Income inequality may be a hot topic during
the current American
election season, but it's also a stark reality that has plagued the
country for hundreds of years.
That sad history foreshadows what
many are still grappling with today.
The feature-length documentary
'Plutocracy II - Solidarity Forever' is a studious and well-produced
portrayal of America's long-standing clashes between the
working-class and the industrial beast.
The film, which is the second part of an ongoing historical series,
covers the seminal labor-related events which occurred between the
late 1800's and the 1920's.
Its subtitle refers to a 1915 song
composed by Ralph Chaplin as an anthem for unionized workers.
film itself is the cinematic version of that anthem, as it allows us
a comprehensive understanding of the need for these early labor
unions, and the enormous sacrifices of its members to ensure
fairness, safety, and equality in the workplace.
The operations of industries like railroads, steel and coal were
characterized by slave wages, dangerous working environments,
punishing hours, and child labor.
With the birth of the labor
unions, these industries were forced to re-examine their worker
policies or run the risk of losing their businesses altogether.
of the earliest examples of this is the formation of the
Railroad Union in 1893, an event that is prominently featured in the
After the organization won early successes in recovering wages
for denigrated workers, its popularity skyrocketed among the working
class. But the heads of industry soon fought back with their
far-reaching strong-arm influence, and subsequent public strikes
were marred by violence, oppression and unlawful arrests.
Modern political junkies will find special relevance in the film's
portrayal of Eugene V. Debs, a co-founder of Industrialized Workers
of the World, aka
the Wobblies, who eschewed divisions based on
race, sex, skill level etc.
The film devotes an inordinate amount of
attention to their actions in the film, including the remarkable
free speech fights in California.
In this age of Bernie Sanders and
his message of democratic socialism, it is surprising to learn that
Debs' popularity in the early twentieth century was particularly
pronounced in states that lean heavily conservative today.
Also, the director explores the still-controversial "Propaganda of
the Deed" campaign, which was essentially a terrorist campaign
against moneyed elites by anarchists.
He doesn't pass judgment on
these actions, but he concludes that their ultimate effect was to
increase the power of the police state.
'Plutocracy II - Solidarity Forever' is essential viewing for those
with an interest in America's class struggles, and the ongoing
efforts to level the playing field between the haves and the have nots.