Click the link to hear Rick Smith discuss the corrupt and barbaric practice of convict leasing, which many scholars simply call “slavery by another name.”


On this day in labor history, the year was 1928.

That was the day the state of Alabama outlawed the convict lease system that had been in practice for decades.

Slave masters throughout the South had routinely loaned out enslaved people before slavery was finally abolished.

The convict lease system continued this practice, as the South worked to rebuild in a rush of rapid industrial growth after the Civil War.

African-Americans found themselves increasingly subject to sweeps by local and state authorities that coincided with harvest time or when labor agents arrived, looking to man the coalmines.

Many were convicted on trumped up charges and shipped off to prison.

Once there, they were leased to private industries and dispatched mostly to coal mines near Birmingham.

By 1890, the state profited $164,000 a year.

By 1912, prison mining brought in over $1 million in state revenues.

In the PBS documentary, Slavery By Another Name, Douglas Blackmon and other scholars note that prisoners could be driven in a way that earlier enslaved workers and free labor couldn’t.

Convict labor served to depress wages, curtail union activity, organizing and strikes.

These workers could also be worked practically to death and easily replaced.

Progressive reformers, Socialist Party leaders and UMW District 20 would wage an unrelenting war against the convict lease system for years.

Even the 1911 Banner Mine explosion that killed 123 African American prisoners couldn’t outlaw the practice.

Finally, newly elected Governor Bibb Graves yielded to the public outcry that condemned the practice as a relic of barbarism.

He also ceded to workers demands for jobs.

Graves subsequently put prisoners to work on chain gangs building roads throughout the state, making Alabama the last state to abolish the convict lease system.


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Through the years, legislators of both parties have created and supported laws that hurt working people. But in American history, few laws have done more damage than the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Click the link to hear Rick Smith tell the story:


On this day in labor history, the year was 1947.

That was the day the despised Taft-Hartley Act became law.

It was a direct retaliatory response to the 1946 post-war strike wave, where millions walked off the job after waiting years for basic demands.

The labor movement mobilized against the slave labor bill through numerous rallies.

The AFL joined the CIO in threatening 24-hour strikes across whole industries in protest, as the bill wound its way through Congress.

11,000 soft coal miners in Pennsylvania walked out in a spontaneous protest strike earlier in the month.

The bill passed over the veto of President Harry S. Truman, who would invoke it a dozen times over the course of his presidency.

Many union leaders hailed Truman as a friend of labor for his 11thhour veto.

Labor party advocates were incensed that of 219 congressional Democrats, 126 voted in favor of the bill.

Practically overnight, the labor movement had been pushed back 25 years.

Taft-Hartley was nothing short of disastrous for the American labor movement.

With the stroke of a pen, the Act criminalized many of the actions key to historic union victories in the thirties and forties.

Jurisdictional strikes, secondary boycotts, solidarity strikes, closed shops and mass picketing were just a few of the most basic trade union activities now outlawed.

The Act helped fire the first shots of the McCarthy Red Scare by mandating that union officers file non-Communist affidavits with the government, later found to be unconstitutional.

The Act also provided the ammunition needed to strangle strikes by empowering the president to easily acquire strikebreaking injunctions.

And it allowed for the rapid growth of right-to-work laws at the state level.

The union movement has suffered ever since.


The #RickShow​ is available everywhere. Check your radio dial or your favorite podcast app, and if you want to catch the TV show, find us on:

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It’s difficult to believe that, in the land of the free, a person can go to jail for giving a speech, and an anti-war speech at that. But that’s what happened. Click the video below and read along as Rick Smith tells the story:


On this day in labor history, the year was 1918.

That was the day Eugene V. Debs, leader of the Socialist Party gave his legendary anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio.

It was the speech for which he would eventually be arrested, tried and convicted under the Espionage Act.

Though he avoided explicitly criticizing World War I or President Wilson, he made clear his views.

He gave the speech at a park near the jail where Charles Baker, Charles Ruthenberg and Alfred Wagenknecht, three prominent socialists, were being held on Espionage Act related charges.

Debs noted, “it is extremely dangerous to exercise the constitutional right of free speech in a country fighting to make democracy safe in the world.”

Debs was defiant.

He unloaded his rage against the judicial system and the conviction of Socialist leader Kate Richards O’Hare for her anti-war views.

He railed against the suppression of Max Eastman’s Socialist press and the ongoing persecution of Socialists Tom Mooney and William Billings.

Debs briefly reviewed the history of wars in Europe and made the following observation:

“The master class has always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war… the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace…”

For this he was convicted of advocating disloyalty and draft resistance and sentenced to 10 years in prison.


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On this day in labor history, the year was 1917.

That was the day the Granite Mountain and Speculator Mines in Butte, Montana caught fire, killing 168 miners.

It is considered the worst underground hard-rock mining disaster in the nation’s history.

Just weeks after the United States had entered World War I, the demand for copper had surged.

Granite Mountain, like many of the nation’s mines, operated around the clock to meet war production needs.

In his book, Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917, Michael Punke notes the irony of the disaster, which began as an effort to improve safety.

A sprinkler system had just been installed.

The final task was the relocation of an electrical cable.

The cable was insulated with oil-soaked cloth, sheathed in lead.

Workers lost control of the three-ton cable as they lowered it into the mine and it fell to the bottom of the shaft.

Carrying a commonly used carbide-burning lamp, the night shift foreman accidently ignited the cable as he planned its removal.

The conflagration was virtually immediate and burned for more than three days.

At the time, 415 miners were at work on the overnight shift.

Smoke and gases quickly filled both mines.

With no alarm system in place, those that could not escape succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1996, a memorial plaza was dedicated to those who lost their lives.

It details a slice of Butte’s mining and labor history that culminated in tragedy.


The #RickShow​ is available everywhere. Check your radio dial or your favorite podcast app, and if you want to catch the TV show, find us on:

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On this day in labor history, the year was 1921.

That was the day one of the worst race riots in American history began in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In a frenzy of anti-black violence, a white mob destroyed virtually the entire black neighborhood of Greenwood.

Over the course of two days, as many as 300, mostly black residents were killed. ‘Black Wall Street’ had been burned to the ground, leaving 10,000 homeless.

The day before, Dick Rowland, a young black man tripped as he boarded an elevator at his job.

He fell against the young white woman elevator operator.

When she shrieked, nearby department store employees assumed she had been assaulted.

Rowland was arrested and newspapers fanned the flames of race violence and vigilantism.

On this day, white racist mobs surrounded the Tulsa County Courthouse where Rowland was being held and demanded he be turned over to them.

Returning black veterans had become increasingly assertive about their rights as citizens.

They marched to the courthouse, armed in an attempt to prevent Rowland’s lynching.

When the vets refused to disarm in the face of demands by the white mob, gunfire ensued, touching off 16 hours of fighting that literally decimated the community black workers and professionals had built up over the course of decades.

The National Guard was called out, mainly to disarm and round up black residents of Greenwood. Witnesses reported that Greenwood was bombed from the air by police and by Sinclair Oil company planes.

The history of the riot was buried for more than half a century.

It would take until 1997 for the Oklahoma State Legislature to set up a commission to uncover the bloody details, produce a 200 plus page report and recommend millions in reparations.


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On this day in labor history, the year was 1863.

That was the day the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry marched through the streets of Boston in a farewell parade and then boarded ships headed for Beaufort, South Carolina.

Thousands lined the streets for the send off, including prominent abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass.

It was the first Black regiment organized to fight in the Civil War.

Abolitionists had wrestled with Lincoln and others that the Civil War wasn’t just about preventing national disintegration but about ending the slave labor system.

They were emphatic that slaves and free black men had a right and a vested interest in fighting for their freedom and the freedom of their families.

Finally the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 codified that demand as it abolished the slave system.

The Union Army began accepting black enlistees and embarked on recruitment campaigns to enlist future black soldiers.

By May, over 1000 black men had enlisted from 24 states.

Others came from as far away as Canada and the Caribbean.

Fathers and sons enlisted together.

The Union Army was far from free of its own anti-black prejudices.

Secretary of War Edward Stanton determined white officers would lead all black regiments.

Nonetheless, black enlisted men were trained, armed and ready to fight.

A young Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was put in charge of the regiment.

Though Shaw and hundreds of troops would soon be killed in battle at Fort Wagner, the regiment forced the Confederacy to abandon the Fort altogether.

The “Swamp Angels” as they were called, would continue to exact justice throughout the South for the duration of the war.

They served as a model for other black regiments, whose fighting proved decisive for victory.


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On Wednesday morning, a murderer walked into a public transit rail yard in San Jose, California and murdered eight co-workers with a gun, then turned a gun on himself.

It’s an event that can happen anywhere, in almost any country on the planet, but it is also an event that happens so frequently in America that if we don’t find a way to do something about it, the mass shooting will soon be associated with the very fabric of American culture, right there next to baseball and apple pie.

Rick Smith spoke about this at length just a few hours after the shooting, echoing the words of California Governor Gavin Newsom:

“I was listening to Governor Newsom out in California talk about it. He goes ‘What the hell’s going on? What’s going on in this country? There’s a sense of numbness I imagine that some of us are feeling about this because there’s a sameness to it. Anywhere, USA.’ It just feels like this happens over and over and over again. Rinse and repeat rinse and repeat, and he says it begs the damn question, ‘What the hell is going on in this country? What’s going on in the United States?'”

“What’s wrong with us?”

That’s a question that can’t be answered in a 20-minute radio segment, but what we can do is help. We are encouraging our listeners, friends on social media, and union brothers and sisters to do what they can to support the grieving families of those ATU brothers we lost. It will only be a small comfort, but it will certainly be much more than what our political class is doing. Donations can be made to the ATU Disaster Relief Fund HERE.

To hear the rest of Rick’s commentary on the latest senseless act of gun violence, the podcast is available below:


The #RickShow​ is available everywhere. Check your radio dial or your favorite podcast app, and if you want to catch the TV show, find us on:

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When Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene compared mask mandates to the Holocaust, everyone took notice. Most were stunned that she would ever think of making such a silly connection, but she did, and then she doubled down on it.

Brett Pransky, writer, professor, and Executive Producer of The Rick Smith Show took exception to the statement, calling it “frighteningly stupid” and then exposing the Congresswoman’s flawed logic by asking if other public health rules, like seatbelts and speed limits, for example, were also worthy of comparisons to the brutal slaying of six million people.

“It’s ridiculous to a degree I don’t even have the words to describe,” said Pransky. “[A]nd I’m an English professor, so that’s really saying something.”

Congresswoman Greene could not be reached for comment, mostly because we never attempted to reach her, nor do we ever intend to.


The #RickShow​ is available everywhere. Check your radio dial or your favorite podcast app, and if you want to catch the TV show, find us on:

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On this day in labor history, the year was 1937.

That was the day the Steel Workers Organizing Committee or SWOC, called a nationwide strike against three of the four ‘Little Steel’ companies, Republic, Inland and Youngstown Sheet & Tube.

The drive to organize Little Steel came on the heels of an historic agreement with U.S. Steel and J&L earlier in the year.

In his book, The Last Great Strike, legal scholar Ahmed White points out that SWOC leaders established a three-pronged strategy in their organizing efforts: to breakdown racial and ethnic differences among workers, to use the Wagner Act and newly formed NLRB to their advantage whenever possible and to take over company unions where they existed.

They hoped Little Steel would follow earlier precedent.

But mill owners wouldn’t budge on union recognition.

Firing of organizers intensified and lockouts began.

Sheriffs departments began the swearing in of deputies.

Republic and Youngstown Sheet & Tube started shipping and stockpiling munitions, including machine guns and tear gas to mills throughout the Midwest and Northeast. Scattered walkouts and wildcats began throughout the latter part of May as SWOC continued to demand recognition and first contracts.

And on this day SWOC delegates from the Little Steel locals met in a Youngstown ‘war council’ to demand a strike.

The strike began late that evening with the shift change at 11 pm.

The mills were shut down tight.

Pitched battles between strikers, scabs and police continued throughout the summer with hundreds arrested.

Anti-union violence would explode with the Memorial Day Massacre in South Chicago and the Women’s Massacre in Youngstown the following month.

After five months, the strike collapsed. It would take until 1942 before recognition was finally won.


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Pennsylvania State Senator Art Haywood joined us on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death to discuss police reform, common sense gun violence legislation, and how we can get more control over how our friends and neighbors are treated by law enforcement.

Watch as the Senator explains what police reform is, and what it isn’t, and what he thinks will make our neighborhoods safer.

“Folks in my neighborhood are not for defunding the police. If there’s a problem, we call the police. [If] there’s a burglary, we call the police – a robbery, we call the police. So defunding the police is not something that I want to see happen or most of my neighbors. I will say this there are many who want to see more resources for social services, mental health and I got to tell you police officers are requested to do a number of things well beyond their scope.”

The Senator discussed the topic at length, including the need for training, accountability, and adequate pay. He also had some time for questions on the “labor shortage” that has many GOP governors pulling UI benefits, which he blamed mostly on substandard pay for working people:

“Workers […] are dissatisfied with many of the jobs that are offered and employers really got to look at this question of why aren’t people attracted to the jobs that they have.”


The #RickShow​ is available everywhere. Check your radio dial or your favorite podcast app, and if you want to catch the TV show, find us on:

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