Joe Hill, the labourer who became an organizer in the USA of the Industrial Workers of the World, an international union, was executed unjustly 104 years ago today. A martyr of the world trade union movement that was uniting the world’s working class against the world’s capitalist class. A firing squad shot him to death in Utah on 19 November, 1915 after he was found guilty in a sham court on false charges. The class struggle was tough then. (It is a day to go on to YouTube and listen to versions of the songs he wrote, and of a haunting ballad about him - see link below).
It is a day also, in his memory, to recall the importance of the struggle, world-wide, of all workers against the entire capitalist class. But, to unite as a working class, we need to see our class. And to fight the capitalist ruling class, it, too, has to be visible.
We live in times when Donald Trump’s tailors could well sew him a suit from invisible cloth and have his courtiers admire his fine attire. Yet, it’s worse than that, today. It’s not just the King’s clothes that are invisible but the very ruler, himself, has become invisible.
Under capitalism – and this is a pure tautology – it is the capitalists that are the ruling class. They are the class that owns the means of survival of all of us, and they rule over us. Why? Because they have somehow got control over the capital we all need in order to survive, and that we all contributed in building up. But this ruling capitalist class prefers remaining invisible. So, in the USA, American workers often end up not seeing them. American workers end up believing that they are ruled by “an elite” or by “politicians”. The rest of the people are “the middle class”. Maybe even the elite is part of the middle class, who knows? But, working people are not so much working people as “middle class”. Then there are some other people in an underworld of drugs, crime and prisons, who tend to become invisible, too. So, two classes are seen: the politicians and rest of the elite and the middle classes. The King/s (the capitalist class) make themselves hard to see. They are hidden from view. By academia. By the media.
So, the Kings of capitalism that run the show have, over the past 100 years, tended to become invisible again and again, especially in the USA, the country where Joe Hill was executed.
Let’s take the long view.
Until about 250 years ago or so, it was castes of nobles and proper kings that were in charge, world-wide. Their legitimacy – for taking taxes on peasants’ and stock – was that their blood was better than the rests’, and they, “therefore”, got to have the arable land to which people were tied by their humble birth. The Kings then could afford to be ostentatious.
And before the Kings, there were various theocracies that the Gods allegedly put in place – and the masses had to put up with taxes (then) just in case the Gods’ own representatives did not send the rainy season next time round. Like Kings, they need not hide themselves.
This pattern was true, over the last 5,000 to 10,000 years on all continents – Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa. And vestiges of theocracies remain today (Heads of States that invoke the Gods or the God), as do vestiges of the monarchies (their Heads are often still seen on postage stamps, while their portraits fill the pages of high society magazines). But, the real ruling class is the capitalists.
In the USA the idea that capitalist society is already “classless” is part of capitalist ideology. At least from the time of the defeat by means of repression of the early 20th Century working class movements, like the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World led by men like Joe Hill, executed on those trumped up charges exactly 104 years ago today on 19 November, 1915).
Capitalists have, since then, not often been seen clearly by American workers as the class that controls wealth and production and commerce and banking. Capitalists succeeded in portraying themselves most of the time as the most successful of the classless “people” of America.
Until this view began to be shaken. It was shaken by all sorts of different movements.
Among them there was the “Occupy Movement”. It occupied Wall Street in 2011 – thus pointing a finger at the ruling class, making it more visible on a nation-wide scale again. Exposing the Kings, the ruling class, the 1% who own the wealth and control all big production and banking and commerce, and who also control the elite.
Once Trump was elected in 2016, this also, of course, made the 1% more visible – as though in the person of Trump, himself a self-proclaimed millionaire, the capitalist class took over the reins from its “elite” that could no longer stand in for it.
And now, when Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren propose a wealth tax, during the Democratic Primary Elections, the billionaires have had to make themselves even more visible – complaining, becoming victims, one even crying billionaires’ crocodile tears live on TV, about their being victimized for their success!
So, it is not just the invisible clothing of the King, but the invisibility of the King, himself, or his class, that is a danger. And this is being exposed in the USA today.
In Mauritius, the working class has always, until recently, had a very clear view of the capitalist class that rules, and of itself, the working class. This is knowledge left too deep from slavery and indenture. It is not easy to hide it.
But, in recent years, with the decimation of the organized working class in the big sectors, this view has begun to wane. But still, until the last elections last week, every single party, even all the main pro-capitalist parties like the MSM-ML alliance and the Labour-PMSD alliance and the MMM, still have anti-capitalist rhetoric, still call on the working class to support them. And the MSM-ML alliance could only win the elections by openly legislating in favour of working class rights in the new Workers’ Rights Act, minimum wage, negative income tax, and increased universal pensions – not to mention the improvement of the universal free health and education systems.
And yet, the capitalist class in Mauritius, especially with the demise of King Sugar, has become relatively more invisible.
So, while in the USA, the working class begins to see the capitalist class more clearly – even in politics – so, in the opposite direction, in Mauritius the working class begins to lose sight of the capitalist rulers.
The capitalists here now begin to hide behind the facades of banking, the stock exchange and insurance, behind real estate and vague “investments” in off-shore.
We need to make them seen again.
LALIT is campaigning for all the arable land to be put to use phase-by-phase for creating jobs in production, for export and for food security. This way we help make the capitalists, who are selling off the land to foreign billionaires with Government-granted tax incentives, become visible again. This way we can challenge their rule.
And at the anniversary of the execution of Joe Hill of the Industrial Workers of the World, (the world-wide union of workers) we take our hats off to those US workers and activists who are helping to make the capitalists in the US visible again.
Joe Hill, as well as being a union organizer was also a song-writer. But he is most remembered from the Woodstock Concert in 1969 when Joan Baez sang her beautiful version of a 1936 song in his memory, “The Ballad of Joe Hill”
Bruce Springsteen’s version Joe Hill