|American Plutocracy and the war on Workers
By Charles Sullivan
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
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
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 Pittsburgh, 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
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
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 an architectural millwright,
photographer, free-lance writer and social agitator residing in
the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. He welcomes your
comments at email@example.com
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