Terik Salley

The "crime of poverty" is its perpetuation, which is perpetuated by the business owners. Dictionary.reference.com defines poverty as "the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence." Typically, you would figure that factory workers working in such profitable businesses would share the wealth the owners did, however, this is not the case. Work hours were long and exhausting and almost uninhabitable after a certain number of hours. Even under these circumstances immigrant workers made next to nothing for their tedious work.

Business owners were crude, sly men. “Robber barons,” such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J. P. Morgan monopo9lized industries by buying out companies that competed with them and buying out companies they had to pay to supply them in order to maximize their profit and reduce the amount they had to spend on outside cost to as minimal as they could. During industrialization there was a massive influx in the amount of immigrants migrating to the United States. Many came seeking the new jobs available in the new factories being built hoping to escape poverty in their own countries and to make money to support their families. However, workers received little pay for their painstaking work. The first continental railroad was built by “three thousand Irish and ten thousand Chinese, over a period of four years for one or two dollars a day.” By estimation, a worker would make at max 60 dollars a month and at max about 840 dollars a year working these dangerous railroad operations. When work o the Pacific Union railroad began, 20, 000 workers, ranging from war veterans to Irish immigrants worked, “laying down 5 miles of track a day and died by the hundreds in the heat, cold, and battles with Indians opposing the invasion of their territory. These greed obsessed tyrants cared nothing for the people working for them, they only cared that their business progressed.

Proof of their cold-heartedness lies in their beliefs. To keep the government from looking into their business routines, business owners sold shares to Congressman for cheap. They were following the belief of Oak Ames who said “There is no difficulty in getting men to look after their own property.” So with the government sharing an interest in the growth of the business, workers were basically stripped of hope that the government would save them, save them from the same men who paid a substitute to take his place in military service because they believed “a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health. There are plenty of lives less valuable.” Such arrogance also promotes the crime of poverty. The business owners thinking that others are simply beneath them gives self implicated justification to allow the employees to suffer as they do.

The crime of poverty is that it isn’t a natural occurrence. It’s because the poverty is being put into place by the business owner. America is supposed to withhold this ideal of equal opportunity for all and yet the workers were kept locked in a cycle of poorness and struggle while the business man grew richer and plumper with every sweat bead that was dropped.

This is a wonderful reading of Zinn's text and an acute criticism of the business elites of the time—the perpetrators of this "crime." You point out the important relationship between economic and political power that develops during the late 19th century, and expertly attribute the rise of poverty to a very unnatural combination of political and economic exploitation of workers on the behalf of the elites. I'm left wondering, though, how labor fought back against this "crime." What did workers do to show resistance to the world order imposed by elites? Were they ever successful in changing conditions? What can we learn from their struggle?

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