Income inequality has become a key hot-button issue in the modern day political spectrum. While these economic and class divides seem more pronounced than ever before, the impressive new documentary Plutocracy: Political Repression in the USA reveals that the core of these struggles pre-date the beginnings of the industrialized labour force. The long and painful journey towards achieving worker rights and fair wages has been marked by violence, discrimination, and inhumane exploitation.
Take, for example, the West Virginia coal mining industry in the early years of the 20th century. Working under extreme conditions plagued by brutalizing hours, unprecedented accident rates and severe health hazards, the miners decided to fight back through strikes and the formation of their own labour union. The industry itself chose to fight back with the importation of replacement workers, and the structuring of new contracts which disallowed workers from joining a union. The fight for freedom from the tyranny of wealthy industrialists was fraught by thousands of lives lost, and many more wounded and incarcerated.
As the film makes clear, the country’s founding fathers saw the potential for such class conflicts even before industrialized capitalism made its way to America’s shores. During the Civil War, which ranks as the most devastating union conflict in the history of the United States, hundreds of thousands of casualties occurred, many of which were from the poorest populations. The wealthiest figures of the day paid destitute soldiers to fight on their behalf, and some like business magnate John D. Rockefeller could escape the burdens of service by making a cash payment of three hundred dollars.
Throughout history, liberty has come at a cost far more profound than dollars and cents. Change only becomes possible when the working masses band together under the shelter of a common cause of fair and equal rights. Plutocracy: Political Repression in the USA is a smart and engrossing tale of an issue which continues to drive economic instability and power dynamics today. The film honours the sacrifices of all those who have battled to win the freedoms we enjoy today and reminds us of the importance of demanding equality for all and speaking truth to power.
Directed by: Scott Noble