Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States is a series of films that comprehensively examine early North American history through the lens of class, to enable a wider critique of the social construct in contemporary United States. The series not only documents and exemplifies individual strikes and labour movements throughout the centuries, but also serves to connect the narratives and political lessons of an entire era from a working-class viewpoint, forming a solid base of analysis for class struggle.
The series starts by looking at the creation of early labour movements, citing Mary Harris Jones or ‘Mother Jones’—a schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent labour and community organiser, coordinating major strikes and co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World. The context is also the forming of the American Constitution and Civil War draft riots, the ensuing industrialisation, consequent changes to police forces, robber barons, early American labour unions, and major mid-to-late 19th Century labour events including the uprising of 1877, the Haymarket Affair, Homestead strike and the New Orleans General Strike. This historical chronology also examines the West Virginian coal wars of the early 20th Century, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain—the largest labour uprising in United States history and one of the largest, well-organised, and well-armed uprisings since the American Civil War.
The second part of the series covers key labour-related events which occurred between the late 1800s and the 1920s. Its title refers to the song composed by Ralph Chaplin in 1915 as an anthem for unionised workers. The episode itself is the cinematic version of that anthem, providing a comprehensive understanding of the need for labour unions and the enormous sacrifices that are required to ensure fairness, safety, and equality. The operations of industries like railroads, steel and coal were characterised by slave labour, dangerous working environments, punishing hours, and child labour; but with the rise of labour unions, these industries were forced to re-examine their practices or run the risk of collapse altogether. One of the earliest examples of this is the formation of the American Railroad Union in 1893. The film shows how the Railroad Union won early successes in recovering wages for denigrated workers, where its popularity sky-rocketed among the working class. The capitalists soon fought back though, with their far-reaching strong-arm influence. Subsequent public strikes were met with extreme violence, oppression and unlawful arrests, illustrating some of the power dynamics central to class warfare in the fight for equality.