Freedom of the press

Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. as depicted on the co...

Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. as depicted on the cover of Times Magazine in 1934. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Brass Check, A Study of American Journalism was written by Upton Sinclair, Jr. in 1928 relating his experiences with American newspapers and the wire services that supplied newspapers with “news.” Upton Sinclair, Jr. is considered a “muckraker,” and he lived from 1878 to 1968. His most famous book is The Jungle, about the Chicago stockyards and published in 1906. Although Teddy Roosevelt held a low opinion of Sinclair, he sent investigators to Chicago to inspect the meat packers and prepare a report. That report was submitted to Congress and led ultimately to the present day FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Sinclair wrote many books and recently I wrote about another worth reading, Oil!.

It was Sinclair’s contention that for-profit newspapers would never, or hardly ever, publish stories that might harm their advertisers. The owners of newspapers were and are members of the 1% and are members of the same social set. So there is social pressure to go along to get along and there are advertising dollars that can be used to pressure newspaper editors in their editorial decisions. The only way to avoid these pressures, to my mind, is obtain your news from non-profit sources that are not dependent on advertising revenue. Two sources of news that I recommend are http://www.truthout.org and http://www.readersupportednews.org. Both are free, but both deserve your support so that they may remain viable. I encourage you to consider donating to either or both periodically or regularly.

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Oil!

Cover of "Oil!"

Cover of Oil!

Oil! by Upton Sinclair, published in 1927, is a novel about the oil industry in California between the years 1915 and 1925, but it is so much more. I started reading it because I am interested in California history and because I wanted to compare oil-producing practices then with fracking now. More on that in another post. The version of the book I read is available used at Amazon.com for $.01 plus shipping. Oil producers then and big business probably now were engaged in political corruption at the local, state and national levels. I gained new knowledge and a different perspective on the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding administration.

Much of the book is devoted to telling the story of attempted unionization of oil workers. Employers now and then opposed unions because they believed paying a decent wage would decrease their profits and their freedom to run their businesses any way they chose. No thought was given to the freedom of workers to live a decent life. One hundred years after the events portrayed in the book, employers continue to wage war against their employees’ right to form and join a union.

Even more eye-opening is Sinclair’s view about the Red Scare of the period. He believed that Capitalism opposed Communism because Communism represented workers’ democracy, which big business would not tolerate. If you accept Sinclair’s view, then the war against Communism was an unnecessary one.

Coal mining

Joseph A. Main testifys on  "Learning fro...

Joseph A. Main testifys on “Learning from the Upper Big Branch Tragedy” (Photo credit: US Department of Labor)

Three books on one of the most dangerous occupations, mining coal underground: Lust for Life by Irving Stone, King Coal by Upton Sinclair and Thunder on the Mountain, Death at Massey and Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal by Peter A. Galuszka. Lust for Life is about the artist Vincent van Gogh who ministered to coal miners in southern Belgium in the 1870s before he gave up the ministry in favor of art. King Coal is about coal mining in the US and in particular Colorado in the early 1900s. Thunder on the Mountain is about the Upper Big Branch mining disaster in West Virginia in 2010.

How much and how little has changed in 140 years. The miners in Belgium worked without unions and without government safety rules. Fifty years later in the US some mines had union workers and state laws were enacted to protect miners, but widespread corruption meant that those laws were ignored. Today some miners are unionized and the Federal government attempts to enforce safety laws over the objections of some mine operators and the determined opposition of the GOP in Congress. After the Upper Big Branch disaster, a bill was introduced bearing the name of Senator Robert Byrd to make the mining of coal safer. That bill never made it into law.

After reading these three books, I am convinced that the way to make mining as safe as humanly possible requires strict enforcement of Federal mining laws and widespread unionization to protect workers from those managers to whom profits are more important than the lives of miners.