Saturday, June 08, 2019

Harlan County USA

I watched the Oscar award winning 1976 documentary Harlan County USA on TCM the other night with B. It's a story about coal miners, unions, families and the never ending struggle between workers and those who own the means of production.

I often think we need some way to educate working people of today who are not familiar with labor history that the capitalist system, absent collective bargaining, will exploit them to the greatest extent possible. I get the idea that you as a strong, smart, creative hard working individual should be able to negotiate with your employer for fair wages and benefits. The key word is "should". As an individual you are replaceable and you can and will be replaced if you don't go along with whatever cost-cutting, efficiency enhancing, benefit reducing plan your employer deems appropriate. You can go to another place to work sure - but you still have essentially zero bargaining power unless you have some sort of super special irreplaceable skills.

This isn't damning any individual or company it's simply the nature of the capitalist system. If that isn't clear, I highly recommend becoming at least somewhat familiar with Karl Marx's and Fredrich Engles writings about capitalism. They got a lot of things wrong but their critique of capitalism's flaws/features are clear, seemingly self-evident and vitally important to understanding the capitalist system and it's dehumanizing and exploitative actions towards workers and disregard for the environment. The BBC special Masters of Money provides a high-level overview of Marx's thinking that might be a good introduction if you are interested in learning more. If you can find a copy The Essential Writings of Karl Marx edited by David Caute is a concise look at Marx and Engles major ideas, and critiques of capitalism. It may be possible but it would be challenging to try and get an accurate and unbiased description on the interwebs. Books are fun-damental.

The middle ground between Marx's failed communist utopia and out of control capitalism is a mixed economy where workers have a voice, and government acts to modulate the devastating effects of unchecked capitalism.  Contrary to the propaganda, misinformation and misunderstandings about the either/or nature of socialism vs. capitalism; a mixed economy simply means a mix of socialism and capitalism. The Nordic model  is an example.

The USA has a mixed economy as well, but the debate is over how much regulation and redistribution is the right amount. Some regulations are foolish and economically harmful - some are essential. Some redistribution of wealth to allow more people a chance at the American dream, and to prevent abject poverty for those unable to work or find living wage jobs seems equally essential to me.

Back to the documentary. I'd never heard of that movie before - but it's great. There's some sad and disturbing events in it, but the music in it is great, the miners and their families are great and they really made me think how much in common, all people, but particularly we working class people have.

By working class I mean people who depend on the owners of capital for their wages - a vast majority of the people in our country. I think there is a misconception by some that because they work behind a desk, on the phone, behind a counter or on a flight line that some story about unions and miners has nothing to do with them - totally totally wrong; the elements of this struggle are applicable to anyone who works for a wage.

The propaganda of the plutocrats intended to divide the working class and maintain control of government, courts and corporations has to be well funded and constant to prevent this group from ever organizing.

There's always hope my friend there is always hope.

The women who created this documentary provided a great service for working people in the USA. I wouldn't watch it on a small screen if I had a choice but if you prefer that viewing style I embedded it below.