By Chris Fry
On April 22, 1857, the New York Daily Tribune, the newspaper at the time with the largest circulation in the world, published an article titled “Condition of Factory Laborers.” It was written by the paper’s foreign correspondent in London, Karl Marx.
Marx opened his article how wealthy textile mill owners forced changes to the original 1856 “Factory Act”:
During the Session of 1856, a Factory Act was smuggled through Parliament by which the “radical” mill-lords first altered the law in regard to the fencing of mill-gearing and machinery, and secondly introduced the principle of arbitration in the disputes between masters and men. The one law purported to provide for the better protection of the limbs and lives of the factory laborers; the other to place that protection under cheap courts of equity. In fact, the latter law intended to cheat the factory laborer out of law, and the former to cheat him out of his limbs.
The Factory Act enabled a group of “factory inspectors” to try to enforce the provisions of the Factory Act that were designed to stop the mill owners from “overworking” workers, particularly child workers. Many of these inspectors described their experiences to Marx:
“overworking, in violation of the factory act, is on the increase”
Overworking in the terms of that act means employing young persons for a longer time per day than is legally allowed. This is done in various ways: By beginning work before six in the morning, by not stopping it at six in the evening, and by abridging the terms the law has fixed for the meals of the workpeople. There are three periods of the day when the steam-engine starts, viz., when the work begins in the morning, and when it is resumed after the two meals of breakfast and dinner; and there are three periods when it stops, viz., at the beginning of each meal-time and when the work ceases in the evening. Thus there are six opportunities when five minutes may be stolen, or half an hour each day. Five minutes a day’s increased work, multiplied by weeks, is equal to two and one-half days of produce in the year; but the fraudulent overworking goes far beyond that amount. I quote Mr. Leonard Horner, the Factory Inspector for Lancashire:
“The profit to be gained by such illegal overworking appears to be a greater temptation than the manufacturers can resist. They calculate upon the chance of not being found out; and when they see the small amount of penalty and costs which those who have been convicted have had to pay, they find that if they should be detected there will still be a considerable balance of gain.”[e]
Beside the trifling fines imposed by the factory act, the mill-owners took good care to have it so framed, that the greatest facilities are afforded for passing by its enactments, and as the inspectors unanimously declare, “almost insuperable difficulties prevent them from putting an effective stop to the illegal working.” They also concur in stigmatizing the willful commission of fraud by persons of large property; the mean contrivances to which they have recourse in order to elude detection; and the base intrigues they set on foot against the inspectors and sub-inspectors entrusted with the protection of the factory slave. In bringing forward a charge of overworking, the inspectors, sub-inspectors, or their constables, must be prepared to swear that the men have been employed at illegal hours. Now, suppose they appear after 6 o’clock in the evening. The manufacturing machinery is immediately stopped, and although the people could be there for no other purpose than attending upon it, the charge cannot be sustained, by reason of the wording of the act. The workmen are then sent out of the mill in great haste, often more doors than one facilitating their rapid dispersion. In some instances, the gas was extinguished, when the sub-inspectors entered the room, leaving them suddenly in darkness among complicated machinery. In those places which have acquired a notoriety for overworking, there is an organized plan for giving notice at the mills of the approach of an inspector, servants at railway stations and at inns being employed for this purpose.
These vampyres (sic), fattening on the life-blood of the young working generation of their own country; are they not the fit companions of the British opium smugglers? (a reference to the two British Opium Wars against China – Chris Fry)
War against Public Health by Boss Trump and Wall Street
The time gap of 163 years and the distance of thousands of ocean miles has not changed one whit the disdain of the billionaire ruling class and their public face, Boss Trump, of the lives and health of the millions of working and oppressed people in the U.S. and around the globe in the face of this terrible COVID-19 pandemic. And their view of the public health workers and officials matches that of the English textile mill owners long ago – a troublesome obstruction to their profits.
This virus has already killed more than 144,000 in the U.S., 1,100 in just one day on July 21, more than 616,000 globally. It threatens millions with starvation and death, while the corporate bigwigs and wizards of high finance, led by the gangster Donald Trump, have done everything they can to muzzle and delegitimize the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the other public health agency’s workers and officials, led by Doctor Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
On July 14, USA Today published an article from Trump’s chief trade advisor Peter Navarro, opening with:
Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.
Later the paper was forced to admit that Navarro’s piece was so filled with lies and distortions that the paper was forced to state:
However, several of Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci — on the China travel restrictions, the risk from the coronavirus and falling mortality rates — were misleading or lacked context. As such, Navarro’s op-ed did not meet USA TODAY’s fact-checking standards.
Back on May 20, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that:
The White House blocked the release of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that provided detailed science-based recommendations on how to reopen up communities safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump’s minions told the CDC that the report “would never see the light of day.” Later they partially reversed that decision, “permitting” the agency to publish a watered-down” report.
On July 13, Trump himself reposted a tweet from right-wing former game show host Chuck Woolery, which certainly makes clear Trump’s and his Wall Street backers’ attitude toward the public health agencies:
Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.
That same day, ABC News reported that:
The White House has taken the unusual step of attacking a member of its coronavirus task force, by providing a document to several media outlets that contains a list of comments made by Dr. Anthony Fauci in an effort to damage his reputation.
The comments were first reported by the Washington Post.
The news of the document comes as two senior level White House sources tell ABC News that Fauci has at times been referred to among aides to President Donald Trump as “Dr. Gloom and Doom.”
The document, obtained by ABC News from sources who confirmed the effort to discredit Fauci, says in part that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.”
On July 14, Trump’s minions ordered hospitals nationwide to cease sending their data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU cases, ventilator usage and so on, to the CDC. Instead, they were to go to the White House controlled Department of Health and Human Services (HHC). This move was designed to allow Trump and his servile advisors to hide the terrible numbers from the virus.
Why these attacks on Fauci and the CDC?
The simple answer to this is quite clear – to Trump and Wall Street, science, particularly public health science, must give way to their insatiable hunger for profits.
It is true that since the pandemic began, the Federal Reserve has turned on the spigots of huge low-interest loans for corporations, even those in or near bankruptcy. A July 20th New York Times article reported that:
Through late June, giant U.S. companies had borrowed roughly $850 billion in the bond markets this year, double the pace from last year. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase anticipate that investment-grade companies will borrow roughly $1.6 trillion from investors by the time 2020 is over.
It has turned conventional wisdom on its head.
“During a standard recession, and that would include the global financial crisis as well, you would expect to see corporate debt as a percentage of G.D.P. begin to come down,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, a consulting firm.
The increased borrowing can be traced, in part, to the actions of the Federal Reserve. The central bank slashed interest rates back to rock-bottom levels, making it attractive for businesses to refinance and borrow more to build a cushion of cash. But an even bigger factor was the Fed’s announcement — in the heat of March’s market upheaval — that it would buy corporate bonds.
Investors have been so emboldened by the Fed’s actions that even companies viewed as especially risky are having no problem borrowing heavily despite a deeply uncertain economic recovery marked by spiking infections and rolled-back reopenings.
“Now they have, like, a second life,” said Steven Chylinski, head of fixed-income trading at Eagle Asset Management in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The borrowing has been a boon for Wall Street, providing a rare bright spot for banks that are setting aside billions of dollars in case consumers and corporations become unable to cover their debts. Banks collect hefty fees for squiring these bonds to market, and quarterly earnings reports last week showed remarkable increases in investment banking revenue over a year earlier, including 91 percent at JPMorgan Chase. Citigroup said its underwriting business for investment-grade bonds was up 131 percent from the same time last year. Goldman Sachs reported record numbers for debt underwriting, “reflecting a significant increase in industry wide volumes.”
Hedge fund manager Dinakar Singh, whose billion dollar holdings grew by more than 25 per cent since the beginning of the year, is more than willing to give credit for his huge profits where credit is due:
“We simply never believed ‘what happens in China stays in China,'” Singh wrote in a letter to investors last week that was seen by Reuters. “Trump talking down COVID-19 risk gave investors an incredible gift — it kept markets resilient much longer than they should have, and enabled us to ensure our portfolio was sensibly positioned.”
Of course, all of this corporate debt is a huge “bubble” ready to burst at any time that investors realize that banks and companies will be unable to pay off this huge debt, particularly since their workers are forced to stay home and cannot be exploited to generate corporate profits. Trump’s drive to “reopen the economy” has exploded massive new COVID-19 outbreaks around the country.
What is to be done?
In his excellent book on the Russian Revolution, Walter Rodney provides in a nutshell a seemingly contradictory yet nevertheless illuminating description of the goal of the revolutionary socialists:
They (the Bolsheviks) set up a proletarian dictatorship or a regime of workers’ democracy.
How can a government be both a dictatorship and a democracy? In the U.S. and other capitalist “democracies”, it is the capitalist class of bankers and corporation owners who manage their competing interests through their minions in the government. It is their “democracy” based on their dictatorship rooted in their vast holdings of private property.
Rather than the government making decisions to further the needs of the people, it is instead devoted to pave the way for the smooth flow of profits into the coffers of the billionaire class, while at the same time, through the armed might of their police and military, ensure with threats and actual brutal force that the workers and oppressed communities and countries toil endlessly to amass huge profits for these “vampires”.
The COVID-19 pandemic represents a natural force that has placed the capitalist system and its Trump regime in a crisis. Trump and his Wall Street backers are desperate to force the workers back to work and the children back to school, no matter the human cost.
But with a revolutionary socialist country like Cuba or China or North Korea or Vietnam, the structure and role of the government is different. With the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the governments must answer to the needs of the workers and oppressed nations within, not the banks and corporations, which are owned by the people, not the billionaires. Thus, the economy can be operated by an overall plan to meet the needs of the people, with input from the people as to its content.
That is why these countries have been able to manage this COVID-19 pandemic with far more success than the Trump regime. They have been able to modify their planning to quickly amass resources and mobilize the people to detect sick individuals, isolate and care for them, and track their social contacts. Even many advanced capitalist countries have been forced to try to emulate their example.
Trump and the ruling class view these countries with hostility, and their own public health agencies with suspicion. Fauci and the CDC’s proposals for protecting the public are viewed as too much “planning”, interfering with the drive to force the workers back to work and the children back to school despite the risk.
The pandemic has thrown more than 50 million people out of work. Most have lost their health benefits. The $600 supplementary unemployment payments are set to expire at the end of July. Mass evictions and foreclosures are on the horizons. Food relief lines are growing larger every day. All of this portends a massive social upheaval, which will be on top of the extremely powerful Black Lives Matter movement.
It is the task of revolutionary socialist to provide a path for those engaged in the struggle to not only deal with this crisis, but to utilize that struggle to create a society and a government where the real power is placed in the hands of the working class and the oppressed communities, so that meeting human needs rather than amassing profits is the goal of every decision.