Category Archives: Labor

An imperiled treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Huichol people live in Mexico’s Sierra Madre, in in the states of Jalisco, Durango, Nayarit.

They were rediscovered in popular culture north of the border in the 1960s because their religion centers on the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus native to their mountains, and because of their colorful and utterly psychedelic artworks.

In this Wikimedia image of a Huichol mask, the symbol for peyote dominates the forehead, an apt representation of the central role played by the cactus in Huichol life:

BLOG Huichol mask

Huichol culture is in danger, in part because a generation of elders has died, often without leaving behind students who have mastered the rich and intricate oral traditions that bound the preliterate Huichols together.

Our first video offering, a short 1992 documentary by Ryan Noble, features Huichols from the villages of Las Guayabas and San Andreas, in which one remarks on the threatened loss of the ancient culture: “We want to live and remember so that it doesn’t end.”

Note also the system of agriculture employed by the Huichol, the traditional Mexican milpa, the only system of agriculture which has allowed for continuous cultivation for millennia without the use of either pesticides or fertilizers.

The Huichols: History – Culture – Art

Huichol art a sometimes take on a larger scale, as illustrated in this image from Mexico’s Museo de Arte Popular, a sight to stir twitches of envy in the souls of Berkeley’s own art car ornamenters.

BLOG Huichol art car

But the mountains that are home to the Huichols are coveted by multinational corporations, which have been logging the trees and devastating the landscape, forcing ever-larger numbers of Huichols to head to the lowlands simply to survive.

And the jobs awaiting them there are killing them, quite literally.

From Huicholes Contra Plaguicidas:

Huichols and Pesticides

Program notes:

Huichols & Pesticides, documents, through witnesses, reports and persuasive images, the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the tobacco fields, and the poisonings, and even deaths, resulting from the use of agrochemicals.

One notable effort to preserve the Huichols and their way of life is being undertaken by the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts:

The Huichol Center: A model for cultural survival

Program notes:

This documentary was produced to support The Huichol Center. The Center helps the Huichol people of Mexico maintain their culture, art and spirituality. The Huichols have been almost untouched by modern civilization, and have been able to maintain their ancient ways despite crushing poverty and disease.

With their ancient heritage, their system of sustainable organic agriculture, and an artistic tradition that merges the sacred and the profane in unique ways, the Huichol surely deserve protection from the ravages of corporate imperialism and agricultural toxins.

To close, a final image, via Wikipedia, this time of a Huichol yarn painting:

BLOG Huichol yarn

On the mad utopian dreams of neoliberals

A recent episode of Christ Hedges’s news series for Telesur English features an interview with Canadian intellectual provocateur John Ralston Saul on the twisted origins and pernicious intellectual distortions of neoliberal ideology.

An erudite scholar and ferocious analyst, Saul has relentlessly pilloried the intellectual perversions underlying much of modern economic thought in a series of books [most famously Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West] and essays, with his most recent targets being the twisted rationales employed by apologists for an economic order that has given rise to modern plutocracy.

In conversation with Hedges, Saul worries that modern neoliberalism has proven to resemble Beniuto Mussolini’s fascism.

From The Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism

From the transcript:

SAUL: Right? And what they did, most universities, was they did an intellectual cleansing of the economic historians to remove the possibility of doubt, the possibility of speculation on ideas, leaving these sort of hapless — mainly hapless macroeconomists, who fell quite easily into the hands, frankly, of the ideologues, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, who were — you know, let’s face it. What is this ideology? It’s an ideology of inevitability, an ideology based on self-interest, an ideology in which there is no real memory. And at the end of the day, it really is — it’s about power and money.

HEDGES: It’s about, you write, making every aspect of society conform to the dictates of the marketplace, which, as you point out, there’s nothing — and I think you say something like 2,000 or 5,000 years of human history to justify the absurdity that you should run a society based on —

SAUL: On the marketplace.

HEDGES: — the marketplace.

SAUL: Let me just take a tiny step back as a historical marker, which is the day that I realized that the neos were claiming that Edmund Burke was their godfather or whatever, I realized that we were into both lunacy and the denial of history, ‘cause, of course, in spite of his rather crazy things about Mary Antoinette and the French Revolution, most of his career was about inclusion, standing against slavery, standing for the American Revolution, and of course leading a fight for anti-racism and anti-imperialism in India — amazing democratic [incompr.] a liberal in the terms of the early 19th century. So when you see that these guys were trying to claim him, it’s like lunatics today claiming Christ or Muhammad to do absolutely unacceptable things.

And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they’ve done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn’t, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image–it’s the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that’s what Adam Smith said — but when you talk to them, they haven’t read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn’t taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you’re doing an MA or whatever. They don’t know Adam Smith. They don’t know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they’ll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we’ve seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody’s ever done this before.

HEDGES: How did it happen?

SAUL: Well, I mean, I think it happened gradually, partly by this emptying out of the public space, by this gradual —

HEDGES: What do you mean by that?

SAUL: Well, by the advancing of the idea of the technocracy and the gradual reduction of the space of serious political debate and ideas, and with that the rise of kinds of politicians who would be reliant on the technocracy and really were not themselves voices of ideas that would lead somewhere, you know, the humanist tradition, democratic tradition, egalitarian tradition. And we can see this all sort of petering out. And you can like them or dislike them, but you can see when the real idea of debate of ideas and risk on policy starts to peter out with Johnson and suddenly you’re into either populists or technocrats.

Chris Hedges hosts a new show on Telesur

Telesur English is getting very interesting. In addition to weekly episodes of shows by esnl favorites Abby Martin and Laura Flanders, the Venezuelan broadcaster has added the inimitable Chris Hedges, former Mideast bureau chief for the New York Times.

In this latest episode of Days of Revolt, Hedges discusses the insidious nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] with attorney Kevin Zeese, co-director of and It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. Zeese is a political activist and former press spokesperson for Ralph Nader, and in an unsuccessful 2006 Senate run, he was the only candidate ever nominated simultaneously by the Green, Libertarian, and Populist parties.

From Telesur English:

The Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History

An excerpt from the transcript, discussing the TPP’s provision for overturning the power of the American judiciary in the interests of the corporation:

HEDGES: And they’re not allowed to make any amendments, no changes, nothing.

ZEESE: No amendments. Up or down vote. That’s it. And in the Senate, there’s no filibuster, so it’s only 50 percent. You can’t force them to 60 votes. It’s only 51 they need. And so it’s a very restricted Congress.

And all these agreements, by the way, as Ralph mentions in that quote, greatly restrict each branch of government, and Congress [crosstalk]

HEDGES: Well, let’s talk a little bit about how they do that, this kind of–part of this kind of creeping coup d’état, corporate coup d’état that’s taking place.

ZEESE: And I just want to say one more thing about this coup d’état. This is just one aspect of it. We’re seeing the corporate power grow in the United States with Citizens United and the buying of elections and all that corruption. But we’re also–out of places like the World Economic Forum, they’ve come out with a working group called the–that’s redesigning, the Global Redesign Initiative that’s redesigning the way governance works to minimize the nationstate and maximize transnational–. They want the UN to become a hybrid government and corporate body. So that’s what the World Economic Forum is working on as this is all going on, too. So this is a big, big fight about where we go. This is the epic struggle of our times, corporate power versus people power.

Now, the way that they–what Ralph was talking about in that quote was one aspect of this, which is the trade tribunal system, which already exists, but this is expanded. For the first time, for example, financial services can use the trade tribunals to overrule legislation to regulate the big banks.

HEDGES: Now, these trade tribunals, they’re three-person tribunals. They’re made up of corporate lawyers. One of the things I think I was speaking with you that you told me is that if you’re a citizen or advocacy group, you’re excluded from even going to these.

ZEESE: Yeah. You know, in our federal court system, which is the third branch of government that–Ralph’s favorite branch, I think. He just opened the museum in his —

HEDGES: Right, a tort museum.

ZEESE: — in his hometown, a tort museum, which is a great museum. People should go to Winsted to see it, by the way.

But, anyway, in our federal court system, an individual can sue a corporation. They can find a lawyer who takes it on retainer, only get paid if they win. You get a jury of your peers to decide it. That’s a real court system. It has lots of weaknesses that need to be improved on. They’ve been cutting back on it is much as they could with so-called tort reform–as Ralph calls tort deform. And so it’s getting weaker. But it’s still an important branch of government.

This overrules that. Our courts cannot review what a trade tribunal does. The trade tribunal judges are three corporate lawyers who can also represent corporations in other cases. So there’s a real conflict of interest here, because if you’re a lawyer who’s filing suits on behalf of corporations at these trade tribunals, you want to broaden the power of the trade tribunal and the corporation. So as a judge, you can decide things that, say, corporations have this power, corporations have that power, no, that the security issue doesn’t matter, the corporation still wins. They can create legal fictions.

Chart of the day II: Euro small businesses

From Eurostat [PDF], a country-by-country look at the distribution of very small business employment in Europe:

BLOG Euro small biz

The Mafioso, missing beef, and death by arson: A censored story appears, four decades later

esnl reported for the Sacramento Bee for three years, starting in January, 1983. We left because of censorship of stories we reported involving organized crime in California and its ties to politics and corrupt union officials.

What follows is one of those stories, the last we wrote on the Bee’s payroll. It is a story about the Mafia, corrupt businessmen, and a fatal arson.

It is also a story that’s never before been told in its full scope. We submitted it on 28 June 1985 and met with the expected response from an editor wearing a solid gold Rolex with a diamond-studded bezel: “It’s not the sort of thing we’re interested in.”

But it’s a story that should ring familiar to anyone who’s seen Goodfellas, and we think it should be finally told:

An element of mystery still lingers

“I don’t think we’ll ever know what really happened,” said the judge. “There was just too much going on.”

“My feelings are that all of these little arms are part of the same octopus,” said the prosecutor. “I think organized crime is the right adjective. I think it’s totally organized.”

All the investigators and prosecutors who worked on the case agree that they never got to the bottom of it all. But some things can be said for sure about a drama that had been playing out for more than a decade.

Tehama County’s largest stable employer was bankrupted, scores of workers lost their jobs, a arsonist died in a Long Beach because of a fire he had set, and scores of ranchers lost livestock and cash.

The cast of players includes a talented sausage-maker who was less skillful as an entrepreneur, an Arizona businessman with a shadowy past and shadowier linkers to th Teamsters Union, and a mafioso with powerful connections.

The name of then-California Attorney General John Van de Kamp also surfaced in a nor found in a fugitive’s briefcase that triggered an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

The Beginnings

The story opens in 1972.

Nicholas J. Cichirillo Sr. was a skilled maker of Italian sausage and, the the time, principal officer of Messina Sausage Company.

“Cichirillo decided he wanted to expand, explained Roger Boren, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who got to know Chicirillo when he prosecuted him got arson and grand theft.

Cichirillo engineered the merger of four firms into one company. They were: Messina Sausage; Selecto Sausage, an East Los Angeles manufacturer of Mexican-style sausage; Capri Sausage of Covina, another Italian sausage firm; and The Red Devil, Inc., a pizza restaurant chain.

The resulting firm was called Messina Meat Products, Inc., and was based in Covina — although Cichirillo incorporated in Utah after buying a corporate “shell” called Wasatch Iron and Gold Co.

It was in 1975 that Cichirillo ran into trouble. That’s when Messina Meat Products acquired Minch Meats of Red Bluff.

A family-owned firm for 41 years, Mich Meats was Tehama County’s largest employer. Minch was an attractive takeover target. The company owned equipment for reprocessing meat — for removing fat and boine and packing the beef into leaner, more nutritious cuts.

In 1974, according to former company president Robert Minch, the firm had done just over $30 million in business and employed over 150 people.

Just how Cichirillo learned of Minch is still an open question in the minds of law enforcement investigators.

Enter ‘Sal the Swindler’

Sources have told the Bee that before the sale to Messina, Salvatore Pisello may have met with one of the company’s owners. Munch, the grandson of the firm’s founder, says he doesn’t recall ever meeting Pisello, although “somebody mentioned that Sal was going to do this or that.”

Though a sale was allegedly discussed, Pisello didn’t buy the firm then — it went to Cichirillo. Pisello surfaced as an owner later, along with one of Southern California’s most prominent citrus and meat magnates. But more of that later.

Pisello had been a target of law enforcement investigators for decades. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have labeled him a member of the powerful Gambino Family from New York.

According to an FBI report, Pisello once bragged to an informant of starting restaurants with “laundered” underworld funds received from Meyer Lansky, the mob’s late financial genius [and model for the Hyman Roth character in Godfather, Part 2].

Pisello has also been linked to frauds in Italy, a ripoff at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and to an alleged scheme to smuggle heroin into the country in airborne lobster tanks used in a fish importing business he once ran.

According to an FBI file, one of his street names is “Sal the Swindler.”

And the troubles begin

Minch and his three partner taded their interest in Minch for a share in Messina and the deal was consummated in July.

But Minch Meats was in trouble even as the deal was being signed. Minch said his company simply couldn’t compete with Midwestern firms, which relied on lower-priced labor, assembly line techniques,m and cheaper feeding procedures.

In the West, Minch said, Safeway set the price standard for beef carcasses, and the price was less than the cost of production. To avoid financial hemorrhaging, Minch remodeled the plant to produce “portion control” prepackaged cuts which, he hoped, could be sold as a higher-priced brand name line.

But stock of beef accumulated in the Minch plant. Buyer weren’t that interested in portion control, and unions refused to accept company-suggested wage concessions.

An attempt to void the existing labor contract failed, despite predictions from company lawyers that courts would strike down the contract, Minch said.

Then disaster fell. Messina filed for bankruptcy on 5 December 1975. When the front doors were locked and workers forced out, some of the plant’s new equipment disappeared — although no one knows where it went, according to William O. Scott, the former Tehama County District Attorney who conducted a seven-year investigation of Messina in conjunction with the district attorney’s office.

Also missing was a large amount of beef for which Tehma County ranchers and feedlots hadn’t been paid.

The investigations commence

Alerted to the missing beef and equipment, Scott began an investigation with the help of Robert Crim, an investigator for the state attorney general’s office.

According to the public statements of the California Cattlemen’s Association at the time of the collapse, Minch owned $780,000 [$3.53 million in 2015 dollars] to beef producers and $100,000 [$452,000 today] to workers.

At one point the missing beef was reportedly stored in a Sacramento warehouse, but by the time a creditor appeared at the warehouse with a court order, the beef had vanished. Minch speculates that it was unloaded by his former partners for ten cents on the dollar.

During the period of the collapse, one of the four original partners, Donald L. Stroud, had been unloaded his own stock onto another partner, H.L. “Tex” Allen.

According to a lawsuit Allen filed later, Stroud had told him that he had access to 60,000 shares of Messina stock they could acquire jointly at a bargain price.

The stock Allen bought turned out to be Stroud’s personal or family holdings — sold, according to court records, after Stroud had assured Allen that the company’s financial outlook was good.

When Messina collapse, Allen was left holding Stroud’s stock and Stroud was holding $37,000 of Allen’s cash.

[Stroud became a controversial character in Tehama County again in the mid-1980s when his Exchange Enterprises, a barter service exchange, collapse, leaving particpants on the hook for thousands of dollars and leading to another criminal investigation by the county district attorney.]

After the jump, a wiseguy takeover, the lethal arson, Teamsters money-laundering, a political connection, convictions, and more. . . Continue reading

Students protesters march across the country

The Million Student March erupted Thursday across the country, even here in Berkeley [which was never the Berzerkeley so beloved of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and their ilk.

We have two video reports. both with a Berkeley twist.

From up, via The Real News Network, an interview with a Berkeley student instrumental in the protests:

#MillionStudentMarch: Thousands Walkout Across The Country

From the transcript:

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: The Million Student March. Thousands walked out of classes at over 100 campuses across the country on Thursday. Among their demands included addressing racial injustice, free tuition at college campuses and universities, cancellation of the country’s $1.2 trillion student debt, and a $15 wage for all university workers.

LAUREN BUTLER: Wall Street has infiltrated our education system. Education has been commodified, you know, and put on Wall Street to be gambled with.

NOOR: Tying racial justice and economic injustice is UC Berkeley student Lauren Butler. She helped organize the walkout on her campus.

BUTLER: People are disadvantaged in education because of their race. And the same system that oppresses us all as students, the same corporate system that benefits off of the creation of debt, you know, essentially the creation of poverty, right, these are the same people that like to exploit people of color, black people especially.

NOOR: Butler also cites the activism at the University of Missouri earlier this week that led to the toppling of two key university officials demonstrates the potential of students to achieve their demands when they are organized.

BUTLER: We’re really seeing a shift in the power dynamics, right. So what Missouri really taught us is that we have to speak their language to get a reaction out of them, right, and we did that. And the reactions of the students, you know, the reactions of the individual students, these disgusting hate crimes and acts of terror against the black students, it really is just reflective of this larger white supremacist power structure.

And from RT’s Ruptly TV, here’s some raw footage of the demonstrations here in Berkeley Thursday:

USA: Million Student March shuts down UC Berkley campus

Program notes:

Hundreds of students marched through the University of California’s Berkeley campus to demand free education, Thursday. The students who were joined by campaign group ‘Nurses for Bernie Sanders.’ Organisers are demanding tuition-free colleges, a cancellation of all student debt as well as a minimum $15 (€13.9) an hour wage for campus workers. The rally was one of many held on campuses across America under the name ‘Million Student March.’

Blood on the newsroom floor. . .

And a whole lot of it.

It’s been a while since we posted a roundup of layoffs and closings in the Fourth Estate, and there’s plenty of the first and some of the second to cover.

First, one of America’s largest newspaper companies just dropped a turkey into the laps of its workers, and just in time for Thanksgiving.

From the Los Angeles Times, one of the papers affected:

Tribune Publishing has approved buyouts for about 7% of its eligible 7,000 employees across its media portfolio, according to a Thursday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC filing did not include the specific number of buyouts at each newspaper or the job functions. The Chicago-based company owns 11 major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and San Diego Union-Tribune, which it acquired in May for $85 million.

The separation plan, which will be funded through salary continuation extending through the first half of 2018, will result in a total charge of approximately $55 million for all related severance, benefits and taxes, the company said. Tribune Publishing will record a charge estimated at $47 million during the fourth quarter related to the buyouts.

Last day for workers who opt out? It’s 25 November, the day before Thanksgiving.

Newspapers & Technology reported 21 October on an earlier downsizing effort by Tribune Media:

The Casey Brown Company acquired The San Diego Union-Tribune’s headquarters in Mission Valley, California for $52 million from former U-T Publisher Doug Manchester.

When Tribune Media Company acquired The Union-Tribune from Manchester, the paper’s printing operations were moved to Los Angeles. The property in Mission Valley was not part of the sale and the paper announced it would be looking for office space downtown.

CBRE will be leasing the 13-acre property, which includes a 170,000-square-foot, five-story office building and a 190,000-square-foot, three-story industrial building, which was the newspaper’s printing plant.

Lots of bad news for the Fourth Estate in Pennsylvania.

First up, this from a 4 November announcement by the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia:

In an astonishing display of misdirected management, the Company today announced layoffs that decimate what just days ago the new publisher identified as the key to our future – digital reach and our unique print brand

Of the staff of 29, 17 Guild members will be gone as of Dec. 4.

At the Daily News, 10 reporters, including one as senior as 16 years, will be let go. Joining them in unemployment will be six copy editors, leaving one person to copy edit news (other than sports) and features. An editorial assistant that has served this company for 25 years is also among the casualties.

The Inquirer will lose five reporters, six copy editors and desk assistants, including an assigning editor, and one news artist.

More bad Pennsylvania news reported Tuesday by Poynter MediaWire:

Trib Total Media, which owns the Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the Valley News Dispatch, announced consolidation and layoffs on Tuesday in a memo.

As part of a strategic growth plan developed by our Board of Directors, we have decided to sharpen our focus through the sale and consolidation of several newspapers. We are consolidating the Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the Valley News Dispatch into one paper – the Tribune-Review.

That consolidation includes 153 layoffs, “this is in addition to 68 long-term employees who accepted the buyout offer we made in August.” In addition, the company indicated that if it doesn’t find “suitable buyers in the next 60 days” for two other papers, it will eliminate an additional 91 people. A press release notes that TTM will roll out several digital platforms next year, and that the company has a total of 1,100 full-and-part-time employees.

More bad news from Boston by way of the Daily Free Press, Boston University’s student paper:

When Sarah Roberts started working as a metro correspondent for The Boston Globe in July, she overheard her higher-ups discussing recent buyouts and upcoming layoffs. More recently, Roberts and her colleagues have noticed something different. Desks were cleared of yellowing newspapers, computer monitors were removed and picture frames were pulled from the walls of the copy editing department’s workspace.

In the past month, the Globe laid off nearly two dozen staff members in addition to the 17 who accepted a recent buyout. A majority of the layoffs came from the copy desk, which raises concern over the future of careers in traditional journalism in the landscape of changing media.

Lou Ureneck, a journalism professor in the College of Communication and former deputy managing editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, said the driving force behind the layoffs was business, not journalism.

If you’re wondering who was going to be filling the space left by those fallen journalists, the answer is corporate public relations spinners.

From a 9 November post by Newspapers & Technology:

The Boston Globe inked its first sponsored content deal with the Rockland Trust Company.

The campaign will run for 18-months and will feature Rockland Trust-sponsored content designed to educate business on how to successfully run, grow and overcome the challenges that arise as they expand. Rockland Trust will also sponsor the Globe’s Talking Points column. The written content will be authored by Boston Globe Media’s new content services business unit.

The sponsorship initiative also includes six business networking events, branded delivery truck wraps, poly bags and honor boxes. New Globe readers who sign up for a digital subscription service will receive a two-week free trial of courtesy of Rockland Trust.

Wednesday brought bad news for Connecticut print journalists. Covered by the New Haven Independent:

Another wave of layoffs has hit the New Haven Register, this time affecting copyeditors and sports staffers, among others.

Unlike in past layoffs, management refused to confirm details of the latest moves. Nor did management hold a newsroom meeting or distribute a companywide memo (another departure from past practice). So no firm numbers of layoffs were available. Register employees were left to sharing rumors and firsthand reports from laid-off coworkers all day Tuesday to gauge how hard their paper was hit this time.

According to people familiar with the layoffs, as many as 30 employees—certainly more than 20—are believed to have lost their jobs in New Haven and at the company’s Torrington daily paper and monthly Connecticut magazine.

There’s a whole lot more after the jump, with imminent newspaper closings in Minnesota, two newspapers folding in Ohio, layoffs in Atlanta and South Carolina, layoffs at a national newspaper, bad news for National Geographic, porn magazine layoffs, Canadian television journalists axed and a Canadian paper outsources, plus some collateral damage. . .all after the jump: Continue reading