FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Meet the Real King Joe

by

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
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail