The Boss Who Fought for the Working Class

by Walter Brasch

He was born into poverty in New Hampshire in 1811.

His father was a struggling farmer. His mother did most of the other chores.

He was a brilliant student, but the family often moved, looking for a better life-a couple of times so the father could avoid being put into debtor’s prison.

At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and became a printer’s apprentice, sending much of his wages to help his family.

For several years, he worked as an apprentice and then as a printer, his hands covered by ink, his body ingesting the chemicals of that ink.

He worked hard, saved money, helped others achieve their political dreams, became the editor of newspapers, and soon became an owner.

In the two decades leading to the Civil War, Horace Greeley had become one of the most powerful and influential men in America. His newspaper, the New York Tribune, was the nation’s largest circulation newspaper.

But instead of becoming even richer, he used his newspaper as a call for social action. For social justice.

In 1848, as a congressman fulfilling the last three months of the term of an incumbent who was removed from office, Greeley introduced legislation to end flogging in the Navy, argued for a transcontinental railroad, and introduced legislation to allow citizens to purchase at a reduced price land in unsettled territories as long as they weren’t speculators and promised to develop the land.

The Homestead Act, which Congress finally passed 13 years later, helped the indigent, unemployed, and others to help settle the American west and Midwest.

But in his three months in office he also became universally hated by almost everyone elected to Congress. The social reformer in his soul had pointed out numerous ethical and criminal abuses by members of Congress; his party didn’t ask him to run for a full term.

He called for all American citizens-Blacks and women included-to be given the rights of the vote.

In 1854, Greeley became one of the founders of the Republican party. For more than two decades, he had been a strong abolitionist and now the new political party would make the end of slavery one of its founding principles. He was one of the main reasons why his friend, Abraham Lincoln, whom he helped become president, finally relented and two years after the civil war began, finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

More than 225,000 Americans (of a nation of about 35 million) bought his relatively objective and powerful history of the civil war, making the book one of the best-sellers in the nation’s nine decade history. In today’s sales, that would be about two million copies.

Unlike some editors who pandered to the readers and advertisers, he maintained a separation of editorial and advertising departments, and demanded the best writers and reporters, no matter what their personal opinions were. Among those he hired were Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Karl Marx. And at a time when newsrooms were restricted to men, he hired Margaret Fuller to be his literary editor.

He believed in a utopian socialism, where all people helped each other, and where even the most unskilled were given the opportunity to earn a living wage.

He demanded that all workers be treated fairly and with respect. In 1851, he founded a union for printers.

When his employees said they didn’t need a union because their boss paid them well and treated them fairly, he told them that only in a union could the workers continue to be treated decently, that they had no assurances that some day he might not be as decent and generous as he was that day. The union was for their benefit, the benefit of their families, and their profession, he told them.

In 1872, Horace Greeley ran for the presidency, nominated on both the Democrat and Liberal Republican tickets. But, his opposition was U.S. Grant, the war hero running for re-election on an establishment Republican ticket.

Weeks before the electoral college met, Horace Greeley, who lost the popular vote, died, not long after his wife.

The printers, the working class, erected monuments in his honor.

And everyone knew that the man with a slight limp, who usually dressed not as a rich man but as a farmer coming into town to buy goods, who greeted everyone as a friend, who could have interesting conversations with everyone from the illiterate to the elite, was a man worthy of respect, even if they disagreed with his views. For most, Horace Greeley was just a bit too eccentric, his ideas just too many decades ahead of their time.

On this Labor Day weekend, when not one Republican candidate for president believes in unions, when CEOs often make more than 100 times what their workers earn, when millionaires and billionaires running for office pretend they are populists, when even many in the working class seem more comfortable supporting the policies and political beliefs of the elite, the nation needs to reflect upon the man who knew that without the workers, there would be no capitalism.

[Dr. Brasch has been a member of several crafts, arts, and trade labor unions. He proudly sees himself not as among the elite but as a part of the working class. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster]

 

The Collapse of Capitalism

Capitalism is dying.  Greedy bankers, crooked businessmen and their enablers in Washington have killed free markets.  The conservative dogma espoused by radicals such as Ayn Rand, Grover Norquist, Ron Paul, Phil Gramm and others systematically destroyed the goose which laid their golden eggs…er parachutes.  A succession of extremist economic leaders conspired to deregulate markets resulting in a global financial catastrophe.

Ronald Reagan bought the gun which capitalists used to commit suicide.  George H.W. Bush held it while Sen. Phil Gramm aimed it and George W. Bush pulled the trigger.  

The collapse of Wall Street titans Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns and hundreds of other banks since September 2008 signaled the failure of the concept that greed is good.  That markets can self regulate and that checks and balances will accomplish what strong government oversight once did.  It all failed and American taxpayers were left holding the losses.  To date the Federal Reserve continues printing trillions of dollars in a vain attempt to prop up a collapsing economy.

Too big to fail banks concentrated all of the financial power in seven huge institutions insured by AIG and “vetted” by Moody’s and Standard and Poors.  The new standard is that all are poor except the top 1% who profited mightily from the boom and bust.

Capitalism has always been its own worst enemy with cycles of boom and bust.  Gradually antitrust laws broke up the companies of the Robber Barons, unions sprung up to protect workers, governments began regulating markets to control the severity of the inevitable busts and, economically, things operated smoothly.

Then in 1981 a new president launched the Reagan Revolution.  Drastic and severe deregulation of markets were passed by a Congress pushed along by free market zealot Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas.  Banks were again allowed to consolidate into insurance and brokerage businesses and giant banks began buying each other and forming trusts once again.  A new class of Robber Barons began a strategy to strangle the middle class and seize the vast supply of wealth for itself.  Unfortunately that supply of wealth vanished overnight for all but the top tenth of one percent of the population.

Massive federal budget deficits loomed as tax revenues collapsed, unpaid for wars raged on and additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans were pushed through by the Bush clan.  Inheritance taxes, capital gains, taxes on stock dividends were all either cut or eliminated.  Middle class people were losing their retirement accounts, their jobs and then their homes.  Trillions of dollars of wealth disappeared and no one in Washington cared.  The rich kept getting what they wanted, the failing institutions on Wall Street received trillions in taxpayer subsidies and the Robber Barons learned there was no risk to their riskiest behaviors.  

Capitalism began imploding while the rich began financing a “grass roots” movement to protect their excesses from the evils of socialism.  When a system like capitalism is dying there must be some new one existing to eliminate the vacuum and save the economy.  The capitalists, terrified of the masses revolting, began a concentrated campaign to fear monger socialism.  They told us we were broke and severe austerity measures must be taken.  This was all to save what was left of capitalism and their vast wealth.  America isn’t broke the wealth is simply concentrated at the top:

 

An evil plot was then hatched to eviscerate the social safety net.  Programs such as Social Security began to be condemned as costing too much.  Conservatives first created a plan under which the benefits would be privatized and individuals could “invest” in the markets.  This, of course, would be a windfall for Wall Street bankers while impoverishing seniors and it died a quick death.  Now the argument is simply that the country is broke and we cannot afford to take care of one another.  Of course that’s wrong because Social Security doesn’t add a dime to the deficit.

What does is medical programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.  Our broken health care system with its spiraling, out of control costs are bankrupting us because of the ever increasing number of uninsured.  As that figure keeps escalating those remaining insureds are shouldering more and more of the cost.  Private insurers meanwhile have transferred more and more of the risk to these same payees.  The increasing financial costs result in more and more people dropping out of the insured pool into the caste of uninsured.  Medical bankruptcies began destroying the middle class then the collapse of capitalism finished them off.

Instead of replacing this irretrievably broken system conservatives began arguing that Medicare is unsustainable.  It isn’t the federal health program for seniors which is unsustainable it is our entire health care system.  Of course the best cure is a socialistic one:  universal, single payer.  Keeping the current private providers this would simply collect premiums from individuals and businesses and pay each private health care provider (so it it’s actually a hybrid capitalistic/socialistic concept) on an outcome based schedule.   This would cut our costs in half, save the national economy, improve medical outcomes, provide access to quality health care to everyone and extend life expectancies.

Medicare doesn’t need to be trashed it needs to be expanded and provided to all.

That, of course, goes against all capitalistic instincts however and is being fear mongered by the richest 1% who now control the media, the government, the employers and the banks.  While their share of the national wealth is unsustainable barring a popular revolution they are desperate to save a collapsing capitalistic system broken beyond repair.  Unfortunately they killed their golden goose and now they are turning to us as a replacement.

Greed knows no bounds in capitalists and their total grip on the strings of power is incessant.  The corporate controlled media constantly brainwashes us with phony facts and messages and we sit quietly in our living rooms compliantly nodding our heads as our fortunes, our assets and our lives are torn asunder by those very same people.  Meanwhile corporate taxes kept getting cut:

Marching like lambs to the slaughter we refuse to challenge this crooked status quo and agree that our retirement safety net must go, our senior citizen health care must go, our homes are long gone and all of the family sustaining middle class jobs are gone.  They tell us those jobs can never come back both ignore the fact Germany never lost lost theirs.  They tell us we must knuckle under and obey, that we must not question why we continually vote against our own financial interests.

To do this they march a parade of hypothetical evils who are conspiring to destroy us:  Communists, Hispanics, gays, immigrants and terrorists.  They blast us with constant messages on the news, talk shows, entertainment shows (“24” anyone?) and print media.  There is no counter message as corporate control of the major media was consolidated during the purge.

Incomes for the wealthiest Americans surged and they now control 40% of our total wealth.  Incomes for the remainder continue falling and the trillions being printed by the Fed will eventually cause rapid, uncontrolled inflation.  This will erode what retirement savings remain for the rest of the 99.9%.  A gradual slide into a feudal society is the result of unbridled, unregulated capitalism and will be the death of it.  Capitalism will die of its own excesses or the people will simply rise up in revolt.  Which will it be and what will be its replacement?  Or will Americans simply slide into the deep slumber of death, another great empire imploding due to its own excesses.