The War At Home: The Corporate Offensive From Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush
by Jack Rasmus
Kyklos Productions, San Ramon, California, 2005, 534 pp.

REVIEWED by Harvey Schwartz
Curator, ILWU Oral History Collection and Sam Kagel Historian
Labor Archives and Research Center, San Francisco State University

Did you like Howard Zinns, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES? If so, you are going to love the new book by Jack Rasmus, THE WAR AT HOME: THE CORPORATE OFFENSIVE FROM RONALD REAGAN TO GEORGE W. BUSH. Rasmus is a former local union president and a seasoned organizer who once directed a community college labor studies program. He also holds a Ph.D. in political economy. Here he employs the tools of that exacting science with rigor and insight to analyze the victorious thrust in recent decades of corporate power into every phase of American social, political, and economic life.

Like Zinn, Rasmus sees American history as a continuous struggle between the “haves� and the “have nots.� Zinn traces the rise of elite power and the organized response of various groups of exploited people from Columbus to, in the most recent edition of his best seller, Bush II. Rasmus would not dispute that approach to the past. On the contrary, by going into serious depth in several key areas of American life since Reagan, Rasmus effectively picks up the story where Zinn leaves off.

Rasmus differs from Zinn in looking at the political and economic policies of corporate America and the resulting deleterious impact on workers and unions rather than at any specific people’s opposition movements. Consequently, his book is an excellent complement and companion to Zinn’s popular work. Rasmus seeks to pull together the various phrases of what he calls “the corporate offensive� in a readable and comprehensive account that workers, progressive activists, and other non-specialists will find useful and informative. In this I think he succeeds admirably.

THE WAR AT HOME is not driven by any conspiracy theory of history. Instead, after briefly carrying the story back to 1929, Rasmus traces ebbs and flows in a quite public corporate push that more or less parallels the ascendancy of Republican presidents since Richard Nixon.

Early on, Rasmus also points out that acknowledging any such thing as “class war� is anathema to mainstream American politicians and media opinion-makers. He then convincingly demonstrates exactly how the elites have profited since 1980 at the expense of working class families in income and wage distribution, job loss, debasement and outsourcing, federal tax, trade, labor policies, and health care and pension benefits.

The final chapter of THE WAR AT HOME focuses on the evaporation of the once vast Social Security surplus over the last twenty-five years. This inquiry is especially riveting given President George W. Bush’s crusade to privatize and essentially hamstring the Social Security program, that best known remaining legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Rasmus has a lot to complain about, but he does not let matters drop there. He has suggestions for dealing with the corporate offensive at the end of several of his chapters, and a real battle plan for organized labor in his lengthy conclusion. There he challenges the AFL-CIO to improve the coordination of its member unions in several key areas.

Intending to stimulate fruitful discussion within the ranks of labor itself, Rasmus holds that American unions must henceforth work together and perhaps restructure their movement at the grass roots level. Only then, he argues, can they hope to expand significantly and to recapture the kinds of industry-wide or regional-wide collective bargaining agreements that re-enforced union power in much of the United States before 1980.

All this should give you a sense of the inclusive sweep of THE WAR AT HOME. The final verdict, it seems to me, is that if you want to get beyond the “big G� hot button issues successfully exploited by various reactionary politicians in recent campaigns—God, gays, guns and the like—and find out what has really been going on, give THE WAR AT HOME a look. It has some great labor cartoons by Jim Swanson and a few simple graphs even I was able to follow. Most important, it is a sobering and path-breaking effort to “put it all in one place.� As such, it is clearly a valuable service to “the people� in what is most assuredly their time of need.