In California, Socialist began a movements to create public inspection of food products, Social Security and National unemployment and health insurance. They proposed the government nationalizing industry. Writer Upton Sinclair, a well known Socialist, joined the Democratic party, and it encouraged other Socialists to join the party too. With 25% unemployment, Democrats signed up people in cooperatives and proposed a series of worker owned farms with government supplied equipment and seed, versus the standard family owned farms.
People were starving, despite bumper crops (that often were discarded), and riots broke out in protest. Earlier workers who returned to work with government assistance and who were paid as a result of infrastructure programs like the CCC and the WPA, were also given the right to join unions. Now similar actions happened in California as well as New York. Strikes occurred at the ports (sound familiar) and shutting down the transportation of goods. Tear gas and open fire from the police injured over many. The Governor declares a state of emergency and calls in the National Guard. Unions call for a general strike, and 100,000 march. There are runs on the supermarkets as people hoard food. Can you see how that could happen today?
As someone who believes in the the importance of being a good steward, and the need for a return to a respect for farmers, and understanding the power of a barter system to create wealth, I have some grudging respect for some of the ideas of Upton Sinclair. He certainly partially sowed the seeds of the Back to the Land movement, that many hippies caught a vision of and started small family owned, but non-traditional farms. Still that's a far cry from his vision of almost communist worker cooperative farms. As we all know, those were disastrous in the former USSR.
Organized elements of Republican big business and working with a marketing firm, created a smear campaign that created ready made art for newspapers with quotes from Sinclairs novels. Then the Republicans raised awareness of Sinclair's more radical ideas about religion and using alternative currency. Some of it is rather tame by today's standards, with some of the ideas actually antecedants of popular local barter currency. It ended up crippling Sinclair's campaign, and made much more divisive the political lines in California between a growing Democratic party and the established Republic party.
While MGM studios supported the Republicans, Warner Brothers supported the Democrats. MGM made movies that depicted realistically the poverty of the unemployed and those who'd subject to foreclosure. Warner Brother made a lot money on very popular escapist fair, many musicals, and light comedies. MGM did too. They often depicted the wealthy class, not much has changed in 2011. Both used their influence, but as the campaign turned ugly, and with Sinclair promoting releasing unused studio materials and allowing unemployed actors and technicians access to them to make independent movies, MGM joined forces with the smear campaign and created fake new reels with hired actors using scripts to portray those voting for Sinclair as those who were foolish, ill advised, or with Communist sympathies. Does any of that kind of organized media campaign sound familiar? Here's where it got its start.
In rural area, things continued to decline. Both tenants who gave 24% of their crop as payment in exchange for working the land with their own equipment, and sharecroppers (a term stilled used today to mean someone who works someone else's land) gave 50%. It didn't matter, no one, not even the landlords were making money. Agricultural prices had plummeted as no one could afford the crops and crops used in industry were simply not in demand. As previously stated, many farmers simply lost everything or made such minimal money as to create an effective wash of profit, not including all of their own labor.
Like California, many organized Federal programs began deliberate destruction of crops like cotton, at a time when people's clothing were threadbare and people were starving. Subsidy programs like the AAA for not growing the crops. [As recently as ten years ago, I know of people who deliberately bought spent farmland, with no intention of growing crops on poorly developed farmland, but excellent land otherwise, and who got paid a government subsidy]. Landlords were able to make ends meet, but in many cases the money never made it to the farmers who actually worked the land.
Socialists proposed new legislation and advocacy to assist the workers of the land. They formed agriculture unions (like the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union) which often broke local practices of racial mixing and stirring up old Ku Klux Klan issues. In Arkansas, they pass laws against public gatherings (can anyone see that happening as a result of OWS?), and landlords who own the fields evicted anyone who they suspected had joined the STFU.
Organizers found minor support with New Deal politicians. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that deals were made with landlords who most certainly were Democrats versus the politically weak tenant farmers. Think about this, it's the worst kind of government corruption. Tax the people to create government subsidies and then give it to political cronies. How was this benefiting rebuilding the agriculture industry. Imagine the danger of losing the agriculture business during this time period. A relatively high amount of people were employed in it versus today.
Most farms now are corporately owned. Still, these employ a lot people, and today with our supply chain system, and dependance on migrant workers, it wouldn't be difficult to see how dangerous things could get with a severe drop or inability to ship harvested crops.
During the Great Depression, Democrat landlords got the New Deal laws altered to specifically exclude anyone but the landlords to receive the subsidies. Then the KKK were either used or blamed for enforcing any forced evictions. It's really creepy stuff. You'd think that the Democrats were more on the side of African-Americans, but really it was mostly about money and trying to survive and people scrambling for those tax dollars and perpetuating what was essentially the slave system into the 20th Century.
Horrific racial discrimination happened everywhere, by both Republican and Democrat, but many of the New Deal laws actually made divisiveness worse by desperate people trying to get their piece of the pie. If we experience a similar economic crisis, you'll bet we'll see similar jockeying for those dollars, much as we did recently with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Real empowerment can never come by exchanging harsh economic realities with the slavery of taking government handouts.
So in response to the intimidation of union organization, a Sharecropper Strike was called in 1935. Using their own dirty trick campaign, the unions started a rumor that anyone who took to the fields would be shot! This shut down the harvest and the landlords were forced to raise wages. Still the system was flawed, as the landlords kept records of how much was harvested and owed to the sharecroppers, so unless they were suddenly honest, without an oversight system, it was hollow victory. It did foster more unions forming in nearby states though. It did definitely result in evictions of union members following the harvest. Lynchings and the threats of lynchings occurred.
How does the FDR's government respond? Does the FBI come in? Is there new legislation created to enable farm ownership for tenants or sharecroppers? No. FDR speaks in support of a major supporter of his New Deal legislation who also just happens to be a wealthy Democrat landowner. Then FDR refuses to meet with the STFU. Big surprise.
Real lasting economic equity will always come from private ownership of family farms, not corporate farms, not state owned worker cooperatives. It should be noted that during the same time period, Costa Rica offered agricultural programs similar to the USA frontier programs of allowing land claims for people who worked the land for five years. As a result many middle class folks exist today in Costa Rica because their ancestors came from all over the world and worked the land in order to own it. This kind of program would be far more useful in the event that farms get seized through foreclosure. While foreclosure of farms is always ugly, wouldn't it better to create wealth this way, rather than let our Federal government with their checkered past screw it up again?
Many years ago, Jack Kemp proposed giving urban public housing to the tenants who'd been living in them for several years. The tenants would then as landlords become responsible for the upkeep of their property. They could, since they would be deed holders, sell it or even organize with several other tenants and sell the entire structure to developers. In many cases the property was in areas that were growing and expensive downtown condos were being built.
One wonders if this old idea wouldn't be useful for all property that's plummeted as a result of unsound sub-prime mortgages. Since the banks have been bailed out, but still own the property, or in some cases since the government owns the property and can't sell it due to a severe decline in values, and can't afford to administer it, then why not give the property to socially disadvantaged folks to own via a land claim much as pioneers? Doesn't that help write off the bad debt, create wealth, and help the disadvantaged at the same time? Isn't this better than foreclosure while still requiring responsibility to potential home owners?
I think there's some lessons here. If the SHTF, and agriculture is deeply affected, but since it's owned by corporations, if there's instability since it's critical infrastructure I can't see the president doing anything which will cost him political support from them. Note that farmland has become a sought out investment given the rise in commodity prices and the volatile nature of agriculture elsewhere. Texas is experiencing a major drought, and we've been having major bee colony collapse problems for the last several years affecting the harvests. It could again be an issue that works in tandem with an overall economic crisis.