The inane race for the next US president is getting the usual widespread coverage here in Britain, Uncle Sam's unofficial 51st state. Hardly surprising, since all the main political parties (and most of the media) in Britain look to America for their economic and political direction.
New Labour have their policies overseen by Clintonite focus groupies. In Britain, as in America, the working class no longer matters. Both political parties are now exclusively fighting over the 'middle ground' and for the 'middle' votes. The trendy political scientists have decided that the working class no longer exists. The media are only too happy to ignore working class lifestyles and the problems we face. The working class is not news and doesn't sell papers.
The major political parties may tinker around the edges. The odd tax break here, a pathetic concessional minimum wage there. But no-one proposes the major change needed to start redressing the enormous and widening inequalities which have developed since Thatcherism. Fearing that any redistribution of wealth may upset big business and 'middle England' voters, New Labour assiduously courts the middle ground. The result is that the working class is at best an afterthought in the social, political and economic life of Britain.
How can the working class have 'disappeared' overnight? The largest single group of workers in Britain today is domestic cleaners. The government's own Dept. of Employment estimates there are over 800,000 people cleaning for a living. This doesn't include the army of mainly women who are forced to scrape a living cleaning for cash in the black economy.
Economists both here and in the US estimate that in the first years of the new century, the occupations which will offer the most new jobs will be cleaners, cashiers, caretakers, security guards/attendants, care workers and waiters/waitresses. Hardly the upwardly mobile high-flying middle class professions that New Labour and the media would prefer to go on about.
In the last two decades, the working class have experienced lower incomes in real terms, longer hours at work, less and less protection from unions and government regulations, and increasingly run-down schools, housing and health care.
The reality is that the working class still very much makes up the massive majority of the population. The working class has not disappeared, rather, it is the power of the working class that has evaporated. For much of the 20th century, change could be forced from the unwilling capitalist elite, through the economic power workers exercised in the workplace. Changes to the economy and the inability of trade unions to resist the worldwide capitalist onslaught of the last two decades have left us where we are today.
There is nothing preordained about this. The type of work undertaken by workers may have changed from manufacturing to service industry, but the potential power of the working class remains as strong as ever. However, if this potential is to be realised, there will have to be a big break with current trade union thinking (which incidentally, amounts to little more than going cap-in-hand to employers for 'partnership' deals TUC-style). Workplace organisation based on confrontation rather than collaboration with management has always been the only way workers can force their concerns onto the agenda. The basis of this confrontation must be direct action. From Seattle to London to Prague, in all aspects of life, direct action is on the increase. The most effective form of direct action hits profits directly - the strike, occupation, or similar. Not only does this hit them where it hurts, it also challenges the managers' authority and the politicians' power.
It is not just about pay and conditions, in fact, these are merely an indication of the current lack of power being exercised. The priority is getting organised to challenge the power of capitalism in all aspects of our lives. It cannot be done by political parties of any shade. Only working class people ourselves can do it, by coming together and organising in a broad-based movement. Already, from environmental actions to anticapitalist protests, people are taking direct action. The task now is to spread this growing dissent to the workplace.
The most effective form of direct action hits profits directly - the strike, occupation, or similar... it also challenges the managers' authority and the politicians' power