John G Bell


Fall '03 - Gomez & Unsel

Week 9 – Response Paper

The Not So Gilded Age: Conflict of Ideologies Between Capital and Labor

A. Synopsis

The corporation changed from an exclusive charter for economic enterprise that required some social responsibility to an artificial person. This artificial person was invested by the government with the rights and protections of a citizen through the legal system and was invested with the qualities of human ambition, greed and hubris by the owners of capital. The creation of these new citizens was a social and economic experiment that resulted in the creation of something very similar to feudal fiefdoms, like the city of Pullman. In these experiments, the civil and political rights of the corporation and capital came into conflict with the political and civil rights of the people and labor. In a sense, the rise of the corporation was the enfranchisement of a new electorate with expansive economic power to influence society and government. The conflict between labor and capital was the struggle to find a new balance of power.

B. Response

The project of creating newly enfranchised groups continued with the creation and enfranchisement of the corporation as an artificial citizen. This created a socio-economic laboratory for experimentation with the social vision [Papke 12] of the capitalists guided by the popularity of Social Darwinism. [Papke 65]

The power of capital to control the lives of people and the influence of labor on the market has become less overtly mired in actual combat, but the essential conflict between labor and capital has continued. Labor's ability to negotiate as an empowered voice in the free market has diminished and thwarted.

The syntax and content of capital's critique of labor's demand for relevance and respect has not changed much. The demand that labor not negotiate as a combination, with rights to collective bargaining, the claim that the state of labor is too good to warrant listening to demands or agreeing to arbitration – these are elements of critique that remain in the vocabulary of capital. The

In response to this continuing conflict, capital has steadily exported the inflammatory abuse from this country internationally. With the export of industry, labor in this country has been transmuted by the undue political and economic market influence of capital into a servile and de-skilled pool of maids and busboys in this “great hotel,” a national expansion of the franchise started in Pullman. Capital learned some lessons about bread and circuses, but never reformed.

C. Questions

What's changed? Did labor learn how to maintain influence as much as capital has learned to dismantle labor? Even the service economy has been exported to call centers and software development firms in, for example, India. The race to the bottom has not only been an economic expediency, but it creates a pool of under-employed workers in this country with which to price fix the cost of labor. This was a tool of happenstance during the Pullman strike, but appears to have become an intentionally consistent convenience to capital.