The Rockefeller Legacy
In all of world history, it would be difficult to link as much mischief to any one name as can be traced to the Rockefeller family over the past century. From the ruthless monopoly capitalism that characterized the early industrial era to the building of an investment empire that spans the globe, the name of Rockefeller is usually the first that comes to mind. The slaughter of union organizers, blackmail of competitors, industrial and political espionage, ruthless population control schemes, and plots to overthrow governments are all part of the Rockefeller legacy.
It was John Davison Rockefeller, the patriarch of the Rockefeller dynasty, who built the family fortune with the Standard Oil Company he founded in 1870 at the age of 31. Within ten years, Rockefeller’s new firm had gained a stranglehold on oil refining in America, controlling such a huge share of production and shipping that he was able to undermine competitors by extracting from the railroads a private “tax” for every non-Standard Oil petroleum shipment they accepted.
By the mid 1880s, John D. Rockefeller had become a millionaire many times over. He had also become what one historian calls the most hated man in America, if not the world. Several state attorneys tried in vain to have him jailed for his corrupt business practices. And by the turn of the century, Rockefeller’s widely-criticised financial dealings prompted the passage of federal regulatory legislation to curb the power of monopolies. Even these anti-trust laws, however, were insufficient to limit the expansion of the vast Standard Oil empire.
Rockefeller himself was an austere, humourless Baptist, with an annoying habit of proclaiming that his wealth came from God. In reality, however, his fortune was amassed not only by extortion tactics against the railroads and the systematic sabotage of potential competition, but also through some of the most oppressive labour practices imaginable.
The Devil’s Money
Numerous published accounts of the labour movement in the early 20th century confirm that workers at that time were often subjected to barbaric, slave labour-type conditions. And the situation at the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in Ludlow, Colorado was among the worst. Labourers worked scandalously long hours under extraordinarily risky conditions. They were physically disciplined by company thugs and paid with vouchers that could only be exchanged for company housing or for food and other commodities dispensed by management. For all practical purposes, in other words, Rockefeller mine workers received substandard family housing and food, but no expendable wages whatever.
In 1913, when the United Mine Workers began organising, management responded by bringing in a battalion of private union busters. The miners promptly walked off the job and evacuated the company premises. The hired enforcers then retaliated by invading a tent city set up by the strikers. Two women and eleven children were killed in that first confrontation, and more than 75 minors lost their lives in a series of bloody battles that followed.
The so-called Ludlow massacre, as the Colorado incident was known, was just one in a series of events that kept the Rockefeller name constantly before the public and prompted the family to launch a then-unprecedented propaganda drive to improve its image. At the time of the Colorado mine revolt, the Rockefeller fortune was in the hands of John D. and his son, John D., Jr. Under the guidance of a clever public relations agent, films and press releases were distributed nationwide portraying the Rockefellers in a favourable light. One of the best-remembered gimmicks of this period was the legendary dime give-away. As the Rockefeller holdings soared more than a billion dollars, John D. Sr., over a period of years, presented shiny new dimes to an estimated 30,000 citizens — always with cameras present to record his “generosity.”
But serious philanthropy was the more durable part of the effort to redeem the Rockefeller name. In 1901, the family launched the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, which later became Rockefeller University. Two years afterward, they established the General Education Board. And a Rockefeller Sanitary Commission was created with family money in 1909.
Then, in 1913, the year of the bloodbath in Colorado, the Rockefeller foundation was launched with $50 million worth of Standard Oil assets. Its charter described the foundation’s goal as the advancement of “the civilization of the peoples of the United States and its territories and possessions and of foreign lands…”
But the foundation’s “philanthropic” activities more often than not conveniently served the Rockefeller corporate interest, a pattern that continues to this day.
A foundation allows an investor to avoid paying taxes on that part of the company s profits that is set aside for the “public good.” The foundation is generally administered by the donor with the help of a hand-picked board of directors, and has wide leeway in determining what projects actually serve the public interest.
The Rockefeller Foundation at first turned its attention to science and academia, pouring money into colleges and universities to promote a worldview friendly toward the expansion of investment.
The Rockefellers also developed a keen interest in birth control. The Ludlow, Colorado experience had taught them that growing numbers of discontented, underpaid workers posed an imminent danger to wealthy industrialists such as themselves. The Rockefeller Foundation made its first grant for birth control studies to the Social Science Research Council in 1923. Thirteen years later, the Foundation created an Office of Population Research at Princeton University to address the political aspects of population change….
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