The Remaking of the Global Working Class
A Worldwide Upsurge of Class-Based Mobilization
Indeed, it is likely that we are just at the beginnings of a new worldwide upsurge of labor and class-based mobilization. In order to make sense of what is unfolding before our eyes, we need an approach that is sensitive to the ways in which the recurrent revolutions in the organization of production that have characterized the history of capitalism resulted not just in the unmaking of established working classes, but also in the making of new working classes on a world-scale.
Those who over the past several decades have been pronouncing the death of the working class and labor movements have tended to focus single-mindedly on the unmaking side of the process of class formation. But if we work from the premise that the world’s working classes and workers’ movements are recurrently made, unmade and remade, then we have a powerful antidote against the tendency to prematurely pronounce the death of the working class every time a historically specific working class is unmade. The death of the labor movement was pronounced prematurely in the early-twentieth century, as the rise of mass production undermined the strength of craft-workers; and it was once again announced prematurely in the late-twentieth century.
By focusing on the making, unmaking and remaking of working classes, we are primed to be on the lookout for the outbreak of fresh struggles, both by new working-classes-in-formation and by old working classes being unmade; that is, struggles by those experiencing both the creative and destructive sides of the process of capital accumulation, respectively. I have called these two types of struggles Marx-type and Polanyi-type labor unrest. Marx-type labor unrest is composed of the struggles by newly emergent working classes, challenging their status as cheap and docile labor. Polanyi-type labor unrest is composed of the struggles by established working classes, defending their existing ways of life and livelihood, including defending the concessions that they had won from capital and states in earlier waves of struggle.
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