Class struggles in American history
After free market purists Coolidge and Hoover denigrated the important role that government has to perform in a just society, we found ourselves in a deep depression. The New Deal eased some of the pain for the underclass, but needed a war in Europe and Asia, plus a strong labor movement to create a middle class.
Before the Depression, the working class worked for wages at the poverty level with no fringe benefits. The blame has been put on Hoover, but like Obama, he inherited an economy ready to burst and sat on the sidelines while the underclass suffered. Obama inherited an economy that had already burst and is making a futile effort to repair it with corporate power fighting his efforts.
We have been an unequal two- and three-class society since before the Revolutionary War. The most broadly shared prosperity was from the 1940s to the 1970s. This ended with a return to an uncontrolled free market with tax cuts for the wealthy. The middle class, whose wages remained stagnant, retained their standard of living through the use of easy credit while the controlling class prospered.
Since the ’80s, the middle class has been slowly shrinking, with the gap between haves and have-nots widening. Another tax cut for the wealthy and free marketing in the 2000s helped energize the economic crisis we are experiencing today and are on our way to a lifestyle many aren’t familiar with.
Some in Congress are now fighting to maintain the last tax cut for the affluent 2 percent and a move toward less government regulations. This – trickle-down economics – can lead to a growing inequality and a two-class society of rich and poor. Big money has a firmer grip on government than the 1930s, so a positive outlook for the populous is very dim.
Our country was founded as a three-class society and although our founding fathers wrote our Constitution, they were wealthy landowners and merchants who profited financially from the war; quite similar to the rich speculators who profit from all wars.
The poor who fought the war remained poor and in about the same class as the persecuted slaves, indentured servants and American Indians who worked the land for them. Madison once bragged that it cost him less than $13 to maintain a slave and derived $256 from each slave.
I could expand on the inhumane treatment of other human beings during colonial days and carried on into the 20th century. The treatment of laborers in the 1800s and early 1900s could be best described by the poet Edwin Markham in his 1907 article in Cosmopolitan magazine:
“In unaired room, mothers and fathers sew by day and night. Those in the home sweatshops must work harder than those in factory sweat shops – and children are called in from play to drive and drudge beside their elders –
“All the year in New York and in other cities you may watch children radiating from such pitiful homes. Nearly an hour on the East Side of New York City you can see Them-pallid boy or spinning girl-their faces dulled, their backs bent under a heavy load of garments piled on their head and shoulders the muscles of the whole frame in a long strain.
“Is it not a cruel civilization that allows little hearts and little shoulders to strain under grownup responsibilities, while in the same city a pet cat is jeweled and aired on a fine lady’s velvet lap on the beautiful boulevard?”
This sounds similar to the Mexican farm workers and their families working a 60-hour week in the heat with no overtime pay. In 1938, the Fair Labor Act was passed regulating child labor and other labor laws, but as usual some employers find ways to get around laws.
My reason for writing this dismal look at our history is, having been a witnesses to the conflict between management and labor, I have a haunting fear that we may be moving in that direction again.
Nationalist fervor has permeated our educational system since I went to school and history has been whitewashed, so a large segment of our population, not like the fine lady with the velvet lap, has been invisible.
History repeats itself as the class struggle continues. The November election will have little effect on the class struggle as our country is dominated by corporate wealth and military power, plus a dysfunctional, mediocre two-party system and destructive media.
Don Cooks lives in Nevada City.
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