|Anthony Freda Art|
Thirty years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Union Sundown” that now seems as if it was nothing less than prophecy set to music. The song, which attracted a great deal of hatred from establishment critics at the time, spoke out against the neo-liberal/free trade ideology that was beginning to take hold in the United States. It also took aim at the obsession of turning everything into a commodity the practice of seeking profits above all else.
In 1983, the true effects of globalism and free trade were only beginning to manifest themselves to the general public in ways that could no longer be denied. Already, in the 1980s, American jobs were beginning to move offshore and American workers left to pick through the growing piles of rubble that was once the economic envy of the world. Union busting, the low-wage economy, and growing unemployment was only then beginning to become the order of the day in the general purview of the American people.
Thus, when Dylan wrote the lines “Well, it’s sundown on the union/And what’s made in the U.S.A./Sure was a good idea/’Til greed got in the way,” it may have seemed like pessimism of the highest order to many of his listeners. After all, the United States had weathered the oil and energy crises of the 1970s and they were being told that they had survived the severe recession of the early 1980s. Listening to the U.S. government and the media, one might be tempted to believe that the worst was behind them. Besides, after being three years into the term of Ronald Reagan, many Americans were themselves deluded into believing that Reagan’s policies would bring them a recovery.
In fact, what little improvement the economy saw in the 1980s was not due to Reagan at all.
The slight economic uptick that was briefly seen in the ’80s was nothing more than a minor and temporary rise in the graph that had been making a gradual decline ever since the late 1960s. Of course, that graph has only continued to go down ever since, with the United States now only resembling a shell of its former self.
Yet, although Dylan’s words may have sounded overly pessimistic at first, the lyrics to “Union Sundown” were simply realism at work.
In 2014, just over thirty years later, chronic Depression-level unemployment, part-time/low-wage service economies, worker abuse, and rising costs of living are all now considered a fact of life.
In Union Sundown, Dylan wrote,
Well, you know, lots of people complainin’ that there is no work
I say, “Why you say that for
When nothin’ you got is U.S.–made?”
They don’t make nothin’ here no more
You know, capitalism is above the law
It say, “It don’t count ’less it sells”
When it costs too much to build it at home
You just build it cheaper someplace else
In 1983, the horrors of free trade were only just beginning to become visible in the domestic economy. Only ten years later, the Bush/Clinton regimes negotiated and implemented the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that accelerated the hemorrhaging of jobs and acceptable working conditions that already existed as a result of years of more subtle steps toward a globalized economy and free trade, making the words of the song even more accurate.
NAFTA, as described by Jeff Faux in his article, “NAFTA’s Disaster at 20: State of the North American Worker,” “displaced workers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, depressed wages, weakened unions, and set the terms of the neoliberal global economy.”
Faux aptly states that NAFTA effected American workers in four primary ways. He writes
First, it caused the loss of some 700,000 jobs as companies moved their production to Mexico, where labor was cheaper. . . . . . Second, NAFTA strengthened the ability of U.S. employers to force workers to accept lower wages and benefits. . . . . . Third, NAFTA drove several million Mexican workers and their families out of the agriculture and small business sectors, which could not compete with the flood of products—often subsidized—from U.S. producers. . . . . . Fourth, and ultimately most importantly, NAFTA created a template for the rules of the emerging global economy, in which the benefits would flow to capital and the costs to labor. . . . . .
These, of course, are only a portion of the ways in which NAFTA dealt another crucial blow to an economy that had been on the decline since the late 1960s and was already reeling from the crises and recessions of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Follow up NAFTA with various Chinese trade agreements spawning from the GATT and WTO as well as international global trade treaties like CAFTA and the myriad of other individually negotiated agreements, and the United States economy only exists despite the best efforts of international banks, corporations, and governments, including its own.
Yet Dylan’s lyrics not only criticized the corporate hawks and rabid free traders who were involved in the crafting and promotion of such free trade negotiations. The weakness and impotence of large unions who simply sell out their members and absorb dues were a subject of critique as well. He wrote, “Well, the job that you used to have/They gave it to somebody down in El Salvador/The unions are big business, friend/And they’re goin’ out like a dinosaur.”
Indeed, union membership and union clout has been steadily declining ever since the early 1970s. Much of this decline is attributable to the orchestrated attacks on worker’s rights and the right to collectively bargain as well as the gradual loss of industry with which these unions were associated.
American labor unions are far weaker now than they have ever been. Thus, their bargaining power has been significantly diminished. According to Webster G. Tarpley, out of the entire US working population, only 9% are union workers. In the private sector, less than 8% are unionized.
However, it is also true that many large unions simply morphed into a wing of the Democratic Party, a completely bankrupt establishment that is itself nothing more than a political wing of Wall Street. Remember, Carter and Clinton both played major roles in the destruction not only of the American Union, but of the US economy as a whole. Obama, despite the avid sheep-like support he has received from sellout unions, has become an even bigger union-buster than his predecessor G.W. Bush. Not only did he force the UAW to accept massive wage reductions, but he has launched his own war against the Teacher’s Union as well.
It is also true that many unions simply became virtual corporations in their own right and began to act more like the companies they were created to keep at bay than an actual organization designed to defend working people.
Ever since union leadership began to be gradually bought off by the companies and corporations they were supposed to be fighting, the successive years of anti-union legislation and rhetoric, and a public easily brainwashed by television and charismatic pundits, the American labor movement has been fractured into many different pieces.
Of course, Dylan’s song touched on even more than the tragic decline of economic prominence, basic productivity, and employment of the United States. Dylan also commented on the growing bureaucratic tyranny which is now enforced by the militarized storm troopers that used to be called a police forces.
Combining a criticism of the commodification of all things, nature included, with that of the subsequent enforcement of such monopolies by governments, Dylan writes in “Union Sundown” that “They used to grow food in Kansas/Now they want to grow it on the moon and eat it raw/I can see the day coming when even your home garden/Is gonna be against the law.” Again, another seemingly prophetic passage.
In 1983, the idea that a home garden would be illegal would have sounded like the backdrop to a futuristic dystopian novel. In 2014, however, Dylan’s lyrics, at least the reference to the home gardening issue, is not just a possibility, it is a reality.
All across America, citizens are being fined and arrested simply for planting gardens on their own property. What was once considered a land of independence and individualism has become a nightmare of police, “experts,” officials, and authorities that micromanage virtually every aspect of a person’s life.
An act that was considered either a virtue or simply a fact of life, growing a home garden in the United States today is often cause for arrest and criminal punishment.
Consider, for instance, the case of Jason and Jennifer Helvenston, an Orlando, Florida couple who were ordered to destroy their small front yard vegetable garden or face $500 per day fines. The city demanded that they uproot and destroy the garden and replace the vegetables with more “appropriate ground cover,” for aesthetics’ sake which, of course, meant grass. The Helvenstons refused to buckle under to the city authoritarians and continued growing their garden. They wrote, “All we want to do is use our property peacefully to grow our own food. The Constitution protects our property rights from arbitrary invasions like this. Help us tell our leaders “Hands off our food!” by planting your own Patriot Garden in your front yard. Here’s how.”
In response, the city created a Green Works Task Force in order to blanket Orlando with new rules.
Also in 2012, a Tulsa Oklahoma woman was forced to sue the city of Tulsa after the fanatics of Code Enforcement actually came and destroyed her garden, uprooting her herbs and vegetables and even cutting down some of her trees. When Denise Morrison came home to see her garden destroyed, she sat alone in her car and cried. Part of the reason for her sadness was that she was unemployed at the time and was using the garden for her food. That, of course, didn’t matter to the robots of Code Enforcement and City Hall.
A similar story was reported in Ferguson, Missouri when Karl Tricamo attempted to use his yard as a garden as a source of nutritious cheap food for his family. After checking the codes to see if the local Soviet would allow for him to plant food on his own property, he found that the codes actually stated that such planting was allowed. After going ahead with his plans, he received a notice from the city demanding that he dig up the garden since the property was not zoned for “agricultural” use. Although Tricamo refused to comply with such ridiculous demands, it was clear that the city simply wanted Tricamo’s garden gone.
Likewise, the city of Newton, Massachussetts attempted to fine Eli Katzoff a $300 per day fine for a “tomato display” (meaning the growing of tomatoes on a wooden structure) in his yard in 2012.
These three cases, however, are by no means the only bureaucratic attacks on innocent people who want nothing more than to plant a source of food for themselves and others in the community. Mother Earth News provides a short list of just some of the cases finding themselves before local courts all across the country, in their article “Fight for Your Right to Grow Food: Changing No Food Rules to FOOD RULES!”
In addition to accurate commentary of the state of the U.S. economy and bureaucratic dictatorship, Dylan’s last stanza in “Union Sundown,” aptly sums up the nature of the economic and civil controversies circulating in the American purview in 1983 and, indeed, even more so in 2014. Dylan writes, “Democracy don’t rule the world/You’d better get that in your head/This world is ruled by violence/But I guess that’s better left unsaid.”
The irritation and harassment of peaceful people who simply wish to grow food by petty authoritarian bureaucrats is bad enough. However, the fact is that these individuals, emboldened in the minute authority given them by a uniform, position, or title, are not alone in their war on independence and self-sufficiency. They are backed up by even more uniformed enforcers who are more than willing to engage in violence at a moment’s notice.
Dylan, of course, points out (insomuch as he claims that it is better left unsaid), that Democracy, as we conceive of it, is nothing more than a sham.
Indeed, democracy as it exists in the minds of the vast majority of Americans simply does not exist. Instead, the United States and the rest of the world is run by Oligarchy. Those brave enough to challenge that Oligarchy effectively are often met with the violence that perpetuates Oligarchical rule.
In the end, it is unlikely that Dylan consulted a crystal ball for the lyrics and context to “Union Sundown.” Crystal balls are unnecessary when attempting to comment on the future direction of the United States if one is only able to observe the events taking place in one’s lifetime as well as the events that have transpired in the past.
Dylan did not need to consult a psychic to predict the future of America. He needed only to observe the state of the American economy and the direction in which the country was headed in terms of its civil liberties in order to see the sun setting on the Union.
It is thus very easy to suggest that if more Americans would do the same, then the repetition of tragedies that have befallen the United States might possibly be avoided in the future. Sadly, over 31 years after Dylan’s “Union Sundown” was written, that lesson has yet to be learned.
Notes: Tarpley, Webster Griffin. Surviving The Cataclysm: Your Guide Through The Greatest Financial Crisis In Human History. 3rd Edition. 2011. Progressive Press.  Tarpley, Webster Griffin. Surviving The Cataclysm: Your Guide Through The Greatest Financial Crisis In Human History. 3rd Edition. 2011. Progressive Press.  Tarpley, Webster Griffin. Surviving The Cataclysm: Your Guide Through The Greatest Financial Crisis In Human History. 3rd Edition. 2011. Progressive Press.
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Brandon Turbeville is an author out of Florence, South Carolina. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from Francis Marion University and is the author of six books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies, Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, and The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria. Turbeville has published over 300 articles dealing on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s podcast Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.