Plutocracy V: America’s Brutal Treatment of Its Working Class

Plutocracy V: Subterranean Fire

Directed by Scott Noble (2017)

Film Review

This documentary provides a comprehensive labor history of the United States, involving the most violent history of union repression in the world.

Largely owing to inhuman pay and working conditions, American workers first attempted to organization soon after the birth of large scale industrialization in the US. Prior to the passage of Roosevelt’s National Labor Relations Act, most worker strikes were suppressed violently by the National Guard, the US Army or private armies hired by factory owners.

The initial era of radical unionizing (1870-1914) abated with World War I and brutal government repression via the Red Scare and Palmer Raids. (1) Despite massive profits Wall Street businesses amassed during the so-called “Roaring” Twenties, more than 60% of US families were earning less than $2,000 a year (with $2,500 the minimum income necessary for a family four).

With the 1929 Wall Street crash came the Great Depression. Unemployment surged to 25% and skyrocketing poverty led to a resurgence in union organizing and strikes. Pay cuts and worsening working conditions would give rise to the “sit down” strike, in which striking workers occupied their factories. Loathe to damage their valuable machinery, employers refrained from launching violent attacks on sit down strikes. In this way workers at many companies (including GM, Chrysler and Ford) won the right to form unions.

In 1935, John L Lewis formed the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), which unlike the American Federation Labor (which only represented skilled workers), represented all industrial workers regardless of sex, race or national origin.

The same year Roosevelt, courting the union vote in the 1936 election, introduced the National Labor Relations Act. The Act gave all Americans (except for domestic and agricultural workers) the right to unionize.

A typical politician, following reelection, Roosevelt ordered the FBI to “monitor” radical unions and other groups, including the CIO, United Auto Workers, United Mine Workers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP).

With the approach of World War II, federal forces of repression overtly suppressed union organizing, via the Smith Act (2), and the formation (in 1938) of the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1939, the US Supreme Court would declare sit-down strikes illegal.

Following World War II, the 1947 Taft Hartley Act (4) would deal the single biggest blow to trade unionism in the US. This law. combined with fanatical anti-communist hysteria promoted by HUAC (3), the CIA, the US State Department and the mainstream media would lead to top down trade union organizing that discouraged strike action in favor of a bloated trade union bureaucracy and sweetheart (5) deals with management.

The end result would be one of the lowest levels of union representation in the developed world.


(1) The Red Scare was a campaign of anti-radical hysteria launched under Woodrow Wilson. Its goal was to promote the irrational fear that a Bolshevik revolution was imminent in the US. The Palmer Raids were a series of raids the Wilson administration conducted between November 1919 and January 1920 under to arrest suspected leftists, mostly Italian immigrants and Eastern European immigrants, and deport them (without trial).

(2) Passed in 1940, the Smith Act set down criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the US government. The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional (for violating the First Amendment) in 1957.

(3) The Taft Hartley Act banned wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, closed shops, union donations for political purposes and the election of communists and other radicals to union leadership. It also permitted states to pass Right To Work laws (under right to laws, there is a ban on union contracts forcing non-union members to contribute to the costs of union representation).

(4) Although Hollywood celebrities received the most publicity when they were subpoenaed for being suspected communists, most of the individuals summoned before HUAC were union organizers.

(5) A sweetheart contract is a contractual agreement inappropriately advantages some parties over others. The term was coined in the 1940s to describe corrupt labor contracts unduly favorable to the employer. They usually involved some kind of kickback or special treatment for the labor negotiator.

 

4 thoughts on “Plutocracy V: America’s Brutal Treatment of Its Working Class

  1. I remember studying this topic back in high school but then much more extensively later in College! Those sometimes referred to as good old days were really some very tough and damn hard days for the working class folks; and many took serious lumps in more ways than one! The old timers I’ve talked to over the years used to tell me they grew up very fast and learned to get tough or you wouldn’t last long but they did appreciate every little thing they had and even hand me down shoes; then the Big War came and they had to get even way tougher; some relatives of mine fudging paper documents and joining the military at 16 to go fight a war!

    My hat is always off to all those men and women who took it on the chin at home and then over in foreign lands fighting and dying! Very sad and so unfair; actually cruel when I ponder this! Many came back from the war and never talked about it but went right to work and raised their families! The ruling class or the haves of the have not’s, have always been cruel; for the most part! John F. Kennedy who went through all that even being hurt badly in the war commanding his PT Boat which I think gave him more compassion for the common man; later when he was president he was actually working to make things a lot more fair and square for folks even cleaning up union corruption; we know what the power players did to him!

    Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome Jeanne! Thank you for bringing this crucial topic to the fore lest we not be cognizant of what’s at stake for most if not all of us; in this regard! We are now obviously aware of the fact that totalitarianism could be just around the corner up the road a piece if for no other reason than just what transpired over the last year; especially if we middle or working class folks become complacent and continue to brush things of importance off to let them fester!

        Just as I recall happening over the decades when caught up in some conversation with co-workers or neighbors and I would pop the tough or loaded question typically to get people thinking, when indeed more times than not they would say, “nothing I can do or let somebody else worry about that one!” One man in particular a government worker with a lazy streak in him figuratively speaking, a mile wide, who had had all his opportunities or career options handed to him through political connections, just the opposite of me; who would say when I presented him with truth about how tough it is for many hard working persons trying to get a break out there in the world; he would always say, “that problem is above my pay grade!”

        That’s how so many of the Washington politicians and in other locales around the planet look at things; just kick the can down the road and who cares as long as I’m sitting pretty! Just like the enormous debt they keep creating printing more money so that now the US National Deficit is approaching $30 Trillion; a great gift to straddle future generations with; or a trap I should say that will have a bottom trap door that falls out dropping most anyone that isn’t filthy rich into the chaos that will rise!

        What a mess of a world we people have created or allowed to overwhelm society! Biden and all his cronies are passing around plenty of tax payer money on a gigantic level just to return favors, payoff or bribe; reminds me of the way the old Mafia did business and this is the US Government not some racketeer organized crime syndicate; or is it? He hasn’t been called “Scranton Joe” for a laugh over the last 48 years nearly!

        I tell you true; I wish we had some of those great persons and leaders of days gone by who weren’t perfect either, but would never sick to these despicable levels if alive in this world now; to take over many leadership positions and make a better global society, but, we’re stuck in this mire aren’t we! Heaven help us!

        God bless you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Zero Lift-Off and commented:
    Sorry I did a double take after going through this blog of yours and then realized I like it so much, and more important than that; it’s a great tribute to the men and women of that era who really helped all of us in so many ways being those people with real Moxie and God in their hearts! If not for them we could have all been living under a world dictatorship or total communism! Thank you to them and you for posting this!

    I remember studying this topic back in high school but then much more extensively later in College! Those sometimes referred to as good old days were really some very tough and damn hard days for the working class folks; and many took serious lumps in more ways than one! The old timers I’ve talked to over the years used to tell me they grew up very fast and learned to get tough or you wouldn’t last long but they did appreciate every little thing they had and even hand me down shoes; then the Big War came and they had to get even way tougher; some relatives of mine fudging paper documents and joining the military at 16 to go fight a war!

    My hat is always off to all those men and women who took it on the chin at home and then over in foreign lands fighting and dying! Very sad and so unfair; actually cruel when I ponder this! Many came back from the war and never talked about it but went right to work and raised their families! The ruling class or the haves of the have not’s, have always been cruel; for the most part! John F. Kennedy who went through all that even being hurt badly in the war commanding his PT Boat which I think gave him more compassion for the common man; later when he was president he was actually working to make things a lot more fair and square for folks even cleaning up union corruption; we know what the power players did to him!

    Liked by 1 person

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