Articles  Reviews   Resources   Regulars   Lifestyle   Interactive   Search   About
~ Home ~ Articles ~ Reviews [Books~ Films and TV ~ Music]~ Dictionary ~ Library ~ Archives ~ Links ~ Salutes ~ Stakhanovites ~ Missives ~ The Mao of Pooh ~ Ask Uncle Rosa ~ Poetry ~ Subscribe ~ Contact Us ~ Search ~ The Turtle ~ Turtle People ~ Highlights ~

Peter Waterman

 

 
Click here for a printer-friendly version of this page.


            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). [5] 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) [6] , and with a similarly reinvented notion of global labour solidarity (previously, "labour internationalism"). In so far as we recognise workers as people and citizens [7] , 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 "work".

            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 [9] . 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 [10] . 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.


[6] 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 other principle.

[7] Consider here the argument of  US union activist and academic Paul Johnston (2001), proposing the re-invention of trade unionism as a citizenship movement.

[8] 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.

[9] A Google search on <global solidarity union 2003> reveals the range. I offer just one reference, to a pathbreaking conference on solidarity internationally between mining and maritime unions, http://www.mua.org.au/journal/october_2002/global.html.

[10] 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, http://www.e-tradeunions.org/home.php.

References

Albert, Michael. "Grubacic Interviews Albert Regarding Parecon", http://www.parecon.org/writings/grubacic_interview.htm

Clarke, Simon. 2002. "Class Struggle and the Working Class: The Problem of Commodity Fetishism", in Ana Dinerstein and Michael Neary (eds). The Labour Debate: An Investigation into the Theory and Reality of Capitalist Work. Aldershot: Ashgate. Pp. 41-64.

Clawson, Dan. 2003. The Next Upsurge: Labour and the New Social Movements. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY. 235 pp.

Gallin, Dan. 1999. Notes on Trade Unions and the Informal Sector". http://www.global-labour.org/trade_unions_and_the_informal_sector_wiego.htm

Gallin, Dan. 2000. "Civil Society - A Contested Territory", Euro-WEA Seminar on Workers' Education and Civil Society, Budapest, June 16-17. http://www.global-labour.org/civil_society_-_a_contested_territory.htm

Gallin, Dan. 2001. "Propositions on Trade Unions and Informal Employment in Times of Globalisation", in Peter Waterman and Jane Wills (eds), Place, Space and the New Labour Internationalisms. Oxford: Blackwell. Pp. 227-45.

Gorz, Andre. 1999. "A New Task for the Unions: The Liberation of Time from Work", in Ronaldo Munck and Peter Waterman (eds), Labour Worldwide in the Era of Globalisation: Alternative Union Models in the New World Order. Houndmills: Macmillan. 269 pp.

Harman, Chris. 2002. "The Workers of the World", International Socialism, No. 96, pp. 3-45.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2003/1999. "Marx's Mole is Dead!", www.nu.ac.za/ccs

Harman, Chris. 2002. "The Workers of the World", International Socialism. No. 96, pp. 3-45.

Holloway, John. 2002. Change the World without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today. London: Pluto.

Hyman, Richard. 1999. "Imagined Solidarities: Can Trade Unions Resist Globalization?", in Peter Leisink (ed), Globalization and Labour Relations. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Pp. 94-115.

Johnston, Paul. 2001. 'Organize for What? The Resurgence of Labor as Citizenship Movement', , in Harry Katz and Lowell Turner, eds., Rekindling the Movement: Labor's Quest for Relevance in the 20th Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. www.newcitizen.org/english/p_publication/Organize%20for%20What.Johnston. doc

Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe. 1985. "Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical-Democratic Politics. London: Verso.

Linebaugh, Peter and Marcus Rediker. 2000. The Many-Headed Hydra. Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston: Beacon Press.

Moody, Kim. 1997. Workers in a Lean World: Unions in the International Economy. New York and London: Verso. 342 pp.

Peloso, Vincent (ed). 2003. Work, Protest, and Identity in 20th-Century Latin America. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources. 348 pp.

Rogers, Joel and Ruy A. Teixeira. 2001. America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters. New York: Basic Books. 232 pp.

Roy, Arundhati. 1997. The God of Small Things. New York: Random House.

Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. 2003. "The World Social Forum: Toward a Counter-Hegemonic Globalisation", http://www.ces.fe.uc.pt/bss/fsm.php

Thompson, Edward. 1970. The Making of the English Working Class. London: Pelican.

Thompson, Edward. 1978. The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays. London: Merlin.

v.d. Linden, Marcel. 2003a. "Conceptualising the World Working Class", in K.P. Kannan and Mario Rutten (eds), Labour and Transformation in Asia. Critical Reflections and Empirical Studies. New Delhi: Permanent Black.

v.d. Linden, Marcel. 2003b. "The ICFTU at the Crossroads: An Historical Interpretation". Paper to Conference on "Labour and New Social Movements in a Globalising World System: The Future of the Past", Linz, September 2003.

Waterman, Peter. 1983a. "Aristocrats and Plebeians in African Unions? Lagos Port and Dock Worker Organisation and Struggle". PhD, University of Nijmegen. 425 pp.

Waterman, Peter. 1983b. "Notes on Lenin and the Alliance of the Working Class and the Peasantry", in Arvind Das, V. Nilikant and P.S. Dubey (eds), The Worker and the Working Class: Labour Studies Anthology. New Delhi, PECCE. Pp. 200-22.

Waterman, Peter. 2001. "Emancipating Labour Internationalism', Contribution to, "Reinventing Social Emancipation", a project funded by the MacArthur Foundation. www.ces.fe.uc.pt/emancipa/en/themes/index.html.

Waterman, Peter. 2003a. "Place, Space and the Reinvention of Social Emancipation on a Global Scale": Second Thoughts on the Third World Social Forum. Working Papers. No. 378. The Hague: Institute of Social Studies. 25 pp. http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/dinamic.asp?pagina=bal_waterman2_ing

Waterman, Peter. 2003b. "Whatever is the Global Justice Movement Doing to the New International Social Movement Unionism?", The Journal of World-Systems Research, Vol. 9, No. 3. http://www.movsoc.org/htm/unions_chaptert.htm#_ftnref18.

Waterman, Peter. 2003c. "The Liberation of Time from Work: Some Reflections on Work After Capitalism", Paper for Life after Capitalism Programme, World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, January. http://www.zmag.org/watermanwork.htm

Waterman, Peter. 2003d. "Omnia Sint Communia: A New/Old Slogan for International Labour and Labour Internationalism", Contribution to a Workshop on 'The Commons and Communities: A Strategic Alternative to the State-Market Nexus', European Social Forum, Florence, Italy, 7-10 November, 2002.

Waterman, Peter. 2003d. "Harmanizing the Workers of the World: Questioning a 'classical and simple' understanding of the working class in the face of a complex global justice and solidarity movement", http://www.nu.ac.za/ccs/default.asp?3,28,11,491

Wright, Eric Olin. 1976. "Class Boundaries in Advanced Capitalist Societies". New Left Review, No. 98, pp. 3-41.

Zweig, Michael. 2001. The Working Class Majority: America's Best Kept Secret. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 208 pp.


   
   
   

 

 
   
         

Copyright Policy Last modified: Tuesday, 06-Jan-2004 13:23:14 CST , Home About Contact Us