings, a scrappy small market team featuring a post-40 year old Vlade Divac at center (not stellar for ratings).

Now former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was discovered last summer to have gambled on games he officiated, is verifying Nader's allegations of foul-play, claiming that "company men" wanted to lengthen the series, and had referees do all in their power to give the Lakers a chance to come back. The league has dismissed his claims, arguing that Donaghy has little credibility given his own misdeeds.

But watch the tape below for pretty clear evidence of foul play. After scoring 27 from free throws in the final quarter, the Lakers prevailed, ended up winning the series, and moving onto the NBA Finals, where they added another ring to the illustrious, highly commercialized "Showtime" legacy.

June 07, 2008

Wayne State Part Time Faculty Victorious

The Union of Part-Time Faculty (affiliated with the AFT) at Wayne State won their first tentative contract agreement this spring after years of organizing and months of negotiations. School administrations have relied more heavily on adjuncts in cost-saving efforts, and part-timers now compose a majority of the teaching workforce in higher ed nationwide- a workforce largely without union representation, benefits, or job security.

Their victory follows in the tradition of strong teachers' contracts at University of Michigan schools in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint among lecturers and graduate students. The part-time faculty, who often teach at several schools in any given semester, are gaining steam in the area, including Henry Ford Community College which formed a bargaining unit on May 7th.

Faculty members at Wayne vote this first week of June on the contract, and ballots come in for a count on the 9th.

See Joe Berry's book "Reclaiming the Ivory Tower" a one of a kind, concise history of the rise of adjuncts, and an organizing strategy guide.

June 02, 2008

UNC Students Stage 16 Day Sweat Free Sit-In

Found in June 2008 issue of Labor Notes

Finals week was fast approaching when 15 University of North Carolina students occupied the administration building in Chapel Hill on April 17. For years, Student Action with Workers (SAW) has been pushing their chancellor, James Moeser, to pledge not to buy university apparel from sweatshops.

Nine years earlier, UNC adopted a labor code of conduct for its apparel suppliers—after a four-day student sit-in. But this spring students spent 16 days occupying the same building in an effort to enforce that code. “We have been forced to take action because of the failure of the UNC to live up to its supposed commitment to workers’ rights,” said senior Salma Mirza.

SAW activists transformed the administration building into a communications center, launching an online petition, organizing a call-in campaign to Moeser’s office, and broadcasting video feeds from inside the sit-in as well as endorsements from student groups, faculty, unions, and elected officials.

Their blog connected the action to a history of student-worker solidarity at UNC, including two 1969 food service strikes, during which strikers established alternative “food stands” outside the dining halls. “We are talking about sweatshops, but also housekeepers, grad students, and adjuncts,” said Mirza.

Junior Anthony Maglione, discussed strategy with one of the housekeepers on the night shift, whose aunt took part in the 1969 dining hall strikes. “We want to build this with campus workers who get up at 2 am to clean our classrooms,” he said.

Duke Students Against Sweatshops came from Durham to fill shifts at the sit-in and organize a solidarity camp-out and breakfast. After winning support from their own administration, students like Andrew Zonderman made the 8-mile trip to Chapel Hill more frequently, to build state-wide support for the program. “The DSP won't be completely effective until a majority of the collegiate apparel market is signed on. It's going to be the UNC's and other universities with successful Division I athletics with large support bases that are going to tip the scales,” he said.

In the last dozen years anti-sweatshop organizers have built an impressive network across campuses. When Chancellor Moeser went to Washington, D.C. for a conference on global development, United Students Against Sweatshops activists from the area met him outside and brought the protest inside, too.

“We knew people working in the hotel, cleaning rooms, and asked them to leaflet each room about the sit-in,” said SAW protester Linda Gomaa.


The UNC sit-in is the latest round in a nationwide campaign led by USAS to pressure universities to adopt its Designated Suppliers Program. When schools sign the DSP, they agree to source their licensed apparel from factories where workers receive a living wage and have the right to organize. After a six-month grace period, participating schools would begin sourcing 25 percent of each licensee’s apparel from designated factories, and after three years, the proportion would rise to 75 percent.

The program compels licensees like Nike and Adidas to pay more for apparel so that factory owners can pay their workers a living wage—which would be set in negotiations led by the workers’ organizations.

Forty-five schools have signed on, and await support from other colleges before forming a list of designated suppliers and implementing the program.

The idea for the DSP grew from another project USAS helped conceive, the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory monitoring organization composed of student representatives, college administrators, and labor experts.

The WRC’s factory inspections keep schools and licensees up to speed about labor abuses in their supply chains, but the WRC lacks the ability to alter sourcing decisions as the DSP proposes to do.


“With the WRC monitoring, it’s more like saying to companies, ‘it would be nice if you complied,’” said Claudia Ebel, a University of Colorado student on the WRC’s governing board. Without an enforcement plan, factories like BJ&B in the Dominican Republic, where workers organized for higher wages, have lost business from licensees and subsequently shut down.

The other major sweatshop monitoring organization on campuses is the Fair Labor Association (FLA), directed by a mix of officials from major corporations, nonprofits, and universities. Student activists see the FLA as hopelessly compromised.

In late 2007, for example, the WRC received reports of racial discrimination and anti-union intimidation at a New Era hat factory in Mobile, Alabama, which produces Tar Heel apparel for UNC.

Against the wishes of UNC’s licensing committee and SAW students, Moeser upheld New Era’s decision to keep WRC monitors from entering the plant, and approved a factory audit by an FLA-accredited monitoring firm instead.

Students saw a glaring conflict of interest. New Era Vice President Tim Freer not only sits on the FLA board of directors, but SAW reports that he conducted captive audience meetings with workers during the plant’s eventually successful union organizing drive.

Moeser and other college presidents, who have the final say on university apparel and licensing decisions, still harbor doubts about the DSP’s anti-trust implications.

The WRC rescinded its request for a Business Review Letter, sensing that a Bush-heavy Department of Justice would return an unfavorable interpretation of the DSP. Supporters point to the 2006 legal opinion of former Assistant Attorney General and anti-trust expert at the Department of Justice Donald Baker. As long as the designated list of suppliers is formed on humanitarian grounds, argued Baker, “the probability of a Licensee or Factory mounting a successful legal challenge to the program remains low.”

If this past spring is any indication, the campaign to push beyond these weaker programs is reaching critical mass. In April, dozens of students at Penn State, University of Montana, and Appalachian State launched office occupations to confront administrators about the unfulfilled labor codes of their universities.

The UNC sit-in, for its part, made real gains before five students were led out in handcuffs on May 2. Last August, Moeser had rejected the possibility of signing on to the DSP. He reversed that decision on the 12th day of the sit-in, calling an emergency meeting of the licensing committee in hopes of appeasing students.

“It was getting close to commencement,” Mirza said, “and donors were coming through campus.”

Though the licensing committee voted 7-5 against endorsing the DSP, it did move unanimously to put the issue before UNC’s new chancellor next fall.

Students have spent years fighting for codes of conduct and factory monitoring groups and the road to implementing the DSP appears long, but is getting shorter, and the arrests at UNC are more a sign of progress than defeat. “This wasn’t just about the sit-in; we’ll come back to meetings next year with more support,” said Gomaa. “I’m optimistic about our position.”