WHAT'S GERMAN FOR 'SWEATSHOP'?
Since Jonah Peretti's "My Nike Media Adventure" [April 9] did not mention coverage in continental Europe, I wanted to add to the catalogue of media coverage an article in the March 7 Die Tageszeitung, Berlin. "Mach dir deine Marke selbst," written by Oliver Tolmein, was the first I read of the Nike e-mail incident until I got my copy of The Nation.
DEAD WRONG POET?--II
Response to Deadline Poet Calvin Trillin's "On Bush Breaking His Campaign Pledge to Limit Carbon Dioxide Emissions" (April 9):
Trillin is mad--boy, is he bitter:
Nader, unknowing, has him a-twitter.
So stressed is Cal (it is most alarming),
He confuses ozone with globally warming.
In Kyoto Gore said, "We must make this clear,
We're flexible always, so relax, never fear.
We'll take back our pledge to cut CO
If the money boys tell us it's what we should do."
Now W's gone and studied Al's pages,
And lo and behold, the poetry rages:
"It's Nader that did it, Ralph Nader's to blame.
He said those two are just one and the same."
VIETNAM QUAGMIRE FANTASIES
The history of the Vietnam War as told by David Rudenstine in his review of A.J. Langguth's Our Vietnam ["Vietnam: 'Quagmire' Quackery," March 5] is based on dominant fantasies every bit as misleading as the nonsensical "quagmire" story he and Langguth properly ridicule. One cannot possibly get the history straight if one begins in 1954 rather than 1945, when Washington initiated its first acts of war against Vietnam. To claim that it was "the North Vietnamese" who "defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu" and to present the United States as an ally of "South Vietnam" against "North Vietnam" is to accept Washington's falsification of the entire subsequent history. As the 1954 Geneva Accords recognized, and as the United States was finally forced to acknowledge in the 1973 Paris Peace Agreements, Vietnam was one country, not two. In fact, most of the government leaders of "South Vietnam" came from the north, while the strongest proponents of northern military support for the rebellion against the Diem dictatorship came from southerners in the Hanoi government.
Indeed, Rudenstine chronicles the period of this southern rebellion as though he had never even heard of it, attributing the fall of Diem exclusively to the Buddhist protests of 1963. Diem's fate was sealed as soon as the National Liberation Front came into being in December 1960 and initiated the organized revolution. If this revolution was not threatening the very existence of the Diem regime, then why did Kennedy begin massive chemical warfare in 1961? This was a year before 1962, when, Rudenstine euphemistically and inaccurately tells us, "Kennedy began to increase the number of US personnel in Vietnam." Too bad The Nation devoted four pages to retailing this minor variation of an official history that many of us, for almost four decades, have been exposing as a deception.
H. BRUCE FRANKLIN
New York City
H. Bruce Franklin is exhausting himself boxing with shadows that are not mine. Of course Vietnam was one country. Of course a more exhaustive and thorough history of what became the US war in Vietnam would cause a historian to begin the narrative long before 1954, as A.J. Langguth does, or even before 1945, as Franklin urges. Further, Franklin's suggestion that my review attributed the fall of Diem to the Buddhist protests of 1963 is silly. More important, Franklin misses the focus of my review. Many, like former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, still claim that the war resulted from "mostly honest mistakes" made by US leaders, as opposed to errors of "values and intentions." But as my review makes plain, Langguth's history demolishes the apologists' quagmire thesis, and in so doing raises the profound question of the capacity of the US political order to implement prudent and moral policies. Franklin does not think that issue is worth the ink spent on it. I can't imagine why. The question is poignantly timely given that we now have a President with no defense or diplomatic experience, a Secretary of State who is a general and a Secretary of Defense steeped in cold war ideology.
THE WHOLE WORLD WAS WATCHING
New York City
Jim Russell's "SDS's Other Wars" [March 5] is as uncritical and celebratory of the SDS film Rebels With a Cause as the film is of the organization. No surprise: Russell--like the film-maker and half the film's talking heads--worked in the SDS national office. Young historians (e.g., Jeremy Varon, Doug Rossinow, John McMillian) have been breaking with this archaic, top-down (and, ultimately, factionalist) perspective and have been going beyond the beliefs that many of us held at the time, into a critical history. Leftists who seek to build a new movement have a deep interest in a history that faces the fact that SDS collapsed when it might have grown and in trying to figure out, as Russell and the film do not, why this happened. A triumphal narrative leaves the collapse unexplained. A useful explanation for this tragedy would go beyond the sectarian wars and that convenient deus ex machina, the FBI--which did great damage but cannot be held responsible for so many of our mistakes. There was always conflict within SDS. The film would have been truer and more cinematically exciting had these often intelligent conflicts been presented (cf., Rashomon, Land and Freedom, Arguing the World, even Clint Eastwood's True Crime).
One example of Russell's uncritical and misleading celebration: Writing of SDS in 1965, he speaks of "the beginning of women's activism in the movement," which "added gender to the inequalities of race and class that the organization sought to redress." Redress? Huh? Women's liberation arose in part in rebellion against SDS's often grotesque sexism, while the national office continued to be decorated with cheesecake posters and faux working-class lunks saying, "Our chicks aren't into that petty bourgeois women's lib bullshit" (actual quote, verbatim). Crediting SDS as the birthplace of women's liberation, as do the film and Russell's review, and, ludicrously, seeing it as feminist is a little like saying the Democratic Party should be credited with having given birth to the 1960s antiwar movement or for the recent Nader campaign. Truth counts: The version peddled by the film and by Russell is simply not true.
For an alternative view, see Lemisch, "Students for a Democratic Society, Heroically Portrayed, Before the Inexplicable Fall: Consensus History in a Left Film," Film & History, March. (For info see www.filmandhistory.org ; or write us at Utopia1@attglobal.net .)
Jesse Lemisch and Naomi Weisstein appear to be still suffering from a New Left hangover and seem unable to distinguish, since they invoke that great paragon of progressivism Clint Eastwood, the good from the bad and the ugly. The serious issue they raise concerns how to portray in the relatively short space afforded by the film the strengths as well as weaknesses of an organizational experience. Rebels focused on the strengths but not without acknowledging a number of the weaknesses. On balance film director Helen Garvy presented in my estimation a strong, consistent and, yes, nuanced interpretation of the experience, though obviously not that of Lemisch and Weisstein.
Rebels, it is true, sympathetically portrays its subject. Lemisch and Weisstein apparently would have preferred it to be one last settling of scores from their point of view or, if not that, an ideological free-for-all à la the 1969 convention. While this would have produced a film of great interest to some, I suspect that it, like sectarian politics, would have been irrelevant to most.
Neither the film nor I claimed that SDS gave birth to women's liberation. SDS rather was one of the key movement forums within which the ideas were discussed that launched militant activism around women's issues in the second half of the 1960s. It is true that sexism existed within the organization as well as society. But to imply that SDS wallowed in "often grotesque sexism" and stood opposed to the women's movement is ludicrous. If it were so, why would so many strong and committed feminists have participated in the making of this film and spoken so positively of their experiences in SDS? Cheesecake posters in the national office? Not when I worked there or visited, before or after.
Rebels is not without its faults, some of which I mentioned in the review. But the large number of e-mail responses from students indicate that they find the film a useful vehicle for learning about progressive activism then and talking about it now.
THE NLRB THEN & NOW
I was disappointed in Steve Early's review of William B. Gould IV's Labored Relations ["How Stands the Union?" Jan. 22]. As a member of the labor-management advisory committee to the National Labor Relations Board during Gould's tenure as chairman, I was familiar with many substantive and procedural achievements during those years--accomplishments barely mentioned in Early's review.
One such achievement came to light only last year, when reviewing courts fully affirmed 79 percent of the NLRB decisions appealed to them, an unusually high rate of approval. Most of those affirmed decisions were decided by the NLRB under Gould's leadership.
Early's criticism of Gould's impatience with fellow board members and members of Congress misses an important point. Many of the disputes and turf wars recounted in Labored Relations arose when Gould attempted to rouse career bureaucrats from ordinary, comfortable patterns of doing business. Gould's experiences at the NLRB provide another example of how the revolving door between agencies, Congressional staffs and interest-group lawyers often stymies creative problem-solving. The intensity of their resistance to Gould's reforms underscores a point made frequently in The Nation--official Washington is currently a nasty, poisonous place, and one takes a substantial risk in challenging the established order. Gould's meticulous documentation of the price he frequently paid for taking that risk should be praised, not ridiculed.
JOHN L. BARLOW
New York City
Steve Early's review paints a picture of Gould that almost entirely neglects the accomplishments of the Clinton board over the past eight years and forgets what the board has been (or not been) for unions for much of the two decades preceding. In light of the ascendancy of George W. Bush, we may very soon look back on the Gould-Feinstein years with great fondness and nostalgia.
The undersigned were members of the NLRB's labor-management advisory committee, formed shortly after Gould became chairman of the NLRB. Early should recall with horror, as we do, the state of the board in 1992 after twelve years of Republican rule. The agency--the board agents and attorneys that union organizers deal with every day--was demoralized, in disarray and unable to fulfill its mission of enforcing the (admittedly weak) NLRA. Rather than concentrate on the gossip and innuendo surrounding the internecine warfare at the headquarters (yes, a large part of Gould's book), Early should have recognized in his review the successful initiatives that reversed in part the board's decline and descent into irrelevancy. Of particular importance was the board's Fieldcrest Cannon decision, which imposed an unprecedented set of remedies (upheld by no less than the Fourth Circuit) on the company in order to insure a free and fair election, which the union ultimately won, in the largest organizing victory in the South in more than twenty-five years. Those remedies have also set the standard for correcting outrageous employer behavior in dozens of subsequent decisions and settled cases.
The advisory committee urged, and the Clinton board adopted, a greater use of preliminary Section 10(j) injunctions, the adoption of a framework for processing cases faster both in the regions and in Washington and adoption of administrative devices to encourage settlements and the use of bench decisions by administrative law judges. As Gould points out, improvements in case handling and reforms dramatically reduced the backlog of cases during his four-year tenure. Finally, as is often the case, it was as much the threat of those devices as their use that encouraged employer moderation.
Early correctly points out that "for tens of millions of workers in the private sector, bypassing the law [and hence the board] is not an option." For the first time in many years, unions during the Clinton years felt they had a chance at a fair shake from the NLRB. While we had our disagreements with Gould and Feinstein, and they appear to have had many with each other, the bitter rhetoric of Early's review obscures some real accomplishments in turning around an agency that remains critical to labor's rebirth.
JOHN L. BARLOW
DUANE B. BEESON
WILLIAM E. CODAY
EUGENE G. EISNER
LEE W. JACKSON
FREDERICK T. KUYKENDALL III
As my review indicated, there were certainly differences between the Clinton-era labor board and its Republican-dominated predecessors. However, to workers fired for union activity, these differences were much less apparent than they might have been to friends of Bill Gould, who served on his "labor-management advisory committee." The effectiveness of labor law and its enforcement must be measured in terms of their impact on workplace organization, not with reference to the greater access or influence that union lawyers or the AFL-CIO always enjoy at the NLRB under a Democratic administration. The continuing decline of private-sector unionization over the past eight years speaks for itself. When the percentage of the nongovernment workforce that is organized begins to rise from its current 9 percent level--rather than sink further every year--we'll have seen real evidence that the board's own "decline and descent into irrelevancy" has been reversed.
As a subscriber, I want to thank you for using recycled paper. According to the Worldwide Institute, US paper consumption rose by 20 kg per person between 1992 and '97--and now stands at 335 kg per person. That places a strain on the world's forests, and processing releases harmful chemicals into the air and water. In addition, the paper we throw away accounts for about 40 percent of municipal solid waste streams. If more of the magazine industry (which uses roughly 25 million trees' worth of paper a year) would insist on recycled paper from its suppliers, it would make a huge difference.
THE FAT CAT IN THE HAT
As the great-grandson of the man from whom the word "maverick" became part of the English language, and as the 80-year-old son of the first Congressman from the South to vote for an antilynching law, I am deeply depressed by your cover showing President Bush wearing a Texas cowboy hat [Feb. 26 ]. You New York liberals are dirty fighters.
MAURY MAVERICK JR.