The Deliberate Destruction of the Middle Class: Part Four
This series has described numerous, but not all of the detrimental behaviors and policies that are precursors to the destruction of the Middle Class in America. All of them present significant danger to this class of people and it would be difficult for me to prioritize a threat assessment as to what will be the most destructive.
In the final part of this series, we will look at a problem that will be most controversial. Most of my conservative compatriots may disagree with this portion of the series, but please take the time to notice the history – that will provide a substantive argument to support my position.
The controversial issue to which I refer is the destruction of the labor unions in America. It should be quite obvious to almost everyone that labor unions have lost power and support. In fact, currently, there is outright hostility toward the unions. Of course, that hostility is not new to the concept of unions; America has had difficulty accepting labor unions from the very beginning.
History makes it clear that from the very start of the Industrial Revolution in England and its counterpart in America, that industry created massive numbers of jobs which led many people to abandon farms and move to cities. The population shift was massive and rapid. Cities were unprepared for this population boom and that often created terrible living conditions and circumstances for the masses. Lifestyles and circumstances for the average individual were only marginally different from the base existence that existed under Feudalism. People who lived in cities often found themselves in squalid conditions at best. Cramped accommodations in filthy, disease-infested, “fire trap” hovels were the ubiquitous norm.
People worked, if they were fortunate enough to find jobs, in factories for starvation wages of one or two dollars per week. For this pay, they worked twelve hour days, seven days per week. Children worked in the factories, as well. In fact, children were highly-desired in many cases because they were small enough to climb inside and under machines and equipment to retrieve lost parts or tools.
Tragic accidents were common because employers never considered safety equipment and protection against hazards. It was not unusual for people to be killed or severely injured on the job. Limbs might be lost due to the dangers of the poorly-designed or maintained equipment. Compounding the tragedy was that their companies did not compensate the injured for treatment. In fact, if a worker lost a hand in an industrial accident, he would be fired because there were plenty of people with two good hands waiting outside to take the job.
Under these kinds of working conditions, it is obvious that employees were at risk for other workplace dangers. Hazards, such as toxic fumes and chemicals, improper ventilation, lack of heat or too much heat in the work area. Physical exhaustion was commonplace and no doubt contributed to many of the accidents.
Some of the saddest stories of this period of history revolve around children who worked not only in the factories, but in America’s coal mines. There is documentation that shows these boys worked in the dark mines all day long (again, children were preferred because they could fit into smaller tunnels). There they worked day after day, year after year, never seeing the light of day and never learning anything except the difference between coal and slag. Many children died before they reached adulthood from the common disease among coal miners known as “black lung” disease, the result of constant inhalation of coal dust. No heed was ever given to proper ventilation or developing any means to protect miners from this deadly dust. Children were just a commodity; if they died, there were always more child workers to take their place.
It should be noted that, at first, people did not object to children working in factories and mines. Families needed the income the children could earn and they had always been accustomed to children working on the family farm. People did not seem to recognize the significant difference from working alongside parents on the family farm from working for a factory or mining task master who really had no concern for the health or well being of the child.
It is no secret that England and America took different courses with respect to the problems faced by labor during the industrialization period. In England, the views of Karl Marx became predominant and there was a push toward Socialism. In America, labor problems were addressed by unions which held to some, but not all of the positions of Marxism. The unions were not well received in America because of the concepts of Marxism and because Americans still held to the concept of “rugged individualism.” It was the common feeling of Americans that it was acceptable for individuals (known as Industrialists) to own the means of production and to exploit the labor of men, women and children as long as the opportunity existed for anyone in America to rise to that level. In fact, one of the most common detractors to the proliferation of labor unions were the “rags to riches” stories that talked of the many industrialists who went from nothing to magnificent wealth through their hard work and ingenuity.
Nevertheless, labor unions began to develop and fight for recognition, membership and improvements for the American worker.
Next Monday, in Part Five, we will look at the development of the labor unions, the difficulties they faced in building the power necessary to make changes for labor, their eventual decline and the consequences for Middle Class America.
John Wayne Tucker
© TBP Publishing 2011, The Bold Pursuit®. All Rights Reserved.
Breaking on Monday: "Loss of Labor Unions: A Threat to Our Economic Survival?" - Part Five of the series,"The Deliberate Destruction of the Middle Class."