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War on Workers

Forty-four years ago President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced a national initiative to end poverty, as we know it in America. "Because it is right, because it is wise, and because, for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty, I submit, for the consideration of the Congress and the country, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964," Johnson wrote in the preamble to his proposed War on Poverty. That noble initiative barely got off the ground before being derailed by the war in Vietnam, which scarred Johnson’s administration and legacy. Corporate America was concerned about the "communist threat" of providing social services in America so they fabricated a threat in Southeast Asia and diverted resources into that region to reshape that region and our own.

by Akwasi Evans

Martin Luther King, Jr. had been leading marches in the street. Malcolm X was telling Black people to fight for freedom "by any means necessary." President Kennedy had just been assassinated and the Students for a Democratic Society and Black Panthers were causing chaos on college campuses and in urban communities across the country by questioning and challenging corrupt institutions. Corporate America needed a distraction, something to take people’s minds off their own condition; they needed a war. They needed a weak, defenseless enemy to pick on in the name of democracy. They needed a diversion to prevent Black and White, Muslim and Jew, blue and white-collar workers from banning together out of mutual interest to uplift the least so that all boats could rise with that tide.

They had what they needed; they had used it before. After amassing troops for the ready they would then claim provocation by saying those they planned to invade had in fact attacked them. They had used it effectively in 1898, when they sunk the U.S.S. Maine and blamed it on Cuba so that they could invade that island. So on August 4, 1964, when the USS Maddox steamed up the Gulf of Tonkin and encountered three North Vietnamese torpedo gunboats, a battle ensued. All three gunboats were hit by the Maddox artillery as well as by air support and the Mattox was struck near the rear by one machine gun bullet. And instantly American soldiers were off to war.

Under-educated Black and White sharecroppers and farmers who had toiled in Southern cotton fields were now wading through Vietnamese and Cambodian rice paddies. And all along the Mississippi Delta plans were being made to convert its swampy marsh into profitable rice plantations.

When the war in Vietnam started, America was the world’s 35th leading exporter of rice, according to Samuel Yette’s acclaimed 1971 book on Southern Black exploitation, The Choice. When the war ended America was number one and the rice economies of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam had been decimated.

Fast-forward about three decades and we find the Bill Clinton administration ushering in a new initiative to end the dependence of the poor on government assistance. He called it the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, and in 1996, Clinton declared we would "end welfare as we know it." Job opportunities opened up for former welfare recipients, entrepreneurial ventures found support from government institutions and living conditions for all citizens began to improve. The national debt was eliminated, personal wealth was at an all time high for working families, and the economic cultural divide was shrinking.

Then that bubble burst. Clinton’s terms expired and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George Bush the victory in an election that Al Gore had won. Bush spoke of being a compassionate conservative who would bring people together, but "the great unifier" was well known for his divisive chauvinism in his home state of Texas.

Under Bush, poverty has spread from America’s urban core to the top of middle-class suburbs through the strain of the trillion-dollar war in Iraq and the increased costs of cloned products and artificially inflated fuel expenses.

When Bush entered office in 2000 the median household income was $49,158. Six years later it was $48, 201. The median decrease for Whites was $745. It was $1,043 for Latinos, $1,381 for Asians, and $2,766 for Blacks.

In 2006, 24.3% of African Americans lived in poverty. The figure was 20.6% for Latinos, 10.1% for Asians and 8.2% for Whites.

Bush, like his hero Ronald Reagan, fiddled while corporate America initiated a scorch and burn campaign on the American people and their sense of security.

Although African Americans are expectedly being hurt the worse, we are likely to be the least distressed by the economic regression now gripping the nation. That’s because African Americans have centuries of experience adapting to disrespect, dishonesty, and denigration. Blacks know that aliens, as in Martians not Mexicans, could invade and be entitled to constitutional opportunities still denied to African Americans. Now, to a lesser degree, White workers are being made to realize that their privilege over Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and others is only relative to their usefulness in extracting the resources of others and defending their rulers from those being pillaged.

From the great depression of the 1920s to our current recession in the first decade of the 21st Century, working Americans and Americans who wish they could get work for a living wage have needed to ignore cultural, gender and other insignificant differences and form coalitions for mutual survival. And one of the things African Americans can certainly contribute is the vision to advance through any adversity.

The brilliant Akwasi Evans, publisher-editor of the Austin-based progressive weekly, NOKOA News, has been one of the leading African-American newspaper publishers in Texas for 20 years. The following editorial by Mr. Evans is reprinted with permission.