By Vi Ransel
May 21, 2009
From the Gilded Age to Tea Bagger Rage, a Romp through the Recent Episodes of the Class War in America
Image: Capitalism by ~Cubist-Assassin64
Protectionism. Capitalists were all for it before they were against it. When manufacturing took place in America, when they paid workers enough to buy the products they produced, adding a tariff/tax/fee on to the cost of imported goods made by these same manufacturers’ competitors overseas, was fine. It just made sense. It was good business to prevent your domestic market from being flooded with cheaper goods from overseas, because that would lower domestic manufacturing’s ability to make enough money to stay in business. And this is exactly how the British and the Americans built their global empires.
But when “free trade” was elevated to the god of the marketplace, when American manufacturers had the ability to locate manufacturing overseas in order to take advantage (and I do mean take advantage) of “cheap labor platforms” – that is, to stand on the backs of poor people in other countries who had no choice but to work at a rate far below American workers, who, after all, were Americans and had come to expect a “fair” share of the wealth they created with their labor in the form of wages – well then, all bets were off.
And the downsizing of American industry and the outsourcing of American jobs were off to the race to the bottom in order to fatten the bottom line.
American industries became multi-nationals. They built their manufacturing plants in many countries with all the “cheap labor platforms” they could find to use as scaffolding. They lost the ability to think of themselves as American manufacturers, except when it came to branding their products (produced outside America via foreign, “cheap labor platforms”) as American, reaping the benefit of American manufacturing’s reputation without actually selling American-made products. Thus, many American manufacturers were American nationals in name only. There were TRANSnationals, manufacturers without a country, since they stood over/across – TRANS – all countries to make their profits. And in the process they abandoned America, Americans and their own American-ness. They abandoned loyalty to their own country and transferred it entirely to money.
As the rate of downsizing and outsourcing accelerated, American manufacturing on American soil was reduced to a hollowed-out shell of its former self. American factories stood empty, rusting away in The Rust Belt, initially in places like the former Motor City, Motown, and then all across America. And not only were American manufacturing facilities left to deteriorate into oblivion, so too, were American workers, who became collateral damage at “American” transnationals’ economic Donner Party.
Goods of all kinds were being produced in Mexico, East Asia and China, stamped with American brand names and sold all over the world, including America, in Big Box Stores which dictated low, low prices not just in their retail stores, but from the wholesalers from whom they purchased those goods, further spurring the race to the bottom. If you were an American manufacturer, and you wanted to sell your products to Big Box Store, you had to produce it cheap, cheap, cheap. So you left America and produced it on the backs of those “cheap labor platforms” overseas. And to do that you closed more and more American manufacturing plants and transferred more and more American jobs overseas.
This enabled what was left of American manufacturing to lower wages across the board in America (except those of union labor). In addition to the large pool of out-of-work, labor-in-waiting within America, which was created by all the downsizing and outsourcing, American workers who still had jobs were competing with desperately poor people in countries like Mexico, where NAFTA had decimated local farming by flooding the country with the American-taxpayer subsidized products of U.S. Big Ag. This drove Mexico’s ruined, rural farm population into American maquiladoras, or manufacturing plants, built conveniently all along the US/Mexico border by “American” transnationals.
And when these “American” transnationals found a cheaper “labor platform” on whose back to stand in China, the Mexican maquiladoras began to pay even less, or close, just like here in America. And this drove Mexican people left jobless to rush in a great stream across the border into America, much to the delight of American manufacturers still in America, who were looking for ways to slash their labor costs to better compete with the transnationals. This was a bonanza for them, cheap labor to whom they could really dictate wages and conditions by threatening to report them to La Migra and have them deported.
So now Americans with jobs were competing not only with other, out-of-work American workers and those “cheap labor platforms” in other countries. American manufacturers were building a cheap labor scaffold right under their noses, pulling even more scarce jobs out from under them, because American workers were just “too expensive” for American manufacturers to employ.
In addition, the transnational buzzards were circling American service jobs. They realized they could downsize their US operations into lean, mean service- job-outsourcing machines by transferring functions like accounting, billing, call centers, anything computerized, to India and Ireland. And there went a lot of our service jobs, out of America.
Workers in America were increasingly unable to buy “American” goods with their stagnant-for-30-years wages. American workers were increasingly unemployed workers. They needed to be able to buy food, healthcare, education, transportation, shelter, etc. Enter super-low interest rates, courtesy of Alan Greenspan’s Fed, and super-easy “credit” (a euphemisim for DEBT) from America’s homegrown financial buzzards. And the beat went on. American workers were “buying” things with money they didn’t have, spending it on those cheap goods made by “cheap labor platforms” which supported “American” transnationals. And since for many American workers the only equity they had was the roof over their head, they began borrowing against the value of their homes in order to live.
“American” manufacturers were loving it. “Free” trade agreements allowed them to sell their products all over the world without fear of these products being slapped with import fees/tariffs. And they sold these foreign imports in America without fear of cost added to these products by tariffs, which would normally be charged on goods made by foreign manufacturers. And make no mistake, these transnationals are “foreign” manufacturers with no particular interest in America except making money here. They made the goods in foreign countries with foreign workers and used American brands’ names and reputations to sell them, unconcerned with lead in toys, melamine in pet food or formaldehyde leeching into American homes from Chinese-made, particle board kitchen cabinets. All without fear of cost added to these products by tariffs. What’s not to love? At least for “American” manufacturers.
For American workers it’s another story. Up to their eyeballs in debt, they couldn’t even go bankrupt. Their “representatives” in Washington, excuse me, I mean the representatives of “American” transnationals and financial corporations, including our Vice President, who was known as the “Senator from Master Card”, saw to it that even those who did make it to bankruptcy would have the Credit Card Company vultures come first to pick at what was left of their financial corpse, before house or car or student loan payments. The Credit Card Companies have dibs on it. Now they want to be allowed to garnish Social Security checks.
But this STILL isn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to close plants in American and move them and our jobs overseas. It wasn’t enough to bankrupt us with medical bills and foreclose on our houses. It wasn’t enough to “extend” us “credit” to subsist on since our wages are insufficient. Oh no, no, no, dearie, no. “American” corporations need MORE.
“American” corporations, transnationals, dontcha know, discovered H-1B. No. Not H1N1. H-1B. They claimed that they couldn’t find enough qualified American workers to do those high tech jobs that weren’t so easy to outsource. And there is an entire industry… OK. Maybe not an entire industry, but a niche, a nit-brained, immoral niche of law/consulting firms that do little but make sure “American” corporations do NOT find any qualified Americans to do these jobs. Enter H-1B, a visa that allows these “American” corporations to IMPORT LABOR, thus displacing even more American workers, who are now competing with other out-of-work Americans, those “cheap labor platforms” in other countries, the labor scaffold transnationals are constructing out of “illegal” aliens, and legal aliens on H-1B visas brought to America specifically to take more American jobs. Pretty soon we’re going to have to cross the border to look for work in transnationals’ Mexican maquiladoras. Oh, wait, some “American” corporations planning to relocate overseas will allow you to keep the job you’ve had for 20 years if you’re willing to relocate. To India. Whatta deal!
Now, you may think I have a problem with “illegal” immigrants driven here to look for work by NAFTA, or the people in countries like China doing the jobs Americans were doing before they were outsourced, or legal immigrants working in America on H-1B visas. But you would be wrong. Unlike easily-led tea-baggers (And I’ll get back to them. I promise.) anyone smarter than an artichoke can follow the money from the pockets of American workers, funneled by means of NAFTA, “cheap labor platforms” and H-1B visas directly into the silk-lined pockets of CEOs and corporate shareholders who decided (Yes, it was a conscious decision.) to deal American workers out of the equation, so they could pay vastly lower wages, charge the same or higher prices for the goods they had produced for them, and put vastly larger amounts of the wealth created by workers into those aforesaid silk-lined CEO and shareholder pockets.
All this is part of “THE PLAN”. The Right has been working on this since before the ink was dry on FDR’s signature on the New Deal. Some of them were so arrogant and greedy, so incensed at FDR’s efforts to save his class’s – and capitalism’s – ass, that they plotted to overthrow the US government in order to prevent the imposition of democracy.
But who among us knows, let alone remembers this? All the things that American workers fought for since the Gilded Age, through the Red Scares, the Palmer Raids, Haymarket, Homestead and Ludlow have been condemned to the Memory Hole. Who remembers Woody Guthrie’s music, Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, Parson and Spies, Big Bill Haywood, the Joads by-way-of John Steinbeck, et al? Anyone who advocated American workers having a fair share of the wealth they created by means of their labor was labeled a Red, a commie, a pinko, a traitor. They were the enemy then, as “terrorists” are now, the enemy of American plutocrats like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, etc., all of whom we still hear about today. These “American” businessmen who paid to have American workers beaten, shot, blown up and hanged are known as American heroes who made it to the top on their own, who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, not as greedy vultures who picked the bones of the poor clean for a penny and made vast fortunes on their bent and broken backs.
Labor in America has no history. May First is not a memorial to American workers who died at the hands of police, Pinkertons and other corporate-hired thugs so the American Businessmen’s Mafia could thwart the eight-hour day, the minimum wage, pensions, safety regulations, Social Security, Workers’ Compensation, Unemployment Insurance – ANY “benefit” over and above subsistence, your ability to get back up and get back to the job and continue the work is just “too much” for business to have to bear.
And once they’d disappeared American Labor’s entire history, and, in fact, rewrote history itself to suit corporations, the rest was easy. They’re even painting the Employee Free Choice Act as a “commie plot”, a threat to Western civilization which will undermine the American economy. As if “American” corporations hadn’t already mined our economic infrastructure and imploded it in the controlled demolition of the current financial “crisis”. Much like the World Trade Center, symbol of American financial hegemony, the American economy is collapsing in its own footprint.
And yet our “protests” are either comical, like the tea bagger farce, or tragically sad, like the well-behaved delivery of a letter to one of AIG’s over-bonused executives by protestor/supplicants. Twits attach tea bags to their hats and come out to protest when they’re the ones due to get a tax cut. They’re supporting their “Upper” Class tormentors’ need for a tax cut, which means the tea bag-heads are actually NOT smarter than an artichoke, since they’re protesting to retain their right to pay more in taxes to make up for what the tax cheats they’re protesting on behalf of are hiding offshore, not to mention the subsidies, abatements and their suing their own country for future profits they COULD have made if all those silly safety and environmental regulations weren’t in effect. But then again, these tea bag heads are probably the ones wearing hats festooned with two cans of beer and two straws or baseball caps with beaks sporting fake dog shit.
And these sub-artichokians will willingly become attack dogs for their tormentors – if Rush, et al, tells them to – focusing their seething, roiling, misplaced rage on their fellow victims, like those driven here by NAFTA and, in effect, fight the symptom rather then the disease, the system which is REALLY oppressing them, ripping them off, stealing their jobs, ANYTHING rather than get down to the root – the real nitty gritty – of their immiseration, their debt slavery, because they’re ashamed. They’re ashamed not only of who they are – poor in America – but who they’re not – the rich – the very deliberately made rich at the expense of all the rest of us, that 5%, 1%, .01% of “Americans” who believe they deserve the whole American pie.
And then we have the protestor/supplicants from Connecticut Working Families who chartered a bus and made an appointment to drive to the posh enclave called home by Douglas Poling, AIG’s biggest bonus recipient, and hand-deliver a letter of protest to him. Since they’d made a appointment to protest, they were met by a few uniformed cops, as well as a couple undercovers, and two private body guards who paced the finely-manicured and landscaped lawn. Poling, made aware of the appointment, was not home at the time.
But the few cops and two bodyguards are all Poling, or any of America’s plutocrats, need to cow us. They don’t need high, concrete walls topped with electrified barbed wire to keep us out. They don’t need armed Pinkertons keeping 24-hour watch over their precious, purloined private property. They rely on US. To know our place. They rely on our very carefully inculcated sense of shame at being poor in America, losers, not winners in the economic lottery. They rely on our feeling that we are less than they are, unworthy even to stand looking at their sacred suburban Garden of Mansions, that icon/emblem/enclave of mammon. We’re outsiders. The majority of Americans are outsiders looking in on the American dream, albeit a very shallow dream of owning things. They own. We owe. But we are a majority oppressed by our own shame nonetheless.
And as 32.55 million of us receive food stamps, and another 16 million of us are eligible for them, more than 25% of us earn poverty wages and more than 600,000 of us lose our jobs every month, the Obama Administration is leading the charge to push down the living standards of American workers, enforcing the strategy of the plutocracy by way of wage-cutting by Big Business. The Obama Administration has legitimized this with its demands on Chrysler and GM, where new-hires’ wages have been slashed by 50% and cost-of-living raises totally burned, obliterated.
In addition, wages have been lowered for Microsoft contractors, much of the newspaper industry and in many state and local governments. Honda, H-P, Best Buy and Fed Ex have announced wage cuts. Wages for temp workers are falling. Nineteen percent of American workers aged 29 or younger are unemployed. Incomes fell for the third consecutive month in March. Job losses and wage cuts have left American workers to balance on the knife edge of poverty, hunger and homelessness.
The Obama Administration’s enforcement of wage-cutting at Chrysler and GM echoes, exactly, the actions of Obama’s political idol, Ronald Reagan, whose destruction of PATCO was the opening shot for the government-sanctioned tsunami of union-busting and strike-breaking still in force, the leading edge of which is the effort to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act.
Our president has told us Americans should “consume less and save more”. His policies are forcing the majority of American workers to consume less and allowing the plutocracy to save more, stuffing it into those silk-lined pockets. “American” corporations are demanding unconscionable wage cuts while threatening workers with the outsourcing card and relying on co-opted union officials to sell out the rank and file.
And if we get hungry enough, or we start hurting enough to do some REAL protesting, here is where history kicks in. In the space of a few short years we lost JFK, RFK and MLK. Several students were killed at Kent and Jackson State. We backed off and didn’t look back at the history of the Class War in America, which is, after all, a “classless” society. We allowed the brutality with which the labor movement in America was always put down to remain buried.
Americans have learned that every time we rise up, we are viciously whipped back down, leading to an obedient, peasant mentality. We “know better” than to get uppity. We’ve become victims of Maggie Thatcher’s notorious TINA dictum, “there is no alternative.” We allow our children to be mis-educated, as we were, to pledge allegiance and abject obedience to nationalism, xenophobia and consumerism, to accept their place in the pecking order. We just knuckle under and get down to work. (If we’re still allowed to have a job.)
And we still have the nerve to pretend “it” can’t happen here. Benito Mussolini defined “it” best – “FASCISM should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”. But perhaps, since we’re mis-educated and TV-engineered to be less smart than artichokes, we’re able to ignore all the evidence we see around us, refusing to see what our own “lying” eyes are telling us. Maybe we’re just afraid. Not without good reason. But maybe we’re just not hungry enough. Yet. But in the event we finally get fed up with being economically waterboarded, when we’re sick of suffering real, not simulated, drowning as the value of our homes goes underwater, well the plutocracy is prepared for than eventuality. Their minions, the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress stand ready to put us down again, if need be, just like President Herbert Hoover sent Generals Patton and MacArthur, the 12th Infantry, the 3rd Cavalry and six tanks to charge into the Bonus Army with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas during the Depression.
Our own Dear Leaders have already brought combat-hardened troops back from Iraq to deal with us in case we cause “civil unrest”. Remember. Posse comitatus is history. Not to mention habeas corpus. And if our combat troops won’t turn on their own people, today’s Pinkertons, the hired contractor-killers of Blackwater (now Xe) will. They were on the job for the plutocracy in New Orleans after Katrina. That was just a dry run. They’re ready for you, too.
And if you further insist on getting a fair share of the wealth you produce with your labor, they’ll send you on a vacation – to one of Halliburton’s Holiday Hotels, constructed for FEMA under REX-84. This turned abandoned World War II German and Italian POW camps in the U.S. (Did you know we had these on American soil?), Japanese internment camps, closed army bases and mental institutions into detention camps, ostensibly for when we’re overrun by “illegal” aliens, but actually for the uppity. And they’re staffed and waiting for us where we will, perhaps help “American” transnationals achieve corporate nirvana – forced, no-wage labor.
Vi Ransel, TPC’s senior editor of anti-capitalism, is a researcher and poet of exceptional caliber. Very little is known about her.
“Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, (s)he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” – Robert F. Kennedy
“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied ’til justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
“What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”
– Congresswoman Barbara Jordan
“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” — Frederick Douglass
“Fight the power.” – Public Enemy
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.” — President John F. Kennedy