Working-class History 101

Published on Dissident Voice, by Ruth Hurley, Feb 1, 2015.

A people’s history of the U.S. working class starts with the conflict between resistance and repression.

As income inequality widens in the U.S., the narrative that we need to “take back” our country, or return to an America where hardworking people are rewarded for playing by the rules, is everywhere. But is this really the history of the U.S.—or a fairy tale that obscures the U.S.’s path to industrial dominance? … //

… Jim Crow retrenchment was just one aspect of racialized policy devised for ruling over the ever-growing, ever more diverse U.S. population. The expansionary war against Mexico added a new population of Native residents, who, as Justin Akers Chacón explains, were “legislatively constructed as a foreign people” on their own historic land.

Similarly, immigration policy was cast in racial terms for the first time to restrict Chinese immigration, which was instrumental in the creation of the infrastructure that would allow capitalism to explode across the continent … //

… The documentary’s content is superior to some of its technical aspects, but this doesn’t substantially detract from the viewing experience. Minor issues like an overly long introduction featuring the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars lacks the context and insight of the main feature.

The film is full of powerful images, both stock footage and re-enactments. It features an excellent collection of experts, including Socialist Worker contributors Brian Jones, Sharon Smith and Justin Akers Chacón. All are eloquent and engaging, and add to the overall understanding of the chaos, violence and fluidity of the period.

Highly recommended, Plutocracy contributes a much-needed dose of dynamism to our understanding of how U.S. capitalism evolved, and how racial identities were legally constructed in the interest of that system … //

… (full text).

(Ruth Hurley is a labor activist from New York who writes for Socialist


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