The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the successful Russian Revolution. In commemoration of that important event, I would like to attend to the continuous class warfare and attacks that the working class of this country have been forced to absorb for decades, if not centuries.
On September 17, 2011, in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’s Wall Street financial district, thousands gathered every evening to protest worldwide economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government. This movement was quickly labeled, “Occupy Wall Street.” The movement spread to hundreds of cities globally.
For the first time, in my personal experience, the issue of class became the focus of a protest in the US. This short-lived movement identified the clear distinction between the elite and the worker, the 99% and the 1% (it would probably be more accurate to reference the top 10% as opposed to the bottom 90%).
This movement provided the potential opportunity for progressives from various organizations to join together against a common enemy, the ruling or corporate class, the beneficiaries of capitalism. Occupy Wall Street was seen by the establishment as enough of a threat that they had the FBI and DHS monitor the movement through its Joint Terrorism Task Force, despite it being labeled a peaceful movement. The New York Times reported in May 2014 that declassified documents showed extensive surveillance and infiltration of OWS-related groups across the country. On November 15, 2011, the protesters were forced out of Zuccotti Park by the New York City police, the boots on the ground for the ruling class.
While the people of this country have engaged in movements against racism, misogyny, needless wars, nuclear weapons, destruction of the environment and for women’s rights, gay rights, better public education, prison reform, a safety net for the impoverished, etc., the class struggle is rarely mentioned or identified except by communists and socialists. Yet class is the cornerstone of all the other struggles in which we engage.
The elite or capitalist class is prepared to use and exploit whatever resources it needs to enhance or maintain its elite position in our society. Therefore, maintaining a poverty class is crucial to the capitalist because it provides them with a large pool of cheap labor, men and women struggling to survive and, therefore, willing to accept low wage jobs. We must never forget that capitalism is a predatory system, one in which wealthy and politically powerful men and women will, by any means necessary, take actions to ensure their continued elite status in this society.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many children aged 5–14 from poorer families still worked in the United States. These children mainly worked in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, factories, mining and in services such as newsboys. Some worked night shifts lasting 12 hours. Why hire these young children? Very simply, they were willing to work for less money in order to supplement the wages of their parents who themselves were receiving poverty wages.
Child labor began to decline as the labor and reform movements grew and labor standards, in general, began improving. The political power of working people began to increase allowing social reformers to demand legislation regulating child labor. Union organizing and child labor reform were often intertwined. It was only when working people began to organize and rebel that wages rose, working conditions improved, and children were sent to schools rather than factories. Left to their own devices, the ruling class would continue with the status quo exploitation of the working class.
The goal of the capitalist is to have more workers than jobs available thus, once again, keeping wages down. That is also why full employment under a capitalist structure is unattainable. Unemployment is a statistical political football where politicians boast about reducing the number of people who are jobless while capitalism requires a large number of unemployed workers.
The government statistics regarding employment are misleading. People are considered unemployed only if they continue to seek employment. Those who have reached a discouraging level of frustration and have discontinued their search for jobs are not counted in the unemployment statistics. Neither are those who have been forced to take part-time jobs and are underemployed.
A perfect example of predatory capitalism today is the “new world order,” a scheme that sends this germ into the global community. Under this scheme, the US worker is placed in competition with workers from poorer countries who are forced to work for pennies an hour. Predictably, corporations move their factories and operations to these countries, causing a loss to US workers of tens of thousands of jobs. Of course, that results in greater competition among US workers for the fewer remaining jobs and, lo and behold, lower wages.
To ensure this transition of corporate jobs to other countries runs smoothly, the US government has entered into trade agreements (NAFTA) and was promoting the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with foreign countries that facilitate the corporations’ flight to other countries for cheap labor.
Why would “our” elected officials promote treaties that would cost thousands of Americans their jobs? Because they are not “our” representatives. Periodically, we, the people, are given the opportunity to vote into office one of two candidates, Democrat or Republican, who is owned and paid for by the rulers and who will continue the agenda of worker exploitation and abuse.
Being creative, the capitalist class has developed another fairly new strategy . . . laying off full-time workers and replacing them with part-timers. Health insurance, retirement plan access, disability coverage, paid vacation, and sick days are often provided by companies in order to enhance total compensation, have been the result of the collective bargaining process where unions exist. Although these benefits can be made available among full-time employees, part-time employees are not usually eligible for all of these additional on-the-job perks.
The most potent response labor has to these attacks on working people is for the workers and the poor to organize. The ruling class knows this and has been very active in and successful of not only preventing such organizing, but in creating hostilities and friction amongst working class groups.
Racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, gay versus straight, man versus woman are all instruments that have been used to maintain a split among working people. The powerful have even portrayed the poverty stricken welfare recipients as “free loaders,” men and women who do not want to work and would rather get a free ride (see Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign). Such a portrayal successfully angers workers, who work long, hard hours and are struggling to subsist, against welfare recipients.
Attempts to transcend the racial divide and organize all workers, black and white, was met with great resistance and hostility from the establishment. Example, The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), members of which are commonly termed “Wobblies,” was an international labor union that was founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois.
At its peak in August 1917, IWW membership was more than 150,000. Membership declined dramatically in the 1920s due to several factors. There were conflicts with other labor groups, particularly the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a very conservative union, which regarded the IWW as too radical. Membership also declined due to government crackdowns on radical, anarchist and socialist groups during the First Red Scare after WWI.
Note, that the attempt to form a union of all workers, black, white, Christian, Jew, Muslim was considered too radical. It certainly would have presented a grave threat to the ruling class, the American Federation of Labor, the establishment’s labor union, as well as the status quo. I guess that would be too radical.
There was a time, in the 1930s and 1940s when unions had leverage and power. In the 1930s, it was the communists and socialists at the forefront in support of the labor movement and unionization of workers. Strikes brought industries to a standstill. The workers had to be reckoned with and employers had to honor the collective bargaining process (The National Industrial Recovery Act-1933).
With the onset of the depression, the members of the ruling class banded together as a group to oppose every measure to grant government assistance to feed the hungry or help the homeless. Most employers flatly refused to bargain with any union, and used the economic crisis as an excuse to slash all wages across the board. But in so doing, they unleashed the greatest period of social upheaval that has ever taken place in the United States. (International Socialist Review)
Despite the fact that the bosses were well funded and well armed, the workers fought back. In 1934, there were 1,856 strikes involving 1,470,000 workers. And as the Depression decade continued, workers began to win their strikes. During 1934, three strikes, in San Francisco, Toledo and Minneapolis—all fought out almost simultaneously—turned the tide in favor of workers.
The three 1934 strikes which turned the tide in workers’ favor were led by three different groups of socialists. Each strike showed in practice that with solidarity workers can win, no matter how well-armed and well-funded the bosses’ side is. Although socialists played a key role in all three strikes, it was the Communist Party that was influential to the success of the labor movement. Many of the shop stewards that helped form the CIO were members of the Communist Party.
It was a time when the working class was no longer segregated along racial lines. A half-million Southern Blacks moved north during World War I. By 1930, more than 25 percent of black men were employed in industrial jobs, compared with only 7 percent in 1890. By the mid-1930s, black workers made up 20 percent of the laborers and 6 percent of the operatives in the steel industry nationally. White workers couldn’t hope to win unless they united with black workers and that wouldn’t happen unless they organized on the basis of equality.
Still, the AFL maintained its racist, segregated policies and continued to refuse to accept black workers into their fold. United Mine Workers of America President John L. Lewis and Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the AFL leadership to open their doors to all workers. And so, came the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO). They organized any and all workers, black and white, skilled and unskilled, on an equal basis.
But, the ruling class, with the aid of the elected officials, through legislation, neutralized the ability of unions to organize (Right to Work laws) and their ability to strike. Thus, today we have small and impotent unions to represent the rights and needs of working people.
The ruling class, being creative and resilient and having the necessary resources, allowed for the creation of the middle class, made up of skilled laborers and college educated “professionals.” These were the people who acted as a buffer between the working class and the ruling class. These men and women earned enough money to afford to live comfortably with many of the luxuries capitalism offered.
These were also people who refused to be labeled working class . . . they perceived themselves to be “professionals” not lowly workers. This despite the fact that most of them punched a time clock, had management supervisors, and collected a paycheck.
Because of their skewed consciousness, they became ardent defenders of the status quo, fulfilling the agenda of the elite, as well as targets of the underclass who do not enjoy the “goodies” of capitalism, only the pain.
The ruling class, the real enemy, do not suffer the angers and hostilities of the underclass . . . they never have to have contact with them while the middle class often are accessible because they live across town or in the next village, or on the next block.
We don’t have to go to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Syria to fight a war, there is a war right here in this country. This is a war that has a long history and one that the ruling class has declared on us. This is a war that few, other than communists and socialists, people who are class conscious, talk about. The only reference made to class is when the working class complains about the unfair distribution of wealth and resources in this country. Only then do we have class discussed. But it is in the context of the ruling class making accusations that the workers are engaging in class warfare because they are jealous of the accomplishments of the rich and famous.
The so-called middle class is shrinking. Why? Because the rulers no longer need a middle class. We find that around the world, with the “new world order,” we have examples of two distinct classes evolving . . . the wealthy and powerful and the poor and vulnerable. The middle class has become expendable. Now is the time for all workers, globally, to organize and transcend all the false issues that have separated us in the past. NOW, before it is too late.
WE ARE AT WAR!!
Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner city adolescents.