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Today in Labor History: December 6, 1865 Congress ended slavery

This Day in Labor History: December 6, 1865 - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money
On December 6, 1865, the legislature of Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ending slavery. Arguably, the single most important event in the history of American labor, the official end to slavery closed a chapter in the nation’s race-based labor system, a system that still remains in important forms to the present. I hardly need to go into great detail on the history of slavery and I’d rather leave the details of specific events to individual posts in this series (see here, here, and here for other slavery posts). But let us the review the general outlines of what slavery meant–the right of the employer to do whatever they want with labor. Kill it. Rape it. Impregnate it and own the offspring. Beat it. Gamble it away. Dehumanize it. Whatever. It’s all open game when labor becomes property. When the employer can base this slavery on difference and then naturalize that through racism, even better because it creates solidarity between those who don’t share that difference, regardless of whether they have personal investments in human capital. As I’ve said in the past about the southern argument that lots of Civil War soldiers didn’t own slaves–just because they didn’t own slaves doesn’t mean they didn’t want to own slaves. We are in a moment when the connection between Abraham Lincoln and the 13th Amendment are strong in the public mind because of the Spielberg film, which I have yet to see. There’s no question that Lincoln played a key role in it passing Congress, something he was only able to do of course because the majority of the opposition had seceded from the nation and were no longer part of Congress. But slaves effectively ended the institution themselves during the war. African-Americans, north and south, free and slave, knew what the war meant from the moment it started. Slaves poured out of Maryland into newly emancipated Washington, D.C., knowing that a Union victory would mean the effective end of the institution. They fled to Union lines at every opportunity, well before Lincoln would allow the military to free them. They volunteered for the Union Army by the tens of thousands, facing the institutionalized racism of that institution in order to do whatever they could to free their families and comrades in the South, whether by holding a gun or digging a latrine. Of course none of this was possible without the U.S. government declaring slavery no longer the black labor policy of the nation. Credit for the end of slavery goes to many people, including many long forgotten African-Americans who may have nothing but walked away at the first opportunity.

December 04, 2012

How New York City’s Coastline Became a Place to Put the Poor

How New York City’s Coastline Became a Place to Put the Poor - NYTimes.com
“Why did the Rockaways end up with so much government-financed housing? Largely because Robert Moses wanted it there,”says Robert Caro, author of “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.” It’s impossible to talk about the landscape of modern New York without talking about Moses, who leveraged his position as head of the Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance to mass-produce thousands of units of high-rise public housing, often near the shoreline. His shadow looms over much of the havoc wreaked by the storm. The Rockaways were irresistible to Moses. Once a popular summer resort for middle-class New Yorkers, who filled its seaside bungalows and crowded into its amusement parks, the area had fallen on hard times when cars, new roads and improved train service made the beaches of Long Island more accessible. Never one for nostalgia, Moses saw the Rockaways as both a symbol of the past and a justification for his own aggressive approach to urban renewal, to building what he envisioned as the city of the future. “Such beaches as the Rockaways and those on Long Island and Coney Island lend themselves to summer exploitation, to honky-tonk catchpenny amusement resorts, shacks built without reference to health, sanitation, safety and decent living,” he said, making his case for refashioning the old summer resorts into year-round residential communities. What is more, the Rockaways had plenty of land that the city could buy cheaply, or simply seize under its newly increased powers of eminent domain, swaths big enough to accommodate the enormous public-housing towers Moses intended to build as part of his “Rockaway Improvement Plan.” Though only a tiny fraction of the population of Queens lived in the Rockaways, it would soon contain more than half of its public housing. The old summer bungalows that weren’t bulldozed in the process were repurposed as year-round housing for those uprooted by Moses’ urban renewal — derided as “negro removal,” by the writer James Baldwin — across the city. In “The Power Broker,” Caro describes a federal housing official’s shock at finding the bungalows filled in the winter, with “several shivering Negro and Puerto Rican families in each.”