One of the highlights of the current Republican Convention was the accusation that Melania Trump’s speech plagiarized Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention. One part of the Melania Trump’s speech that was exactly the same as Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech were the words: “you work hard for what you want in life.” Who hasn’t listened to these or similar words many times during the course of our lives?
Clearly, there are people who work hard and are able to attain some of the things what we want in life. However, in order to look at this issue, I believe we also need to look at the question of: How is wealth created today?
Money and the creation of wealth
We can begin by stating clearly that money is only a means of exchange to be used to purchase commodities. Therefore, commodities are the things that have value. Armed with this knowledge, we can say that workers are the ones who produce commodities that represent the real wealth of the world. So, garment workers, autoworkers, construction workers, farm workers, transport workers etc. are the ones who produce the wealth of the world.
Now comes the part that the media doesn’t like to talk about. The facts are that working people work very hard, so a tiny minority of the population can have obscene amounts of wealth. This tiny minority of the population didn’t gain their enormous wealth because they worked hard. No, in most cases, they attained their wealth by sitting in a lawyer’s office and listening to the reading of a will.
Both Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton had fathers that were affluent businessmen. In other words, the fathers of Clinton and Trump made a living by profiting off of the labor of others. Both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald Trump had advantages in life because their parents profited off of the labor of workers. None of this happened because the Rodhams or the Trumps worked hard.
How have workers improved our standard of living?
There was a time when working people routinely lived in one-room cold-water flats. A common working day at that time might have been between eleven and fourteen hours per day. Child labor was common. Health care and an advanced education were things unknown to many workers. Clearly working people in those days felt they deserved a better life.
From the year 1877 to the year 1934 there were numerous strikes by the labor movement, but most ended in defeat. Then, in 1934 labor battles against employers began to win real victories and millions joined unions. After the Second World War working people began to understand that they needed to go to war again. This time it would be against their employers. These strike waves forced employers to make real concessions to workers and this was the root cause of the improved standard of living in this country.
However, up until the 1960s Black people were denied basic citizenship rights because of the Jim Crow laws. So, after the labor battles of the 1950s Black people organized because they felt they also deserved to be treated with dignity.
However, after the government adopted the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, Black people still faced institutionalized discrimination as well as police brutality. This state of affairs sparked rebellions in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States. These actions effectively forced corporations to implement affirmative action programs that gave many Black people opportunities they never had before.
We can also look at the conquests of the Cuban Revolution. Before that revolution Cuba had a standard of living that most nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have today. 500,000 sugar cane workers only had work for about three months of the year. Because of these conditions many women resorted to prostitution. Education and health care were not a part of many Cuban’s lives. The United States corporations made sure that Cuba remained dependent on foreign investments.
After the revolution the Cuban government nationalized about $800,000,000 of U.S. investments on the island. Child nutrition became a right for every child. Today Cuba has one of the best educational and health care systems in the world. So, the standard of living improved in Cuba, not just because of working hard, but by making an anti-capitalist anti-imperialist revolution.
What do we want in life?
Michelle Obama and Melania Trump also raised the question: What do we want in life? Before I attempt to answer this question, perhaps it might be useful to look at some of the things we have. These might include increasing poverty, war, discrimination, destruction of the environment, as well as alienation. Perhaps we can agree that these are not things we want.
However, when we look at the vast resources and the capacity of working people, we can think about a completely different vision. We might think about eliminating poverty, and doing our best to work in harmony with the environment. When we think of the work that actually needs to be done, we might imagine a world where we work fewer hours and have more leisure time. In fact, we might have a government that has a goal of making work less alienating.
People who have power argue that this kind of world would be a utopia and totally unrealistic. However, the economic crisis of 2008 exposed the enormous crisis capitalism is in today. So, I repeat the question: What do we want? Personally speaking, I want a government that represents in interests of workers and farmers and makes human needs an absolute priority over profits.