You can be damn sure that if all the poor people, the underclasses, ever got together things would be different. This is what motivated Edward Bellamy and the ‘Nationalists’ to advocate for change.
They formed clubs, socialist (oh my!) groups based on Bellamy’s best-selling utopian novel, Looking Backward. Among the aims of the clubs was the nationalization of industry. It was supposed this would end the ruinous effects of capitalism upon workers, in the era before the eight-hour workday, the end of child labor and the institution of even basic workplace safety standards.
Hand in hand workers would benefit by then owning the products of their labor and having the essentials to survive comfortably, even more than comfortably. This would be administered by a benevolent, knowledgeable government comprised of the most knowledgeable and benevolent people in the land.
In other words, even given some of the advantageous aspects of his plan it had some of the usual flaws of utopian socialism. The rise of populism, as expressed by the indomitable William Jennings Bryan spelled the end of nationalism and less than a decade after the movement began it was dead, not crucified upon a cross of gold, but as the loser in the free-market of anti-capitalist ideals.
In the end, regardless of the winner in the socialist, anarchist, agrarian, populist debate this didn’t change that much. There have been a few improvements like eight-hour work day, new chimney brushes have been designed to go where children used to fit, and for the most part the workplace is relatively safe.
However, by some metrics they’ve gotten worse. The income gap has widened. As has the equity gap. One in 400 Americans is homeless while 1 in 7 American homes are vacant (Meaning there are 24 empty houses per homeless person). Something like 87% of the children in my neighborhood qualify for free or reduced price federal lunches, you get the picture . . .
And even though the underclasses of all sorts have common interests we’ve managed to be effectively divided and conquered along lines of race, gender and ethnicity.
This is where elements of Bellamy’s vision (and that of the Wobblies, etc.) should be recognized as missed opportunities. And it’s not too late to make some changes: buy local, organize, become educated, read the classics . . . like this pamphlet.