The Strike Robert Koehler 1886 Berlin Historical Museum
May Day! May Day!
By Richard Girard
"Labor cannot on any terms surrender the right to strike." Louis D. Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice 1918-39; 1913 (The Great Quotations, compiled by George Seldes, copyright 1960, 1967)
I can say, with little chance of honest contradiction, that the relationship between owner and worker is little changed in the last one hundred years. It is still that of exploiter and exploited.
There has been a movement afoot for the last four decades to return what I call the ownership class, representing large-scale, accumulated capital, to the ascendant position that they enjoyed a century earlier. At the same time, that economic class has moved to return the workers--by which I mean not only traditional labor, but also lower level management and small businesses--to the desperate, subservient position that they were condemned to in that same, dark, time period.
Coming out of the twenty catastrophic years of the Great Depression and the Second World War (1929-49), the Western Democracies (Western Europe, Canada, Japan, and the United States) enjoyed a period of prosperity unequalled in human history. It was a time of stronger unions, a rising middle class, and unequalled scientific progress and technical creativity. The governments of the Western Democracies were more responsive to the needs and desires of their people than at any time in history, leading to the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., as well as the widespread and very effective anti-war, anti-nuclear, and environmental movements that swept through those self-same democracies. It was this period where the previously described ownership class found their power and influence at its nadir.
The Vietnam War was looked upon by the ownership class and its military-industrial complex as a long term cornucopia: a war that would pump billions of dollars into defense contractors' pockets, make military officer's reputations, and that politicians could use to claim they were fighting the evils of Communism without upsetting the Soviet Bear or the Chinese Dragon.
Then came the anti-war movement which rose up in the United States from a coalition of middle class college students trying to avoid being sent to Vietnam, members of the Civil Rights Movement--including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.--who took notice that a disproportionate percentage of troops going to Vietnam were black, plus the survivors from McCarthy's witch-hunts of the 1950's.
In late 1967 and early 1968, the anti-war movement gained strength with the rise of the "hippies" in Haight - Ashbury , the January 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and Walter Cronkite's expose of the real situation in Vietnam in March 1968, following Tet. The strength of the movement was enough for President Johnson to decide that he could not successfully seek re-election as President in 1968.
The withdrawal from Vietnam became the focus of the next two Presidential elections, as college campuses raged out of control. Middle class America finally said, "We have had enough of this war." The power of the middle class then reached its peak in 1974 when Nixon was forced to resign because of his part in the cover-up of members of his re-election campaign burglarizing Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington D.C.
Even before the end of the Vietnam War and Watergate, future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell wrote an infamous memorandum in 1971, to the Director of Education for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The program outlined in this memorandum provided the wealthiest one percent of the population in the Western Democracies step by step instructions on how to begin a concerted effort to reverse the political, social, and economic advances that had enlarged and empowered the middle class since the end of the Second World War. These advances had--the ownership class I am certain would argue--become a threat to their power.
Beginning with the founding of the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 1973, and then accelerating with the elections of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Ronald Reagan as President of the United States, the top one percent have used their vast wealth, as well as the cover of their corporations, to influence fundamentalist religious groups, buy up and consolidate media, take advantage of economic disruptions caused by the increasing importation of oil by the United States, to create a propaganda arm operating under the misleading banner of "think tanks," and manipulate both information and public opinion in their favor.
At the same time these plutocrats in the Western Democracies began the process by which they could destroy their nations' social safety nets--necessary for the maintenance and continued growth of a middle class--while at the same time, increasing their own wealth and influence. Starting with the United States and Great Britain, these plutocrats began to apply the neoliberal lessons of the Chicago School of Economics, cutting taxes for the rich while eliminating and privatizing social programs and any other government services when and where they could. These spiritual descendants of the robber baron's did this despite the fact that their economic laboratory experiment in Chile--after the overthrow of Allende--had proven just how disastrous that program could be for a nation and its economy. (For a more detailed description of the disaster of Chile, read Naomi Klein's book Shock Doctrine. I consider it one of the most important books of the last decade, and a primer for the oligarch's plans for the rest of us. I would also grab copies of Thom Hartmann's book Screwed, and Robert Reich's Aftershock, for more detailed descriptions of its application to Americans.)
The international class war was on.