Click to go to the Subscriber Log In Page
Go to menu with buttons for all pages on BC
Click here to go to the Home Page
Est. April 5, 2002
October 04, 2018 - Issue 758

Fending Off Tyranny

"For most of the history of America, the elite
have been in charge, but rarely has the electorate
had a chance to see on paper that what they have
been taught and led to believe is not the way it is. 
A government of the people, by the people, and
for the people is largely a myth and democracy
is a fleeting thing in this nation."

There is continuous hand-wringing about those who fail or refuse to vote or participate in the political life of the nation and most of the pundits and other observers attribute it to ignorance or sloth, and studies have shown that only about half the electorate turns out for a presidential election and even less in a mid-term.

Reasons for not going to the polls vary from individual to individual, but, in the main, there may be good reason for skipping “civic duty.” One of them was shown in an academic study by Princeton University and Northwestern University scholars, released in April 2014, the main takeaway from which was that the U.S. government does not represent the interests of the country's rank-and-file citizens.

Researchers collected data from the period 1981-2002 and studied nearly 1,800 policies enacted during that period, comparing the preferences of the average person to the goals of the economic elite. The report, titled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” concluded that the U.S. is “dominated by its economic elite.”

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” the researchers declared. They added, “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.”

The authors of the research and study, Princeton University Prof. Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof. Benjamin Page concluded: “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policy making is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

For most of the history of America, the elite have been in charge, but rarely has the electorate had a chance to see on paper that what they have been taught and led to believe is not the way it is. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people is largely a myth and democracy is a fleeting thing in this nation. There is a structure of democracy, but many other nations have the structure of democracy, as well but the people there have little influence in the policies and direction of their countries. When the discussion turns to democracy, American political leaders and opinion formers leap to criticize those countries that feature a democratic vote, but usually end up with policies desired by a strong leader or dictator or the oligarchs. Americans could look at the log in their own eye and ask, “What's the difference?” But that doesn't happen. The research by Gilens and Page should have been set up for discussion in courses in the high schools and colleges of the nation, but none of that has happened, even though such a discussion is vitally important. We have barely seen or heard a word in the popular media since release of the study, and that's the way the rich and Corporate America want it. The status quo reigns supreme.

So, is half the electorate lazy or stupid? One thing they are not is crazy. The old saying that repeating the same act over and over endlessly in the same way, while expecting a different outcome, is the definition of insanity. Perhaps, they just saw the same outcome from their voting, over and over, and decided that it just wasn't worth going to the polls. They didn't need a study to tell them that, but the study is instructive and shows that they instinctively knew what the study revealed and have learned it over a generation or two. For them, not voting or participating is a sign of sanity.

There are a couple of things that have to be viewed together, or at least in close proximity: (1)What is causing about half of the population to ignore politics and the vote, and (2)How does the average American assume his or her place in the political life of the country and where does democracy start for them?

We can look to one of the great U.S. senators for at least a partial answer. In 1935, Sen. Robert F. Wagner, referring to the life-changing National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act) just passed, said: “Under modern conditions government by the people is not so simple. Politics in the narrower sense is becoming depersonalized. People cannot all join in as they joined in the old New England town meeting. The country is too large, its problems too complex, the pace of life too rapid. For the masses of men and women the expression of the democratic impulse must be within the industries they serve—it must fall within the ambit of their daily work. That is why the struggle for a voice in industry through the processes of collective bargaining is at the heart of the struggle for the preservation of political as well as economic democracy in America. Let men become the servile pawns of their masters in the factories of the land and there will be destroyed the bone and sinew of resistance to political dictatorship. Fascism begins in industry, not in government. . . . But let men know the dignity of freedom and self-expression in their daily lives, and they will never bow to tyranny in any quarter of their national life.”

Democracy starts where the people are. What is the greatest connection and what is the most common ground on which people meet? It's work. To live decently, people have to work and earn their living and it is there that, with hundreds of millions of fellow workers, they find the camaraderie and shared needs and goals. There is no other place they find these things to the same degree. For the past 90-plus years, they have come together to form unions that have given them a voice in the workplace and, in the process, improved their lives and communities. The NLRA gave them a taste of democracy, but, from the start, the oligarchs attacked the very idea of unions, using the old charges that unions were nothing more than illegal conspiracies and organizations in restraint of trade.

Despite the attacks by the powerful economic elites, union organizing eventually grew and, by the decade after World War II, the union movement had raised the standard of living of millions of workers and held the promise of democracy in the nation at large, as well. Coupled with the civil rights laws and court decisions that favored some oppressed minorities, it seemed that democracy would actually be realized. It was not to be.

Historians have told us often that, when the powerful want to control a nation's people, they first eliminate key institutions of the society, among them trade unions, the free press, and religions. In the U.S., workers are down to 11.5 percent in unions (only 6 percent in the private sector), the “free press” has been purchased by the billionaires and millionaires and, as for religions, the most powerful bloc in the U.S. is fundamentalist sects that are very active politically and usually fall on the extreme right of the political spectrum. They make common cause with Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and a host of right-wing politicians and business interests.

Recalling that during his presidential primary campaign, Trump declared that wages are too high in the U.S. and that's why the nation is not competitive in global trade. He can be counted on to continue the attack on workers and their unions at every turn, just as he has attacked the press as “the enemy of the people,” a code word that usually singles out an individual or group that has been targeted by the powers that be for special attention. Often, in some countries, it means that they disappear. It hasn't reached that stage in the U.S. yet, but there are ways to silence opposition and the courts and laws passed at the behest of the rich are used almost daily. Right here in the good old U.S. of A.

With every day that passes without democracy in the workplace, democracy in the nation at large gets more and more elusive. Moneyed interests in the past half-century have not only ground down organized labor and unions, but they have atomized the workers by their skills as propagandists, even infiltrating schools, colleges, and universities. Senator Wagner was right nine decades ago, when he warned, “Fascism begins in industry, not in government. . . . But let men know the dignity of freedom and self-expression in their daily lives, and they will never bow to tyranny in any quarter of their national life.”

He was right then and he is right now. Fascism as defined by various writers, philosophers, and politicians may not be where the country is now, but there will have to be a groundswell of solidarity and unity among the working class, no matter how difficult it may be to avoid any kind of authoritarian or strong-man government. We are very close to that now and it will take a concerted effort to change direction. America is a very diverse and large country and it's difficult to bring the working class and middle class together, but if it doesn't happen, Senator Wagner's fears may be realized and the U.S. may be abandoned to the brutes.

The workplace has to be taken back from the rich and Corporate America and the way to do that is to see that the union movement and labor movement experience a resurgence that has not been seen since the mid-1930s, when wage working men and women were told that they were valuable as workers and citizens, that they had rights, and that they could create their own future, starting on the job. Join the union! Columnist, John Funiciello, is a 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. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

Perry NoName: A Journal From A Federal Prison-book 1
Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion by Jamala Rogers