Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Frances Perkins Would Know How Frances Fox Piven Feels

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins

There's an interesting collision of history going on right now, linked by the wonderful name Frances.

Frances Fox Piven has been relentlessly attacked for months over her work as an academic researcher:

The racket Frances Fox Piven heard in the middle of the night last weekend sounded like someone pounding on the front door of the small, isolated house she calls home in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.  Startled and awaken from her sleep, Piven, who had plenty of reason to feel on edge, pondered her next move. 
A City University of New York professor and scholar of grassroots activism, the 78-year-old Piven has been the target of relentless Glenn Beck attacks. For an entire year now the Fox News talker has been pushing a tangled conspiracy theory that puts Piven, and her late husband, fellow academic Richard Cloward, at the center of an all-powerful left-wing movement to “collapse” the United States economy and government -- a devious collapse designed to allow President Obama to radically transform the country, according to Beck.
The talker’s basis for the dark attacks date back to a Nation essay Piven and Cloward wrote 45 years ago. And as part of his misinformation campaign, Beck has repeatedly demonized Piven, denouncing her as an “enemy of the Constitution” and someone who wants to “destroy America.” Piven has become a star player in Beck’s rogue gallery of treacherous, all-powerful (often Jewish) liberals, seeking to eliminate the American way of life.
That racket? It was an icicle. I know, I don't enjoy having that "false suspense" embedded in an article, either. 

Reading about these attacks on Piven, I was reminded of a book I read last year about the inner circle of President Franklin Roosevelt and his first hundred days in office, titled, "Nothing to Fear," by Adam Cohen.

Cohen's book deals with FDR's cabinet secretaries, and Frances Perkins was completely unknown to me before I read the book. It was quite a radical choice to make her the Secretary of Labor, and she fought, endlessly, it seems, for acceptance and for her agenda. Without her efforts, the adoption of things that we take for granted, like Social Security, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and ending abusive child labor practices wouldn't have happened until much later (if at all).

Much of what Perkins accomplished in FDR's cabinet likely informed and influenced what Piven wrote. How radical could Piven be if people knew of the efforts of Perkins to use the power of the Federal government to help the unemployed? It would seem that Piven was taking up a gauntlet that people now take for granted, and one that is not nearly as radical as some would have us believe.

Perkins had to sit across from business leaders and union bosses and faced a great deal of intimidation. Cohen notes that if she had failed, she would have set the cause of women back decades, if not more. She had to be tough and turn a blind eye to a lot of the nasty things being said about her.

How is it that we're still debating child labor laws? I don't understand that at all.
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