Plutocracy IV: Gangsters for Capitalism
Directed by Scott Noble
The fourth film in a series, Plutocracy IV essentially rewrites “mainstream” history about the birth of the US labor movement. In director Scott Noble’s depiction, what we see is virtual all out war between working people and corporate bosses and their government stooges.
Noble begins by tracing the downfall of the global anarchist movement, beginning with the violent crushing of the anarchist-driven 1871 Paris Commune.
Founded in 1901, the Socialist Party, would briefly replace anarchism as the main engine of worker organizing. Eugene Debs, a founding member of both International Workers of the World (see Plutocracy III: Class War ) and the Socialist Party, would run five times as a socialist candidate for president. In 1912 he won 6% of the vote, with nearly a million votes.
In 1919, two-thirds of Socialist Party members voted to support the Bolshevik Revolution and were expelled by the party leadership, who favored democratic socialism. From that point on, the Communist Party (and fascism in Germany and Italy) drove most radical worker organizing.
Supreme Court Overturns Child Labor Laws
Noble describes 1921-1928 as extremely bleak for the labor movement – with most strikes being defeated during this period. Noble highlights the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, where striking West Virginia coal miners were attacked by federal troops and the 1923 St Pedro longshoremen strike (California), which was crushed by police and vigilante Ku Klux Klan members.*
It was also during this period that the Supreme Court overturned federal child labor and minimum wage laws.
Things got even worse for US workers during the Great Depression, with corporate bosses using the fear of unemployment to reduce wages by 20%. In 1932, Hoover ordered federal troops to mow down the Bonus Army, World War I veterans and their families, when they camped out in front of the Capitol demanding payment of the Bonus they had been promised (see The Wall Street Elites Who Financed Hitler)
General Strikes Force Roosevelt to Create National Labor Relations Board
In 1933, Roosevelt passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which theoretically gave workers the right to unionize (and strike). Although union membership increased substantially over the next several years, strikes continued to be brutally suppressed by armed corporate thugs, police and state National Guards. One example was the 1933 Ford Hunger Strike (aka the Ford Massacre) – in which 15,000 autoworkers when on strike when Henry Ford began to close factories. Despite being brutally attacked by armed guards and police (with four strikers killed and many injured), strikers persisted and won right to organize Ford Motor Company.
I was very surprised to learn there were four general strikes during 1934 in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Toledo. The San Francisco general strike was defeated by the union leadership (AFL) when Roosevelt condemned it. Workers were victorious in Toledo and Minneapolis, even though the Minnesota governor called out the National Guard in an effort to crush the city’s strike.
The fear that more general strikes would provoke generalized revolt (and/or revolution) led Roosevelt to create the National Labor Relations Board in 1935. His aim was to allow for a “peaceful” process of resolving strikes.
*In one vignette, Native American Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes how Woodrow Wilson and state and local officials supported the rise of the KKK in the north to crush strikes. Many members of the Portland police were KKK members during this period, and Colorado judges, police and elected officials belonged to the Klan in Colorado.