Click here to go to the Home Page Where is the Empire to Go? - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - BC Columnist

Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article


Two newspaper headlines, juxtaposed against one another tell a story about America, its empire, and its decline better than a thousand essays.

They were on the business page of the Sunday edition of a local newspaper in upstate New York. It doesn�t matter much which paper it was, since most of the dailies have been relegated to boosting local businesses and spouting the jingoistic lines of national politicians. In this, they have been doing a good job.

The headlines were: �Sinking milk prices pulling even more small farms under� and �Unions� power slips as industry shifts.� The farm story was about the last dairy farm to go on the auction block in Plainfield, Vt., a small town that once had dozens of dairy farms. The other was the story (once again) about labor unions being engaged in �an epic struggle,� trying to maintain their members� wages and benefits.

What is most often missed in these kinds of stories is that these are working people. These are the people who do the work of a society and an economy and they are being squeezed out.

In the most nonchalant way, such stories (the farm story was by the Associated Press) focus on the hardships of small farmers, faced with increasing tax burdens, and ever-rising feed and fuel prices, while the price for their goods stagnates or drops. The underlying theme of these popularly written stories is that the reader is not to worry, since there are gigantic milk factories milking thousands of cows that will pick up the slack and the supermarket dairy cases will never fail to be full of whatever you want to buy.

The average reader probably is soothed by the idea that industrial production of food is always going to be there, but the fly in that ointment is that such hyper-production with such finely tuned cattle and other livestock probably cannot be maintained forever. No thought is given to the negative effects on the animals and the minimum wage workers who see that they are fed, watered, milked, and given their medications in a timely way, so that they can keep up the appearance of vibrant health in such an unnatural setting.

Much is said these days about biodiversity and its importance in the life of the planet. That�s why there is so much effort to protect ecosystems and the wildlife that lives in those regional or micro systems. We need to preserve and protect what is left, if the planet is to survive. A nation�s agriculture can be seen as a giant bio-system, as well and should be seen as an integral part of producing a healthy populace. In that, the U.S. is not doing so well. Diseases that we have not seen before are cropping up in people of all ages and all stations. These diseases include cancers, autoimmune maladies, obesity, hypertension, autism and Asbergers syndrome, and endless little-known health problems that were unfamiliar to most of us in years past.

All of these may have existed in generations past, but they have become epidemic in our time and it is not just because we have become better at detecting and identifying them. They simply seem to be increasing in number and severity. Our food is not the only factor, especially when one considers how little we know about the effects of genetically modified foods on the human body, but it is an important one.

If biodiversity is important in the natural ecosystems of our world, it should be easy to see that biodiversity of agriculture is of vital importance, and that�s why small farm agriculture should be valued as a gem and necessary for the survival of the nation. It is hard to imagine that those who control the political system and Corporate America have even given a thought to saving agricultural diversity, and there does not seem to be any effort to protect small farm agriculture, which is said by the powers that be to be inefficient. �Get big or get out� has been the motto of powerful farm organizations and Corporate America for generations, for both farming and for the economy at large. And the politicians, who benefit from big business�s big money, parrot that philosophy.

Because the big profits are to be made in the industrial form of agriculture, there has been little, if any, effort to keep small farm agriculture as a hedge against collapse. The monoculture of modern America, where thousands of acres are planted to the same crops year after year, is where the profits are, and those profits go to the giant agribusinesses which control more and more of our food system. Should a pest or disease appear that attacks or wipes out those monoculture crops, there will be nothing left to provide the food that Americans are accustomed to eating. Small farm agriculture has a tendency to prevent that kind of complete loss, no matter what the crop-destroying event, just because of the diversity of the small farms.

It is unlikely that small farm numbers will again reach the 12 million or 15 million mark, just because it is too difficult to control that many small farmers and even more difficult to create and control a market that depends on that many small farmers. So, industrial agriculture will persist, as long as the handful of giant corporations that control the food system is able to maintain its control. The AP and the rest of the country�s news organizations will continue to ignore the importance of small farms, continuing to view them as an anachronism and an oddity and do a little light hand wringing when they seem to be in the process of extirpation in places like Vermont, Wisconsin, and New York.

As for the other headline, �Unions� power slips as industry shifts,� from McClatchy Newspapers, even though that chain has been more accurate than most news outlets in analyzing the plight of working men and women, they persist in viewing workers simply as ciphers in the nation�s unions. This is a view of the state of the economy that is put forth by Right Wing think tanks (which is most of them), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, the American Farm Bureau Federations, and other powerful groups that do the bidding of the powerful and the wealthy. The way they have unfailingly portrayed the workers� place in the economy is as members of the unions, which are always, in turn, portrayed as �the too-powerful unions,� which must be stopped before they destroy corporate power.

They don�t put it in those terms exactly, but that is the clear meaning and they have been very successful in convincing working people who are not in unions that unions, themselves, are the enemy. Seldom, if ever, is there an analysis of the American workplace that shows the actions of Corporate America over the past half-century having reduced the living standard of the working class (and now, too, the middle class), by falsely claiming that the unions must be eliminated. The propaganda had to be promoted in that manner, otherwise the attack by Corporate America would be shown to be a naked attack on workers, in general, and that would not have gone over too well. It might have prompted working people to have a direct and very unpleasant response.

But, if workers could be convinced that unions and the organized labor movement were the enemy, they would support Republicans, some Democrats, and others on the right and would support elimination of programs that might benefit their own families. That very thing has happened. The clear evidence that this tactic works is the recall election in Wisconsin, where the governor, Scott Walker, has worked to eliminate union contracts, benefits, and to reduce wages. He is even attempting to eliminate collective bargaining, virtually the only power workers have in a dog-eat-dog economy. Polls in Wisconsin indicate that the race to recall Walker is nearly even, with the incumbent showing a slight edge. This means that a lot of working men and women are convinced that unions are the problem and that they will vote with Walker and the Koch brothers (billionaires who fund Right Wing causes with their pocket change).

What is being discussed in both cases is that these people, farmers and workers, are the ones who produce for the nation. They�re the people who do the work and, until the past three decades, they made enough money to keep the economy running. The �get big or get out� policy has finished off small farmers across the country. The best example is the structural discrimination against black farmers that took decades for the federal government to even acknowledge the injustice. Dispersal of the million-dollar-plus settlement is ongoing, after all these years. Now, it is the turn of all small farmers to face the problem of intentional termination.

For workers, it has been a struggle to find a well-paying job, as Corporate America has shipped the work and machinery to other countries, where the labor costs are low (a fraction of U.S. pay) and environmental laws are nonexistent or barely enforced. In a �globalized� economy, there is no place for them. Neither farmers nor workers can compete with others who are forced to work for 20-50 cents an hour.

In a country where government and corporations have made it a practice to maximize profits, even as it costs the American people their livelihoods, there is the relentless seeking of profits and resources from a growing worldwide empire.

The question remains: What do we in America do with those of us who are surplus people? Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

Click here to go to a menu of the Contents of this Issue

e-Mail re-print notice
If you send us an emaill message we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold your name.

Thank you very much for your readership.

May 31, 2012 - Issue 474
is published every Thursday
Est. April 5, 2002
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble
Road Scholar - the world leader in educational travel for adults. Top ten travel destinations for African-Americans. Fascinating history, welcoming locals, astounding sights, hidden gems, mouth-watering food or all of the above - our list of the world’s top ten "must-see" learning destinations for African-Americans has a little something for everyone.