Apr 18, 2013 - Issue 513

 BlackCommentator.com: Reagan, Thatcher are Gone, but Their Onerous Legacy Continues To Oppress Working People – Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - BC Columnist

Although both U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are dead, the legacy they left their countries is evident to this day, as the House of Commons in England debates the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), which sets minimum wages and conditions for farm and agricultural workers in both England and Wales.

The move by the Parliament has been in the works for some time, the House of Lords having voted for abolition already. Those on the left and unions have declared that the move to eliminate the board is a “dismantling of agricultural workers’ rights.” Thatcher, who died recently, and Reagan, ideological soul mates that they were, would be pleased that the move against the board is even being considered, let alone on the brink of being accomplished.

During her tenure as prime minister, Thatcher saved her special vitriol for the unions and their members, terming them “the enemy within,” probably one of the more vicious slurs ever against British citizens, who did some of the toughest and dirtiest work of the society and who just wanted the right to be represented by unions of their choice and to live life at a decent standard. She not only destroyed their unions, but, in the case of the coal pits, she wiped out the very means of community survival by closing the mines. Environmentally, the closing of the mines ultimately might have been a step closer to improving the air quality of parts of England, but it is certain that Thatcher was not thinking of the environment or society when she closed the pits.

Reagan opened his two terms as U.S. president by firing the striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), which was one of only two unions that endorsed him for president (the other was the Teamsters), because as a candidate, he promised them he would look into the dangerous conditions in the towers of airports across that country. He didn’t. They struck out of desperation, and he fired them and blacklisted them from any future federal jobs.

The animus against unions was mostly complete in the U.S. and Great Britain, and they dragged along the prime minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, who was all too willing to go along with the right wing “leaders of the western world” in their attacks on unions, government, and social programs of every description. With Thatcher’s death, the hagiography by right wing pundits and government officials got a boost, as if they needed it, to proclaim that the two of them did everything to save the world’s “free markets” and political freedom. Some, however, actually do believe that their ideology and their philosophy did save the world.

Anyone who thinks otherwise just needs to recall last year’s Republican primary campaign, in which right wing candidates for the presidential nomination tried to outdo each other in their attacks on workers, their unions, social programs, and on government, itself. Not one of them made a move in the direction of reining in the flagrant violation of U.S. tax laws by Corporate America and the rich in their squirreling away their wealth in offshore accounts in small countries that have favorable tax policies for rich customers. This was especially true of the eventual Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, a super-rich guy who never seemed to get what his philosophy did to the entire working class of Americans. In fact, he did not seem to be able to see them as part of humanity, despite his wife’s and his children’s assertions that he was “generous” to a fault.

Thatcher and Reagan also had difficulty relating to workers and that attitude, over a period of years, eventually encompassed much, if not most, of the middle class, however much of that class remains. Charts drawn up by any number of economists and economic think tanks show the alarming disparity between the rich 1 percent and the remaining 99 percent of Americans. This is what both Thatcher and Reagan strove for, as did Mulroney, as a kind of acolyte of their “lay low the working class and their unions” method of operation.

Even though a close examination of the philosophy of the U.K. and the U.S. at that time clearly lent itself to the demise of the middle class and the elimination of the working class, no matter what the effect has been on the nations, themselves, the iconographers have constructed their own reality about the legacy of Reagan and Thatcher. The constructed Reagan legacy was front and center in the 2012 GOP presidential primary campaign, and Thatcherism also was a primary mover of the politics in Great Britain.

The Labour Party, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, followed America’s right wing leadership of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, into a war of choice in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which was seen widely by the world’s nations as illegal under international agreements and a war crime, as well. That did not deter them. The expression of power would be visited on the people of Iraq (remember that Bush, Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld termed its opening salvo of the invasion “Shock and Awe”), as civilian populations were targeted, as well as military targets. They felt they had precedent in actions like Reagan’s invasion of Granada and Thatcher’s challenge to Argentina, when the military power of England was visited on the Falkland Islands (the Malvinas, as they are called by Argentina). The death toll of both sides in that war was nearly 1,000, about one-third of the population of the Falklands. The death toll in Granada was unnecessary.

But the “victory” in the Falklands was credited with guaranteeing her another term as prime minister, and she was free to rid her land of social programs, privatizing her way to smaller government in all things, including public transportation and other services for the less-well-to-do in the country. Things were going along as planned by those who hate government services.

Thatcher was the woman who famously said, “there is no society,” but only individuals, meaning that the nation need not worry about taking care of the least among us, but watch out only for oneself. In that, both she and Reagan were opting for much less government, a government that would be so small that it would not be able to manage any programs for the poor, even as they showered the corporations and the rich with low tax rates, subsidies, grants, and extremely weak laws to hold the elites responsible for the loss of tax revenues when they sheltered their riches in tax havens around the world. So much for evenhandedness in tax policies and distribution of a nation’s largesse.

In some of her utterances, she virtually predicted the onslaught against government in both countries by the 1 percent and their minions in Congress and the state legislatures, in keeping with (mostly) GOP candidates who expressed their beliefs in the philosophy of selfishness of Ayn Rand, a darling of the right and mentor of such luminaries as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. The era of greed, which both Thatcher and Reagan incorporated into their governance, wittingly or unwittingly, sails on to this day, much to the detriment of all of the citizens of their countries, right into an economic crisis that may not be able to be turned from disaster.

The abolishment of the AWB in England and Wales is just a small part of the grand plan, but it shows the strong impulse to continue the anti-democratic policies of Thatcher-Reagan, as well as being part of the relentless attack on the rights of workers in the workplace in both countries. The AWB set a standard for farm and related rural workers, back in the era of World War I, that allowed those workers to move continually toward a livable wage.

Unite, the union, stated: “The AWB not only helps ensure rural wages progress towards a living wage, it also benefits employers. The vast majority of farmers - some 75 percent Unite talked to - do not want to be charged with undertaking wage bargaining. They are heavily dependent on their employees and do not want the tension that comes with imposing wage deals. The workers can often be tenants of their employers too, and so will become incredibly vulnerable if the AWB is removed. For the workers and farmers alike, the AWB provides ‘neutral ground’ which both parties value.” 

What the right wing in the U.K. is doing is eliminating a protection for rural workers and farmers that predates the U.S.’s National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed in the mid-1930s under the Roosevelt Administration. Even then, the NLRA left out of the labor standards law farm workers, domestic workers, waitresses and waiters, and some other workers and, to this day, they have lesser standards than other workers. And those workers have been trying to achieve justice in the workplace ever since.

Even if the House of Commons rejects elimination of the AWB, it is just part of the everyday campaign against the rights of workers and the Brits have a long way to go to equal the assault on workers and their unions in the U.S. Union membership numbers tell that story in a nutshell. Billions of dollars have been spent over a few decades by Corporate America to eradicate the very idea of unions in America and the campaign has been largely successful, since a very small percentage of workers are union members.

The followers of Reagan (even though much of his “legacy” is myth and illusion) and Thatcher largely see the world as “not a society,” but a world of individuals who should only be concerned with their own welfare. The GOP candidates at state and federal levels have expressed no less than that Randian philosophy in campaigns across the country. It is more than mere ideology, however. Rather, it is simply because a nation, filled with individuals looking out for their own interests, is easily controlled by the powerful elite.

They want the people to forget that in solidarity and unity there is great strength.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of 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.