A People’s History of the United States
Opposition of the Imperial Expansion
Several organizations and media persons opposed the process of imperial expansion in Cuba and Hawaii, as they realized that the ‘act of aggression’ was merely an excuse for furthering USA’s need for foreign markets to export their domestic surplus in agriculture and industrial products. It was also believed that aggressions strategies were being adopted in order to avoid more pertinent issues in the home country and various organizations and trade unions opposed America’s diverting its resources for physical colonial expansions strategies abroad.
According to The monthly journal of the International Association of Machinists the explosion and sinking in Maine was in no ways more painful than opening fire on mine workers of Austrian, Hungarians, Italian and German origin in the “Lattimer Massacre of September 10, 1897, during the coal strike in Pennsylvania which killed nineteen people and wounded several others and ‘THE CRAFTSMAN ‘also believed that “the real reason for war was to distract the populace from more important issues like workingmen being shot down like dogs for asking for a living wage” .
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The socialist also opposed acts of forceful imperialist expansion and several newspapers openly spoke against it. It was also believed that these acts of war were in fact an excuse to gain commercial control of Cuba as well other pacific countries like Hawaii which was confirmed when “merchants, real agents ,stock speculators flooded the streets of Cuban and the Americans took over the railroad mine and sugar properties and nor were the Cuban rebels allowed to participate in the negotiations with the Spanish. ”Thousands crowded the streets in Havana and America to oppose the Platt amendment which required that “the Unites States get coaling or naval stations at strategic points.” And general Leonard Wood agreed stating that “under the Platt agreement there is little or no freedom left for the Cubans” and was considered as a betrayal by several media people and organizations all over USA. Ex –governor also stated that “In dis regard to our pledge of freedom and sovereignty to Cuba we are imposing on those island conditions of colonial vassalage”
“William James who has established the Anti Imperialist League in 1898 , took on the campaign to educate the American Public on the horrors of war in the Philippines and the league consisted of businessmen politicians and intellectuals ” It was noted that during this time Charles Emory Smith openly claimed that “what we want is a market for our surplus” . The Anti imperialist league took several steps including publishing letters of soldiers that described crimes against human rights that took place on the Filipinos.The Leather Workers Journal openly stated that imperial colonial strategies were not essential as the problem of surplus could be resolved if the purchasing power of workers in America was increased by increasing their wages. The treaty for annexing the Philippines was majorly opposed by the anti –league and the Senate rectified the treaty by one vote. There was also widespread anger at the racist remarks made by the white officers against the Filipinos and led to black soldiers joining forces with the Filipino rebels .
The American Federation of Labor was established after 35000 workers were killed and 700,00 workers were injured in factories and sweatshops in 1914, eighty percent of the union people were members of this trade union which was considered to be ‘almost all male , all white and skilled labors, close to 8 million workers belonged to this trade union with a few female members’ . According to Zinn the AFL was an elite trade union which was exclusively for white workmen and did not include ‘African Americans, women and foreigners and reasoned that since they were not skilled laborers they were not qualified for membership.
Their goals were to “match the monopoly of production by the employer with a monopoly of workers by the union.” AFL employees were known to draw better salaries and socialize with the upper class while their fellow workmen tried to scrape a living. The Industrial Workers of the World was formed in June 1905 and was formed by two hundred from the various strata’s of society including anarchists, socialist and radical trade unionists.”The well paid member of the AFL was protected by the newspapers, the local government and the media people.”
According to Big Bill Haywood “the aims and objectives of this trade union was to put the working class people in a position of economic power., the means of life, the machinery for production and distribution, without regard of capital masters ” The IWW aimed to “to organize all members into one big union, irrespective of gender, race and skill” They believed that it was workers who should have the real economic powers and believed in retaliation for any kind of physical violence used against them i.e. workers of the US Steel company in Pennsylvania and were even sent to jail and prevented from by the government powerful merchants , the police .
Zinn believed that “The Wobblies were courageous and militant and did not believe in initiating violence but they retaliated when provoked.” But the IWW, with a membership of a 100,000 people were persistent and devoted to their cause. When circumstances became dire, thousands of children were sent to New York city so that union members could fight the system without fear for their children. “The I.W.W. refused to sign any contracts with factory owners citing that these contracts prevented the union members from joining other strikers in protests and made them strike breakers.”
In the Year 1912, The American Woolen Company, distributed wages that was less than their actual meager pay and was not enough even to scratch a living. The workers went on strike and led to several deaths, beatings and imprisonment. However the IWW refused to give in and the American Woolen companies decided to compromise and offered “raises of 5 to 11 percent. The union members were also offered time and a quarter for overtime and no discrimination on the people who went on strike”. ” According to Zinn “The IWW took its slogan seriously and women, black workers, foreigners and unskilled workers were given equal opportunity for finding work in factories or mines” . However several women workers felt that they were grossly mis represented and were not happy about the use of violence by the IWW, This trade union differed from AFL in their approach and in their method for demanding their rights. While the AFL members were merely puppets in the hands of the capitalists and led posh lives. It was the IWW that actually worked for the rights of the union members and brought in a kind of revolution for the industrial workers that improved their standard of work and compensation.
War is the Health of the State
President Wood row did not want to join the World War I in 1914 but changed his statement when the Germans threatened to sink any ships carrying supplies to their enemy states and the USA joined the war stating that they were fighting for the safety of Americans traveling on merchant ships. Another driving force was that the economy of America was dependant on selling their surplus to foreign countries; however since nearly all the importing countries were at war, USA saw itself at an economic disadvantage.
It also became lucrative for merchant banks in America to give loans to their Allies and has been described by Zinn as “When England became a more lucrative market for American goods and loans of interests, America stood to make a huge profit by lending private loans to their English counterparts and thus it was important for the USA that the British and other allies were victorious.” America’s political leaders and capitalists were particularly eager for the Allies to win the war as the war meant greater demand and hence greater profits for the industrialists.
1914 were times of discontent amongst the poor working class and the elite society, the was proved to be a deliverance for the capitalists as the national attention was diverted to the preparation of resources and soldiers for the war. Zinn also believes that “The war gave the government a chance to destroy the IWW” which had not backed down even under brutal circumstances and ‘the Industrial Worker ‘ declared that “it will fight against you and not for you ”
A hundred and sixty five IWW leaders were arrested under the Espionage Act for “conspiracy to hinder the draft, encourage desertion, and intimidating others in connection with labor disputes” . “IWW revolution in America was shattered when Hayward along with fourteen other was sentenced to twenty years in prison and a fine of 2500000 dollars was levied upon them” This was a major setback for the trade unions in USA , there was mass discontent and discouragement amongst the populace that had to be mitigated .
It has to be noted that the government made 348 million dollars in profit in 1918 and when the USA entered the War , it was the elite circle , who took over the administration and regulatory offices in the defense forces i.e. Financier Bernard Baruch took over the War Industries Board which was the most powerful war industries of the time and bankers and industrialists dominated the important agencies. Thus the war was more or less in the hands of the capitalists.
The US government still feared socialism post war , especially after the “wartime jailing the intimidation and the drive for nationalism” the government realized that reforms were required and “there seemed a need again for the twin tactics of control which were mainly reform and repression ” , if democracy had to survive in USA. The war gave the country an opportunity to silence any voices that spoke in oppositions to its policies and mandates and severe measures were taken against institutions that opposed them under the Espionage Act
Self Help in Hard Times
The standard of living for most workers improved the 1920’s; this era is marked with the end of IWW and mitigation of the socialism movement in America. The economy has started to look upwards and the general populace was getting employed and the employment market saw an increase in wages. According to Zinn “real wages went up by 1.4 percent and the holders of common stocks earned around 16.4 percent a year.” However only the rich upper class actually gained a real income in the 1920’s the middle working class strata did not enjoy a better standard of living comparatively.
There were issues in regarding the economical availability of food products, as well as, the introduction of the Mellon Bill that reduced the income tax of the rich echelon from 50 percent to 25 percent while the income tax for the poor was only decreased by one percent. This era is also marked by two major strikes, “in 1922 coal miners and railroad men were evicted by the coal companies and were living in dire state of poverty, while in Rhode Island Italian and Portuguese went on a strike, which failed” . Communists gained popularity during this period and the trade union education league was formed. “In 1926 the communists were able to gain a forty hour week and a wage increase for the members of TUEL” . There were communists strikes in South Carolina and Tennessee by laborers and textile workers which were subsequently resolved but a Communism strike in Gastonia led to the death of the Chief of Police which destroyed the Communist party and their members escaped to Soviet Russia .
The Great Depression was a time of unemployment and poverty for the common masses , hungry children and families crowded government buildings demanding foods and jobs . Families were evicted because they were unable to pay rent and farmers found their property repossessed by banks as there unable to repay their loans According to Zinn “there was millions of food around but it was unprofitable to transport or sell it , There were warehouses full of clothing but none could afford to buy it and houses where the tenants had been evicted ”
When the war veterans where denied the right to cash in their bonus government certificates things took a major downturn and led to the election of Franklin Roosevelt who introduced the ‘New Deal’. “The National Recovery Act and the Agriculture Adjustment Administration was introduced which was controlled by the rich and powerful as the organized labor was in a weakened position. The communist party came into power again and people started refusing evictions and formed unemployment councils”.
Self help systems and organizations mushroomed all over the United states and Zinn confirms that “By 1932 there were 330 self-help organizations and 300000 members in thirty seven states” in 1934 there was a major strike by the longshoremen on the West coast who demanded the abolishment of the shape-up .In Minneapolis strikers stopped work completely and in the South 300,000 workers stopped work in textile mills and even reacted aggressively with police troops . “The strike impetus came from the rank and file against a reluctant leadership at the top”
Sharecroppers union was formed for the poorest strata of the agricultural community in the south and in the winter of 1932 there was an unemployed mass meeting in North Birmingham which saw a gathering of seven thousand people. “The rank and file strikes and insurgencies led to the formation of Congress of Industrial Organizations by the AFL in the new industries of rubber , auto and packing house. ” “In 1936 there were forty eight sit down strikes and the largest of them was in Michigan where two thousand workers went on a Sit Down Strike.
The Wagner Act of 1935 was passed which set up a National Labor Relations Board and required that the “ NLRB would give legal status to the unions and even the militant and aggressive unions like CIO would channelize their efforts into contracts negotiations and union meetings ” . Union memberships increased enormously in the forties and there were six million members in CIO and AFL and according to Cloward and Frances Piven “Factory Workers were able to exact the greatest influence and given huge concessions during the Great Depression” .
A People’s War?
Zinn has openly criticized the American stand that WWII was an anti imperialist war and claims “that America did not follow the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries “ and has supported his claim by citing the annexation of Hawaii and other pacific islands. USA stayed in Cuba after its struggle with Spain and set up a military base with rights to investments and intervention. Zinn also alludes to the fact that “Between 1900 to 1933, the US intervened in Cuba four times, twice in Nicaragua and six times in Panama. The US was selling more than half its production of steel and cotton export to Latin America by 1935” .Zinn believes that it was not Hitler’s atrocities on Jews that led to USA’s involvement in the World War II. In fact, it was a series of incidents which led to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that instigated the involvement and can be described as “The antagonistic actions began when Japan threatened US markets by attempting to take over China and when it attempted to attack the Southwest Pacific area , that supplied tin, rubber and oil to the United States.”
A statement of memorandum a year before the pearl harbor incident took place claims that the government was concerned about the “loss of strategic and diplomatic grounds if their access to Indian , Asian , Japanese and Chinese markets and they feared that they would lose access to the raw materials available in Asia and oceanic regions which were main rubber , tin and jute amongst other vital materials ” thus the war for USA was driven by its needs for commercial gain from foreign countries .
While the nations were at war ; USA made strategic movement to ensure that post –war it was the most powerful nation in the world and took steps like to open door policy to gain a foothold in Asia , and extended the same policy in the middle east and deployed troops US troops to the middle East in a bid to protect the rights of the ARAMCO oil corporation and in order to gain their trust President Roosevelt promised that they would not change the their policy towards the Palestine without consulting the Arab countries.
During the war, England and the United States set up the International monetary fund’s and the International bank for reconstruction and Development in order to promote foreign assistance and the United Nations was also created and controlled by the USA France and England and the Soviet Union. Thus circumstances were created which gave enormous economic power to the United States . During the World War II , USA made millions sending war supplies to England and also carried out research worth millions of dollars which were contracted out to ten major corporations .
Zinn believes that the victors of the war were the United States and the Soviet Union who controlled other economies directly or indirectly. The war also brought economic prosperity back to the American population, there was an increase in wages and employment rates went and rate of farm produce increased the general prosperity mitigated the situation back home. “The biggest gains were in corporate profits which rose from 6.4 billion dollars to 10.8 billion dollars in 1944”
Or Does it Explode?
Zinn has openly spoken about the policy adopted towards the black soldiers during World War II and how black soldiers were not promoted and despite their heroic efforts were segregated against, to such a degree that “President Harry Truman appointed a committee on civil rights in 1946 that suggested that African Americans be given voting rights, equal job opportunities and new laws be passed to end lynching”. And proclaimed an executive order for racial equality in the defense forces, in order to improve the morale of black soldiers in the face of future war possibilities.
“In the 1960’s , blacks rose in rebellion all over the south ,the first stirrings began in Montgomery in 1955 due to the segregation of whites and black seating in buses, which led to the boycott of buses by the black populace , White segregationists retaliated by throwing bombs in Black churches and blasting the house of Martin Luther King Jr . Close to a hundred activist leaders were imprisoned by the authorities . In the years to come Martin Luther King Jr became a world-wide figure of the civil rights movements, millions came to listen to his speeches and were inspired by him.
There were Blacks however who believed that they should not take violent behavior from the white segregationists and should retaliate in kind if provoked, their leader was an ex-marine called Robert Williams from North Carolina. They fired back at Local Klansmen who attacked the Monroe NAACP and thwarted in their efforts the Klansmen withdrew. However it was the non violent strategies that were more successful in the future .
Martin Luther King Jr propagated love and non-violence which created sympathy amongst the white and blacks . There were other non violent strategies which were employed and included sit-ins as a sign of protest and the chief example was the Greenbro sit-inners . “The Congress of Racial Equality also organized bus rides for blacks and whites to protest the segregation in interstate travel and were soon were called ‘Freedom riders’. Though their non violent protest was met with aggression and brutality , these freedom riders remained devoted to their cause”.
In Albany twenty two thousand people went to jail for protesting, segregation and discrimination. The department of justice recorded 1412 imprisonments in three months and thousands were imprisoned and beaten. “In 1965 President Johnson an even stronger voting law for the blacks and even offered federal protection of the right to register and vote. In 1968 ,three million blacks chose to vote” President Kennedy also gave his support to Black protestors fighting against racial discrimination.
In 1967 post the riots in Detroit a new organization was formed called the League of revolutionary black workers , the League was won over by economic enticements and offered finances to black businesses and attempted to raise a ‘black capitalism ’ as the government was scared that the poor and unemployed masses would also take to the streets . By the 1970’s the Blacks had more power and were even elected to the Senate and got jobs in government departments. Blacks went to universities and colleges and un-employment was down to 34.8 percent, a huge number of blacks in the south practices their voting rights In all I believe that though the problem of racial discrimination was never resolved completely, the non violent strategies which adopted proved to be more fruitful than the violent tactics that were adopted by black fanatics.
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