This war has brought into sharp focus just how vulnerable employees are. Many now face going hungry, unable to support families and looking to the future with despair as their places of work are in abeyance.
Governments are helping with procedures. If they need to defeat the enemy they require all strands of businesses and people work together. It’s a sign of desperate times now that social empathy appears to prefigure executive’s actions.
But behind the scenes brews an almighty backlash. Corporate America is livid. Thus far the US’s economy has been driven single-mindedly by corporates and CEOs’ generation of capital and wealth growth. Now it is being threatened by a world problem, they look on as not of their doing.
It stands to destroy corporates’ livelihoods, disrupt standards of living, and accede too much power to workers. They, businesses, need the government to help them reign in power and crush anyone that stands in their way. The country’s economy is too important to succumb to the enemy.
2020 this is not, but approximately 100 years ago. A collapse of the economy following WWI wrought power from America’s elite and placed too much, CEOs believed, on workers’ rights and safeguards.
“For the first time” writes Alex Carey, who Chomsky called the father of studies behind corporate propaganda, “American businesses’ ideological and hegemony over an American society was temporarily broken”.
Whilst you could pick any number of differing circumstances between 2020 and the 1920s, such as the healthy state of unions and the government forming an alliance with unions to form the War Labor Board, a waging battle and resulting patterns of behaviour bear similarities with today.
They include the enemy in Covid-19, the need for all to work together, i closing borders though because of immigration, and the thinking that following this episode the world and way of working will inexorably change.
To combat the enemy back then in Nazism, US labour had been drafted into the effort. This leveraged the power of the worker on sometimes an 84-hour shift and they demanded better socially acceptable working conditions.
But after the war corporate America expected a return to business as usual: long hours, poor pay, CEOs minting their stock. Workers were having none of it. Unions had the upper hand.
What followed is now defined as text book propaganda, except the duplicitous and mendacious use of communications in that early industrial era was like nothing seen before. Just as now, and of profound importance then was the emergence of a Manichaean doctrine — an Americanisation, or broadly Westernisation of the battle of good and evil, of wealth over poverty, of success framed in Christian piety over the needy.
This was to be the mother of propaganda created by the likes of Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew) who believed in his bones that since your average American adult received only six years of schooling, as depicted in Adam Curtis’s Century of Self they were too stupid to rationalise important decisions. American journalism heroes such as Walter Lippmann viewed propaganda as a tool to ensures Americans needed to be governed by elites.
Propaganda would be a scorch thinking weapon that would assuage public opinion to re-align this unwarranted sense of post-war empathy. One outfit stands out in particular, The Remington Rand Corporation behind a tactical approach called the “Mohawk Valley Formula”.
The battle culminated in a perverse Marvel Avengers End Game type clash. In 1919, believing their backs up against the wall workers were urged by their representatives to strike. They did. American businesses like the Steel Corporation would turn the workers’ needs into a dogwhistle for socialism.
The formula, set out in newspaper advertisements, radio, news and editorials was to denounce workers as “unAmerican” and “trying to establish the red rule of anarchy and bolshevism”.
America and its allies had just built a bogey, from the bolsheviks seizure of power in Russia in 1917 and fearing how socialism would enter America and similarly look to redistribute wealth. Today, that image is as strong as ever coursing through negative press in the Democrats symbolism.
At its heart of the Mohawk Valley Formula was the scientific use of propaganda in turning public opinion, which was absorbed by American business leaders within the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
Back then there was no Fox TV, no Internet or Facebook, no unimpeded personalised route to directly affect plebiscites. What business owners achieved in turning around public opinion is a warning to those thinking a new empathetic social-capitalism stands to emerge from Covid-19. They’re either unaware of history or the otherwise perhaps too optimistic.
America is gearing up for a conflict with itself, likely to come after Covid-19 is tackled, but already the battle lines are being drawn. Senator Lindsey Graham’s comments about the Covid-19 incentivises people not to work emerges from the 1920s.
The stimulus package said to be weighted towards corporates’ though concessions have been won, and governors overriding local governments urging people to get ready to go back to work are but a few.
Several pundits and newspaper columnist breathlessly write about a radical change ahead. That might be so, a case of wishful thinking. For structurally corporate America is viewing this crisis in the rear view mirror as it approaches the future.
If history and CEOs have their way we could be in for an unprecedented propaganda war in big business and Wall Street via government’s bid to reassert and claw back any control it considers it might have lost during these difficult times.