The Working World

Cambodia garment workers

The working class used to be fairly straightforward to identify, but today matters are more complex. The automation of many occupations that would previously have been constitutive of being working class, coupled with the widening of the range of professions, means it is no longer particularly easy to tell whether a person corresponds to what used to be the ‘working class’. Indeed, the boundaries of all classes are becoming more difficult to fix, as power’s relationship to money continues to evolve.

Nevertheless, we can still say that a ‘working class’ person is now someone who has to work and also has few assets, probably no university-level education, and few prospects of improving their economic status. We might also add that if their work includes intellectual labour then it is probably of the non-creative and probably non-specialised kind. This is a new type of underclass that is emerging globally, who may have to adopt ‘flexible labour’ arrangements, commuting long distances, with zero-hours contracts or simply working very long hours to survive on low wages. This is not confined to unrecognizable companies, but even extends to companies like Apple whose products we all familiar with (Guglielmo 2013).

What are the prospects of this new globalized working class? Will it thrive? A central problem is that, due to national boundaries, people who may have a great deal in common economically do not have the knowledge of each other required in order to develop a strong ‘class consciousness’ or some other set of ideas that would allow collective bargaining. Other ‘isms’ can get in the way – nationalism and racism among them (Kenny 2014). Indeed, current rhetoric in the UK has a divisive edge, at least as far as any ‘global working class’ is concerned, because of its decidedly anti-immigration perspective, promoted by parties such as UKIP which also have a decidedly libertarian free-market ideology.

Nevertheless, we are beginning to see some indications that global protest movements using social media are capable of changing conditions. The Arab spring of 2010/11 was one indication of how such movements can start – although the causes of this were political as well as economic. Perhaps with the advent of internet-based communication, a new global working-class consciousness can emerge that will allow a true revival – if it does not, the ‘working class’ as an entity may disappear altogether.

Guglielmo, C., 2013. ‘Apple’s Supplier Labor Practices In China Scrutinized After Foxconn, Pegatron Reviews’. In Forbes. Published on 12/12/2013. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/connieguglielmo/2013/12/12/apples-labor-practices-in-china-scrutinized-after-foxconn-pegatron-reviewed/

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Kenny, C., 2014. ‘Marx is Back’. Foreign Policy, Jan 21st 2014. Available at: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/01/21/marx_is_back_global_working_class

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Image from: http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/The-Adam-Smith-Institute-Blog/2011/0131/Forget-fair-trade-buy-from-sweatshops

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Joy EJIOFOR

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