From Teachers to Truck Drivers, We’re All the Working Class

gingrich surgesNewt Gingrich, the new Republican anti-Romney, hates it when Occupy Wall Street protestors talk about the 99 percent of us versus the rich one percent of them.

Says the former House speaker: “I think this idea of 99 percent and 1 percent is grotesque European socialist class warfare baloney.”

Gingrich is a millionaire. He votes his class interests. But he brays “class warfare” when we working stiffs vote our class interests.

Politician-plutocrats like Gingrich want us to believe that what’s good for rich folks like them is likewise good for us. When they yelp “class warfare,” it really means they’re afraid that their con job isn’t working on the 99 percent.

Anyway, Gingrich, who likes to remind us he’s also an historian, is probably not a fan of Uriah Stephens. He’s the Philadelphian who in 1869 helped found the Knights of Labor, one of our pioneer unions.

The Knights “tried to teach the American wage-earner that he was a wage-earner first and a bricklayer, carpenter, miner, shoemaker after; that he was a wage-earner first and a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, white, black, Democrat, Republican after,” historian Norman Ware wrote.

The Knights meant that the most important thing workers have in common is work. Thus, workers of all occupations should unite to safeguard their class interests.

While the Knights are long gone, their message of working class solidarity is as relevant as ever.

Historically, labor-haters like Gingrich have tried to divide workers by skill, race, gender, religion, ethnicity and nationality. Today, the wedge issues include abortion, school prayer, guns and gay marriage.

I am a history teacher. But I am a wage-earner and a worker first, just like a factory worker, construction worker, dock worker, miner, truck driver, carpenter, plumber, firefighter, garbage collector, secretary or a store clerk. We all belong to the working class.

berry craigClass. I said it again.

To be sure, few union members today represent what Karl Marx called the proletariat class. But that’s because strong, free trade unions and pro-worker, social democratic government activism lifted up the working class, not red-tooth-in-claw, Republican-style “free enterprise,” meaning union free.

In the late 19th- and early-20th century, when the Republicans and the Democrats were mainly pro-business and anti-labor and unions were few, most workers toiled long hours at low pay in often deadly working conditions. A few men made millions at the expense of millions of impoverished workers, many of them children. The gap between rich and poor was a gulf.

In the 1930s, FDR and the New Dealers allied the Democratic Party — except the Southern segregationists, the antecedents of the almost lily white Dixie GOP — with the union movement. Roosevelt denounced anti-labor “economic royalists” whose greed had plunged the country into its worst-ever depression.

Are all of today’s Democrats as pro-labor as we would like? No. “Blue Dog” Democrats, a breed not uncommon in Kentucky, where I have lived all my life, amount to me-too Repubicans.
Liberal, pro-union Republicans have all but gone the way of the dinosaurs.

I’m a union-card carrying Hubert Humphrey Democrat. I wish we had more Democrats like HHH.

Berry CraigEven so, Democrats are still a ton more likely to side with us than Republicans are. Go the national AFL-CIO website and check out the COPE ratings for Congress. Democrats far outscore Republicans on working class issues.

“A union member voting for Ronald Reagan would be like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders,” said a sign that hung in a Paducah, Ky., union hall in 1980. The same is true for Gingrich and the rest of the tea party-tilting GOP.

Berry Craig
AFT Local 1360

Published by the LA Progressive on November 18, 2011
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.