7 Signs America Has Regressed Back To the Harsh, Cruel 19th Century

Published on ZNet (first on AlterNet), by RJ Eskow, October 05, 2013.

… 1. Wall Street can “send your man around to see my man” again: … //

… 2. Workers aren’t unionized:

  • The horrors of working life during the Industrial Revolution led to the rise of the American union, beginning in the year 1860. The US State Department estimates that 3 percent of the workforce belonged to a union by the close of the 19th century. That number rose to roughly 7 percent by 1930, and to more than one worker in four by 1954.  
  • The percentage of working people in unions has now dropped to roughly 7 percent again for private-sector workers. That’s roughly the early-20th-century level. When you add in government employees, who are more heavily unionized, the number rises slightly, to 11.5 percent. Our national and state capitals remain in the grip of an ill-advised round of cost-cutting that’s bringing the total number of government employees down quickly, which adds to the decline of these numbers.
  • Thanks to a four-decade-long campaign against them, unions—and workers—are more likely to be vilified than praised. It’s almost impossible to imagine today’s United States Congress passing the 1895 law that created Labor Day.

3. Our rights end at the workplace door:

  • Our individual rights are being steadily eroded in the workplace. As employment lawyer Mark Trapp told Business Week, “the freedom to speak your mind doesn’t really exist in the workplace.” A series of court cases has shown that Americans can be fired for expressing political opinions outside their place of employment, too, on social media like Twitter or Facebook.
  • One of the unions’ first demands was for a shorter workday, which in the 1800s meant a 10-hour maximum. Now we’re moving back toward 19th-century standards. As the Washington Times reports, “Americans are working approximately 11 more hours per week now than they did in the 1970s, yet the average income for middle-income families has declined by 13% (when adjusting for inflation).”
  • Here’s a 19th-century image, from the New York Times: “ …employees at lower rungs of the economic ladder can be timed with stopwatches in the bathroom; stonewalled when they ask to go; given disciplinary points for frequent urination; even hunted down by supervisors with walkie-talkies if they tarry in the stalls.”

4. They’re advocating child labor again:

  • What’s the matter with kids today? According to a number of conservatives, they’re not being put to work in factories and farms. Child labor, one of the moral blights of 19th-century America, is increasingly popular on the right again.
  • Child labor laws do not permit children under the age of 14 to work in non-agricultural settings. That is “truly stupid,” Newt Gingrich said last year while running for the Republican presidential nomination. Children aren’t learning the proper “work habits,” said Gingrich, who proposed firing most school janitors and giving the jobs to underage minority children instead.
  • Republican Senator Mike Lee has called for abolishing federal child labor laws (although he says he isn’t opposed to state laws). Lee said that labor and manufacturing are “local activities,” not “interstate commercial transactions.”
  • “This may sound harsh,” said Lee, “but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh.”
  • Arkansas congressional candidate Tom Cotton also believes in child labor. “We need more young people who’ve worked all day in the fields, not less,” said Cotton during his 2012 campaign. Cotton won his race and now serves in the House of Representatives.

5. It’s practically legal to shoot people down in the streets again: … //

… 6. The rich have more of our national wealth than they did in colonial times.

  • As Jordan Weissman demonstrated in the Atlantic last year, the top 1 percent and the top 10 percent capture more of our national income now than they did in the 1700s, before we won our nation’s independence. Inequality was worse by 1860, but is even worse today than in either century.
  • This country enacted a series of laws which enabled Americans to achieve social mobility. But in the wake of cuts to everything from education to childhood nutrition, and with the decline of the American middle-class, those opportunities are fading too.
  • Here’s one of the main reasons the middle-class is declining: With no strong counterforce representing employees, corporations are also amassing more wealth than ever. The charts Henry Blodget made last year remain essentially unchanged: as corporations amass more and more wealth, they’re sharing less and less of it with workers in the form of wages.
  • As G. William Domhoff shows, by the end of the Reagan era the percentage of national wealth going to the top 1 percent had returned to pre-1929 levels. It has continued to climb since then. A recent review of 2012 economic data shows, among other things, that the top 1 percent saw their incomes rise by a staggering 32 percent in one year—and that the top 10 percent captured more than half of our nation’s income for the first time since they started tracking this data a century ago.

7. Political debates are getting rough again: … //

… (full text).

Links:

The party game is over, stand and fight, on John Pilger.com, by John Pilger, November 4, 2010;

A government shutdown, a social breakdown: The current impasse in Washington is symptomatic of the socio-economic degradation being experienced throughout the US, on AlJazeera, by Sarah Kendzior, Oct 4, 2013: Even though both the Clinton and Obama administrations have now experienced government shutdowns, the prevailing social and economic conditions differed significantly …;

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