1890’s America: A Peek at the Past You’re Repeating

It has been said that a definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and expect a different result. While in one sense this may be considered persistence – to try, and try again – to do so against all evidence to the contrary must certainly be considered some sort of madness. Yet, despite the egregious crimes committed against the American people by Big Banks, Big Finance, Big Oil, Big Pharma and the corporate and financial elite as a whole, the American people seem determined to place even more trust in them by allowing the dissolution of organized labor out of a misplaced faith that their best interests will be taken care of by those who have just finished raping their economy.

While deregulation, corporate welfare, and an abundance of corporate and financial friendly policies have allowed a drastic disparity in wealth over the past thirty years, the onslaught against the American working class has been going on for much, much longer.

The advancements and protections that were championed on behalf of the workers of America over the past century were necessary, life saving measures. Back when people still understood that the purpose of the economy was to serve society, and not the other way around, as it is today, and before they had been completely deceived into fighting on behalf of the corporations that would enslave them and turn them into expendable commodities, a real movement had developed across America.

That movement succeeded through sacrifice of life and limb, and despite government repression and the use of the military against them. They endured incarceration and the destruction of their homes. Yet, decade by decade, their sacrifice won the eight hour day, minimum wage, sick days, the end of child labor, the right to organize, and every other labor law and standard that is now being taken for granted.

Current proposals to end the minimum wage, kill organized labor, and institute ‘right to work’ legislation will effectively abolish all of those gains that the generations that preceded us worked so hard to achieve. Once again, corporations will be in the position to treat the entire country as a ‘company town’, a plantation, where the workforce is completely disenfranchised and the corporations and financial institutions own the workers, lock, stock, and barrel.

Corporation must increase profits. This is their responsibility. They have no other purpose. The well-being and prosperity of the workers is counter to their purpose. They need to drive the cost of production, and therefore wages, employee health care, sick leave, over-time pay, safety precautions, and on and on, down. As little resources as possible will be spent on workers who will be demanded to produce as much as possible. You, and your labor, must be devalued as much as possible in order for them to achieve their goal of increased profit.

To expect that giving tax breaks to corporations will result in an increase in gainful employment is either naive of purposefully disingenuous. To expect that the removal of workers protections will be replaced by the benevolent, responsible management that provides opportunity for worker prosperity, is not only delusional, or a misguided faith in the unknown, it is directly contradictory to the proof available over the past one hundred plus years as well as what the corporations and financial institutions are saying right to your face.

Before you say ‘uncle’, and before you switch sides to become a corporate toady, read the words of those that started the fight that  won the protections about to be lost.

1890 – Mary Ellen Lease, at a convention in Topeka, Kansas:

Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street… Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags…

There are thirty men [a few hundred now] in the United States whose aggregate wealth is one and one-half billion dollars [the top 1% now hoard more wealth than the bottom 95% combined]. There are a half million looking for work [many more now] … We want money, land and transportation. We want the abolition of the National Banks…. We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out… We will stand by our homes and stay by our firesides by force if necessary, and we will not pay our debts to the loan-shark companies until the Government pays its debts to us.

The people are at bay, let the bloodhounds of money who have dogged us thus far beware.

1892 – From the preamble of a convention platform, as read by Ignatius Donnelly in St. Louis, Missouri:

We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot box, the legislature, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized… The newspapers [media] are subsidized or muzzled; public opinion silenced; business prostrate, our homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of the capitalists.

The urban workmen are denied the right of organization for self-protection; imported pauperized labor [now outsourcing] beats down their wages; a hireling standing army… established to shoot them down… The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes…. From the same prolific womb of government injustice we breed two classes — paupers and millionaires [billionaires]…

Pick up an history book or two about the labor movement in America. Reacquaint yourself with the battle that was waged on your behalf. Before you capitulate, and willingly give up all for which they sacrificed, remember who the economy is supposed to serve. It’s not Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Koch Industries, or Exxon Mobil, et al. They are using your national resources, both natural and human, in order to produce the profits they hoard. You should have more to show for it than a life spent laboring for an ever-increasing debt to them.

Excerpts from ‘A People’s History of the United States’ – by Howard Zinn


31 Responses to 1890’s America: A Peek at the Past You’re Repeating

  1. antifa_action May 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    FTA “Back when people still understood that the purpose of the economy was to serve society, and not the other way around, as it is today, and before they had been completely deceived into fighting on behalf of the corporations that would enslave them and turn them into expendable commodities, a real movement had developed across America… remember who the economy is supposed to serve. It’s not Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Koch Industries, or Exxon Mobil, et al. They are using your national resources, both natural and human, in order to produce the profits they hoard. You should have more to show for it than a life spent laboring for an ever-increasing debt to them.”
    Brilliant, this should be required reading.

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  3. brandon May 14, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    The author and the these two comment are ignorant. When, in history, has there been so much government regulation and when, in history has there been so many lazy people demanding so much for so little. These union crooks pretend four hours of actual work in an eight hour day is a twelve hour shift in a coal mine. Pathetic. Of you’re smart enough or skilled enough to build something someone else will buy you deserve everything you earn. I dare you to come to my business where I work 16 hours a day and tell me you have any right to what I have accomplished. Your socialist drivel is why you whine instead of contribute, I hope you enjoyed your three years of unemployment paychecks, hell it’s not like you could have gone back to school and gotten a better job by now. Lazy and useless.

    • Wow May 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm

      You are ignorant. Enough said

      • brandon May 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm

        You’re a parasite. Enough said

        • Sean May 15, 2011 at 7:54 am


          I have built and sold 3 businesses, own a 4th and run a 5th. I work 50-60 hours a week every week. Am I a parasite?

          I’m fortunate to help mold my company to provide good benefits and fair wages to our employees.

          The likes of Walmart on the other hand do not. Billions in profits while their workers make a pittance with no benefits. Now the effort to abolish unions which are the only thing these workers have that can actually help them fight the monolith that employs them. It’s a sad day in America.


    • antifa_action May 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      I thought it was the cons who always accused the liberals of employing those ‘Alinski Tactics’ of ad hominem attacks when they don’t actually have something intelligent to say about an argument. lol Thanks for proving me wrong, Brandon.

      • craig May 15, 2011 at 6:50 am

        The article is talking about multinational corporations that skew the law in their favor. The legislation that the Monsantos, Kochs, Exxons push through hurt medium and small firms. Today’s Main Street Movement is not targeting small business, only the largest firms which use their ‘free speech’ to further disenfranchise voters, stymie competition (i.e. hurt small business), and generally return U.S to manoral feudalism. Today’s disaster, monopoly finance capitalism is not democratic or capitalist at all but rather a proto-fascist structure which seeks to privatize wealth while socializing risk. You have to work so hard to overcome the advantages built into the system for the transnationals not because of health care and labor provisions, i.e marginal gains for the worker. Finally if you hate working so much, find an easier widget to produce or go back to school and find a more efficient production process; your argument applies to your situation as well. But making that argument only ensures more neo-liberal reform here as well as more war abroad (which also hurts your economic standing exponentially worse than having to pay employees a living wage, the wage helps ensure demand for your products. I am sure billionaires aren’t your demographic.)

        • Ben May 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm

          You are spot on.

    • Sean May 15, 2011 at 7:51 am


      No one is wanting what you as an individual has earned through hard work. And while I agree that unions need fixing, abolishing them isn’t the answer.

      As you mention there is much government regulation, but much of it meant to keep money with corporations, and much of it meant to stifle competition so that established corporations can keep growing.

    • John Frings May 15, 2011 at 8:53 am

      I have to wonder at the bile you spew and where it truly originates from. I have been a blue collar working person for over 40 years and not in one job I ever had did I work 4 hours and get paid for 8. I have to assume your stereotype of working people has it’s origins in not only your upbringing but also as a result of the propagandists who have fed this fire on the right for years. They of course being funded secretly by billionaire financiers and corporate criminals. On the other had I also have some bile to spew. I suggest that many of these criminals should be executed for their crimes against the American working class.

    • Pat L May 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      You’re the ignorant one Brandon. You need to educate yourself about the conditions of workers pre-union. The unions and regulations would not have been necessary if corporations had treated their workers humanely and paid them fairly in the first place. If you feel the unions and regulations are draconian now then blame the robber barons of the past. ” The sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children.”

      Back in the 30s my father nearly died of lead poisoning because the company he worked for had him painting without a face mask, and the company doctor said he had TB and tried to ship him off to a sanitarium. That is just one instance I could relate.

    • Ben May 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      I love the “I pulled myself up by bootstrap” BS. Truth is you didn’t do it alone. you probably went to public school, which we helped pay for. You probably use technology funded by the public to further your business. Most of your employees probably attended public universitys.

      Truth is that no one gets very far without the help of others. Sure you should keep the rewards of hard work but don’t kid yourself about your worth. Society made an investment in you and we expect a return on our investment.

  4. Stone Taggart May 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    I would like to post this on youtube and read it with the kind of voice it deserves… perhaps set up the images in slideshow. I think that it would be very well communicated in such a medium.

    • antifa_action May 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

      That sounds like a great idea. Hopefully the author gives a thumbs up.

    • Liam Fox May 15, 2011 at 7:10 am

      I like the idea. As long as any added comments, or editorializing, that you may add is made clear as separate from the article… why not, I’d like to see what you come up with and how it turns out. Send me a link to the finished product on twitter, @liam_fox and perhaps we can post the video on this site as well, with links to the youtube page, and your home page, facebook, twitter etc, as you wish. Thank you very much.

      • Joe May 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm

        It’s already a movie. Google it.

        • antifa_action May 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm

          Tried, and can’t find it. Does anyone have a link?

  5. Brenda Muffinblow May 15, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Well, I hope and pray that each and every one of you die in a traffic accident or a fire!

    • Steve May 15, 2011 at 12:28 am

      Each and EVERY one of us? Why would you hope and pray that?

    • Rob S May 15, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      Who do you prat to in order to get such an outcome?

    • deekay May 16, 2011 at 4:35 am

      Well for heaven’s sake, when your name is MUFFINblow, you can pretty much get anything anywhere that you might wish for, hmm?

  6. Tom P May 15, 2011 at 2:41 am

    Greed is bad. American workers would be fortunate to have leaders that would take care of them. In return corporations would keep moral up and they would prosper. Most corporations wealth and success came from some connection from another rich corporation they know. Also from greed that squeezed the working class of salary and benefits. This is what we have today and you see where our economy is. Not everyone in America has this luxury to know somebody rich or with influence to be an economical power house. Nobody is worth million dollar bonuses that CEO’s are giving themselves. That is ridiculous. All that is doing is hurting the backbone of America. If this keeps up … those million dollar bonuses won’t be worth a dollar. This country will be better off going back to trading. Screw corporate America. Go back to the basics.

  7. adamar73 May 15, 2011 at 5:39 am

    This shows a surprising lack of understanding of our capitalist system. The purpose of business is to do something you enjoy while being able to live of the income thus derived. While business must make a profit to survive, the purpose is to give those profits to those who took a risk and invested in the idea of the business. The great thing about the USA is that you do have the freedom to invest and share in the profits of those very public companies. Never forget that it’s the shareholders who control the company. If you don’t like what a company is doing, buy the company and change it. In fact, you only need to control 51% of a business to direct it. Put your money where your mouth is!

    • antifa_action May 15, 2011 at 6:14 am

      So, in order to take on the profiteers, one must simply become a profiteer? If the corporations and banks throw you out of your home because the stock market crashed, you lost your job, and you’re broke… buy the company? And you say that this article has a surprising lack of understanding? Your comment must be the dumbest thing I’ve read in a long time.

    • John Frings May 15, 2011 at 9:03 am

      Your last sentence is the crux of the issue. When wealth becomes overly concentrated it removes your suggestion as a possibility.The capitalist system relies on two sides, the supply side and the demand side. We have been misled by the right in the infallibility of supply side economics. Jobs are not created by rich business owners, they are created by demand. Demand can only happen when average people have capital to expend on goods.
      Instead, the means of production have been turned over to the lowest bidders who are benefitting mightily at America’s expense. Only a madman who cared not at all for his country of origin would rationalize continuing on such a path. Or a person who truly believed in a one world government ruled by oligarchs who have no national sympathies but only those of power, wealth and an insatiable desire for absolute power.

    • Rob S May 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Shareholders do not control Large Corporations. Please refer to just about any shareholders meeting where the “shareholders” tried to change something and you will see for yourself.

  8. Ayn R Key May 15, 2011 at 7:55 am

    For anyone that assumes the Unions are chock full of Public Sector employees dazed in front of a desk collecting the big bucks at the tax payer’s expense I have some shocking news for you:

    The majority of union members in this country are fighting to hold on to the last bits of domestic manufacturing and construction left for the citizenry.

    For every union boilermaker building and retrofitting power plants across the nation there are 10 H1-B visa holding guests performing the same demanding, dangerous work at a fraction of the cost.

    For every union electrician wiring in the power distribution to data centers that service your finances, entertainment and medical information there are 3 countries courting the board of directors to move operations elsewhere.

    For every union harbor pilot bringing in ships to our ports to load or unload cargo and resources our nation needs there are domestic lobbyists schmoozing our legislators to “give a break” to foreign shipping companies to bypass the local and experienced citizens.

    The list goes on and on, but in the end it is up to us to recognize the con game for what it is and get back in the fight to take back what we’ve lost and more.

    • John Frings May 15, 2011 at 9:08 am

      I fear that this issue will end up being solved with a great deal of bloodshed. No different then when the original battle for average working people occurred at the onset of the 19th century. The concentration of wealth seems to spur the sort of evil that again is running rampant in the world. A common human trait of greed, lust for power, and the impetus for the old saw, “the emporer has no clothes”

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  10. Benjamin May 17, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Risk earns reward. There are problems with capitalism, but the answer is not to abolish corporations, which were originally created as a way for investors to manage their risk while putting their money into expansion. Should corporations be all-powerful and control the world? No. Should workers? No. There is a constant balance that must be maintained. To look at the past 100+ years objectively we should see how our economy has resulted in tremendous quality-of-life gains, lower infant mortality rates, and many other positive influences on the people who live and work here. It’s true that we are experiencing difficulties now and that these difficulties are the result of poor choices made over time, but capitalism was never a poor choice.

    Don’t depend on government, corporations, or unions to save you. Save yourself.

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