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American Plutocracy and the war on Workers

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During the height of chattel slavery in America, the plantation owners did not allow their slaves to be educated. An educated slave, they knew, was a dangerous slave who posed a threat to the status quo. Knowledge is power in the hands of an oppressed people. The ruling clique has always found mass ignorance to their benefit. An ignorant public, they know, is an easily deceived and easily controlled citizenry created to do the bidding of Plutocratic rulers.

Thus we have the commercial media, the church, and the public education system in all their incarnations, not as public servants, but as the tools of Plutocracy and empire. Their purpose is not to inform but to dominate and propagandize, which they do only too well.

We must continue to tell our own story in our own words or the official authors of history will tell it for us and render its accounts falsely. The history of working people is that of class struggle and oppression; a fight for equal footing and social justice against the owner merchant class of old, and the ruling clique of today.

The American workplace is a strange and foreboding environment in which the worker enjoys few freedoms and protections. It is a decidedly undemocratic place where, strangely, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights hold but little sway. Anyone who doubts this should take a job at Target or Wal-Mart and openly discuss forming a union. I have been escorted from more than one workplace for attempting to organize the workers. I speak from experience.

Typically, the American workplace has a hierarchal structure, usually with a white male presiding at the top of the organization, dictating policy and issuing orders. The workers, who produce the wealth by manufacturing a product or performing services, have little or no say in company policy or how the work is performed. While few workers are willing to view the workplace in such austere terms for reasons that should be obvious, the American place of work is essentially a plantation, a dictatorship, with a master and a bevy of slaves following orders in exchange for subsistence wages.

The vast majority of American workers are 'at will' employees, which effectively makes them the disposable property of their employers. At will employees can be terminated without just cause or provocation. If the employer does not like one's clothes or the cut of one's hair, or the employee's politics, they can be terminated. The worker has little, if any, recourse to the courts for redress of their grievances; unless the workplace is unionized, as so few of them are these days.

Workers with strong union representation are not relegated to being at will employees, and they enjoy rights that at will employees do not, including greater job security, better working conditions, higher wages and more benefits.

The American workplace is sharply divided by class, like society as a whole, as part of the organizational hierarchy. The chain of command consists of owners, managers, and workers. The higher one is placed within the hierarchy, the greater his/her socio-economic status. The pecking order can be further subdivided into two broad categories: White collar jobs and blue collar jobs. White collar jobs typically require more refined skills than blue collar jobs. They tend to offer better pay and more benefits, but also result in more stress, greater responsibility, and longer hours. The lowest level in the hierarchy are the drones, the workers-the producers of nearly all of the wealth. It is with this group that I am most concerned in this essay.

Under this arrangement, workers receive only a small percentage of the wealth they create for their employers, which is why capitalists created the private ownership of economic production. Such an arrangement provides inordinate power to property holders and leaves non property owners with little besides their labor to sell to the lowest bidder.

Social cooperatives, while imperfect and still forced to compete in capital markets, have provided considerable improvement and a measure of relief for workers over more conventional business models. The largest and most widely known example is the Mondragon cooperative in Spain.

The American worker, like the chattel slave before him, is kept in a state of perpetual ignorance by the Plutocracy for fear that he/she might awaken and rebel. Rebellion was the greatest fear that haunted the dreams of the plantation owners, and the uprisings led by Nat Turner and John Brown continues to trouble the dreams of the ruling clique, which explains why we are under constant surveillance by the government. They are looking for signs of trouble, the tell-tale smoke of social upheaval born of organization.

Students of American history, especially labor history, cannot help but come to the realization that we have been had, sold a defective bill of goods that can never work for us or the rest of the world.

The American dream is a myth that was fabricated in the corporate board rooms of America and perpetuated in the corporate media. Ninety-five percent of the people will never have pie in the sky, no matter how long and hard they work. A life of ease is something that is reserved for the privileged few who do not work and produce nothing. The myth was created to keep the workers striving, and to keep the rabble in line. It is a myth with the power of a paradigm and it has been extremely effective as a method of control and motivation.

If the people ever earnestly study labor history, they are in for an awakening. They will learn about events that transpired in places like Haymarket Square, in Chicago; at Ludlow, Colorado, and in the hills of Matewan, West Virginia; the steel mills of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, the knitting mills of Massachusetts, and the rail yards at Martinsburg, West Virginia. The blood of striking workers was spilled at each of these sites by hired thugs-Baldwin-Felts detectives, or state and federal militias and in thousands of other locations across this nation. These events are curiously omitted from the curriculum in our public schools because they might empower the people.

We owe something to those courageous souls and we should never allow their remembrance to lapse into an Orwellian memory hole created by historical revisionists. Through their example, we know that America was not always so tame, so indifferent, cowardly, or complacent in the face of injustice. Because of the fierce resistance of workers, we know that we have origins born of struggle and a fighting spirit to be free; a spirit that mostly lies dormant, but is not wholly dead. It is a history that might be re-awakened and taken to heart if we have the courage and the wisdom to embrace it, and to be as strong and tenacious as were our ancestors.

You see, the working people-the men, women, and children who built America's railroads and highways, who harvested our crops and rendered our meat, and created the economic infrastructure, who fought and died in our imperial wars, have never enjoyed the same rights and privileges as the economic elite and property owners who paid their wages. They were never meant to, not even by the framers of the Constitution.

The struggles of the working people were immortalized in the songs of Joe Hill, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and many others. They deserve to be remembered because the stories they tell were based upon actual events. They are as relevant today as the day they were written, but they are no longer widely known. Matewan, West Virginia, and downtown Baghdad share more in common than one might think.

The economic, social, and environmental costs of corporate globalization are felt by workers around the world. Corporate profits and CEO compensation have risen to record levels, while poverty and economic hardship have followed a similar, but downward arc, for the producers. The wealthiest people on earth are enjoying obscene profits by exploiting workers worldwide, especially in war torn parts of the world.

Just as it did in America, capitalism is not eradicating poverty and raising living standards in the rest of the world, as its proponents so boldly proclaim; it is spreading deepening poverty, environmental degradation and economic and social disparity, while it intensifies socio-economic class divisions, and foments war after imperial war in its quest for profits and hegemony.

As championed by the captains of industry, capitalism has always waged class war on the workers. The war on workers has resulted in a permanent war economy in the U.S., the demonization of revolutionary labor unions by corporate America and its media whores, and a steady supply of cannon fodder for imperial wars and occupations. Working people must realize that foreign wars are an extension of the class war at home and refuse to take up arms in them.

Current events, including the occupation of Iraq, are the result that the ignorance of history condemns us to repeat, until we have finally learned its lessons and say, "No More!"

As we look to the democrats in Congress to end the occupation of Iraq and to divert another impending disaster in Iran, we must recognize that, like the commercial media, these people are working for the Plutocracy, not for the public good. Will funding continue for the occupation? The answer is a resounding "yes" as long as workers allow themselves to be the pawns of the ruling clique and maintain a slavish mentality toward their oppressors in government and the Military Industrial Complex.

All hell broke loose in the streets of France when employers attempted to place at will tags on its workers last year. The worker's retribution was swift and fierce. In America, where the people always bow their heads to illegitimate authority, hardly a whimper of protest was heard.

Each year the American worker cedes more ground to the ruling clique without offering resistance. That ground was hard won with the blood and guts of our ancestors in organized labor-a lesson we seem to have forgotten in this age of capitulation and moral cowardice. Thus we find ourselves as a class, and as a nation, falling deeper into the throes of darkening corporate and state fascism.

It is time to reclaim the fighting spirit that once characterized the American worker. It is time to bring back Revolutionary Unionism and the radical advocacy of worker's rights, including the public ownership of the mechanisms of production.

If we are serious about democracy in America, the workplace would be a good place to start. But we prefer to talk about democracy rather than to actually implement it.

We have yet to learn the songs of Joe Hill, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger-songs that are deeply rooted in the class struggles of working people against their oppressors. And we have yet to learn the lessons of history, which condemns us to repeat them in an endless cycle of want and waste, war and famine. Until we do, nothing much is going to change.

 

Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer residing in the hinterland of West Virgina.

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"The ruling clique has always found mass ignorance... by bfn on Monday, Feb 26, 2007 at 8:06:39 PM
Mr. Sullivan speaks the truth, but few people in A... by rabblerowzer on Tuesday, Feb 27, 2007 at 5:29:12 AM
Mr. Sulivan rightfully asks for a will and a choic... by Dadeoh on Wednesday, Mar 7, 2007 at 7:23:22 PM