One big difference between working class and non-working class and between old school blue collar working class and the modern white collar working class is the present respect and expectation of law and police as being a good. This difference is also one reason I know cosmic justice organizations that are blaming racial problems on institutional racism and white privilege are really a technique by upper class privileged and their intelligentsia to strengthen their power and classism. Only the non-working class looks at the police and the law as a good to be respected and from which good is expected. As far back as I can remember in detail, I never respected the law nor the police just as no working class person should respect it. I feared it as any working class kid should but never respected it as no working class kid did or should — even in the present white collar working class. This is one major difference between the old school blue collar working class and the new white collar working class. If I ever had any hope for justice, it was for justice in the next life not in this one. Usually, I had no hope for justice just for peace. This is not because the working class is a bunch of dump hillbillies who did not know any better as falsely marketed by a new friend of the upper class J.D. Vance in his book Hillbilly Elegies telling the upper class and its intelligentsia what they want to hear (that the working class is dysfunctional). Our conclusions on law and the police were and are very rational and based on the reality of working class life. I write here as a summary of my life experience. For a working class person’s analysis of Hillbilly Elegies that is not intended to say only what rich people want to hear, there are critiques such as The Self-Serving Hustle of “Hillbilly Elegy”.
The law was not and is never there when workers need it and when it was there it usually did and does make things worse. Some of this was a technology problem. We did not have 911 growing up. To my memory 911 was not added in Chicago until the early 80’s. So even if you had a burglar breaking through your window in the middle of the night with a gun, your first option was not to call the police. Even if you had memorized the number, which I never did nor knew anyone that did, picking up the rotary phone and dialing seven numbers with the clicking of the dial being heard all through house including the burglar was a fairly stupid option. Unless you had a gun yourself and were willing to use it and risk getting shot yourself or killing someone, the options involved running away, staying quiet hoping they take what they wanted and leave, or yelling to wake up the neighbors hoping one of them would call the police — at which point a rational burglar would leave. If someone jumped you in an alley, you could not pull out your cellphone and call the police. You either avoided the alley, fought back, or gave in. Now the law and police are everywhere and the average person commits three felonies a day without even knowing it. Worse, everyone is accustomed to having this Sword of Damocles the police everywhere and anywhere anything social is occurring.
More important, socially, the police were just another working class group fighting for the same resources we were. They had their turf just as the greasers (gangsters) had their turf. Smart thing to do was just to leave both of them alone as much as possible. If a cop with a gun told you to do something, you did it in the same way you followed the orders of a gangster with a gun. We did not expect reasonableness from either. Many police were former greasers; for many greasers as they got older, it was a choice between being a criminal and being a cop. The smart ones mostly became cops and the dumb ones criminals. That is pretty much how they investigated matters. The cops knew who the bad guys were, it was just a matter of waiting until they screwed up and they eventually always did. Being a cop was much safer though it did not always pay better in those days but the smarter ones found a way to make it pay better as I wrote in my previous blog essay on ethics. We did not have anything to steal and since we did not take vacations there was always someone at home and we did not have to worry about burglary. The big problem was violence inside the home and street violence. The police could not help with the family violence and still cannot except by destroying the family. As far as street violence goes, as long as you did not go out looking for trouble at night (as Ta-Nehisi Coates clearly did in his desire to be a big man in the neighborhood by beating up others and his teachers), you were not completely but fairly safe in terms of criminal violence. The smart and disciplined knew where the trouble was and worked around it or with it. The police and the law were the last not first option if one did need help.
Luckily, I grew up before the upper class introduced illegal drugs into working class communities, so I did not have to watch entire families being torn apart and generations of men jailed for something that should be legal and taxed with medical aid going to the addicted and their families.
Also, by the time I got to high school, I knew enough history to know that most of the good things we and the working class had in life consisting of the eventual union job for my Dad with its better pay and benefits and even basic concepts such as a 40-hour week, weekends, and over-time, double-time, and golden-time pay plus health insurance and a union pension were not the result of the law but of hard-fought physical fighting against the law — almost all of it involved illegal fighting, some of it done with the help of organized crime that was organized enough to take on the law. In fact, most of the successful union organizing and strikes were considered organized crime in their fruition and were prosecuted as a criminal conspiracy by the majesty of the law in the early days of union organizing. This is true throughout history. Capitalism maintains that humans are naturally greedy and compete and thus through this competition in a free market that wealth is created. The problem is that in practice what this means is that it is good for the rich to be naturally greedy. Just like the immigrants who are supposed to come to this country for truth, justice, and the American way not just for material wealth, workers are expected to be simple altruists: being a greedy materialist worker is simply being a greedy materialist worker not a good. Capitalism without doubt does create wealth, but the wealth is not and was never voluntarily distributed in any significant amount to the working class: they took it by violence. I wrote about this history in a previous blog essay dealing with the Haymarket Square riots and the resulting worldwide May Day celebration ignored in the United States.
My Dad’s Local in the Labors’ International Union was well known to have mafia connections and I do not doubt it did. As I stated before, I think the mafia is a bunch of scum. Admitting their involvement in union organizing is not meant to be praise. Their involvement in union organizing was not based on any altruism but purely on economic opportunity. It is not a coincident that union membership, strikes, wages, the 40-hour work week, job security, and the imposition of what is essentially a 24/7 on-call workweek for many white collar workers is occurring at the same time as the disappearance of unions and criminal enterprises strong enough to aid unions to take on the law. I am not saying it is directly associated but it is part of the same process. At the height of labor organizing in the late 19th and 20th Century there were thousands of strikes each year. There were 11 in 2014. There was a time when 30% of the labor force was unionized; it is down to 6% now with most of that government employees such as the police. The anti-union marketing and outright brainwashing have gotten so bad that white collar workers think worse of unions than they do of the law that is creating wage slavery to replace its chattel slavery.
Think about what would have to be accomplished if Millennials, Generation X, and others got tired of burning to death living in old warehouses (as is occurring in Oakland CA) making minimum wage because they could not afford decent apartments and decide to start a union. So, how do you organize one? Where do you get the money to do that? Private equity or venture capital? Unless you have a trust fund that you are willing to risk, there are no legal options for getting financing. Then what? No one cares. You move on anyway. Instead of putting on a mask and going to Berkeley to beat up on each other over gender identity, you go on strike and block the entrance gates of your employers’ place of business and prevent the hiring of new employees. How long do you think that will last? A few hours, a few minutes? You are now terminated from employment; cannot pay your rent and have no money. You do not even qualify for unemployment because you were terminated for cause. Your union and the strike are essentially over a few minutes after it started. Labor organizing is a risky business even in the best of times; there were hundreds of annual strikes during the Depression. Not only were the union organizers facing financial ruin but also facing the police and the army if necessary as strike breakers putting union members in jail not the employers. Both for money, personal protection, and for leverage, many times the only option those union organizers had for help with these necessities was organized crime. In theory, any private contractor in the Chicago area could have hired non-union construction laborers any time they wanted instead of hiring them from the Laborers’ Union. Some did. It was usual for that contractor to shortly thereafter suffer an office fire, the construction equipment stolen or destroyed, and the construction sites suffer fires and other vandalism. Predictably, when the contractor hired union labor, the problem stopped never to occur again. Lesson learned.
The working class is not made up of idiots. As with everyone else, 90% of them would probably have done nothing and taken whatever crumbs were given to them by the upper classes. Ten percent would not. When that 10% by luck were able to get the other 90% united with a will to fight, they all fought hard for what they got as they have throughout history.
Without doubt as everyone is quick to point out many of these unions were divided along ethnic, racial, trade, locality, and many other differences that caused them to fight each other as much as they fought their employers. At least they fought. As my life and the lives of many other in the working class establish, a solitary individual cannot fight the law and is simply a criminal. It takes social support: an extended supporting family, a group identity, an ethnicity, or anything to create a social unity and force strong enough to take on the law — legal or not. The first strike in America was by Polish workers: Jamestown Polish Craftsmen’s Strike of 1619. The strength of the first successful black union consisting of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was successful because it could count on 100,000 black members to act in unison in an economic fight against the Powers. Do you think anyone could get 100,000 of anyone these days to act in unison against the law on anything? Or even suggest it without being arrested and jailed? If the new generation of white collar workers now wanted to take up the fight against the Powers, what social support would you have? Family? Maybe, if you have more than a single mother as family, but that is it. Fellow Polish, Italians, whites, blacks, the village, the neighborhood? Who? As far as I can see, the future that the new school working class wants and will get consists of unisex, homogeneous, culturally stagnant, one color, paper-cutouts of each other living solitary lives of temporary jobs without family, community, or other social support except for the handouts they get from Big Brother. Well, good luck with it. At least you will find the peace I always hoped for in this life.