People's History: Labor Struggles, 1877-1900 (Chap 11)

Music: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

The barons of the business world used government
as ally in their quest for wealth. When their ascent
was challenged by the workingman, the rich man's course
was steadied by their loyal mercenary force.

The 1870s, the greatest economic growth
in history, but not for all. With blacks and females both
oppressed, and immigrants in millions pushing wages down,
the common laborer in factory and farm and town
was at the mercy of "free market" men - monopolies
their game, the 'barons' managing the working destinies
of tens of millions: Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie,
and Armour, Gould, and Mellon - each of them an absentee
from military service, thanks to payoffs ("many lives
less valuable," said Mellon's father). Mythically one strives
for fortune, like Horatio Alger, "rags to riches." Few
were Alger-like. Their fortunes mounted through a rendezvous
with government, as Hayes and Cleveland let them have their way.
The ICC and Sherman Act were meant to help defray
the power of the corporation, but the friendly courts
found loopholes. And according to the court reports
Amendment 14, meant initially to help the blacks,
was used primarily to boost the gains or cut the tax
of companies. And furthermore, curriculum in schools
was structured to prepare the students for the laws and rules
of government instead of challenging the status quo.
The 1880s, though, would see the nation undergo
a people's revolution. "Workmen everywhere, unite!"
said Socialists. The AFL and strikers would ignite
a time of riots: in Chicago, rail and stockyards down,
Haymarket Square the scene of protest in a restless town.
A bomb, police were killed, and men who weren't even there
were put to death for anarchy. The scandalous affair
was heard around the world. Depression came in '93,
with railroad strikes, and once again Chicago's destiny
was Labor's stage: the Railway Union and the Pullman Strike,
and Mr. Debs the voice of workers, white and black alike.
And looking west, the land was gone, despite the Homestead Act.
Monopolies depressed the prices, so the farmers lacked
the means to pay their bills, their mortgages were overdue,
"The Man" was always standing at the door, foreclosures grew.
Alliances of rural workers spurred a 'Populist'
crusade - a growing people's movement fashioned to resist
the "government of Wall Street," with the nation finding race
transcended by a sense of working-class that saw a face
much like its own. But in the end the force of politics
and business would prevail, heroic though the heretics
to industry might be. McKinley and Republicans
had wealth and media, and prisoners and Pinkerton's
and immigrants and national and local troops to break
the strikes. The well-positioned men of business would forsake
the black, poor whites, the Indian - whatever it would take,
McKinley stated, when "financial honor" is at stake.

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