The Ties That Bind

Oct 04, 10 The Ties That Bind
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This article was originally published at The Soulside Out.  Reprinted with permission.

The conclusion was far from inevitable.  Amidst the ruin of war, the seeds for a new society were being planted.  Poor whites took stock of their cultural and economic situation and a few realized that they had common cause with the newly freed black slaves.  They had both been victimized by a classically bourgeois system that benefitted the few at the expense of the many.  Soon, blacks and whites began organizing around labor and farming rights.  The powerbrokers in American society recognized this as a threat and began seeking ways to sow discord and disunity in the nascent labor movement.  It was a game as old as empire.

Entrenched power structures become very active right before a pre-Revolutionary period.  Although the Civil War proved to be the onset of dramatic changes in American society, the need for cheap labor was not abated by its result.  Although Southern planters no longer had access to free labor, the North was on the cusp of an industrial revolution spurred on by the war.  While white and black farmers began to unite throughout the south and west, black and white laborers also found common cause.  They united to strike for higher wages, shorter hours, and safer work conditions, culminating in the New Orleans general strike in 1892.  For the moneyed interests in this nation, this movement was becoming untenable.

Deeply entrenched notions of white supremacy coupled with state sponsored efforts to quash labor movements ensured that black and white workers would never unify fully.  The same arbitrary racial constructs that permitted two centuries of chattel slavery also kept blacks subjugated for another one hundred years after they were freed, and inhibited many whites from unifying around common economic goals that may have resulted in a freer, more equitable, and more just society.

Alas, these are lessons that still have not been internalized by a large number of people.  For the last thirty years, conservatives in this nation have waged an economic and cultural war that has appealed to the base prejudices of millions of people while seeking to undo New Deal and Great Society gains.  While this war raged on, oligarchs were busy stealing trillions of dollars.  These actions exacerbated the decline of the middle class and the cycle of poverty that inhibits the type of social mobility that is supposed to form the backbone of the American dream.

After years of stagnant wages, harsh politics, and war mongering based upon official state lies, many people were justifiably upset after the economic collapse of 2008.  It was a moment that could have galvanized the nation, a moment when people rose up and united against the corporatocracy that the United States had become.  However, cynical politicians and their corporate backers seized this energy and turned a scared populace against itself.  By turning the citizenry against each other, the entrenched powers were able to avoid the bottom-up revolution that was sure to completely reverse the balance of power.

The post-Reconstruction labor movement is merely one example of people in this nation voting against their economic interests because of racial or economic prejudice.   This pattern has been repeated throughout the world across the ages.  However, if humans are going to progress as a species, they must forge alliances across the arbitrary, specious things that divide humans.  Uniting behind common economic interests in order to combat the dehumanizing forces of corporate greed is a good place to start.  If recent history is illustrative, we have a long road to travel.

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