Friday, April 5, 2013

Review of Black Patriots and Loyalists; a third revolution of indigenous people


Daniel Klawitter, a poet, union organizer and minister, sent me this striking review, written for the labor anarchist journal Ideas and Action by Mike Kolhoff, a union organizer with Lansing Workers Center (they currently have a drive to organize disabled workers in Michigan). It is a non"academic" review, focused on the substance of what the book says, is knowledgable (and rightly annoyed about) the weakness of what is taught to ordinary people about the central role of blacks in the American Revolution, and at the end, discussing my theme of the two revolutions, of which the international one against slavery is most important and shapes the more publicized one about independence, also includes - all on his own though I mention the role of Native Americans quite a lot in the book - the uprisings of indigenous people against the murderous oppression of British and then American rule. As readers of this blog know, I have recently been studying the Founding Amnesia of the US toward indigenous people and Sand Creek - see here, here, here, and here - but this is an insight of a high calibre.

As a response, in my now modified idiom, there were actually three revolutions at the time, and the struggle of indigenous people against American aggression and ethnic cleansing is central to the entire history of the United States, still visible in the incitements to invade Iraq as "Indian country" and the misnaming of the raid that took out Bin Laden as CodeName Geronimo - see here. That this fight for justice - this revolution of red or brown people - has vanished in the official story hardly make it less less important or less a revolution.

Kolhoff has some ground up, really striking insights about the period, but underestimates the fierce movement for abolition from below on the American side, led by sailors, black and white, which resulted in gradual abolition in the North during and after the Revolution and most of the dead Patriots at the crucial battle of Yorktown being black. The last sentence is right, but the wording is unfortunate.

"Ideas and Action

Freedom Betrayed

Review of:

Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence, Alan Gilbert, 2012, University of Chicago Press

By Mike Kolhoff

The participation of African Americans in the War of Independence is widely known but only vaguely understood. Almost everyone knows that Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave and sailor, took an active part in the 1770 fight in Boston that became known as the Boston Massacre, reportedly being the first to fall to British gunfire. In the sketchy picture of American history offered to most students in primary school the impression might be understandable that Attucks was indeed the ONLY Black man with a notable role in the war.

More interested students of history are aware of lord Dunsmore’s proclamations of 1774, which offered freedom for any slave of a rebel master who came to join the British (in Virginia only) and joined his army. But sadly, other than knowing that this occurred, most people have no knowledge of the results of this act and the dual nature of the American Revolution that it created.

While both the American colonials and the British offered freedom for blacks who joined their cause, it was only on a very limited basis that the Americans did so. The states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania all mustered armed all-black bodies of troops. But these forces were very small in comparison to the black troops the British were able to field.

In the southern colonies the British were inundated with large numbers of insurrectionary ex-slaves who had freed themselves and come to join the Royal army. From the beginning of the war, largely due to Lord Dunsmore, the British forces in the south had no trouble assembling regiment-sized units of freedmen who were eager and highly motivated. Having run away from plantations with their entire families, the black forces were followed by large trains of women and children.

Racism and white supremacy infected the officer-class of the British no less than it did that of the Colonial forces, both north and south. The reason for their offer of freedom was not based on any egalitarian ideals. The idea was to disrupt the plantation economy; in this it was very successful. Likewise more than a few plantation owners began to have serious misgivings about the slave-based economy they ran. Even slaves that didn’t run away began to act in their own interests, refusing to obey their masters and, in several cases, murdering brutal overseers and farming small plots for their own use. This was the most obvious and opportune time for the founding fathers to settle the matter of ending slavery. It is to their eternal discredit that they chose not to do it.

Even the author of the Declaration of Independence found himself at the mercy of his own logical incongruity. Many of Jefferson’s slaves packed up and left to join the British. In a letter written after the war he bemoaned that Cornwallis had burnt all of the crops and buildings on his plantation and “carried off also about 30 slaves…” His choice of words indicate that he could not bring himself to accept that his human property were so unhappy that they would leave on their own. In the same letter he guessed that as many as 30,000 slaves had joined the British in 1781 alone.

The strongest recommendation for this excellent work is the forgotten incidents, freedom fighters and martyrs it rescues from obscurity. From the moderately known, such as Colonel George Middleton, commander of the American Massachusetts Bucks, a black regiment led by a black officer, who also championed resistance to Yankee racism after the war; to such men as Murphy Steele who escaped slavery in North Carolina and joined the British Army as a scout, and to the very obscure, such as Captain March, Lieutenant Mingo, and Adjutant Garrick, black officers of a company of British dragoons, who fought for the freedom of their people on the side that seemed most likely to grant it.

It speaks to a need to revaluate and reframe the “American Revolution” as both a war against British colonialism and, simultaneously, a war for the emancipation of the large population of African men and women held in slavery throughout the colonies, and also as a war of the Native peoples to contain encroachment on their own lands. That the American rightwing has successfully framed the conflict as a war against “unfair taxation” indicates only the slobbering idiocy of our public discourse."

***

Kolhoff is an organizer of a drive against the special exploitation of disabled workers at the supposedly non-profit Peckham garment factory (mainly producing for the military). This is a parallel to the exploitation by white abolitionists in England of the black Loyalists in Sierra Leone and the revolt of the latter, the theme of chapter 8 of Black Patriots and Loyalists. Even I, however, felt when I read this, oh no, they employ disabled workers.

But capitalism is the taking advantage - exploitation in the colloquial sense - of each (Mitt Romney is its arrogant and foolish avatar), and as the worker fired for organizing below underlines, a, in this case, false sentimentalism has no place in winning respect from and achieving self-respect against it.

***

For a vivid description of the Company's paying wages below the minimum wage (and Federal toleration of this), see Joe Harcz here:

"LANSING - Standing outside in freezing temperatures, union organizers tried this morning to keep the heat on Peckham Vocational Industries for what it says are unfair labor practices. Two members of United Peckham, an independent union formed in March, waved signs in an informational picket near the entrance of the non-profit business at Grand River Avenue and Capital City Boulevard as employees were going to work this morning. Mike Kolhoff, a union organizer who was waving a picket sign that read "'Peckham: Minimum Wage Sweat Shop,'"

***


As Angela Wittrock writes in Mlive, Peckham feeds into a wider capitalist network:

"Many of the agency's clients work at Peckham's manufacturing headquarters in Lansing, producing a range of goods for clients such as General Motors, Auto-Owners Insurance, Demmer Corporation and others." See here.

Citing Kolhoff, Wittrock continues: "Advocates of the effort accuse the company of paying workers sub-minimum wage rates while reaping in massive profits – nearly $15 million in Fiscal Year 2010, according to Internal Revenue Service documents. They also accuse Peckham of engaging in "union-busting" tactics ranging from forcing employees to watch anti-union videos before claiming their paychecks to spreading misinformation about the effort, according to a report in the Lansing City Pulse.

`Tonight we received confirmation that another one of our key organizers has been laid-off and another given a one-week suspension for no reason,' a post on the Facebook page of United Peckham Employee Group, reads. 'We have also confirmed that Peckham is hiring A LOT of new people, even as they are laying off current workers. This is clear-cut union busting, and we aren't going to stand for it.'"

***

Wednesday, March 13,2013

For the photograph, see The Lansing City Pulse here.
Union organizers picket annual Peckham fundraiser (multimedia)
United Peckham Employee Group members wanted to draw attention to what they claim are unfair labor practices by the Lansing-based Peckham Industries
by Sam Inglot

Tuesday, June 12 — Four organizers with the United Peckham employees union held banners and signs outside an annual golf outing expressing no love for Peckham Industries and how the union feels they’re treating employees.

The targeted event was the Peckham Community Partnership Foundation annual golf outing and fundraiser.

United Peckham organizers have been trying to organize an employee union within the non-profit garment manufacturer for several months. They claim Peckham pays unfair wages to employees and is taking advantage of the disabled people that are hired. Union organizers have filed grievances with the National Labor Relations Board claiming Peckham is actively engaged in union busting activities.

“Inside the plant they are vigorously organizing an anti-union group,” said Mike Kolhoff, an organizer with United Peckham. “The administration is targeting union organizers for layoffs and suspensions, removing pro-union materials from public bulletin boards and interrogating workers on whether they support the union or not.”

The Sugar Law Center has expressed interest in helping out United Peckham with their claims, Kolhoff said.

Brian Owens worked at Peckham as a garment sewer for two years before being laid off on May 4. He believes he was laid off and not asked to return because he was a key organizer with United Peckham.

As one car was leaving the golf course the driver rolled down his window and argued that Peckham provides jobs to disabled people that normally wouldn’t be able to find employment. So why protest?

“That’s what they want you to think,” Owens responded. “I worked there. I know they take advantage of people.”

Peckham officials have denied that layoffs were a response to the unionization effort.'








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