OK, so I am looking for a concept that simultaneously says farewell to the
working class of Marx, Lenin, Kim Moody (1997) and Chris Harman (2002) but
hello to the working classes/categories considered by van der Linden, Hardt
and Negri and Gallin.
This is not going to be "working families", which is the
latest of a series of horrible soundbites or sitebytes invented (or purchased
for serious dollars) by the AFL-CIO. "Working families" nonetheless
remains interesting, in so far as it articulates "working" (the
subaltern AFL-CIO prefers this activity to the related identity) with "family"
(borrowed from the "family values" of a corrupt, reactionary, but
populist neo-liberalism). What the AFL-CIO does
understand is the necessity of articulating a class concept (if disguised)
with a popular/populist one.
What, then, about "working people"? It articulates work with people,
thus class with popular discourse, which would make it acceptable to at least
the Young Laclau and Mouffe (1985). It articulates work, what workers do for
capital, with people, what workers are (before work, after work, against work).
By its very looseness it overcomes such problems as that of redefining the
"middle-class" as "intermediate categories in a contradictory
class location" (Wright 1976). Or as the "coordinator class"
(Albert 2003) since, as Hardt and Negri might here suggest, they do rather
more than this. "Working people", however, would then need to be
itself articulated with the a reinvented understanding of social emancipation
(Santos 2003), and with a similarly
reinvented notion of global labour solidarity (previously, "labour internationalism").
In so far as we recognise workers as people and citizens, then we will, moreover, no longer
seek to re-invent an (inter)national working-class culture that was once a
reality but has today been largely incorporated into the disputed terrain
and discourse of "popular culture".
What meaning could social emancipation have today for working people? The
classical labour movement had, in fact, two major work-related emancipatory
slogans (Waterman 2003b). The first was "A Fair Day's Wage for a Fair
Day's Work". This notion was, initially, I imagine, a Christian one,
later incorporated, along with other convenient bits of Churchlore, into liberalism.
Today it is Born Again in the form of "Decent Work", promoted by
the International Labour Organisation (an inter-state body in which labour
- OK, state-approved unions - has 25 percent representation, and swallowed,
uncritically, by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions/Global
Unions alliance. In so far as this is or was an emancipatory slogan, this
is in the sense, of gaining rights within an existing capitalist society
and liberal discourse. The other historical slogan was "The Abolition
of Wage-Slavery", a prominent slogan of the anarcho-syndicalist (and
internationalist) Industrial Workers of the World (aka IWW, Wobblies). In
more contemporary form, this reappears in Andre Gorz (1999), who calls for
"The Liberation of Time from Work". In so far as Gorz considers
we have reached the end of the work-based society, this slogan should be understood
not as Eurocentric, nor as calling for an increase in unemployment,
but as struggle against enforced capitalist work and worklessness. This takes
expression in the South, particularly in Latin America, in attempts to both
conceptualise and realise a "solidarity economy" - a considerable
topic at successive World Social Forums (Waterman 2003a). In so far as this
understanding could be linked to the archaic/contemporary demand for the re-establishment
of the commons (socialisation of privatised common goods and services), an
inter-relationship with the GJ&SM (ecological, citizenship, housing and
rural movements) would be reinforced (Waterman 2003d). The paradoxical nature
of the Gorz slogan should have at least the minimal effect of de-naturalising
On the new kind of internationalism I will be brief. Ideas like that of "a
global social movement unionism", "global/ising solidarity"
and suchlike, are creeping onto inter/national union websites, and even
motivating institutionalised union solidarity activity. These new notes exist
in notable discord - I would argue - with dominant union discourses of globalised
"social partnership". The latter is actually a subordinate partnership
with those corporations prepared to play this game with a downsized union
movement - which has a reduced membership appeal, and limited reach to "working
people" more generally (Waterman 2003b).
If I have wandered too far from Marx's working class, I blame the manner in
which capitalist-imposed work and worklessness has likewise wandered, and
spread, whether in terms of the geographical movement of workers (from traditional
working-class communities, by inter/national migration) or of jobs (high-tech/low-skill
call centres). Marx's proletarianisation continues apace, however - downwards
and upwards and sideways - but without the creation of Marx's proletariat.
(If there is here an echo of Thompson's processal notion of class formation,
so much the better).
Whether we can find an appropriate appeal, matching the one on my five-hundred
rouble banknote from the Russian Federation of Socialist Council Republics,
1919, I do not know. This bears, in some six languages, the closing words
of the Old Testament of classical labour internationalism, "Workers of
the World Unite!". There was, clearly, no room on this banknote to include
"You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Chains. You Have a World to Win! But
repetition wears out the force of even inspiring slogans, particularly after
150 years lacking…umm…notable success. Moreover, many workers today may fear
that they have something more than their chains to lose: A car-cum-taxi? A
plot of land or house? A pension scheme or investment fund? A small-scale
enterprise? Democracy Lite? Freedom of expression? A job, for God's
sake! In any case, the problem is no longer to "unite", in the traditional
sense of accepting (i.e. of faith, loyalty, self-subordination to) one dominant
and unchanging identity, theory, policy, strategy or leadership. It is to
communicate, in the full sense of this word - something increasingly
possible through the radical-democratic use of the web. This is, of course, also something
increasingly easy for the newest kinds of worker, as implied by Hardt and
Negri. One could always organise, perhaps at a future World Social Forum,
a competition for such. My present, omnibus, contribution could be broken
down, or combined with others.
Working People of All Kinds, Countries and Cultures --Communicate!
Emancipate Yourselves from Capitalist Over/Work/Lessness!
Another World of Labour is Necessary!
The New Global Solidarity Movement Can Make it Possible!.
Although I do not expect this to win the competition, I do hope, with this
note, to have at least set an emancipatory cat amongst the determinist pigeons.
And, maybe, to have suggested that we need not spend too much time on re-conceptualising
"working class" but should rather rather concentrate on the other
matters raised here. Juliet did not ask Romeo what or who he was, nor, for
obvious reasons, his position in relationship to the mode of production or
the capitalist labour process. Her question was "wherefore?". We
could do worse than follow her example.
Santos avoids defining emancipation. But he does consider
"its" aspects. His identification of the tension between equality
and difference reveals also that between the core labour movement value and
that of the newest social movements - this tension also existing within the
World Social Forum process he is writing about:
Social emancipation must be grounded
on two principles - the principle of equality and the principle of respect
for difference. The struggle for either of them must be articulated with
the other, for the fulfilment of either is condition of the fulfilment of
the other. Nonetheless, there is a cleavage among the movements and even,
sometimes, inside the same movement on whether priority should be given
to one of these principles, and in that case to which one. Among those that
say yes to first question, the cleavage is between those that give priority
to the principle of equality - for equality alone may create real opportunities
for the recognition of difference - and those that give priority to the
principle of the recognition of difference, for without such recognition
equality conceals the exclusions and marginalities on which it lies, thus
becoming doubly oppressive (for what it conceals and for what it shows).
This cleavage occurs among movements
and intra-movements. It traverses, among others, the workers', the feminist,
the indigenous, and the black movements. For instance, whereas the workers'
movement has privileged the principle of equality to the detriment of the
principle of the recognition of difference, the feminist movement has privileged
the latter in detriment to the former. But the most shared position is indeed
that both principles have priority together, and that it is not correct
to prioritize either one in the abstract. Concrete political conditions
will dictate to each movement which one of the principles is to be privileged
in a given concrete struggle. Any struggle conceived under the aegis of
one of these two principles must be organized so as to open space for the
Consider here the argument of US union activist and
academic Paul Johnston (2001), proposing the re-invention of trade unionism
as a citizenship movement.
 I recall a brilliant book with some such title as "A Candle
at Midnight: Working-Class Culture in Cold War America" but, although
I cannot believe I imagined this, I cannot find it on the web. The point,
however, is that it was clearly about generally popular, not specifically
working-class, culture. In a thought-provoking piece on the labour
movement and civil society, Dan Gallin (2000) states that labour used to have
its own "civil society" in a wide range of working-class institutions
and practices. This, however, was surely what was then understood as, simply
"the labour movement" or else as "working-class culture".
Claiming this, as he does, as some kind of forerunner to today's NGOs and
civil society is, it seems to me, a defensive move, rather than one that might
encourage trade unions to insert themselves into a set of radical-democratic
practices and discourses, within which they are far from central.
Here "communicate" should
be understood as community-creating. Which further complicates assumptions
about political-economically given categories, interests and identities. Community-creation
is a barely-developed potential of labour"s own cyberspaces. Labour nets
are speading and increasing in sophistication. They are not necessarily confined,
or most developed amongst, new-economy or high-tech workers or the famous
"intermediate categories". There are at least two amongst dockworkers
(admitedly, an increasingly computerised category), one (mostly in Dutch/Flemish)
overlapping with the International Transportworkers Federation, http://www.havenarbeiders.be/,
the other autonomous of such, http://www.idcdockworkers.org/. Interestingly
again, however, it is UNI that hosts a website for union web specialists,
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