Why Workers Don’t Read

   Sonny Tufts

 A working woman said to me, “I don’t know nothing about nothing. I never mess around with politics. I read the headlines, astrology, funnies and sports. That’s one reason I won’t subscribe.”

The educated ones, the authorities, the leaders – all of present day society – have made this woman feel that she knows nothing because she doesn’t read the papers. But this woman, and the thousands of people just like her, knows plenty.

A worker in Endicott put it this way, “I don’t have the time to read. I spend so much time trying to hustle at work. I hear folks say we should do this and that, but things haven’t changed at all. What I read in the paper all the things they are doing, I get real mad.”

Before the learned professors tell us that this worker is backward, is concerned only with material things and doesn’t understand history, let them think over this: the workers’ everyday existence is their history.

Let me quote one more worker from Binghamton. “I just don’t read the papers anymore. Not even the headlines. Drone attacks, Wall Street, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, and everywhere. It’s disgusting. I just don’t want to read about it. It makes me too mad. I get all upset and you can’t do anything about it anyhow.”

Pick up any daily paper. It’s filled with what the big shots are doing; with the names of statesmen and diplomats and celebrities, with reports of crimes and child abuse, with news of international conferences, threats of war, war and congressional “gridlock”.

What does all this have to do with him or her? What control does s/he have over what the leaders of society are doing? What faintest thing does any of this have to do with where s/he has to live and work?

These Americans have read enough, and heard enough of what the leaders of the world are doing to be through with that. What they are saying to the politicians is, “That is YOUR business, not mine. That is YOUR job, YOUR worry. You don’t worry about me. You wanted it this way. YOU are stuck with the state of the world.”

American workers aren’t reading, not because they are illiterate but because they don’t want to read what the daily press calls “news”. For the same reason they don’t attend union meetings, and don’t vote….

The other side of the picture is that these Americans were the same ones who fought hard for the right for a free education and a free press and today refuse to read. They were the ones who fought hard against patriarchy and racism for the right to vote, and today refuse to vote.   They were the ones who fought bloody battles to win the union and today refuse to go to union meetings…

It was the ordinary working people who fought for free education for all. Literacy was not handed to the American people on any silver platter, or on the initiative of the learned and educated men of the day. As late as the 1830’s the majority of American children were completely illiterate, and they came almost entirely from the working class.

It was the earliest American labor unions that raised the demand for free public schools. The educated ones fought against it all the way. But the common, the ordinary people fought for it and won it.

It was the common people who fought for the right to print their own union papers. And there was a time when they not only read every word of them, but when they wrote them…

In the earliest papers, ordinary workers, some who could barely spell wrote articles. Those papers carried articles pin pointing foreman and scabs, calling names and describing real conditions and real people.

The union papers today carry speeches of union presidents and contract negotiations and high sounding programs. They are as far removed from what ordinary workers want to read as the daily papers…

It has always been the common people who have shown the way whenever an old society has reached a stage of crisis and a change was necessary. Not the educated. They have always been on the other side. And it has been true even when the ordinary people couldn’t read.

It was true when the illiterate slaves fought their way to freedom. It was the continual slave revolts that gave power to the Abolitionist press and not the other way around.

It was true in the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) when some of the workers were immigrants who couldn’t read a word of English or Southern Blacks who had never been in a school in their lives.

It is true today, when Americans can read, and have read is when it has been of any importance and meaning to them, and today many Americans refuse to read.

An unemployed woman at DSS refused to take a copy of People’s Press. Her remark was, “just another paper”.

When the power of the press is in such disrepute that people toss any paper aside with, “just another paper”, it means that Americans have come to a complete rejection of what it is that the learned ones have to say. And what is it that the politicians are always blaring. And what it is that the union leaders are trying to sell. This isn’t apathy, this is resistance.

This total disillusionment with the word of all people in authority is the greatest advance in human thinking.




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