Mass media silences strikes across the nation

By Colleen Dehais

Moe Homayounieh Flickr
(Moe Homayounieh Flickr)

Unsurprisingly, both the ongoing prison strike and the Harvard dining hall workers strike have received little to no mainstream media attention since they began several weeks ago. According to popular opinion, the organized labor movement has been defined by decreasing membership and power over the last several decades. However, it is not because the voices of exploited workers are not loud or numerous enough that the general public is not aware of their protests.

The mass media, consolidated and political, deliberately excludes information from the most accessible public outlets because it serves its own financial interests as well as the interests of other powerful agents and institutions (though at a cost for some of the most vulnerable groups within the socioeconomic and racial hierarchies in this country).

According to the Activist Post, six corporations own 90% of the news and entertainment distributed in the United States. Anger and activism surrounding labor conditions and racial inequality are driving these two strikes, yet a lack of media coverage inhibits the power in numbers and in diversity that public support can bring to a social uprising, thereby obstructing the presence of democracy by silencing the voices of the oppressed in our economic and criminal justice systems.

In the United States today, the media reinforces the norms and power structures of the racially hierarchical capitalist society we live in. The media is not only complicit in the oppression of workers and people of color, but actually interferes with their ability to strike by hiding their resistance from the public eye.

The interaction of the history of slavery with the development of the U.S. economy over time has culminated in a system of labor that systematically disadvantages people of color, often tracking them into low-wage jobs with completely inadequate protections or just sending them down the school-to-prison pipeline. The labor movement and movements for racial equality intersect here and demand radical change for workers, including prisoners. Both strikes are opposing the socioeconomic and racial hierarchies that have evolved as a result of this history, but by opposing the current order, these workers threaten the power of the mass media, big business and the state, which is why neither has received mainstream media attention.

The prison strike began in early September, with participation reaching at least 24 states. It has been difficult to confirm the evidence of protests because prison authorities often deny any incidents related to the national movement. According to Truthout, the strike has manifested in demonstrations, riots and work stoppages. Prisoners are primarily seeking the regulation of incarcerated labor. In many ways, it is reminiscent of slavery, both in its form and its typical lack of wages. Capitalism has guided the transition between slavery in the United States and a new form of systematically devaluing bodies, of criminalization and abuse of labor while maintaining the benefits for wealthy white men.

The Harvard dining hall strike, too, has been ongoing for several weeks and just beginning to come to an end. It is a powerful example of how necessary the labor movement continues to be in this capitalist and hierarchical society. The reality of having a system that emphasizes the division of labor for the sake of efficiency is that shortcuts are taken and work is executed at the lowest possible cost often at the expense of exploited workers.

The mass media is a player on the same side as Wall Street, multinational corporations and the government, which is funded and corrupted by those business institutions. It serves to silence the voices of the oppressed in order to maintain the status quo. However, the mass media performs that function in a much more discreet way than many other oppressive institutions because it provides much of the public with the illusion that they are being informed.

If you take anything away from this article, know that there are alternative sources of media and art that represent and amplify the voices of those silenced by the mainstream media and others in power. For those to whom it is accessible, providing support and readership to these forms of expression is impactful—it not only shows solidarity, but it actually does allow the voices of those speaking out against an oppressive society to be heard above the white noise of mass media.

Colleen Dehais is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]