Social upheavals, Fightbacks and alternatives

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Social upheavals, Fightbacks and alternatives

… I. Some analytical elements

1 / What is the evolution of the situation of the working class and the exploited worldwide? Several important events should be noted. Globalization has accelerated industrial and economic growth in a number of countries (BRIC, Turkey, Mexico...) a phenomenon that should logically continue and diversify.

This leads to two important phenomena in so-called “emerging” countries: urban concentration, increase of the number of wageworkers at a faster rate than that of the population (75% increase between 1992 and 2012 for a 30% population increase). Obviously, this corresponds to the development of new centres of economic development. Another significant feature has been the relative growth of the service sector as compared to manufacturing, together with the proletarisation of much waged labour previously seen as ‘professional’ such as teaching and health care with the consequent impact of these groups being increasingly likely to participate in industrial action to defend conditions against increasing speedups, pay freezes, privatisations and other attacks.

But we must always take into consideration that, in the aggregate, a large majority of the workforce in these countries consists of workers in precarious employment according to ILO criteria (unpaid family workers or self-employed workers) and this proportion has been increasing since 2008, which is therefore a counter trend. Similarly, the ILO expects a steady increase in unemployment in the next five years in Asia, Africa and Latin America, already noted since 2008. The consequence is obvious: significant urbanization, rural population becoming a minority with the concomitant destruction of the social fabric, obviously leading to a deterioration in living conditions, even if peasants’ solidarity networks persist.

So we see a numerical increase of the working class, but with different overall characteristics shaped by the overall development of societies where this development occurs.

In the “old industrial countries”, the development of the proletariat, has most generally gone hand in hand with trade union and political struggles against the bourgeoisie in a national framework and, whatever the violence of class struggles of the twentieth century, with obtaining social rights on the nation-state level, crystallizing power relations between classes. Recognition of collective rights of the working class did not only concern employment contracts at the company level but also collective social rights as part of civil society; the bourgeoisie conceding that a share of capitalist profits should finance systems of contribution and tax redistribution on which most industrial societies were built in the twentieth century. Thus there were social compromises, development of the “welfare state”, related to the ideological legacy of positivism and social Christianity. These ideologies and compromises were the necessary antidote to the significant development of Marxist and socialist currents. All this is no longer required today and industrial development in emerging countries has not at all come about in the same context. For instance, the automotive production industry “moving east”: Except for Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, the major development areas are in Eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran, India and China. In these cases, production lines and qualifications are the same as in old industrialized countries, but social rights and labour legislation are not at all the same. There are similar schemas in many other industrial sectors. In these new areas of industrial development, the social compromises of the last century no longer hold sway. In the old industrial countries, neoliberal austerity policies are already broadly challenging these compromises. Moreover, we can observe semi-slavery situations, especially for migrant workers, and underground factories escaping any legislation.


2 / Evolution of worldwide rate of exploitation. The economic changes of recent years have also produced various consequences. Not only have wages stagnated in the old industrialized countries, recent years have seen an increase in productivity at the expense of wages, accentuating the trend seen since the 1980s of payroll losses for the benefit of capital. In the same vein, more precarious contracts and moves to introduce new, more restrictive labour laws have been a key element in these productivity gains in the old industrialized countries (zero-hours contracts in Britain, the Italy Jobs Act, mini-jobs in Germany....).

Despite the sudden brake on production in 2008, in most new production areas workers have won real wage increases, especially in China. Although these have been economic strikes, carried out workplace by workplace or company by company, they have had tangible effects.

So, elements of social tension in the labour market persist in both the “emerging” countries and in old economies, either through the increased pressure of unemployment or by a gradual deterioration of employment conditions and social protection systems. Almost half of the workers in the world live outside wage labour, in extreme precarity. And the trend is the spread of precarious contracts and legislation minimizing legal protection against layoffs. These developments increase the flexibility and ability of capitalists to alter maximum working hours and number of employees according to daily needs. This goes along with a logistical organisation of chains of production and distribution that reduces costs as much as possible by resorting to myriad subcontractors.

Many new treaties allow big corporations to escape national laws: TTIP, TISA, etc…Inside the European Union, every month, new laws are disrupting old national laws. De facto, at the international level there are today two levels of power: state power and corporate power and the second one is stronger and stronger in terms of trade organization and workforce contracts.

All these changes weaken the capacity for lasting collective organization and structuring collective resistance within companies. At the same time they require the development of local social organizations able to regroup isolated or temporary workers.

3 / What are the consequences of the significant increase in migration? There are significant population displacements in several regions of the world: 250 million international migrants, 750 million internal migrants (displaced persons...). These movements are often due to structural economic changes with significant regional disparities: thus South Africa and Angola, attract migrants from neighbouring countries, as do Argentina and Venezuela in Latin America, Australia and Japan in East and Southeast Asia. The Gulf States attract large numbers of migrants from the Horn of Africa, Turkey, the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines. In the latter country, nearly 20% of the working population live and work abroad, mostly women. Two thirds of international migration is between countries of a comparable level of development of and a third turn to the USA (Mexico) and Europe, mostly from its former colonial empires. But added to these phenomena are also permanent displacements due to wars, in particular from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and Afghanistan, and now climate change.


This acceleration of migration is obviously an important political question. While it is obvious that industrialized countries are perfectly capable of welcoming migrants who wish to go there, these migrants have become the target of xenophobic campaigns in many countries including the US, Australia, Europe and South Africa. The dual challenge to the labour movement is to fight this xenophobia while supporting organization of these migrant workers who are strengthening the working class in many old countries. Some Gulf countries and even Israel are using immigrants reduced to a situation of semi-slavery on a mass scale to develop industrial activity.