Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thinking About the Working Class Again

It just occured to me the other night; I was reading a textbook on "Industrial Relations" and in the chapter on unions, the authors wrote that no matter what school of thought you come from, everyone has to acknowledge that in the relationship between employer and employee, it's not a question of will there be conflict, but when and in what form this conflict will take place. The authors went on to say that in the earlier years of industrial capitalism, in the absence of unions, industrial relations appeared to take the form of naked class warfare. So they were arguing for a view of unions as a means of maintaining industrial peace.

But here's the thing: They mentioned that in those early days, the relationship between capitalists and workers was quite clearly antagonistic and violent. True. And as many historians point out, these battles were not really all that significant to outsiders (unless an important railway or coal-strike started to inconvenience thousands or millions) because many people were still farmers, many people were small producers, and many had renounced the working class to work as "professionals" in administrative occupations.

But, later, as unionization took hold, and maintained industrial peace to a degree, many of these administrative workers began to unionize themselves. At the same time, small producers and independent farmers shrank continuously as a portion of the working population.

The thing is, we're at a period of de-unionization, and neo-liberalism triumphant, and it seems to me, we're getting closer and closer to a society of raw, economic relationships, the naked use of power to suppress people who work for wages, ... and this time, while most are not "blue-collar" industrial workers in the Western democracies, the vast majority are wage-workers, and this means that when the battle is joined again, there won't be the vast numbers of farmers and small businessmen to dilute the battle, ... to represent another point of view. It will really be workers versus employers and the politicians who serve them.


Anonymous said...

An interesting read is the book, "The Corporation" by a B.C. law professor where he explains the corporation in law is viewed as a person and analyzes said person as a "psychopath." He explores the theory that increased regulation would essentially mean more control over how they operate in terms of their control over employees. Apparently there is a documentary by the same name.

thwap said...

Yeah, I've seen the movie. (You can watch clips of it on YouTube!)

Chomsky is my main source for pointing out the totalitarian nature of corporations.

It's a possibility that the undemocratic, servile nature of the working lives of the majority isn't healthy for democracy, and it isn't helpful for hopes for revolutionary change.