During the 1960s and 70s there was a growing middle class in the U.S. This was due to the abundance of manufacturing jobs and gains won by labor unions. Part of the U.S. history that precipitated the emerging middle class was the takedown of the Robber Barons of the early 1900s. The robber barons were basically a group of unscrupulous industrialists. Who controlled pretty much everything to do with life a hundred years ago. They decided where you would work, how much you would earn, and how you would live. There was no one around to give them any restrictions. They decided what was what. This included the sweat shops of New York City, the stagnant and un-breathable air of Pittsburgh, the company owned towns of the Appalachians.
It is ironic that the first president to confront these power and money hungry tyrants was a Republican. He was Teddy Roosevelt. As a result of his crackdown on unscrupulous practices workers began to see better working conditions and slightly improved pay. When the labor unions arose in the 1920s they fought to improve the working man’s conditions even more. They withstood the company paid thugs who beat them up on the picket lines and the police who were in the back pockets of the rich.
Fast forward to today and the middle class is almost an unknown entity once again. The average worker has not seen a pay increase above inflation in more than 10 years while at the same time those who were once called robber barons have seen their income rise dramatically. CEOs are now making eight time more than they were not many years ago. The final shoe seems to have dropped on the death of the middle class yesterday in Madison Wisconsin where the recently elected Republican governor has outlawed labor unions for State workers. This is seen as a harbinger for other Republican governors to follow suit and take bargaining rights away from the common man.
I wonder if Teddy Roosevelt is turning over in his grave seeing his hard work undone almost a hundred years later. Without representation the workers both public and private are once again at the mercy of the super rich who demand their profits above everything else including worker’s basic quality of life. I am a firm believer in the phrase “power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts”. It seems we are approaching that point of absolute power when we take all leverage away from the average guy. I assume that sooner or later the working class will get fed up with the great disparity of income between the super rich and everyone else. Maybe when that day comes they finally votes those politicians who are in the pockets of the rich out of office. The labor unions are not completely free of fault here as they often were also overcome with their greed for power. But that in no way was an excuse to strip worker of all power as was done yesterday in Wisconsin. Shame on us for letting it happen.
Maybe the rise of the robber barons is now a centennial event. If that is the case we can only pray for another president like Teddy to put them back in their place this time around too. Our current president seems to be shell shocked by the onslaught of the greedy and powerful so I don’t hold out much hope that he can take over and recapture some of Teddy’s work.
But what do I know…..