Remember the “Labor” in Labor Day


With the relentless, ongoing demonization of unions, it’s no surprise that labor history remains obscured and misrepresented and thus, not accessible as a lesson for today’s challenges.

With that in mind, we can choose to view Labor Day as nothing more than the symbolic end of summer and an excuse for more shopping…or we can use it as inspiration to reflect upon some of the brave souls who forged a path of justice and solidarity.


The Lowell Mill Girls

Lowell, Massachusetts was named after the wealthy Lowell family. They owned numerous textile mills, in which the workers were primarily the daughters of New England farmers. These young girls worked in the mills and lived in supervised dormitories. On average, a Lowell Mill Girl worked for three years before leaving to marry. Living and working together often forged a camaraderie that would later find an unexpected outlet.

What had the potential to become a relatively agreeable system for all involved was predictably exploited for mill owners’ gain. The young workers toiled under poor conditions for long hours only to return to dormitories that offered strict dress codes, lousy meals, and were ruled by matrons with an iron fist.

In response, the Lowell mill workers—some as young as eleven—did something revolutionary: the tight-knit group of girls and women organized a union. They marched and demonstrated against a 15 percent cut in their wages and for better conditions…including the institution of a ten-hour workday. They started newspapers. They proclaimed: “Union is power.” They went on strike.

As the movement spread through other Massachusetts mill towns, some 500 workers united to form the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA) in 1844—the first organization of American working women to bargain collectively for better conditions and higher pay.

Sarah Bagley was named the LFLRA’s first president and she promptly led a petition-drive that forced the Massachusetts legislature to investigate conditions in the mills. Bagley not only fought to improve physical conditions, she argued that the female workers “lacked sufficient time to improve their minds,” something she considered “essential for laborers in a republic.”

As with many revolutionary notions, the LFLRA met much opposition in their efforts. Despite their inability to secure the specific changes they demanded, the Lowell Mill Girls laid a foundation for female involvement and leadership in the soon-to-explode American labor movement and must continue to inspire those who stand against injustice today.


Eugene V. Debs

This September 14 marks 96 years since Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison for opposing U.S. entry into World War I. Debs was one of the most prominent labor organizers and political activists of his time. He was also nominated as the Socialist Party’s candidate for president five times. His voting tallies over his first four campaigns effectively illustrate the remarkable growth of the party during that volatile time period:

1900: 94,768

1904: 402,400

1908: 402,820

1912: 897,011

America’s entrance into World War I, however, provoked a tightening of civil liberties, culminating with the passage of the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918. This totalitarian salvo read in part: “Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment of not more than 20 years, or both.”

Not long after the Espionage and Sedition Acts was voted into law, Debs was in Canton, Ohio for a Socialist Party convention. He was arrested for making a speech deemed “anti-war” by the Canton district attorney. In that speech, Debs declared:

“They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people … Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves. Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on earth.”

These words lead to a 10-year prison sentence and the stripping of his US citizenship. While serving his sentence in the federal penitentiary, Debs was nominated for the fifth time, campaigned from his jail cell, and remarkably garnered 917,799 votes.

At his sentencing in 1918, Debs famously told the judge:

“Your honor, years ago, I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

To give you an idea of how much work remains for us today, consider that parts of the Espionage Act are still on the books today—just ask Chelsea Manning.


Cesar Chavez

In the late 1960s—thanks to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—deciding whether or not to buy grapes was a political act. Three years after its establishment in 1962, the UFW struck against grape growers around Delano, California…a long, bitter, and frustrating struggle that appeared impossible to resolve until Chavez promoted the idea of a national boycott.

Trusting in the average person’s ability to connect with those in need, Chavez and the UFW brought their plight—and a lesson in social justice—into homes from coast-to-coast and Americans responded. The boycott was an unqualified success as grape growers won signed union contracts and a more livable wage.

Through hunger strikes, imprisonment, abject poverty for himself and his large family, racist and corrupt judges, exposure to dangerous pesticides, and even assassination plots, Chavez remained true to the cause…even if meant, uh…stretching the non-violent methods he espoused.

In 1966, when Teamster goons began to rough up Chavez’s picketers, a bit of labor solidarity solved the problem. William Kircher, the AFL-CIO director of organization, called Paul Hall, president of the International Seafarers Union.

“Within hours,” writes author David Goodwin, “Hall sent a carload of the biggest sailors that had ever put to sea to march with the strikers on the picket lines…There followed afterward no further physical harassment.”

This simple man never owned a house or earned more than $6,000 a year. He left no money for his family when he died yet more than 40,000 people marched behind his casket at his funeral to honor four decades spent improving the lives of farm workers.

The roots of Chavez’ effectiveness lay in his ability to connect on a human level. When asked: “What accounts for all the affection and respect so many farm workers show you in public?” Cesar replied: “The feeling is mutual.”

Today, we face a desperate need to downsize the global culture and economy. It’s never been more important to contemplate the value of small farms and of eating what we grow. Cesar Chavez’ fearless challenges to the industrial status quo and his tireless commitment to the working class stand as inspiration example of the power of solidarity.

I share the above stories as a way of reclaiming our folk tales—the episodes that can inspire us. The conditions and the battles and the urgency have all shifted dramatically, but there is still value in remembering those who stood up to tyranny in the past.

In a society as heavily conditioned as ours, keeping the labor in Labor Day is virtually an act of revolution.


(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

The Truth about Immigration


Immigrants are destroying any and all hope of for planetary survival. Illegal aliens are Public Enemy #1. Foreigners are terrorists.

If you don’t believe me, just ask any sweatshop worker in, say, Vietnam…

The perfidious colonizers I refer to, of course, are the insatiable transnational corporations setting up camp all across the (so-called) Third World. Whether it be Nike, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, or any other taxpayer-subsidized bloodsucker, these crafty illegal aliens can’t be stopped by constructing a mere wall.

They travel with impunity…on the wings of government subvention and cunning, relentless propaganda. Thanks to decades of conditioning, even the victims of these soulless migrants will voluntarily pay for the right to wear a shirt bearing their corporate logo.

handpointRTig Read my full article here

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Freedom [sic]


When you write books, articles, and essays that typically fall into the “radical” category, you take hits from the full range of the political spectrum. Right, left, or anywhere in-between, beliefs run deep and viewpoints die hard. Often, however, irate critics of all stripes lazily fall back on empty rebuttals.

For example, this timeless classic: “How many other countries give you the RIGHT to write what you just wrote?”

Let’s put aside the unintentional tongue twister and the fact that the obvious answer to their question—plenty of other countries do—destroys this line of reasoning [sic]. The larger issue, as I see it, is how we each choose to evaluate our freedom.

I’m not living in Myanmar. I know. But what are we talking about here? Is freedom just bigger cages and longer chains? Is it merely a commodity sold to the highest bidder? Must the majority of us sit by and drool while freedom fries on the grill of capitalist avarice?

To have more freedom than, say, a woman living under Taliban repression is not the same as being free. But it is the same as settling for less subjugation instead of demanding more liberty (or at least as much liberty currently guaranteed by virtue of the Constitution).

handpointRTig Read my full article here

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Hepburn wore pants


“Stockings are an invention of the devil.” (Katharine Hepburn)

It’s the hallmark of innovation and rebellion that what once was outrageous is eventually mundane. After all, what could more unremarkable than seeing a Western woman wearing a pair of pants?

When Katharine Hepburn shunned the girdles, petticoats, stockings, garter belts, and high heels considered “normal” for women, she was brazenly defying fashion and social convention.

Hepburn wore pants. She even wore sneakers. In 1930s Hollywood, such behavior was deemed scandalous and worthy of public scorn.

Reviews for the 1936 film Sylvia Scarlett—in which Hepburn spends almost its entirety in short hair and men’s clothing—were sarcastic, to say the least. Time magazine declared “Hepburn is better-looking as a boy than a woman” while the New York Herald-Tribune named her “the handsomest boy of the season.”


In real life, Kate’s bosses at RKO went as far as commandeering her slacks in the hope of forcing her to wear a skirt. Unmoved, Hepburn strolled the studio lot in only her underwear. Her point was made. Her pants were returned.

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun,” said Hepburn…and by doing what came naturally, her public mutiny became a high-profile example of independence and individuality.

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Coffee Break in #Ferguson: Talking “Violence” in a Corporate Culture


An August 19, 2014 Wall Street Journal article headline blared:

Strong Police Presence Felt After Night of Violence in Ferguson

“Night of violence.” Singular.

Corporate media lessons:

  • Violence is the anomaly in God’s Country™
  • Violence results when “demonstrators” decide to “clash” with police in the Land of the Free™
  • Prior to some windows being smashed and fires being set, the situation in Ferguson had not been violent

The unarmed man shot and killed by a local cop? Not violent.

Militarized Ferguson police officers shooting rubber bullets and tear gas while releasing dogs on unarmed civilians? Not violent.

A QuikTrip is burned down? Look out now, things have finally turned violent.

handpointRTig Read my full article here

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right


(Some parts of the following post appear in Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism)

Often, the only way to learn if a battle can still be won is to keep fighting…with ever-evolving tactics, of course.

Our existing, mostly stagnant methods have left us with undrinkable water, polluted air, and inedible food [sic] and have most of us believing that coal is clean, nukes are green, and climate change can be reversed by switching to recycled toilet paper.

Suggestion: When faced with a daunting task, keep yer toolbox full.

Let’s say you’re a handy man/woman/human and you get hired for a job. I’m guessing you’d bring your full toolbox to the worksite. After all, you can never be sure what might pop up and what tools you’ll need. In other words, if we have a job to do, it would be illogical to decide beforehand that certain tools are off limits.

It would equally as illogical to not remain on the lookout for new and updated tools.

Take-Home Message: Keep all your tools at your disposal—even if some remain untouched—just in case.