Plutocracy III: Class War
Scott Noble (2017)
Part 2 of Scott Noble’s Plutocracy series addresses the rise of a US manufacturing elite aristocracy far more vicious and brutal than any hereditary European aristocracy. One hundred years after America’s War of Independence, Wall Street’s robber barons were effectively controlling both state and federal government. They have done so ever since.
The Brutal Repression of Unions
Workers, organized by fledgling labor unions and worker-based political parties (covered extensively in Plutocracy Part II – see Plutocracy II Solidarity Forever), launched massive strikes to fight back against their starvation wages and working conditions. Company bosses fought worker organizing by hiring mercenary armies, such as Pinkertons, to harass, torture and kill organizers. The US was the only industrialized country to allow private corporations to form their own private armies.
It was also common for state National Guard units and federal troops to intervene in strikes and kill striking workers and their families. The documentary highlights the 1914 Ludlow massacre, in which National Guardsmen deliberately shot into and set fire to a strikers’ tent colony, killing two dozen people (including miners’ wives and children).
The film goes on to describe the rise of International Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) a revolutionary union that was the first to represent unskilled workers, women and people of color.
Using a combination of trumped up charges and government-linked vigilante groups, corporate controlled state and federal entities brutally repressed the IWW, both before and after World War I.
How Elites Used World War I to Suppress Worker Organizing
Most of the film focuses on the enormous setback in US worker organizing that occurred during World War I. In part the filmmakers blame the massive pro-war propaganda and indoctrination apparatus Woodrow Wilson created and in part the repressive measures he enacted to suppress popular opposition to the compulsory draft he introduced.
These included the 1917 Espionage Act (which was never repealed – both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden were charged under this law), the 1916 Selective Service Act (never repealed), the 1918 Sedition Act (repealed in 1920) and the 1917 Immigration Act (allowing for arrest and deportation of dissidents without due process).
In 1919, Wilson created the General Intelligence Division (GID), headed by J Edgar Hoover, who created 200,000 crossed indexed cards on 60,000 so-called “dissidents,” including NAACP and Negro Improvement Association members, pacifists, suffragettes, union leaders and progressive politicians like Robert LaFollette. Hoover took his index cards with him when the GID shut down and Roosevelt appointed him to head the Bureau of Investigation, renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.