Excerpts from 2018 FI resolution "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 phenomena should be noted. Globalization has accelerated industrial and economic growth in a number of countries (India, China, Turkey, Mexico...) a phenomenon that should logically continue and diversify.
This leads to two important phenomena in so-called “emerging” countries: urban concentration, an 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 proletarianisation of many jobs 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 populations becoming a minority with the concomitant destruction of the social fabric, (with the elimination of social services and educational institutions in the rural zones and their concentration in the big cities), 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 twentieth century class struggles, with obtaining social rights on the nation-state level, crystallizing power relations between classes. Recognition of working class collective rights 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, Pakistan, 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 the 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-hour contracts in Britain, the Italy Jobs Act, mini-jobs in Germany....). This rise in precarious employment and the degrading of working conditions targets and affects young people so they have a fragile relationship with the labour market and. That is used as a lever for the general strategy of a global change in the labour market starting with the weakest link of the working class. 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.
In this context, we note what has been called the “feminization” of the labor market and poverty. This can be understood in two senses: on the one hand, conditions that historically have been typical in the formal employment of women: instability and job insecurity, flexible contracts, salaries less than those necessary to pay for the family’s needs, have been generalized to the whole workforce. On the other hand it also explains the increase in job opportunities for women notably in sectors that continue to be feminized, such as care work. The workday is doubled for those women who also perform tasks of unpaid domestic work.
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 organization 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.… Within the European Union, every month, new laws are superseding old national laws. De facto, at the international level there are now 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.
The debt crisis over the past decade has shifted from the South to the advanced capitalist countries: household debt crises in many countries (USA, India,) and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. These crises accelerate social attacks, workers’ precariousness and situations of social misery. They also sharpen the requirements for auditing, increase the control of populations and can open up calls for social control to block these policies. The notion of the feminization of poverty refers to the fact that it is on this point that women also become the priority “target” of this type of policies. As mothers, they are called on to take responsibility for implementing these policies. They are also involved in the ‘bankification’ and financialization of their economies, which can add an extra burden to their labor.
All these changes weaken the capacity for lasting collective organization and structuring collective resistance within companies. At the same time, they stimulate the need to fight back and the dynamics of self-organization. This also calls for the development of local social organizations able to regroup isolated or temporary workers above and beyond the workplace level.
The processes of feminization referred to – as well as the weakening of some identities that were once collectivizing, such as union identity –also explain the emergence of “new” social actors with an unprecedented role, such as women and, in many countries, the LGBT + community