2/12 The ‘new’ working class : Dan La Botz

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The term “new working class” refers to the profound changes which have taken place in the working class, its organization, and its parties throughout the world as a result of neoliberal globalization since the 1980s. The changes in state structures and the introduction of a new political economy, as well as new technologies and new forms of work organization led everywhere to fundamental changes in the old political parties’ structures, labor union organizations and social movements. Among these changes were shifting national and world patterns of industrialization, changing balances between industrial, service, and agricultural employment, and a changing composition of the working class as (depending on the nation) as greater numbers of rural peasants, women, and immigrants entered the industrial or service working class. While industry declined as a percentage of the national economy in the United States and Europe, nations like India, China, and Brazil industrialized on a massive scale but also saw a vast expansion of services. Meanwhile industrial development in Africa has largely stagnated. With these development, scholars and activists created the term the “new working class” to refer to the appearance of new forms of labor organization, often combined with new social movements, and sometimes as well with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and elements of “civil society” and their relationships. More recently, the appearance of large multi-class movements of social protest in the Arab world, in Europe, Latin America and even the United States, challenge us to rethink the role of the working class within mass popular movements and within the context of the national and international struggle for democracy and socialism.


I. A few snap shots of the world working class in motion: 5 min

  • A. Vignettes to be added here from China, India, Latin America, South Africa

II. Neoliberal Globalization

A.The post-war world before neoliberal globalization – 5 min

  • 1. Capitalist world – social democratic welfare state
    • The state/party/labor system
  • 2.Communist world – Stalinist welfare state
    • The state/party/labor system
  • 3.Third World –
    • a. Post-colonial revolutionary aspirations - a welfare state
      • The state/party/labor system
    • b. authoritarian realities – an imaginary welfare state
      • The state/party/labor system

B.Affect of Neoliberal Globalization on the working class – 5 min

  • 1.State – state power in the service of capital -
  • 2.Neoliberal globalization:
    • a.End of nationalist import substitution industrialization model, protective tariffs and quotas
    • b.Deregulation and privatization – state corporations and state land
    • c.Open markets and foreign investment – portfolio, FDI, land
    • d.Reduction of social budget (social wage) - health, education
    • e.Tax cuts for corporations and wealthy -
    • f.Reduce the power of labor unions – (more below on this)
  • 3.Industry, Service, Agriculture, Public Employment
    • a.Changes in industrialization, manufacture for export
    • b.Erosion of job security in industry and services
    • c.Wiping out of peasant agriculture – the great land seizure
    • d.Partial decline of public employment

C.On the workplace, technology, work organization – 5 min

  • 1.Continuous process, computerization, numerical control, containerization, etc.
  • 2.So-called “Japanese style management” or management by stress.
  • 3.Company competition with union for control of the shop floor
  • 4.Flexibilization de facto or by law

D.On labor unions – 5 min

  • 1.State and state party turns on labor unions
    • a.In some nations, the violent assault on unions and assassination of their leaders and activists: Colombia
  • 2.Labor union bureaucracies fail to fight
  • 3.Labor confederations split
  • 4.Collapse of national contracts and pattern agreements
  • 5.Rise of enterprise unions (that is, at only one company or plant)
  • 6.Employers take control of or create pro-company labor unions
  • 7.Gangster labor unions in some countries

E.Historic institutionalized and domesticated labor parties – 5 min

  • 1.The state turns on the labor parties
  • 2.The labor parties split internally – Mexico, Venezuela
  • 3.The labor parties suffer ruptures with the labor confederations
  • 4.The labor confederations split

III. Experience of workers movement – 10 min

  • A.Vignette of Xela/Quetzaltenango, Guatemala confederation
  • B.Current struggles often against former revolutionary state or leftist parties
    • a.South Africa ANC, for example
    • b.Bolivia of Morales
  • C.Regrouping of independent labor unions.
  • D.Alliance with community groups.
  • E.Alliances with social movement.
  • F.Sometimes alliances with NGOs.
  • G.International labor solidarity
  • H.Relations with left and populist parties.
  • I.Formation of new parties.
  • J.Relations with the new indignados / Occupy movements.

IV. Challenges to our theory

A.Role of the industrial working class – 7 min

  • 1.The centrality of the working class, importance of unions – Engels, Condition of the Working Class; Marx, Poverty of Philosophy; centrality of industrial workers.
  • 2.In older developed capitalist economies decline in size of industrial working class. Example: Industrial workers 20% of U.S. workforce.
  • 3.Even new economies, rise of industry accompanied by and outstripped by rise of services and public employees. Weakness of those labor sectors.
  • 4.Bridge tender fallacy – fewer strategic workers exert more power because of “just-in-time,” etc.
  • 5.Poses to us the question of role of the industrial working class in the working class at large and in relation to other classes.

B.The Significance of the Theory of Combined and Uneven Development – 5 min

  • 1.Combined development - leapfrogging
  • 2.Unevenness in the world economy
  • 3.Unevenness in national economies
  • 4.Juxtaposed, sometimes combined character of struggles:
    • a.Peasants over land, industrial workers over factory wages and conditions; service workers over job security
    • b.General public against austerity and corruption.

C.Organization and movement – 5 min

  • 1.Organizational weakness of labor unions and left parties today.
  • 2.Significance of movements and strikes in building organization.
    • a.Luxemburg – The Mass Strike
  • 3.Limitation of labor unions in periods of revolutionary upheaval
    • a.Gramsci – Ordine Nuovo articles
  • 4.Democratic workers’ organizations of power: commune’s councils, soviets, etc.

V . Tasks of the movement at this time – 8 min

A.The construction of independent trade unions – the number one task

  • a.Independent unions beyond the enterprise, national networks, national unions.
  • b.Pattern contracts, national contracts
  • c.International labor solidarity

B.The building of peasant/farmer, working class community organizations

  • a.Struggles against the state and landlords
  • b.Wresting control of villages from the political machines
  • c.Building neighborhood organizations independent of the state and parties

C.The forming of alliances with social movements

  • a.Alliances based on mutual, long term relations
  • b.The movements as a factor in politicizing working class struggles

D.Participation in the upheavals and the popular, national movements and organizations.

  • a.Role in the mass strikes – Latin American nations, Greece

E.The movements that function, in a sense as a party,

  • a.Indignados - Spain
  • b.Occupy – United States
  • c.Challenges: Anna Hazare – India, Javier Sicilia - Mexico

F.The development of revolutionary left organizations

  • a.Working class and social movement base…essential.
  • b.Revolutionary theory…what are the central elements.
  • c.Revolutionary leadership – what do we mean by that today?

Reading materials

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