FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Meet the Real King Joe

It has been a century since “the man who never died” was put to death.

Joe Hill, whose songs inspired labor organizing and introduced the phrase “pie in the sky,” went before a firing squad on November 19, 1915. The case putting him at the scene of a grocery store shootout was tenuous at best. But as Franklin Rosemont observes, “It was for the ‘crime’ of belonging to the [Industrial Workers of the World] that Hill was tried and condemned.”

Hill’s wrongful conviction was part of a massive repression against labor efforts ignored in triumphalist accounts of American history. As Karl Hess told a New York Times reporter startled by the continued existence of the union to which Hill and Hess belonged: “We used to have a labor movement in this country, until I.W.W. leaders were killed or imprisoned. You could tell labor unions had become captive when business and government began to praise them.”

In 1949, the animated short “Meet King Joe” starred another Joe who embodied the average worker. But this Joe was “king” only in purchasing power, a byproduct of cooperation with management and productivity enabled by capital-intensive investment. As reviewer Christine Hennig notes, it “strongly implies that [workers] have no right to complain about their wages or working conditions in any way.” (Unsurprisingly, the cartoon’s production was funded not by union dues but by the fortunes of the head of General Motors, the company convinced that whatever was good for itself coincided with the public interest.) In contrast, the IWW aimed to make every workingman (and workingwoman, with its ranks of real-life Katniss Everdeen “rebel girls” like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn) king of their own workplace.

A reappraisal of the American economy’s distortion by intervention against, not on behalf of, labor has been taken up not only by “people’s historians” like Howard Zinn, but Ayn Rand scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra. This has undermined two persistent yet contradictory myths. One is that the American economy is a free market, with the “Meet King Joe” narration explaining that, “Our industrial progress is largely the result of the competitive struggle between companies.” The other is that the American economy was a free market but thankfully no longer is. In the former, the power of big business is earned from consumers; in the latter, dog-eat-dog small-scale competition was wisely restrained. But Zinn, drawing on historical research by Gabriel Kolko uncovering that the American state has been allied with business rather than labor, places the founding of the IWW at “the inauguration of benign governmental regulation of business, supported by a new consensus of businessmen, Presidents, and reformers.”

The corporate-state alliance is powerful enough that it might seem destined to persist for many more centuries. But new history from Kolko on shows how stacked a deck it has needed to survive. On an even playing field, what Samuel Konkin calls “the abhorrence of the IWW to politics and party,” combined with its direct action, offers a winning strategy. And that’s no dream of Joe.

More articles by:

Joel Schlosberg is a contributor to the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org). He lives in New York.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail