Michael Yates grew up in the factory town of Ford City, Pennsylvania. He has lived in many parts of the United States, longest in Ford City, Johnstown, and Pittsburgh, all in Pennsylvania. These days, he move around a lot, keeping his possessions few and his resources liquid. He is married to Karen Korenoski of Dunlo, Pennsylvania. They have four adult children and one grandchild. He hopes that he has been a good spouse and father and will be a good grandfather.
Michael has had a number of jobs and has been working since he was twelve. His longest-lasting job by far has been that of teacher. He has been a college teacher for forty-five years. He is currently an editor and a writer, though without a pension and social security, it would be very difficult to be either. He hopes that after he dies, when Karen and the kids think of him, they smile.
I am of the opinion that a combination of section 7 of the NLRA and free association of the 1st Amendment should be the driving force behind gains in the labor movement. All else flows from a robust understanding of each of these.
That said, I am interested in unionizing a certain Orange “Big Box” store, of which I (likely) will be an employee soon.
Any suggestions for resources which are not within the business unionism camp?
Thanks for revealing the seamy side of Chavez, we appreciate Chavez work but we cannot have a cult around who he was. Sexism, anti communism imploded the movement and we are still living the consequences.
Also, you might have added to the history missing in Shaw’s acount is the role of Industrial Areas Foundation training that many of the early UFW received. Alinski use the Catholic church, was anti communist and never addressed issues of race and gender issues like UPWA did.
Thanks for the truth.
Hi: I worked for the UFW in 1974 and did not run into the items you raise at least not in the New York office headed by Delores Huerta or in Madison, WI. However,some of the critiques you raise in very different form appear in the book written by UFW co-founder Philip Vera Cruz, who has indeed written an accurate history of the farm workers movement. He also does not inflate the role of Chavez or those who worked in the movement. He specifically takes Chavez to task for some authoritarian moves, but hoped that the Union would correct its course and return to the original ideals that informed the early farm worker movement. The book is”Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History Of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement” (UCLA Labor Center, 1992). He died before he could work toward his goals of creating a renewed organizing focus without red-baiting or personal attacks on persons of good will and differing political outlooks. The UFW I knew had those attributes in 1974, but it may have lost its way later. I hope someday it can regain the ideals of Philip Vera Cruz and other farm worker organizers who believed in left-center unity in the fight for justice. Peace, Ronald Kent
Your review of “The Open Veins of Latin America” has renewed my interest in a history of Latin America written by my uncle, Hubert Herring. Should you have any comment about that book I’d be most interested. Yet I am not expecting you to have to wade through it.
When Chavez gave Open Veins to Obama I wrote to the author posing the above question. No answer there yet.
As for you, Mr Yates, may you never slow down.
Thanks for the kind words. I haven’t looked at your uncle’s classic history in a very long time, but I do remember it. Your family must be proud of him.
Just found your site (through Dick W) and plan to read more of your entries.
I just had the pleasure of cataloging the 2nd edition (2009) of your “Why Unions Matter” in preparation to entering it into Central Pennsylvania College’s library.
We alreadly have a copy your 2007 publication “More unequal : aspects of class in the United States” on our shelves. My job here is as a part-time librarian (3 or 4 days a week, 15 to 20 hours).
Its a small college (an ex-business school with four-year programs only for the past ten years), and (as you might imagine) a small library; but I’m happy to say (to whomever might listen) that I once was a colleague of this author.
Just read your review of Shaw’s book on Chavez on Doug Henwood’s site, and I applaud your courage. The first I negs I heard about him, and I’m pretty sad about it. I’ll also be looking into the SEIU scene – that’s blowing my mind!
Sorry about your wood breathing situation – we got sick in Italy one winter with the chimney’s blowing out wood smoke. Hope you can break your lease and meet the landlord in small claims court if you have to.
The country has a LONG way to go to get straight with the environment. I wouldn’t do it, but I’m afraid anyone betting on the population in the race between us and the planet is likely to win.
Regarding your review of Shaw’s book on the UFW and Cesar Chavez.
Did anything positive come out of the movement? Did it make a difference in the life of the farm workers?
I for one had searched for Marshall Ganz to express my thanks for making a huge difference for this particular farm worker and my entire family.
You are correct that much work needed to be done after 1974 and the UFW needed to re-structure into a more formal organization. Legislation under Jerry Brown gave the farm worker more rights and basic protections making the push for fundamental rights less of a battle cry for the organization.
We can argue about the course that the UFW took in the 80’s and 90’s but to understand the legacy of the movement and the impact of Cesar Chavez we need to examine how the movement changed the outlook and aspirations of the farm workers and other people.
In an era of ENRON and multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes we need to look for better leadership.
Thanks for your note. Yes, the movement did a lot of good. Both for workers and those who worked for the union. What makes me mad, though, is the promise left unfulfilled. That and the racket that the UFW has become.
Yes, leadership is key, but it will be up to workers to demand it!
Hello Mr Yates,
I’m a teen from a small New Jersey suburb and already a self-described Marxist. I have read some of your work in the Monthly Review and mrzine. Most of my town is Republican, and many claim themselves as “libertarians”. As you can tell, I have a tough time persuading peers and I’m always compelled to defend myself all the time.
I’m debating two trolling libertarians on a Facebook page, but they’re exactly pretty intelligent. One of them says that exploitation is a “value-neutral” term, as in when I’m asking for intellectual ammo, I’m “exploiting” you. He is positing that all forms of social interaction are forms of exploitation, though it sounds like he’s just inventing something. He also says that exploitation isn’t bad because both sides mutually benefit. I hard thing to take in knowing the state of U.S. labour to capital, or the plight of child laborers employed by multinationals.
A little help and clarification wound be much appreciated.
Thank you for your note. I am happy to see that a young person is thinking deeply about things. This gives us all hope for a better world!
Your libertarian friends are not using the word exploitation correctly. They are saying that all transactions between individuals are, by definition, mutual, that is, both parties always benefit. They are exploiting, that is, making an agreement with each other. Each party benefits, they say, because, otherwise, why woud they make the agreement in the first place. You and I agree to somethin (you asked me for information and I tried to provide it). We are “exploting,” that is agreeing to something, voluntarily.
The problem is that in the labor market, workers and employers do not face each other as equals. Every capitalist economy hs begun with a great deal of inequality to start with. The market (where the mutual “exploitation” occurs. according to your friends) must, because of the way it works, keep thi sinequlaity going, and in fact, alwasys makes it worse unless there are interveing factors, such as strong labor unions, government regulation like minimum wage laws, etc. If you ask your friends to prove otherwise they will not be able to do so. They will always fall back on a “blame the individual” argument. No matter how stark an example you give them (compare a child from a very rich family and one from a very poor family and ask them what are the chances the poor kid will become rich), and no matter what data you show them, they will always resort to an argument based upon individual blame. Sooner or later they will say, if you push tehm hard enough that people are born unequal, that is, it is all genetic. I guarantee you that they are not themselves poor. Ask them.
I agree that exploitation is a value neutral term, but not how they think. Exploitation is the capacity of employers to force workers to labor more hours than it takes to produce the things, which when sold, will allow the employer to pay their wages. Employers exert such force because they own the factores, etc. that we have to have access to to live. We have no choice but to work for someone. Your libertarian friends will say that anyone can start a business, so no one is forced to be a wage laborer. You can ask them how a peson without money to start with (billions of people worldwide) will live wtihout money while they are starting a business. But don’t bet they will thn see the light. they will say all sorts of things and maybe give you a couple of rags to riches stories. You might reply that thye cannot give you a single example of anyone getting rich without a lot of societal and family support (schools, inheritance, government contracts, political connections, etc.).
Ask your friends to show you clearly and in plain language how business profits are possible. How can all the employers combined lay out a total sum of money for labor and capital and come out with a bigger sum of money. The low costs of one employer are the lower income of another. An increase in demand for one thing must mean, with fixed total incomes, a lower demand for something else. Only Marx’s analysis tells us the source of profits–the exploitation of workers.
hope this helps. keep me posted.
ps check out http://www.monthlyreview.org/597huber.htm
Dear Mr. Yates,
Thank you very much for your insight. Also I’ve noticed that you have some critical support for the Maoists in India and Nepal. I guess your one of those communists who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty or even draw blood if need be (though violence is never a value in itself; I’ve always found it disgusting, but at times necessary to overthrow the violence of exploitation).
How do feel toward Cuba and Castro? I’m in solidarity with the Revolution, and I have few qualms with Fidel.
Also, what’s the state of poverty, unemployment, hunger and so forth in America. People where I grow up live in this bubble for the most part about these inequities, and fall into the “trickle-down blame” defense.
The Maoists in Nepal have been waging a legitimate peoples’ war, and after agreeing to cease hostilities and engage in regular politics, the opposition reneged on the agreement to incorporate the Maoist army inot teh national army. So the Maoists ahve begun an ingenious and mass-based popular campaign to overthrow the government. There are many lessons to be learned from them.
I have great sympathy for the Cuban revolution and think Fidel is the greatest political leader of the past century. What Cuba has done in medicine, education, and environment has been phenomenal.
On your last paragraph, you should find these things out by looking, for example, at the Economic Policy Institute website (www.epinet.org), especially The State of Working America.
I read your interesting and well-written analysis of Randy Shaw’s book Beyond the Fields: César Chávez, the UFW, and Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (http://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/michael-yates-reviews-randy-shaw-on-cesar-chavez/).
I appreciated your candor and your insight. It is always painful yet useful to learn more about someone—Cesar Chavez in this case—who has come to symbolize selfless service and sacrifice, and yet, we discover, had an authoritarian streak that belies what one would hope would be the essence of the UFW struggle and countless others.
I further appreciated your feedback to the young kid (on your about Michael Yates page in the comment section) who is a self-proclaimed Marxist in New Jersey, I believe, and was struggling in debate with a couple of libertarians (a sort of sweet thought in itself). The libertarian idea that both parties necessarily benefit from transactions (in a so-called free market) is, as you pointed out to the kid, horrendously flawed. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see how libertarians can’t let this confused transaction theory go, in light of history, racism, serfdom, Goldman Sachs and on and on. Maybe it’s the hypnotic eyes of Ayn Rand (joking).
Another grand flaw in libertarian thinking, it seems to me, is their general inability to include the same disdain and/or fear for Big Business simultaneously with their (in my opinion often justified) disdain and contempt for Big Government. At least the latter, theoretically, is elected.
But Michael, may I explain where I get confused by a couple of your comments, and I would like very much for you to explain where I may be confused. You say things like this in the review: “Is it surprising that Chávez was a staunch anti-communist and engaged in vicious and mindless purges and red-baiting of those who challenged his authority?” and “But Huerta has never repudiated Chávez’s dictatorial, hateful, and ruinous behavior.”
But then in your note to the kid on your blog site, you conclude by saying: “Fidel is the greatest political leader of the past century. What Cuba has done in medicine, education, and environment has been phenomenal.” Now, I’ll give you the three things. And further, from what I have read, Cuba’s sending of doctors to places of need around the world has also been commendable, by countless accounts. And Cuba’s little known military fighting (with Angola) to help break the grip of apartheid South Africa is virtually unknown. And of course, the embargo by the American government etc., has been crippling and brutal.
But I am confused. To speak of Cesar Chavez’s authoritarianism and “dictatorial, hateful, and ruinous behavior” and “vicious and mindless purges” as negative (which of course, if true, they are), and then call Castro “the greatest political leader of the past century…” seems to me highly paradoxical, and not dissimilar to the degree of discord (and what I perceive to be indoctrination) of the libertarian idea of mutual benefit for both parties simply because there is a transaction.
Further, Cesar Chavez receives a lot of your disdain, it seems, for his attachment to the Catholic church and his purging of communists. Fair enough, and I do understand that to a Marxist, affection towards Catholicism and a purging of communists would be in general, by definition, offensive.
But Castro? I’m under the impression that a writer living in Cuba could not safely or easily write with the same flavour about Castro as you applied to Chavez—and get away with it. For the good things in Cuba, as you mentioned, has there not been 51 years of “authoritarian” dictatorship? And when this dictatorship is opposed, many “vicious purges.”
Indeed, Reporters Without Borders has much commentary on Cuba’s attack on independent journalists (and the criticisms against RWB’s statements are typical*, and anybody can argue anything, if they find the right angle). And Amnesty International has recently listed 55 prisoners of conscience, some with massive sentences, as of March 2010, many for Law #88, the so-called “Gag law.” http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR25/004/2010/en/a73cf4be-893e-46cf-9dce-22034719aa58/amr250042010en.pdf
My point again, Michael, is simply this: As sure as I am baffled by the conflict of simultaneously opposing views in the libertarian ideology (yet libertarians can explain what they mean over and over again), I am baffled by your attack on Cesar Chavez for his “dictatorial” and authoritarian ways and “vicious and mindless purges” NOT IN PRINCIPAL, of course, but IN LIGHT OF your deepest respect and adoration for an undeniably authoritarian, 51 year long dictator in Cuba.
I truly hope I haven’t been offensive. I don’t mean to be. Again, I got a lot out of your article, but my mind is unable to figure out (like with the libertarians) this discord. I would truly like to understand where you see me as confused or, indeed, where you agree with me.
All the best,
*Note: I just read, for example, french university lecturer Salim Lamrani’s attack on Reporters Without Borders with regard to Castro, but then see Lamrani write here:
“After being Prime Minister for almost 18 years (February 1959- January 1976) and President of the Republic from December 2, 1976 to July 31, 2006, the most famous revolutionary leader of the twentieth century retired from official political life four days before the elections, which would designate the members of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers and its president…
This decision, is logical since Fidel Castro, in a letter dated December 17, 2007, had already shown his wish of not “hanging on to positions” and “being consistent until the end.”
I agree that Castro was “consistent to the end”, both in decent and, for me, awful, hateful and authoritarian ways. But not “hanging on to positions?” Is this guy serious? My god. Even one who supports Castro’s ways should laugh at that. Indeed, I think Castro would laugh at that. Pointing out Castro’s strengths is one thing. But to be an apologist for his brutality and his punitive attack on free speech (indeed, stealing people’s lives) seems to me sadly unfortunate. Similarly, I despair at the US incarceration rates for what must be countless innocuous charges. In fact, I often quote 19th century libertarian Lysander Spooner, with regard to the utterly catastrophic War On Drugs, who once said what we seem to have forgotten: “A vice is not a crime.” I believe with all my heart the same about free speech.
Thanks for the note. I have written a lot about the UFW and Chavez. I have written that he was a great labor leader and did what no other had done–organize the farm workers. The trouble is that today, in part because of many things Chavez did and did not do, farm workers are little better off than they were in the 1950s.
As to Castro, to say that he is a great political leader is not to say he has no flaws or that there are no problems in Cuba. Yet the poorest Cubans are much better off now than they were before 1959. Healthier, living longer, better chances to get education, less discriminated against if they are black, etc. All things considered, I think the revolution was and is a good thing.
I need to add as well that I live in the United States and have been a labor educator and a person in class solidarity with workers. So I might have a light influence on what happens in the labor movement here. What I say about the UFW might be useful to activists trying to build a strong labor movement. Theye might try hard to avoid what Chavez did. And what he did had little to do with gettinngn rid of leftists, communists or otherwise. On the other hand, the Cuban people will have to determine their own fate. There are a million and one others denouncing Castro, Cuba, etc., as if this tiny nation was the incarnation of evil. If I don’t choose to add my voice to those, you can call me an apologist if you choose. It doesn’t matter to me. I hope though that you are denouncing the US blockade and tallying up in your mind the dead caused by the US against those caused by Cuba. And the good done by both nations. A comparison of Cuban and US doctors might give you pause.
Do I wish that there was more artistic and other types of freedom in Cuba? Yes. But you take a short paragraph in a reply to a young man who asked me about Cuba and make a lot more out of it than it deserves. Your love of free speech is to be applauded. I hope you think everyone ought to get enough to eat, medical care, etc. with the same fervor.
I read your column ‘lock ’em up’ in Counterpunch. I think that the stuff that they are demanding of sex offenders after their sentences are completed is really is going to be used as a stalking horse for the general prison population. We are just being softened up with the sex offenders. So, thanks.
Also, thanks for the writings on Marilyn Buck. I worked with her at the national office of SDS in the late 60’s and I thought that she was a nice person. What happened to her is an example of what happens when provocateurs are set loose on the population. She served her time in the penitentiary in Dublin, Califonia, and when I lived in the bay area we would get periodic reports on how helpful she was to other female inmates. so thanks again
I read and enjoyed ‘Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate’ and visit your blog occasionally
Thanks for your note and kind words. I think you are correct about the general prison population. zI got ome hate mail for writing about Marilyn Buck, but your note helps compensate for that! Gald you liked Cheap Motels.
i have never joined a union until moving from louisiana to california. it was such an eye opening experience. i have never been so humanized as a worker. i only wish there was a union to help my father whom is now handicap because of his job or when i refused to clean biohazard materials at my library. i will be elected vice president this year and will likely take over as president in the coming years (if elected). your books are wonderful, please visit Los Angeles, we would love to have you speak at our union function.
Thank you very much for your letter and kind words. It s good to know what you write is wel-received. Keep in touch and maybe I can get down to LA sometime.
Hope this mail finds you well.
I write to you from India. I am a chartered accountant with no background in economics.
I am seriously contemplating higher studies in economics. Can I request you for advice over an email?
Thanks and regards
Happy birthday! I just wanted to say thank you, and to let you know how lucky I feel to have been one of your many students over the years. You opened my eyes to things I’d never understood or thought much about.
Walter, Thanks so much for the birthday wishes and the kind comments. I appreciate them! Michael
As a child in Orange County, Ca. I was a mini rebel. Since me and my 5 brothers and sisters had no food the Brown Berets came to the rescue. Maybe it happened only once but it sure made an impression on my belly and brain.
My grandfather was a migrant worker and during the 40’s they traveled up and down the state for work. Grandpa settled in the city of Orange as a truck driver and Grandma sorted Oranges. As my Pops would drive us through Santa Ana to the beach My mother was always quick to point out to me all the field workers and say “”Aye pobrecitos”, of course I would ask her why “Pobrecitos” “Because they work long and hard in the fields for their families”
I love the truth and especially your views on Cesar Chavez, La Paz and how it seems as if the UFW are forever locked in a time warp of greed, fraud corruption. At least that is what I read and felt.
During a stint in the “Union Summer” I got a chance to visit “La Paz” before it was remodeled and turned into a non-profit stopover for “the Chavez Family None of You Business What I do With the Money Fund”.
My first thought upon seeing the property is that I loved the land, I may be a city girl but I loved the facility. I slept on a grungy old mattress as did many of the Union Summer participants. I saw the homes the Chavez family lived in.
But as I explored (never alone) I felt an air of distrust, During the day there was to be a luncheon (they have them all the time, possible donors) One of Cesars son’s was speaking about affordable housing for the workers, he was taking questions. I of course asked, Why not establish similar program like “Habitat for Humanity” or network with them. He was seemed offended and responded, “The migrants work all day and should not have to work for their houses, we are thinking about building homes with hay bales”
I though to myself, I am picking my battles and this one is not the day.
I wondered to myself that everyone works hard to raise family, Mexicans have not cornered the market in hard work. Then I got it, it was probably something that was broached up in the past and because money is power, you do not let anyone else get your power.
Okay so we had another project to go to but the new group I was to go with was APALA (not a union, Asian human rights), we had to protest around a Asian restaurant because they were not paying the recent “immigrant Asian hires”, in the end they supposedly got their money after we cost them financial hardship on a Friday night. At the time I felt this was my calling, human rights issues, for some reason it was the beginning of my change in philosophy in unions.
I still believe in unions, but I also believe that Government, corporations and unions need to be completely revamped and overhauled. To put it succinctly,purge all of these entities of all Pyramid Ponzi. They much more similar to each other and humanity is a convenient memory or rather distraction.
I am a union Journeymom/plumber/steamfitter and have seen the storm for years, and the destruction of the union is not because of the Republicans, it is because our own union officials are unwilling to recognize they are at fault.
I mean for a measly example our own UA President, Marty Maddaloni basically took 1.1-2 billion dollars from the members pension along with his buddies at ULLICO, sure it was for the “hotel” with extraordinary overruns.
I can go on on on but I know that if unions are lacking “market share” they have no one to blame but all the cronies they appoint, all the relatives, ya’ know what I mean.
Thank you so much for your powerful comments. Unions are as bad as the employers in too many cases. Corruption of all sorts is not uncommon.
Circa 2008, you wrote, “An objective history of César Chávez, the UFW, and the union’s legacy has yet to be written.”
In case you haven’t encountered them, I highly recommend Miriam Pawel’s articles about the modern-day UFW in the Los Angeles Times, as well as her book, The Union of Their Dreams.
JF, Yes, I am familiar with these. I actually reviewed the book in the May 2010 issue of Monthly Review. Thanks for writing and reminding me about these fine works by Miriam Pawel.
Mr. Yates I’m an African American female, divorce mother of 4 girls and need your assistant. It is imparative that u contact me because aim being treated unfairly at my job.im the only black woman that works at this plant and your assistant is very needed. Reading your comments and
Send me an email with some details, so that I can see if I can help. firstname.lastname@example.org
I was a student of yours at UPJ, a laid off steelworker who absorbed your teaching. I was not only a student of Economics but a student of your philosophy. I accredit much of my success to your lectures as you thought me how balance helping others while making an honest wage.
I myself have traveled extensively domestically and abroad and find myself more comfortable with the common man yet, until I can retire, must question why I don’t challenge those who can help more.
Mike Economics UPJ 85.
Good to hear from you Mike. It is interesting how what we were when we were younger sticks with us. I still feel uncomfortable around people who didn’t come from a working class background. Write again and tell me more about your life. Take care, Mike
Hi, Mike. My name is Tom Reynolds and we knew each other briefly in 1974 (after I returned from Colombia while you were teaching at UPJ.) My wife and I are proud of your work, proud to be from working class towns, and proud to be socialist. Sincerely, Tom