Monday, September 5, 2011

On Labor Day, Remembering Who Really Built America

By Manifesto Joe

Once almost 20 years ago, when I was having a conversation with a young man whom I knew to be politically right-wing, the subject somehow moved to entrepreneurs. "Entrepreneurs built this country," he told me.

I tend to be reluctant to get into arguments with people whose minds, I know, cannot be changed. I simply replied, "Well, yes and no," and moved the conversation on to other matters. In my time on Earth, I've never yet known a person whose mind was changed as a result of a political argument.

Another factor is that I often don't think of the right things to say at the right times. I'm much better with a keyboard or on paper, because it affords more time to consider things.

Looking back, what I wish I had said back to this young man was, "They had a hell of a lot of help from the people who did the hands-on labor. You know, workers. You've heard of them, right?"

Beasts of burden?

You don't have to talk to libertarians or most American conservatives for very long to discover that, in the world they inhabit, workers are more or less like a team of mules, mere beasts of burden. The entrepreneur is like the farmer behind the plow, motivating and guiding them and taking almost all the risks.

I feel compelled to point out that Farmer Jones would have an awfully hard time plowing his own back forty without his team of mules. And even if one subscribes to this unsympathetic and inhumane view of human labor, doesn't it make sense to feed and care for the beasts of burden well, so that they will stay healthy and strong for their work?

You wouldn't know that while looking at capitalism as it's been practiced through most of U.S. history. Overworked, underpaid, ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-doctored laborers have been the norm, not the exception. Our "entrepreneurial" class has consistently squeezed all it could out of those brutish proles, and then tossed them out onto the street when the time came that they weren't needed or were no longer much good.

And there, I'm talking about the ones fortunate enough to be paid at least a bare subsistence for their labor. Until the 1860s, there was a very large class of Americans whose labor was taken from them by force.

On Labor Day, take a break from the grill and those cold ones and take time to remember who really did the work that built this nation. They are the ones who did the sweating behind jackhammers, not behind a roulette wheel.

The U.S. did see a significant period during the 20th century in which conditions for working people improved, thanks to union organizing and governmental reforms. But since about 1980, we've been seeing the fingers of workers pried off those gains, one by one. Now, joblessness and working conditions are as bad as or worse than they've been anytime since 1940.

Marx: Right about one thing?

Karl Marx was apparently wrong about a lot, but from the looks of things now, he may have been dead-on right about one -- the inability of capitalism to reform itself. Marx predicted that there would be many efforts to mitigate the harsh conditions that capitalism generally brings to the working class, but that capitalism would always, inexorably revert back to its primitive state -- like it's doing now, in America and elsewhere.

For decades, I've been one of those who has hoped that a workable "third way" could be found, given the brutality of laissez-faire on one extreme and communism on the other. I've seen my hopes usually dashed, to the point that I fear them now to be just wishful thinking. I sincerely hope, on this Labor Day, that my current inclinations are wrong.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Jack Jodell said...

Manifesto Joe,
Congratulations on a brilliantly insightful post! Marx was a superb diagnostician, but he and subsequent followers were flawed pharmacists. He was indeed correct about many of the bad things about capitalism.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the flood of progressive Democrats who dominated American politics from 1933-1981, not only saved and modified capitalism, but were responsible for the creation of a broad, unprecedented middle class prosperity which was the envy of the world. While the prosperity they created was not universal, it was wider in scope than it had ever been. By stark contrast, today's ultra-conservative Republicans and their foolish teabagger allies are destroying that prosperous middle class with their short-sighted reliance on crony capitalism.

Finally, I take issue with those who claim entrepreneurs "built" America. That is patent nonsense! This country - its schools, churches, cities, and businesses, was built INITIALLY by COMMUNAL LABOR. That's right: it was neighbors helping to raise each others' barns, homes, churches, aqnd schools - NOT some lofty elitist entrepreneur floating down from the sky to direct all traffic! Such historical revisionism is absurd and cannot be left unchallenged.

Motivated In Ohio said...

That was a wonderful, insightful view. I wish I had your elegant writing style. I am more like a guerrilla, I can find the things to strike at the Crazy Right Wing, out of twigs.

Capitalism is indeed destroying itself, the Poison pill Postal Accountability and Enhancement act of 2006, is taking down a good and proud institution, just to break it's union. What a shame.

Cletis L. Stump said...

Great post, Joe. As I have said, my dad was a child laborer in the coal mines at 13 years of age. He retired at 62. Do the math and dare any Repig to say he didn't help build our nation. His and my mother's efforts were duplicated by millions of others who had to fight (literally) to have any opportunity for a decent life. It is coming again.

Manifesto Joe said...

Yeah, in some ways I think maybe we have become victims of our own affluence. My grandfather went to school for all of about 3 weeks before being put to work in the tobacco fields of North Carolina at age 7. That would have been in 1897 when he started working -- them wuz tha good ol' days in Murka, back when folks knowed their place!

Anonymous said...

Nice article Joe. The pigs are working we the mules and quarter horses to death, while using their corporate media dogs to drill their bullsh@t propaganda into our heads and make us think that it's normal to be exploited with next-to-nothing to show for it. Gotta say, Annimal Farm exposed the failings of capitalism as much as communism. Let's not forget Adam Smith, even he warned of the unholy incest between corporate interests and government back in the 1700's for Christ's sake. Apprarently the current right-wing capitalists are playing out of the Ayn Rand playbook and doing it on a hypothetical roulette wheel on Wall Street. I don't really hold much hope for the nation. There's too few of us with enough intelligence to know when we're being royally ph@cked by those who've Hoovered up all the power with 95% of the wealth already...