If you’re at all like me, you might have asked yourself some of these questions over the past few years:
Why is it so hard to find any unity among Democrats?
Why is the conservative base so angry and so seemingly misinformed?
Why can’t our elected representatives ever, you know, represent us by enacting legislation they know is overwhelmingly supported by the people?
Why do so few people know what regressive taxation is?
How, for pity’s sake, do the greedy, the soulless, and the superwealthy keep getting away with what at times actually is murder?
And if you’re like me, you read up on the subject(s) and formulated some answers. Here goes nothing.
The large (and I do mean large) majority of this diary is comprised of boring history stuff, which turns out to be pretty damned important. If you don’t like a lot of reading you can stop here. For the rest of us, let’s begin.
The Lowell Mill Girls: A perfect example of why it was unconscionably stupid to deny women the vote. Modern unions owe much to the “Lowell Mill Girls”, a name referring to textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 19th century (starting in the late 1820′s). These women were some of the earliest labor organizers in the United States, beginning in the 1830′s and 40′s. They organized strikes for a variety of causes, such as defeating a proposed rent hike in the Lowell mill’s boardinghouses and demanding a shorter, 10-hour(!!) workday. They created a monthly publication by and for themselves, publishing poems, articles, essays and fiction, often discussing their lives and conditions and promoting organization. The Lowell Mill Girls articulated some of the first stirrings against the increasing predations of private power – what we call corporations.
The above serves to illustrate that as far back as 180-odd years ago, those in the working class in the United States were involved, literate, active, informed, and dignified. Of course, those attributes go much farther back, but for the purposes of this diary, I’ll start with the Lowell Factory Girls. Over much of the next century, labor organization exploded. The AFL-CIO was born in this period, although the AFL (American Federation of Labor) came first in 1886, with the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) coming nearly 50 years later, and the two would not be united until 1955. Many organization drives formed unions that fought for nearly every right and privilege we enjoy today.
Needless to say, the de facto aristocracy did not like these people and their pretensions to decency, dignity, community, and egalitarianism. U.S. labor history is almost certainly the most violent and bloody in the world. Foreign press – even the right-wing press – were appalled at the treatment of American workers during this period. When the police and the U.S. military weren’t being used to break strikes, companies sometimes hired their own private armies (the Pinkerton Detectives a notorious example) to end strikes – violently. From the 1880′s through the late 1930′s, you couldn’t swing a baton without hitting a broken strike with a death toll.
By (and during) the 1920′s, unions were beaten down with incredible violence to the point that business and industry had created inequality in wealth that rivals today’s – and quite likely worse. It is widely believed that this inequality caused the Great Depression.
In 1935, pressured by the bent-but-not-broken unions, the economic crisis of the Depression, and a combination of high unemployment and very a low standard of living, Congress passed the National Labor Relations (or Wagner, after it’s sponsor) Act. The Wagner Act marked a major change in government’s policy toward labor unions, affirming the right of private sector workers to organize and protecting their efforts from the extremes of action by business and industry.
Then the shit hit the fan.
The self-appointed aristocrats were certainly displeased. They’d had the American worker by the throat, and now they were faced with a newly energized, better-protected force for the benefit of the people. They immediately hit upon a new strategy for maintaining control: Violence was no longer an option, so they would have to get in their DeLoreans, go back in time, and prevent each strike from ever happening. But because Back To The Future hadn’t been made yet, they settled for a third option. Since the simple measure of brute force was no longer an option, the forerunners of our modern tortoiseshell-glasses-and-fangs crowd decided they would erase from the public consciousness the very ideas of community and dignity, attacking unions where they were strongest.
Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda. The modern and more complex form of dealing with the unions (what Noam Chomsky calls, “scientific methods of strikebreaking”) revolved around what was called the Mohawk Valley Formula. This plan was published in the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Labor Relations Bulletin sometime between 1936-1938, and it was acted upon immediately. The following is a summation of the the major points of this plan, taken from a 1937 article in The Nation:
First: When a strike is threatened label all union leaders as “agitators.” In the plant conduct a forced balloting under the direction of foremen to ascertain the strength of the union and to make possible misrepresentation of the strikers as a small minority imposing their will upon the majority. At the same time disseminate propaganda, by means of press releases, advertisements, and the activities of “missionaries,” such propaganda falsely stating the issues involved in the strike so that the strikers appear to be making arbitrary demands, and the real issues, such as the employers’ refusal to bargain collectively, are obscured.
Second: Concurrently with these moves, by exerting economic pressure and threatening to move the plants, if that is feasible, align the influential members of the community into a cohesive group opposed to the strike, in this group, usually designated as a “citizens’ committee,” include representatives of the bankers, real-estate owners, business men, ministers, etc.
Third: When the strike is called raise high the banner of law and order, thereby causing the community to mass legal and police weapons against their wholly imagined violence, thereby suppressing all the civil liberties of the strikers.
Fourth: Call a “mass meeting” of the citizens to coordinate public sentiment against the strike and to strengthen the power of the citizens’ committee, which organization, thus supported, will both aid the employer in exerting pressure upon the local authorities and itself sponsor vigilante activities.
Fifth: Bring about the formation of a large armed police force to be built up by utilizing local police, state police if the governor cooperates, vigilantes, and special deputies, the deputies being chosen if possible from other neighborhoods. Coach the deputies and vigilantes on the law of unlawful assembly, inciting to riot, disorderly conduct, etc., and make them anxious and ready to use their newly acquired authority to the limit.
Sixth: Perhaps most important, heighten the demoralizing effect of the above measures by a “back-to-work” movement, operated by a puppet association of so-called loyal employees secretly organized by the employer. (In a superb psychological analysis Mr. Rand discusses the effect of this back-to-work movement upon the strikers, the community, and the authorities, showing that it is the best way to kill all collective-bargaining sentiments.)
Seventh: When a sufficient number of applications to go “back to work” are on hand, fix a date for the opening of the plant, which opening is of course requested by the “back-to-work” association. Together with the citizens’ committee, prepare for such opening by making provisions for a peak army of police by roping off the area surrounding the plant, by securing arms and ammunition. etc. . . . Even if the maneuver fails to induce a sufficient number of persons to return, persuade the public through pictures and news releases that the opening was nevertheless successful.
Eighth: Stage the “opening” as theatrically as possible.
Ninth: Capitalize on the demoralization of the strikers by continuing the show of police force and the pressure of the citizens’ committee, both to insure that those employees who have returned will continue at work and to force the remaining strikers to capitulate. If necessary, turn the locality into a warlike camp through the declaration of a state of emergency tantamount to martial law and barricade it from the outside world so that nothing may interfere with the successful conclusion of the “Formula,” thereby driving home to the union leaders the futility of efforts to hold their ranks intact.
Tenth: Close the publicity barrage on the theme that the plant is in full operation and that the strikers were merely a minority attempting to interfere with the “right to work” . . . the campaign is over — the strike is broken.
These actions were paid for by a twenty-fold increase in NAM’s Public Relations budget in two short years, from 1935 to 1937. Note that this sort of behavior on the part of corporations was not made much of a secret. This pattern holds today; corporations are remarkably candid with each other about their aims and their methods – often putting them in print in what might be considered the “business press”.
The Wagner Act kicked off a nationwide campaign of propaganda and manipulation that continues to this day. Corporations insinuated themselves into every aspect of society, in churches, schools, government, media, and especially the workplace. Buying politicians became an art form, resulting in legislation that undermined the Wagner Act, unions, and regulation. This blitz was so complete that it reached even into entertainment, wherein during the golden age of movies and television, the same story was told over and over: The decent, hardworking American is pitted against the corrupt, violent, greedy, and selfish unions, which he must stand up to and fight against. School textbooks were printed by corporations, carefully indoctrinating the nation’s young with the (bastardized) capitalist story. Sunday’s sermons were pogroms against the vile and detestable influence of unions.
By the 1960′s, corporations had managed to do in less than 30 years what they hadn’t in over a century: decimate the power and tarnish the image of unions. Even as late as the 1950′s there was a widespread labor press that reached 20-30 million Americans, but by 1960, it was all but extinct.
Entering our past 50 years, corporate takeover of the media became especially important. The television revolution allowed the message to reach into every corner of the country with unprecedented frequency. As chronicled by Ben Bagdikian, the media passed into fewer and fewer hands, and from the 1983 first edition of his book – The Media Monopoly – to today, ownership of the vast majority of the media passed from 50 corporations down to 5. The media has been used for decades now as a tool of indoctrination and as a purveyor of ersatz information. I need not elaborate too much on this, as FOX News is the ultimate expression of this policy: all propaganda, no substance. It’s important to remember that even the more left-friendly “news” programs and channels are a part of this monopoly, and do the people little better than FOX.
The result of all this? Generations of Americans so far removed from the time when it was the rational choice not just to limit corporations, but to get rid of them altogether that many would view the latter as an outlandish suggestion. Generations of Americans who were never taught anything like critical thinking in school. Americans who have never had access to any relevant information and thus don’t even know where to look for it; indeed, they are mistrustful of knowledge and those who appear to have it (anti-intellectualism). A populace weaned on the politics of shallow imagery, wealth as an end which justifies any means, a self-centered worldview that borders on solipsism and is expressed in the repugnant tracts that gave birth to Objectivism, and no sense or knowledge of history. A society of individuals, cut off from each other and alone in their frustrations.
An atomized society. The public now wanders the landscape of the American social fabric lost and angry – and they don’t even know what they’re angry about. The Tea Party may have started as blatant astroturfing and been colonized by bigots, but it’s rank ranks swelled with victims of an atomized society, people who are looking for the source of their frustration and anger and have no means or resources to tell them what it is – and perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t. When I see a Tea Party rally, I look past the bigots (who are to be ignored) to see the confused, the desperate, and the alone.
When our elected representatives’ constituency consists of their financial backers and our voting public are purposefully mislead about everything of even minimal importance in candidates, you end up with people like Joe Lieberman, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, a reactionary right Republican Party, and Blue Dog Democrats. You end up with stark, intractable divisions within political groups and extreme rejection of any variation.
When the public is misinformed, propagandized, forced to work longer and longer hours for less and less, and forsaken on every account by their own government, you end up with hysteria over manufactured and toothless problems like High Fructose Corn Syrup and deadly vaccines, religious fanaticism to rival Iran and unparalleled fundamentalism, latchkey kids shooting up schools, manufactured interest in R. Kelly’s legal problems and manufactured disinterest in real issues, a health care crisis, rampant ignorance – this list could go on for even longer than this entry already is.
It is a political irony that prior to the “debate” over healthcare reform, the American people were overwhelmingly in favor of a national health care plan, and yet it was considered “politically impossible” because it lacked support. Well, it obviously didn’t lack support from the people, so to whom does the the lack of support refer? It’s a testament to the efficacy of propaganda efforts that many issues that mirror this disconnect between majority public support and political infeasibility pass through the public consciousness without any comment on the obvious. We are all one in being so treated.
Which brings me back to unity. Let’s be clear: As all of the above demonstrates, every liberty we have is a result of popular struggle and not a result of benevolent government or any similar providence. Popular struggle requires some measure of unity, and therefore, unity is the very last thing the wielders of private power and their puppets in government want. It is in the best interest of our enemies that we remain atomized and never reconcile with each other – nor reach out to our substitute enemies on the other side of the political spectrum. In the Atomic Age, unity is the enemy.
Be the enemy.