Monday, May 23, 2016

R.I.P. Pinius Bergmann (1925-2016)

Five years ago I traveled to Copenhagen to meet my mother’s cousin, Pinius Bergmann, his wife, their children, and my Danish relatives.  


Late one afternoon Pinius said, “Come with me, “I have something I want to show you.”

Glorie and I got in his car.  He drove us to the picturesque, fishing village of Gilleleje where homes with thatched roofs sat juxtaposed to more contemporary abodes.

We pulled up to the village’s museum, a small, modern building. Behind it was an old, worn-out fishing boat, the sea and a 20 foot high statue of Gideon blowing his horn, a gift thanking the people of Gilleleje for their WWII heroism.

It was nearing twilight and so quiet you could hear the waves lapping the shore.   “See that boat,” Pinius began. “I have a story I want to share with you.”

“During the war the Nazis occupied Denmark. But, we were a neutral country so we (jewish people) were not being arrested as we were in other European countries.  Every day the Danish King would ride his horse through Copenhagen to assure us that we were safe.”  

All of that changed in early October, 1943, when the Germans began rounding up Denmark’s Jews for deportation to concentration camps and certain death. 

Pinius continued, “One night my father (Hirsch Barosin) came to me and said,’ it’s time to leave.’  He told me go to the harbor where his friend, a fisherman, had a boat. He didn’t say why. But I did as I was told.  I put on my best clothes because you get dressed up to travel. Little did I know what lay store for me.”

“When I got to the harbor, I was told me to get in the boat, a vessel just like the one you are looking at.  He motioned to a hole. It was covered by a hatch, leading into the boat’s hull. The boat was filled with fish guts.  We climbed down into the fish guts which rose around our necks. The hatch closed behind us.”

“It smelled so bad”, Pinius said tapping his nose.  “I can still smell it today.”
Pinius’ father hoped that the rancid smell of fish guts would deter the German soldiers from searching for the hideaways.  And the German soldiers came. But when they opened the hatch the smell was so bad, so putrid, they slammed it down, gagging. assuming no human being could possibly stand the stench. . .   

The little boat with its lights turned off crossed the channel carrying Pinius and three others to freedom. “I took three baths a day for a year to get rid of that smell,” he told us. 

Six percent of Danish Jews were captured. But with the assistance of Denmark’s citizens, 7,200 Jews, including my uncle Pinius and his future wife Gyda, made it safely to Sweden along with 700 non-Jewish relatives.

Gilleleje’s five hundred households cared for hundreds of refugees, hiding them in a local church attic before ferrying them across to Höganäs, Sweden. Pinius reunited with his family in Sweden. Following the war he returned to Copenhagen. Later he married Gyda with whom he had three daughters.  

Pinius died last month in Copenhagen, Denmark, his adopted city, the city whose people had embraced and saved him and thousands of its Jewish residents during the Holocaust.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trumbo,the red scare and one family's story

The movie Trumbo is a powerful reminder that democratic values and practices are easy prey in periods of fear and political hysteria. During the Red Scare in the late '40's and '50's, careers were ruined, decent, law-abiding citizens were jailed, families and friendships destroyed and lives lost. This is my family’s story during that era-where in my father’s words, “our lives were turned upside down for quite a while."

Sam Rosen, the third and last child of Louis (Laib Razumm) and Belle ( Baila Kurtz) Rosen, Jewish refugees from near Odessa, attended the University of Wisconsin Madison where he studied with the noted labor economist, Selig Perlman. After graduating in 1941, he joined the Navy, participating in the invasions of Anzio and Northern Africa. Following the war, the GI Bill enabled him to pursue a graduate degree in economics at Harvard.


It was an exciting time filled with possibilities. Hitler and fascism had been defeated. CIO organizing had succeeded in bringing millions of additional workers of all races into the ranks of labor, racial segregation was being challenged, the world's first consumer-based, middle class economy was emerging, and an independence movement was freeing many of the world’s colonized peoples.

The Harvard economics department was home to many prominent economists.  One was the “American Keynes,’ Alvin Hansen who helped create the Council of Economic Advisers and the Social Security System. Another, Joseph Schumpeter, best known for coining the phrase “creative destruction of capital" and developing the theory of innovation, had mentored doctoral student Paul Sweezy. Later as colleagues, their debates on the "Laws of Capitalism" became legendary among my father's generation of Harvard students. Sweezy eventually left Harvard to found the Monthly Review.   

Several of my father’s classmates were international students. Andreas Papandreou became the Prime Minister of Greece. Another, Pu Shan, was from China. After graduation, he returned to his country, served as Chou En Lai’s secretary and in the 1980s helped reform the Chinese economy. He renewed his friendship with my parents in the 1990s when he returned to the United States as a visiting professor at Carleton College.


Among my father's American born classmates was Robert Solomon who became the chief international economist for the Federal Reserve Bank.

Solomon was an upperclassman who taught an economics class at the progressive Sam Adams School in Boston. Upon his graduation and departure from Harvard, Solomon prevailed upon my father to assume his teaching responsibilities at Sam Adams.

1952, the Rosen family had settled in Delaware where my father was employed as an assistant professor of economics at the state university. He liked his department chair, Charles Lanier, a labor economist, and Lanier apparently felt the same about him. Annual raises, summer grants and committee assignments followed.

By 1954, with the aid of a low- interest GI loan, my parents purchased their first home in Brookside, Delaware.  During the move, our lives were in my father’s words “turned upside down” when he and my four-year old sister, Laurie, were confronted at our old house by two FBI agents. The formally dressed men flashed their badges, demanding to interrogate my father. He was, of course, surprised. But he was not unaware of the nation's anti-communist hysteria. His sister, Gertrude, had been forced to resign her teaching position in the Baltimore Public Schools after she joined her American Federation of Teacher colleagues in refusing to sign a loyalty oath. A few years later, Gert's husband, Jimmy Ginsburg, was threatened with deportation. The FBI accused Jimmy, brought to the states as an infant by his immigrant parents, of being a foreign spy. This in spite of the fact that this sporting man, know as "Captain Shmetena (sour cream)" because of his basketball prowess and his father's occupation as a "butter and egg man,"  held the national record for points scored in a basketball game in the 1920’s.



My father, with daughter in tow, informed the FBI that he was too busy to talk. He suggested they meet later, a suggestion he came to regret. When the FBI called a few weeks later, they agreed to meet at our new home. The doorbell rang. Two FBI agents were at the door. My mother took my sister and me to the back of the house. The agents began to interrogate my father. It quickly became clear that they were confused, perhaps mistaking my father for his brother-in law Sammy, a decorated WWII veteran, coauthor of the hit song "Charlie and the MTA," who was active in the Progressive Party, the Boston Folk Society and the Creative Arts Workshop. Or perhaps they confused him with someone else. When they asked my father to provide them with the names of alleged subversives, he informed them that they were no longer welcome in his home. Before departing the agents threatened that if he did not comply with their request they would make life difficult for him. Several days later two agents confronted my father, ordering him into their vehicle.He refused.

Shortly after these incidents, Lanier informed my dad that he had been accused of being a red. “That’s ridiculous isn’t it Sam,” he asked incredulously of his Keynesian colleague.

But the damage was done. No longer was my father asked to serve on university committees. Lanier subsequently informed him that his contract would not be renewed.  My father's close friend and colleague, Abe Shuchman, a professor of marketing at the University of Delaware, was fired. Ironically Shuchman went on to a career as a highly renowned professor of marketing at Columbia University. His contributions are still recognized through an award given annually in his name to a graduating student in the MBA or Executive MBA program. 

With his career at the University of Delaware ruined, my father re-entered the job market. He was hired by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) to which he devoted his professional life.  



Shortly after these events, dad visited Robert Solomon in Washington DC.  In the course of their discussion, Solomon acknowledged that he had informed the FBI about my father's participation in the Sam Adams School, the very position Solomon had recruited him to. This was shattering news.  Solomon offered excuses. They never spoke again.

Sam Rosen taught at the University of New Hampshire until he retired in 1978. He led the effort to establish the University's Ph.D. program in economics ('71), helped organize the Whittemore School of Business and Economics ('62), and was a founding member of the university's chapter of the AAUP. He died in October 2004. The University of New Hampshire awards its outstanding graduate student in economics a scholarship in his name. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

NY Times wants help for students of predatory schools

The New York Times ran a very strong editorial criticizing for-profit schools for their predatory practices and supporting debt relief for the students who have been victimized by what the editors called :crooked schools." It is reprinted below in its entirety:

State attorneys general have long served on the front lines of the struggle to control and discipline predatory for-profit colleges that saddle students with crippling debt while granting them useless degrees, or no degrees at all. On April 9, nine of them who know firsthand how people can be deceived and bled dry sent a letter to the Department of Education, asking it to provide restitution — and help fix the problem — by forgiving the federal student loans of people harmed by crooked schools. The letter makes a strong case for prompt action.

The problem of for-profit schools received national exposure last year when Corinthian Colleges, one of the nation’s largest operators of for-profit colleges and trade schools, collapsed in the midst of a federal investigation. The company agreed to shut down or sell about 100 campuses. Earlier this week, the Department of Education fined Corinthian $30 million for misrepresenting job placement rates in one of the chains it owns, saying that the company had “violated students’ and taxpayers’ trust.”

Corinthian was already facing a lawsuit brought by the California attorney general, Kamala Harris, who accused the company of a host of wrongs, including lying to students and investors about job placement programs. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau subsequently sued Corinthian on grounds that it had “lured tens of thousands of students to take out private loans to cover expensive tuition costs by advertising bogus job prospects and career services.”

The idea of forgiving these loans altogether gained traction when a group of former Corinthian students refused to repay their loans, which they claimed were often the product of a predatory private lending scheme. The group, part of an organization called the Debt Collective, noted that the Department of Education had broad authority to forgive debt in cases where schools had committed wrongdoing. The department could then force the offending schools to reimburse the government.

In December, 13 Senate Democrats urged the department to immediately forgive loans for Corinthian borrowers covered by lawsuits filed at the federal or state levels. In the April 9 letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, state attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington lent their voices to the forgiveness campaign, urging the department to “immediately relieve borrowers of the obligation to repay federal student loans that were incurred as a result of violations of state law by Corinthian Colleges, Inc.”

The letter said: “These cases against Corinthian have unmasked a school that relentlessly pursued potential students — including veterans, single parents, and first-time higher education seekers — promising jobs and high earnings, and preying on their hopes in an effort to secure federal funds.” The complaint from the attorneys general went beyond Corinthian to a systemwide problem: “Our greatest concern comes from certain large, predatory for-profit schools that are actively undermining our federal loan programs, depriving students of the education they promise and that the students deserve. These institutions seem to exist largely to capture federal loan dollars and aggressively market their programs to veterans and low-income Americans.”

  The attorneys general promised to help the federal government recoup loan balances from schools that violated state laws or benefited from unlawful deception. Over the last 20 years, the Department of Education has received only a handful of requests from borrowers seeking to escape repayment on grounds of wrongdoing by schools. Evaluating many such requests will be difficult. But the evidence shows that such a system is needed and that relief is long overdue.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New Study: unionization pays off for community college instructors

A recently released study found that "being represented by a union pays big financial dividends for full-time instructors at community colleges." 
Peter Schmidt writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
Depending on the size, location, and public-financing sources of their institution, unionized full-time instructors earn from about 5 to 50 percent more in pay and benefits than do their nonunionized peers at similar community colleges, says a paper summarizing the study’s results.
"The differences are stunning," says Stephen G. Katsinas, a professor of higher education at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa who is one of the study’s three co-authors.
Among the forces influencing how much community colleges pay their instructors, "collective bargaining, in itself, matters," says Mr. Katsinas, who plans to present the study’s findings in New York on Sunday, at an annual conference held by the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.
Other research on the impact of collective bargaining on faculty pay has struggled to quantify how much differences in instructors’ earnings were attributable to unionization versus other contributing factors, such as differences in institutional size or in the regions that colleges served.
Mr. Katsinas and other scholars reached conclusions similar to the new study’s in a 2006 analysis of community-college data, but that effort was hampered by a reliance on outdated data on where unions existed. It also failed to take into account 113 institutions — among them, large community-college districts such as Miami-Dade — that could not be factored into an analysis of community colleges under the classification scheme used by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
The new analysis uses a modified classification scheme to factor in the previously excluded institutions, which include community colleges that either offer four-year degrees or are offshoots of four-year public institutions, as well as public baccalaureate colleges that primarily offer associate degrees. It uses federal data on faculty earnings from the 2010-11 academic year, the last for which the Education Department collected information on benefits.
"There are amazing differences in monetary compensation of full-time faculty across the landscape of community colleges when geography, collective bargaining, and local appropriations are all accounted for," the new study concludes.
On average, it found, unionized full-time faculty members annually received pay and benefits amounting to about $95,000 at community colleges that received a significant share of their funds from local governments and about $77,000 at community colleges that lacked such a local source of financial support. Nonunionized faculty members received less than $68,000 in pay and benefits, on average, regardless of where their community college derived its tax revenue.
The size of the community college where a faculty member worked and the type of community it served also made a big difference.
At the top of the pile, full-time faculty members at suburban, multicampus, locally financed community colleges annually earned an average of nearly $106,000 in pay and benefits. At the bottom, such faculty members at small, rural, locally financed community colleges earned total compensations averaging just over $61,000.
The other authors of the new study were Nathaniel J. Bray, an associate professor of higher-education administration at the University of Alabama, and Barry R. Mayhall, a doctoral student in higher education at Alabama and a mathematics instructor at Snead State Community College, in Boaz, Ala. The paper on their findings will be released after next week’s conference.

Peter Schmidt writes about affirmative action, academic labor, and issues related to academic freedom. Contact him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bobby Kennedy's speech on the assassination of Dr. King

Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated today, April 4th, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee.

Dr. King went to Memphis to support the right of public employees', Memphis' sanitation workers', right to engage in collective bargaining, the same right that Governor Walker and the Republican legislation eliminated in Wisconsin!

Robert Kennedy, the U.S. Attorney General, was in Indianapolis about to give a speech in an inner city neighborhood when King's murder occurred. Here is his announcement. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated 68 days later.  


Friday, April 3, 2015

Dr. King: "I've been to the mountain top"

Forty-seven years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Memphis to stand with sanitation workers striking for union recognition, the very same rights Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Republican legislature eliminated in 2010. That evening, April 3rd, Dr. King delivered his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech in a church packed with union members and their supporters. The following day he was murdered!

Monday, January 26, 2015

The strike of Milwaukee's packinghouse workers that changed Milwaukee


Forty years ago the owners of Milwaukee’s meat packing plants launched a war on unions. Milwaukee’s working class is still suffering from losing that war.

On January 25, 1975, over 700 members of Local 248, Meat and Allied Foodworkers Union, struck Milwaukee area meatpacking plants in response to a proposal that would cut their wages.

For generations, Milwaukee boasted of a large, unionized, blue-collar middle class. It was a place to put down roots and raise a family. Neighborhood culture was often defined by industrial bowling leagues and neighborhood taverns owned by former factory workers seeking to be “their own boss” and escape assembly line drudgery.

While highly segregated, economic inequality was at historic lows. Milwaukeeans enjoyed the nation’s second highest median household income in 1969. The black poverty rate was 22% lower than the U.S. average in 1970, and African American median family income was 19% higher than the U.S. African American median.

As the 70’s began the Wall Street Journal dubbed the city the “Star of the Snowbelt.” In large part, this reflected the high rates of unionization among workers laboring in Milwaukee’s foundries, tanneries, meatpacking plants, and at manufacturing firms like A.O. Smith and Allis Chalmers.

Skilled tradesmen and foundrymen, teachers, retail clerks, unskilled and semi-skilled workers were represented by unions at the bargaining table, on the job and in elections. Because of union wages and benefits, they could buy their own homes and maybe a cabin up north or a fishing boat. While neither management nor workers sought strikes, they were tolerated as a legitimate, although undesirable, part of contract negotiations.

In the late 60s and early 70s, Milwaukee unions participated in a national strike wave as workers sought salary increases in response to war-induced inflation. In 1969 Schlitz workers and MATC’s faculty union struck. In 1973 workers from A.O. Smith, Briggs and Stratton and Harley Davidson, three of Milwaukee’s manufacturing elite, struck at the same time. These strikes were eventually resolved, new contracts signed, and none of these companies attempted to bust the unions.

All of this changed in 1975 with the Meatcutters’ strike. The very day the strike began, the eight companies represented by the Milwaukee Independent Meatpackers Association began hiring replacement workers, some recruited from as far away as Nebraska and Texas.

In response to this first attempt by Milwaukee employers to bust a union since World War II, the Menominee Valley filled with angry picketers, black, Latino and white, rallying to protect their jobs.


After 15 months the employers association had their victory and decertified the union. Hundreds of hard-working union men lost their jobs. Full-time permanent employees were replaced by low-wage workers frequently hired through temp agencies.

The strike legitimized replacement workers, beginning waves of attacks on unions and the city’s working class. When UAW workers struck Master Lock in 1979, Milwaukee police officers escorted replacement workers across the picket line. Two years later A.O. Smith built a non-union plant in Tennessee, the first nail in the coffin of its Milwaukee Automotive Works, which had dominated the city’s north side since the early 1920s.

Briggs and Stratton experienced another strike in 1983 after its local unions refused demands for concessions in wages, benefits and work rules. Following the 13 week strike, the company asserting that it would never be held hostage again began to relocate work to the low-wage, non-union south.


While many associate the war against labor with President Reagan’s firing of the nation’s striking air traffic controllers in 1981, it actually began much earlier.

In 1971, Lewis F. Powell Jr., a Republican corporate lawyer, called the business community to arms with his memorandum to the National Chamber of Commerce. He wrote: “The American system is under attack. Business must learn ... that political power must be assiduously cultivated…and used aggressively and with determination -- without embarrassment.”

Powell urged “American business” to demand “equal time” on college campuses and the nation’s airwaves. His memorandum inspired the founding of conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation, and the Cato Institute. Wealthy businessmen like the Koch Brothers poured tens of millions of dollars into right-wing initiatives.

Business Week put it bluntly when it declared in its October 12, 1974 issue: “Some people will obviously have to do with less….it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more.”

Milwaukee’s meatcutters had the misfortune of being Milwaukee’s first victims in this war to redistribute income. Subsequently, replacement workers were used at Master Lock and to break the union at Patrick Cudahy in 1987. After these bitter defeats Milwaukee area union membership plummeted, and so did real hourly wages.

Bernie Peck, the owner of the largest meatpacker, Peck Meat Packing, bought up most of the smaller meatpacking companies during the strike. He eventually sold them to Emmber Foods and became a celebrated philanthropist. While the community enjoys the buildings named after him, Milwaukee’s working class paid  such a very heavy price that many cannot afford to buy a home much less a cabin up north.

The corporate class war against Milwaukee’s workers that began with Local 248’s defeat is one of the principle reasons Milwaukee has declined from a relatively prosperous, blue-collar, middle class town to one of the nation’s poorest cities.

Since 1979 private sector union membership has plummeted while   Milwaukee’s median household income has fallen by a staggering 25.4 percent.

Milwaukee's African American poverty rate is now 49% higher than the African American national average, and median income is 30% lower.

Local 248 was one of many industrial unions organized by the Greatest Generation that turned low-paying jobs into stable, middle class employment. Today, many of Milwaukee’s large unionized, manufacturing plants are gone, replaced by low-paying big box retail and service sector jobs.


If Milwaukee is to enjoy a broadly shared renaissance, the current generation of underpaid workers will need to learn from history and create 21st century unions that turn low-paying employment into middle class jobs.