Adonis Diaries

Archive for December 1st, 2011

USA 1912: Dialogue between American Federation of Labor and Socialist party

In 1912, the workers in the USA were accumulating strikes for better conditions: A worker in major industries received $2.50 for a 12-hour work.  The Republican President William Howard Taft demanded from Congress to create a commission for investigating the working situation.

In May 1914, the commission convoked the Samuel Gompers, president of the Federation of Labor (AFL), and Morris Hillquit, founder of the Socialist party in order to clarify divergences among syndicate movement and socialism. At the time, Eugene Debs was the leading figure of the socialist movement.  What follows is a dialogue between the leading individuals:

Hillquit: Is it your own point of view or of the Federation that workers receive today all the fruits of their labor? Should the function of a syndicate to increase the portion in production meant to be diverted to the workers?

Gompers: It is impossible to compute with precision the part in production that workers should be entitled to.  Fact is, this part is more important today than anytime in history.  The syndicates expect from society to gratify workers for services rendered, services that are at the core of civilized life…

Hillquit: Suppose the workers receive 5% increase next year, would the syndicate be satisfied and would stop their demands?  Should the workers’ movement decline any further conditions before they receive the full share in production, before they are assured of a true social justice…

Gompers: Human nature would respond: No. Workers have the same wishes and desires as any other human being:  They do not relish waiting to be dead before they accede to a better living condition.  Workers want a good life now, and better standard of living for their children…Workers are the ones moving things, they have demands, and are willing to defend their rights with all the power they have.  Workers are using their power in a rational and normal ways to acquiring a higher share of their labor.  Workers are fighting for higher social justice ideals…

Hillquit: In matter of distribution of wealth, aren’t social justice ideals consist of building a system where workers (manual and intellectual), in positions of responsibility or executive jobs, receive the full share of what they produce? Is the Federation of Labor guided by a social philosophy?

Gompers:  A sensible worker prefers to be occupied by current problems and confront them in order to advance: He is not motivated to pursue unattainable dreams.  A sensible worker want to deal with the reality of conditions and not dwell on devising a dream system that might end up the worst nightmare that human mind could invent… The social philosophy of the syndicated worker is guided by the lessons of the past.  The worker want to have a job the less tenuous possible, better working conditions for higher production levels…tomorow should be better than today.  Our social philosophy is to enjoying a better life while still alive…

Hillquit:  In your efforts to improving your life style you must have a precise idea of what is good…In order to determine whether workers conditions improved or deteriorated, you must have a set of criteria to discriminate what is good and what is not satisfactory, would you agree?

Gompers: Do we need a special set of criteria to comprehend that $3 for an 8-hour work is better than $2.50 for a 12-hour work day?  The real danger of agreeing on a program (ideology) is that the moment a program is fixed, all must submit to it: If facts do not correspond to the theory you are inclined to say: “Forget facts…”

Hillquit: In that line of thought, $4 for seven hours work day is a more preferable condition…and once you obtain it, you will be tempted to demand for more…

Gompers: Absolutely.  Workers will resume their struggle for an even higher standard of progress…

Hillquit: You will struggle until the full recognition of the worth of your labor…until complete social justice for the workers and their families…

Gompers: Workers will never cease to fight for a better living condition, today and everyday.  The socialist party determines a horizon for their actions, we don’t…

Hillquit: Thus, the Federation of Labor declares that it is ready to go as far as abolishing the current system of profit and salaries and is working for a total retribution for the product of their labor…

Gompers: You are putting words in my mouth to give the illusion that we converge to the dream world that a few of you socialists have imagined.  Our syndicate will follow the inclination that push humans to reclaim the best working conditions for their today existence.  We are going ahead without any fixed objectives toward better and better working conditions…” End of the dialogue

WWI was declared. The faction of Gompers sided with the US participation in the war activities. The faction of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) split and was faced with government oppressions and repressions for standing against participating in the war.  Gompers’ faction of the American Federation Labor didn’t question the capitalist mechanism system and tried to take advantage of its dynamics.

Fact is, in the last 40 years, wages never caught up with inflation and the workers are far worse in their standard of living. The barbarity of globalization is trailing all sorts of violence committed against workers, and especially in the third world States.  Vast lands are exploited for industrial agriculture while the local people are dying of famine for lack of daily staples…

Note 1: Post inspired by a piece in the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatic (November, 2011)

Note 2:  One of the comments stated: “I don’t know about this meeting, but it came after the terrible conditions of Chicago’s meat packing industry were exposed. The general public was shocked at the unsanitary production and several labor groups arose because of horrid working conditions. See The Jungle, published in 1906”.

Part 2. Mehemet Ali (1770-1849): The last modern Pharaoh?

Mehemet Ali (Turkish pronunciation) or Mohammad Ali was born around 1770 in the poor port town of Kavala in Macedonia. Macedonia was called Roumelia by the Ottoman Empire, and Kavala faced the close-by island of Thasos.  Mehemet Ali’s father married Zeinab, a daughter of Hussein agha, and he had the job of securing the district routes, in addition of trading in tobacco.

At the age of 19, Mehemet Ali married Amina Hanem, the widowed daughter of the governor of Kavala. His first son Ibrahim was born in the nearby village of Drama, where the family fled from the cholera infesting the small port.  Amina was the favorite wife of Mehemet Ali, although he had 30 kids from his harem.  Only 10 lived to adulthood, 7 boys and 3 girls.

The second son of Mehemet Ali, the most beloved Toussoun, also died at 23 of age after an all-night of pleasure and bingeing… Toussoun had led an army in 1811 into the Arabic peninsula and defeated the extremist religious Wahhabi uprising and entered Mecca. The elder son Ibrahim would resume the war and the conquest and in 1818 eradicate Deryeh, the main city of the Wahhabi who received arms and  finances from England.

Mehemet Ali was totally illiterate till the age of 45, and spoke only Turkish, although he learned to understand local Arabic. Most of his children received the best education of the time and spoke several languages such as Farisi and Greek.

In 1800, Mehemet Ali reluctantly had to join the 300-contingent of Macedonians dispatched to support the British in the attempt of dislodging the remnant of 20,000 French soldiers in Egypt, lead by General Menou. Within less than a year, the French soldiers were evacuated from Egypt and Mehemet Ali advancing twice in military ranks.

The Ottoman Empire and the Mamluke in Egypt wanted to revert to the previous state of affairs, and Mehemet Ali played both powers, one against the other for four years, until he was appointed governor of Cairo in June 1805.

For another 5 years, Mehemet Ali relentlessly confronted the internal forces resisting his supreme rule and even managed to defeat another smaller British expeditionary force. In March 1811, Mehemet Ali massacred over 250 high-ranking Mamelukes in his palace.  The Mamelukes had to flee to Sudan.

When Mehemet Ali’s son Ismail led the troops to conquer Sudan in 1820, the Mamelukes had to retreat even further to actual Darfur.  Ismail was burned alive in his tent in 1822 in Chendy (Sudan) after angering a local tribe.

Mehemet Ali became the sole ruler or Vice-King of Egypt, Sudan, and current Saudi Arabia and Yemen:  He behaved as the biggest capitalist of his time since all the lands were His, and he bought all the agricultural products and resold them at monopolistic prices to the people and at premium prices to England, France, and Turkey…

Mehemet Ali transformed Egypt from scratch:  He created a modern army, a modern navy, public schools, public hospitals, hundred of miles of irrigation canals…most of them using forced labor by the hundred of thousands of Egyptian peasants.

Ibrahim started the Syrian campaign in 1831 and defeated the Ottoman armies in several battles. He could have entered the Capital Istanbul, but Mehemet Ali refused that Ibrahim army move forward.  Consequently, Ibrahim became the governor of Syria (from the southern Anatolia plateau to Gaza) and was a born administrator and Syria experienced its most prosperous period.

In 1839, Ibrahim defeated again the Ottoman army in the battle of Nezib, which lasted only two hours, and Istanbul was again ripe to fall, but for the western European coalition and Russia to refuse Ibrahim his military victory.  Ibrahim could annihilate the small British contingent that landed in Beirut in 1839, but it was a political decision to withdraw to Egypt and to relinquish Syria to the Ottoman Empire in Nov. 1840.

In 1841, Sultan Abdel Hamid II signed the “firman” extending the hereditary right of Mehemet Ali in Egypt.  Mehemet Ali refused the French investment to open the Suez Canal and also refused British investment for a railroad linking Alexandria with the Red Sea: Mehemet Ali foresaw the consequences of these foreign investment in Egypt and said: “Once the Suez canal is opened to navigation then the British will take it and Egypt will become under British mandated power…”

Mehmet Ali managed the British all the time because he knew that only the most powerful maritime Empire of the period could impose its conditions.  For example, it was the Egyptian wheat and cereal sale to England (1810-13) that maintained the British troops in Spain.

Ibrahim died one year before his father in Nov. 1848.  The eldest male in the family.  Abbas I (son of Toussoun) became Vice-King and ruined all the achievement of Mehemet Ali and Ibrahim within a few years of his reign.

The Suez Canal will be opened by the French in the 1860’s and a railroad will crisscross the country

A decade later, the British government purchased the Egyptian share in the Canal.  In Aug. 1882, a British contingent occupied Suez Canal and the last soldier left in June 1956 after Eisenhower ordered the retreat of the British and French troops.

In 1885, the British occupied Sudan and left in 1956.

Note: A review of the French book “The last Pharaoh” by Gilbert Sinoue




December 2011

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