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Issue #1497      13 April 2011

Culture & Life

McCarthyism and multiculturalism

The infamous US Senator Joe McCarthy was a keen supporter of blacklisting “lefties” and other progressives. The blacklists that were used extensively in the Hollywood film industry and in US television are well known. But they were but the tip of an iceberg of truly massive size.

Militant unionists were blacklisted throughout industry and commerce in the US, Canada, Britain and other countries, including Australia. It was a powerful weapon in the arsenal of the ruling class. Potentially devastating, insidious and hard to prove.

But if you think blacklisting was restricted to Hollywood in the 1950s, think again. It is alive and well and being practised with increasing audacity by employers as union membership falls, leaving workers isolated and vulnerable.

Construction on the site of the London Olympics has been disrupted by a dispute over the blacklisting of union members active around health and safety concerns. Frank Morris, an electrician, protested when another worker was sacked because the worker’s name had come up on a blacklist. Because of his protest, Morris was sacked too.

Before he was sacked, Morris was subjected to weeks of intimidation and threats of violence from senior management. An official of his union, the transport union RMT, said: “In over 25 years representing workers, I have never seen such a blatant stitch up, victimisation and even threats of violence to a union activist whose only ‘crime’ was to expose an illegal blacklist operating on the Olympic site.”

Frank Morris is not an isolated case, however. Recently, a tribunal found that another British worker, Paul Tattersfield, had been refused employment by an engineering firm because he was on a blacklist operated by something called The Consulting Association.

Talk about the shade of McCarthyism!

As capitalism falters economically and its inadequacies as a system become more exposed, the employer class is increasing its efforts to split the working class and their allies, mounting more frequent attacks on the unifying issues and concepts that have been embraced by the people at different times.

One of those concepts of course is multiculturalism, presently being simultaneously attacked in Australia, in Britain and in Europe. Why? Because capitalism needs disunity – not unity – among the working masses. The old divide and rule approach. It has served capitalism well for a century or two, and they hope to continue to use it.

The Weekend Australian at the beginning of April featured a very prominent opinion piece by Greg Sheridan under the tell-tale heading “Why I’ve given up on multiculturalism.”

In Europe, prevention of terrorism is being cited as an excuse for attacks by governments on migrants, even on migrants’ clothing. Last month the British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking in Munich attacked both multiculturalism in general and the Moslem community in particular.

Cameron’s speech was condemned shortly afterwards at a Black Workers’ Conference held by Britain’s Communication Workers’ Union. The union conference adopted a resolution rejecting the PM’s speech for “trying to establish a link between global terrorism and the values of multiculturalism in our British society”.

There is a link however between attacks on multiculturalism and another favourite tool of corporate rule: racism. At the same union conference, it was noted that in 2009 more than 20 Oxbridge colleges (Britain’s highest and supposedly best centres of tertiary education) made no undergraduate offers to black candidates.

Indeed, one college had not made an offer to a black candidate for five years.

Overtly racist views are generally frowned on by most educated people, so politicians generally avoid voicing them. Attacking multiculturalism instead makes a useful way of being covertly racist.

Of course, some politicians seem to think that being racist or thumbing their nose at the environment or deriding women’s rights does not identify them as thick-eared louts but somehow shows them to be rugged individualists, immune to the sentimentality of “small l” liberals.

Tony Abbott falls into this category. Politicians of his ilk seem to believe that even if the Polar ice caps melt, God will somehow arrange things so that at least God’s “devout followers” will be OK. In the meantime, to show their faith in their divine protector – and their contempt for atheistic science – they can be as foolishly irresponsible with the environment (and as petty) as they wish.

Now that the Republican Party controls Congress in the US, they have reintroduced plastic foam coffee cups to the coffee shop in the basement of the Congress building in Washington.

The cups cannot be recycled and do not break down when dumped in landfill. The Democrats banned them four years ago. The Republicans have brought them back. Next apparently the Republicans plan to reintroduce old fashioned light bulbs and phase out the newer more energy efficient light bulbs.

They are small things but they still contribute to global warming. Why would anyone be so petty?

If you actually believe that the world will end soon and you will be whisked up to Heaven in “The Rapture” – leaving the rest of us sinners and unbelievers behind – then the threat to life on Earth from a build-up of greenhouse gasses and pollution will not bother you much, will it?

Meanwhile, the US economy continues to nosedive, leaving ordinary Americans floundering. Pennsylvania has cut 40,000 low-income working people from its state-subsidised insurance program. The program had been extremely popular, and had a waiting list of over half a million before the newly elected Republican Governor Tom Corbett dumped it.

Elsewhere, Washington State has dropped 17,500 people from a state-funded program for the working poor, and Arizona’s Republican Governor has sought to “cut costs” by proposing the elimination of Medicaid coverage – to no less than quarter of a million people!

Capitalism: doesn’t it just make you feel warm all over?  

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