Labor Day '94: People vs. Corporate Con-Job

Expanded and slightly updated from the Sunday, 9-4-1994, Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
Updated 8-15-2005


"When dictatorship comes to the U.S., it will arrive packaged as democracy."

Author Sinclair Lewis

Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, is universally considered the father of the art of the con, better known as public relations.

Working for our World War I propaganda machine, Bernays learned firsthand that information is power. As the Great War approached, there were about as many reasons to intervene on the side of the Germans as on the side of the British and French. The U.S. had large numbers of German-Americans in major population centers.

The public was whipped into a hate-the-Hun frenzy through horror stories about undisciplined Hessian hordes bayoneting babies. The war stories proved totally false, but they worked. I wonder if Uncle Sigmund ever warned young Edward that in the wrong hands, information on motivation paves the way for mass manipulation.

"Media is the plural of mediocre."

— Jimmy Breslin

In 1990, the huge public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton (remember that name) was retained by the Emir of Kuwait to sell America on another war. The outfit came up with – surprise, surprise – babies bayoneted in their incubators by Saddam's bloodthirsty Hussein hordes. Another totally effective fabrication.

Bernays call his WWI experience "the first time the U.S. used ideas as weapons of war…If this could be used for war, it can be used for peace."

He founded the first P.R. firm in 1919 and did well by doing good, sparking the building of Route 66, the forerunner of the interstate highway system. His client, Mack Trucks, wanted the taxpayer to fund roads to facilitate the company's business.

On the dark side, Bernays sold women on smoking. Plenty of men had come back from WWI as addicts after those patriotic cigarette companies sent shiploads of "good quality American tobacco products" to "our boys over there."


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Women just would not adopt the filthy habit until Bernays arranged fashion magazine spreads showing chic models with cigarettes in hand. The New York Times and papers across the country ran front page photos of puffing cadres of young ladies marching in the 1934 New York Easter Parade. Cancer as a fashion statement.

Today at age 103, Bernays remains ashamed of that campaign. You've come a long way, baby.

The new "science" of public relations began to win fans throughout corporate America and it was all tax-deductible. When congress finally got around to granting workers some rights in 1935, big business decided to put away some (but not all) of the baseball bats it had used to bust unions for about 100 years. The boardroom boys added propaganda to the arsenal.

Remington Rand and – surprise – Hill & Knowlton were the pioneers. The techniques had been successfully test marketed against labor legend Samuel Gompers during the Great Steel Strike of 1919.

"At the outset, public opinion favored the strikers, who worked 84-hour weeks under notoriously bad conditions," stated University of New South Wales Prof. Alex Carey in a May 6, 1990, network radio lecture.

Five days after the strike began, full page ads appeared calling the strikers Bolsheviks, communists, reds, un-American "and even suggested that the Huns had a hand in fomenting the strike," the Australian scholar added. The strike was broken, 20 people died, $112 million was lost in wages and the lot of the worker worsened all because of the power of propagan…er, public relations. All this pre-dated the McCarthy era by about three decades.

Similar allegations of communist leanings, socialism and treason were used to bloat the military-industrial complex during the Cold War, to destroy President Truman's national health care initiative in the late 1940s and to kill the Consumer Protection Agency Act in the 1970s.

The same techniques are being used to ravage the public interest today. Look at the current health care hassle. (EDITOR'S NOTE: In case we've so soon forgotten, at the time this was written, the health care industry was busy killing what came to be known as Hillarycare.)

"The manufacture of consent was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy," a former war information office colleague of Bernays wrote in 1922. "But it has not died out," Walter Lippman added. "Under the impact of propaganda, it is no longer possible to believe in the original dogma of democracy," that it necessarily reflects the popular will in any significant way, the legendary New York Times columnist concluded.

"Beginning in 1945," Prof. Carey stated, "the post-war conservative assault on public opinion revived the two dominant themes of the 1930s: (1) Identification of the traditional American free enterprise system with social harmony, freedom, democracy, family, church and patriotism, and (2) identification of all government regulation of affairs of business, and all liberals who supported such interference, with communism and subversion."

This is rhetoric later regurgitated by muttonheaded sheep from Ronald Reagan to Lush Rambo.

Only government and labor are big enough to check unbridled corporate power, Carey noted. Since WWII, organized labor has gone from representing about 35 percent of workers to about 16 percent today. [EDITOR'S NOTE: As of 2003, unions represented just 12.9 percent of U.S. workers.] Adjusted for inflation, the average worker has not had a raise in 20 years. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Nothing's changed.] The middle class is shrinking, mothers have been forced to take jobs, the ranks of the poor and homeless increase daily.

President Clinton was the first leader in a long time to say that we must return to an America which has a job for everyone who wants one.

Over the past 70 years, corporate propaganda has managed to totally re-frame the issue into "what are acceptable levels of unemployment," International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers executive Jim Rudicil recently told a gathering of Reno-Sparks workers.

For decades, corporate America has spent billions on "corporate communications," forcing helpless workers into "economic education" and "human relations" classes. It worked. A good number of union workers voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980. For 70 years, corporate America has daily distributed hundreds of free newspaper editorials and magazine articles, often under the auspices of some high-sounding think tank or "policy research" center. The Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and many others dance to the tune of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable. They ship pamphlets, tapes and films to schools and companies across the land, all subsidized by the worker who pays taxes.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following section was deleted from the 1994 column due to length.]

Shortly before President Richard Nixon appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court, Lewis Powell wrote a memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He urged business "to buy the top academic reputations in the country" to put out slanted studies backing up the anti-worker, anti-government line.

"It was a virtual manifesto for the Neo-conservative movement," Carey stated.

In 1978, when corporate America was spending a billion dollars a year on propaganda, Justice Powell authored a majority decision upholding the taxpayer subsidy of such claptrap.

Conservative Justice Byron "Whizzer" White strongly dissented: "The special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but also the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process. The State need not permit its own creation to consume it," White wrote. I give you the killing of national health care '94. [End of edited 1994 segment.]

Prof. Carey made some recommendations on how to battle the P.R. beast.

Advocacy advertising unrelated to a company's product or service is not tax deductible "but there is in fact much tax evasion in this connection," so IRS enforcement must be tightened, he said. Image advertising should be likewise disallowed.

"The success of propagandists depends at least in some measure on the voluntary cooperation of their victims,"* he stated. "Impede the effective use of corporate propaganda by simply refusing to cooperate in surveys and opinion polls."

To this, I would add Frederick Douglass' famous advice to a young man: "Agitate, agitate, agitate."

And organize, organize, organize.

The only way for the United States to stop its long-term decline lies with workers who say "no more."

Happy Labor Day.

Agitate. Agitate. Organize.

LABOR DAY VIDEO. Since those dirty, un-American commie baseball players are striking, try a little old-fashioned American bloodsport at the expense of the disposable worker. Tomorrow morning, KNPB TV-5 will air two America Works specials. "Dying for a Job" runs at 11:00 a.m., "Changing the Way We Work" plays at 11:30. They repeat from 1:00 to 2:00 a.m. Tuesday.

ELECTION DAY VIDEO: Turn on the ultimate propaganda machine for primary election post-partum post-mortems. Bob Tonelli, state director of United We Stand America, and this here columnist will join Karen Reuter and Sam Shad on KOLO TV-8's red-eye news from 6:00 to 7:00 a.m. this Wednesday. Tune in again at 11:00 a.m. when we will add KNPB TV's Rosemary Peacock and Nevada State Press Assocation Executive Director Andrea Engleman.

All this proves that I'll rise at any hour to talk follytix. Speaking of talk, you may obtain a copy of Prof. Carey's seminal labor lecture by calling 1-800-735-0230. Ask for archive no. AZ-0901.

Be well. Raise hell.



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Copyright © 1982-2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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