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 25/04/2017 Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity Tlaxcala's Manifesto  
UNIVERSAL ISSUES / Global Working Class: Uprising or Class Struggle? [1]
Date of publication at Tlaxcala: 15/01/2016
Original: Weltarbeiterklasse: Aufstand oder Klassenkampf? [1]
Translations available: Français  Español  Italiano 

Global Working Class: Uprising or Class Struggle? [1]



The concept of class has become popular again. After the most recent global economic crisis, even bourgeois newspapers started posing the question: “Wasn’t Marx right after all?” For the last two years Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ has been on the bestseller list – a book which describes in a detailed way how historically, the capitalist process of accumulation resulted in a concentration of wealth into the hands of a tiny minority of capital owners. In western democracies too, significant inequalities have led to an increase in fear of social uprisings. This spectre has haunted the world in recent years – from riots in Athens, London, Baltimore, to the revolts in North Africa, which at times got rid of whole state governments. As usual during these times of unrest, while one faction of the rulers call for repression and weapons, the other raises the ‘social question’, which is supposed to be solved by reforms or redistribution policies.

What You See is not Necessarily True (The Fart), by Chen Wenling, China

Global crisis has de-legitimated capitalism; the politics of the rulers and governments to make the workers and poor pay for the crisis has fuelled anger and desperation. Who would still dispute that we live in a ‘class society’? But what does that mean?

‘Classes’ in the more narrow sense of the word only emerge with capitalism - but the disappropriation from the means of production on which the property-less state of the proletarian is based, has not been a singular historical process. Disappropriation is a daily reoccurrence within the production process itself: workers produce, but the product of their labour does not belong to them. They only get what they need for the reproduction of their labour power, or that according to the living standard that they have claimed through struggle.

In principle, class societies don’t recognise any privileges by birthright, rather the ownership of money determines one’s position in society. In principle capitalism makes it possible to have a career that starts from being a dishwasher to becoming a stock market speculator (or at least a small entrepreneur, which is the hope of many migrants). At the same time, members of the petty bourgeoisie or artisans can descend into the ranks of the proletarians. Climbing up the social ladder is rarely the result of one’s own labour, rather of the ability to become a capitalist and to appropriate other people’s labour. (The mafia, as well, possesses this ability.)

In actual fact, a process of class polarisation takes place, which Marx and Engels had already grasped as an explosive force and precondition for revolution. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.” (Manifesto) Immanuel Wallerstein declared Marx’s thesis of class polarisation to be his most radical one, which – once related to the world system – has been proven to be true. Polarisation means, on one hand, proletarianisation, on the other hand bourgeoisification.

Capital is not simply wealth accumulated in the hands of a few. Capital is the precondition and result of the capitalist process of production, in which living labour creates value, which is appropriated by others. For capitalism is not typically the ‘exploitation’ of a single worker by an artisan master, but the exploitation of a big mass of workers in a factory. It is a mode of production based on the fact that millions of people work together although they don’t know each other. They produce value together, but together they can also refuse this work and question the social division of labour. As labour power, workers are part of capital; as the working class, they are capital’s biggest enemy within.

Generations of ‘scientific management’ researchers have tried to expropriate workers' knowledge of how to produce in order to become independent from them. They have established parallel production units in order to be able to continue production in case workers go on strike. They have closed down and relocated factories in order to be able to increase exploitation of, and control over, new groups of workers. But they were not able to exorcise the spectre. During the strike-waves of 2010, for the first time it haunted all parts of the globe simultaneously. These struggles are currently in the process of changing this world. Even academia has become aware of it and after a long time has turned the working class into an object of their research again – as numerous publications, new magazines and web-pages demonstrate, through which left-wing social scientists try to create links between workers in different continents. In Germany for the last 25 years, workers were left alone with their struggles – here, as well, social movements and intellectuals have started referring to them again.

1978 – the working class at the height of their power

Up to 1989, we were able to explain to ourselves what was happening in this world, or rather, the class struggles were able to explain it to us. The revolutionary awakening around 1968 led to a new surge of workers’ struggles in most countries, and brought forth a comprehensive critique of the factory system and culture of work backed by the trade unions in the metropolis. At the end of the 1970s the working class was at the height of their power. Wages and incomes were secured by collective bargaining and permanent and relatively secure employment was still the norm. In the industrial nations, the material conditions of workers within the framework of their total social wage were better than ever before in history. And their struggles in the industrial core sectors enforced better conditions for everyone.
The strike at Ford in Cologne in 1973: "1 DM more for all!"

As early as during the crisis of 1973/74, their productive power had started to be undermined through the relocation of labour intensive mass production to Southeast Asia and restructuring within the factories. Capital wanted to get rid of workers who had become combative and confident. The coup in Chile in 1973 and the ascent of the ‘Chicago Boys’ indicated the direction the counter-revolution of 1979/80 would take, which was identified with the names of Thatcher and Reagan, and which lead to secular defeats of what was, up until that point, central parts of the working class (defeat at FIAT in 1980; the military coup in Turkey; the 1979-81 counter-revolution in Iran after the workers’ council had been smashed; military rule in Poland at the end of 1981; the 1985 defeat of the miners in England…). Direct attacks in the form of mass redundancies and segmentation of the workforce followed. The working class on a national level [nationale Arbeiterklassen] barricaded themselves behind their workplaces and was able – though with big differences according to each country – to fight off direct deteriorations of conditions for a substantial period of time.

For people at the time, the 1980s in Western Europe were contradictory times: on the one hand massive attacks, on the other hand, radical social movements. But seen from today’s perspective it was a decade of dramatic defeats. Austerity politics lead to a dismantling of welfare entitlements and/or these were more tightly linked to actively seeking work. Images from the US showed long queues of unemployed people in front of recruitment agencies, portraying the new dimension of impoverishment of the US working class - a working class that used to be so powerful. In Germany during the mid 1980s, trade union mobilisation for working-time reductions (to combat unemployment!) in return for the flexibilisation and casualisation of ‘normal permanent work contracts’ marked a watershed. The 1980s are represented by military dictatorships and economic decline in large parts of Latin America, state bankruptcy in Mexico, the debt crisis and IMF dictates to enforce ‘structural adjustment programs’.

Since the mid-1980s, the high economic growth rates of the four young ‘tiger-states’, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, turned old assumptions of dependence theory upside-down. The massive strike movements of 1984 focused everyone’s attention on South Korea. Under the ruling conditions of a western-oriented developmental dictatorship, which had massacred a workers’ uprising only seven years earlier, a working class had emerged that challenged South Korea capital and its' factory regime with radical forms of struggle. Thanks to high wage increases, within the span of a few years, workers were able to catch up with their counterparts in the west. During the late 1980s in Europe, as well, a new class composition seemed to develop within a series of struggles (the nurses’ movement, nursery strikes, train drivers in Italy and France, truck drivers in France, the wildcat strike at VW…) – but then a crisis and war followed, and a massacre that changed the world...

Crisis and surge in proletarianisation in the 1990s

In June 1989 the army opened fire on Tiananmen Square mainly because masses of workers appeared in support of the students. Not students, but workers’ leaders were given the death penalty or long prison sentences. Unofficial unions were immediately declared illegal and their leaders thrown into jail.

This example did not repeat itself in Berlin or Leipzig. There the regime surrendered. When the wall fell in 1989, Wildcat approached the collapse of real existing socialism optimistically. In 1988/89 class struggles in West Germany had intensified and in the course of the regime-change in the east we witnessed mass debates in local workplaces and on the streets about a social future beyond capitalism and GDR socialism - which today has been long forgotten. The economic devastation of the former GDR initially triggered a broad movement of struggle against factory closures and the deterioration of social services.

Following the massacre of the Gulf War in 1991 and the onset of the economic crisis, which was delayed in Germany due to the post-reunification boom but then kicked in even harder in 1993, we saw a massive collapse of existing conditions in the metal industry in the former West Germany. Trade unions did their bit to rescue Germany as the ‘export-nation’, for example in 1994 the IG Metall (metal union) accepted an intensification of work and massive flexibilisation of working times in the 'Agreement of Pforzheim'. In addition, welfare benefits were attacked across the board.

Struggles that were hoped for - mainly in the factories that were in the process of being dismantled in the former east of Germany - largely did not materialise. The migration of high-skilled workers from east to west worked as a safety valve for social pressure - and resulted in wages dropping for the first time in the west during the post-war period. Mass unemployment in the east was buffered through various means e.g. companies would send workers on training programs continuously because they wasn't any work, hours of work were reduced, sometimes to zero-hours. At the same time, when we pointed out that the workmate next to us earned double as much as we did for the same work, we would suddenly start hearing comments on the shop-floor like, "The main thing is that we have a job". The 'industrial reserve army' was back! From then on they were increasingly able to divide workers on the shop floor through the massive use of temp work and short-term contracts.

In West Germany in the 1970s, we had learned that, to a large extent, the function of the unemployed 'reserve army' to build pressure on employed workers had been undermined: as long as it was no problem to find a job, you could enjoy paid unemployment as a welcome break. Therefore, we were cautious of using terms like 'reserve army' and, above all, argued against a premature capitulation. We then also witnessed a rapid deterioration of conditions for unemployed workers. The Hartz laws (unemployment benefit reforms in 2004/2005) resulted in a much larger drop of income in cases of (longer term) unemployment.

The dissolution of the 'Eastern Bloc' was also a rupture in regards to triggering a new boost in proletarianisation of the global population. While in the Eastern European countries, a type of 'primitive accumulation' took place with former political officials robbing and amassing huge financial wealth through wild privatisations and the masses of workers losing their entitlements to land, accommodation and pensions, which had previously been mediated through the socialist state. On a global scale all regimes shifted towards 'neoliberalism', in addition to increased war scenarios - and for the first time since WWII, also in Europe itself.

Return of the proletarian condition

When the threatening image of 'globalisation' was manufactured in Germany during the early/mid-1990s (after 'lean production' and 'Toyotism' in previous years), Wildcat, on one side, tried to emphasise the trump card workers still possessed ("they need workers' knowledge", "they face high costs for transport and transactions"), and on the other side, to analyse the potentials that lay in the socialisation of production. If the whole world has become capitalist, then there are no non-capitalist sectors available anymore that could provide capital with a reserve of fresh labour power, which means that at some point, capital faces a global working class.

"Instead of consolidating the mirage of the over-bearing power of capital and subjugation of workers, we have to ask where the new dependencies of capital on the working class are situated… And does the fact that workers cooperate across continents bear new potentials of fighting capital on a global scale."1

Similarly, we did not regard the formation of the EU immediately and automatically as a deterioration of the possibilities for struggles. These were thoughts, which, at the time, only few wanted to share. Our proposal of militant research on a European scale of various sectors – the automobile industry, hospital work, migration, casualisation - petered out. For most of the left, other questions had higher priority: the end of the 'socialist bloc', the new wave of nationalism and racism; migrants; the creation of alternative trade unions…

With his publication of, 'The return of the proletarian condition' in 1993, Karl-Heinz Roth called upon the left to engage with the question of 'work' again. Countering the propagandists of a postmodern society, he sketched out the "tendency towards ‘one’ new proletariat in ‘one’ capitalist world". He saw a "homogenisation of employment relations towards casualisation, contract work and 'dependent' self-employment". His idea though that a left milieu, which was subjected to casualisation itself, should have a specific interest in the militant research of class relations, contained a basic flaw: On one side the dissolution of left-wing (infra-)structures and the tendency towards individualisation had already progressed considerably, and on the other side, left academics were still able to find some financial support from universities or research foundations. The traditional left criticised Roth in a rather harsh and dogmatic manner, because he had allegedly given up on central parts of the working class prematurely; his vision of 'proletarian circles' as nuclei for organisation were discarded as sectarian.

His prophecies made at the time are astonishingly accurate once they are related to today's conditions. This is despite the fact that, at the time, the changes that he mentioned with regard to the "globalisation of production" were just about to become visible and access to the internet and electronic communication was barely available to the common user. Many hopes regarding an expansion of social revolts have since then been disillusioned and many of his preliminary proposals - mainly formulated in response to his critics - to form international associations were not taken up, or rather, are still waiting to be turned into practice. The main reason though why such proposals were not greeted with a broad-based agreement was the fact that the 1990s in Europe was a decade of defeats, internalised in preemptive obedience by the left through postmodern and poststructuralist theories and its search for the right kind of identities. All attempts of generalisation were destroyed from within.

Since its origin, Wildcat’s role has been to spread the word of worldwide class struggles in its local surroundings, but after the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc this did not work anymore. Many readers, as well, resigned, facing the declared victory of capitalism. Wildcat did not want to just continue as normal and to keep the flag raised high. In 1995 the editorial collective put the publication of the magazine on halt for several years and continued the debate in the form of the Wildcat-Zirkular.


The emergence of the EZLN in the Lacandon Jungle during the beginning of the NAFTA agreement in 1994 put revolution back on the agenda again and opened the way for completely new discourses and high hopes. Even more so when an 'anti-globalisation movement' came together with the organised labour movement in response to the WTO conference in Seattle in 1999.

Radical struggles seemed to be taking place in the 'global south' and in the countryside, in the form of struggles against 'enclosures' and 'valorisation', rather than in the global factories. In the factories people were put under pressure, their jobs were cut back, they were supposed to work more etc. - and then read newspaper articles which explained to them why things were like they were: globalisation means increased competition and we are only able to stay afloat if we lower our wages. That sounds logical, right? Finally, these are all assumptions that confine you to the role of a victim of all-powerful developments. Therefore we made an effort to criticise the notion of globalisation and its propagandistic application: The debate about 'globalisation' tries to, "on an ideological level, sell a 30-year phase of capitalism’s global stagnation as a triumphal series of victories". 2

Instead of using the terms 'globalisation' or 'neoliberalism' we continued writing about capitalism and referred to the tumultuous developments in Asia.

Asia is where it’s at…

The term 'global working class' (“Weltarbeiterklasse”) appeared for the first time in Wildcat Zirkular no.25 (April 1996). The article 'World in a Radical Change' 3 described the process of proletarianisation from Bangladesh to Indonesia to China, which was accompanied by intense struggles and riots and the emergence of a new workforce migrating from the countryside to the urban world: young women, who prefer factory work to the patriarchal rule in the village. These young workers are declared as being a vanguard of the making of a new working class, which is a reason to give us hope again. The article assumes that an "explosion of needs/desires" is the material basis of ‘neoliberalism', which dissolved workers' rigidity in the old industrial nations and which now initiates a global transformation of class relations starting from Asia. The workers in the old industrial centres will soon lose their position of being the only workers able to manufacture cars. The article was a call for inquiry of these changes in Asia, Latin America, and Africa - and for a reconsideration of theoretical “ballast" e.g. in the form of theories about "the new enclosures" or the "end of development".

What followed was an intense debate in Wildcat Zirkular about the validity of seemingly self-explanatory press releases about workers' unrest and the significance of the working class in East Asia. Parts of the editorial collective denied the "crisis of capital" und relocated all revolutionary hope towards the "new" working class in Asia:

"What is it that we want to hint at: the global working class recomposes itself in an unprecedented scope and speed. This has two aspects and both improve the potentials for communism.

1. The proletariat has become the quantitative majority of the global population or put another way: the departure of the masses in search of their luck is a step towards the completion 4 of developed capitalism. Only now can what Marx and Engels postulated 150 years ago in the 'Communist Manifesto' become true.

2. The 'old' working class, which is synonymous with social-democracy, trade unions, communist parties, blue overalls, workers' pride, company-based interests… loses significance worldwide and dissolves itself in equal measures through escape from the factories, being thrown out of the factories and in defensive struggles. In principle this process is the same here as it is, for example, in China. But in turn there emerges a new working class consisting of young workers, and above all, first generation female workers. And it is wholly unnecessary to explain why a seventeen-year old girl embodies more revolutionary hope than a 35-year old family man." 5

A different part of the editorial collective merely saw a repetition of the mass-workers' history, but no new quality, and insisted on a theoretical grounding of the notion of 'global working class':

"The emergence of a 'global working class' is based on the question of whether a real socialisation through a global productive cooperation takes place, meaning, the question of to what extent the global production of capital opens the possibility of communism. [...] To answer this question we first of all have to understand the inner connection between exploited people around the globe, namely, that they already produce this (inverted/upside-down) world - and that they are therefore able to change it." 6

"One of the main problems of revolutionary politics today lies in its inability to criticise theoretically and practically the global production process in such a radical demystifying way." 7

Worldwide proletarianisation and supply shock

In January 1998 Karl-Heinz Roth, too, claimed that 150 years after the Communist manifesto, the proletariat has constituted itself for the first time objectively worldwide - and that contrary to Rosa Luxemburg's presumption, non-capitalist sectors have been completely integrated too. "For the first time in history the property-less, who have to offer and sell their labour power in order to live, quantitatively constitutes the majority of the world population". 8

This assumption raises questions on at least two levels: Do we understand this process as a first step in the constitution of a class without the means of subsistence, followed by a second step in the form of the transition of landless proletarians into waged workers? Or does a universe of different relations of exploitation develop? What does this mean for the development of struggles? 9

Throughout the 1980s the autonomous left in Germany related more to the subsistence economy (or to what one read into it) and riots by those who had been excluded from the capitalist production process than to 'wage workers'. In 1983 Wallerstein had already pointed out that the large majority of the world population today works harder and longer and for less income than 400 years ago. This process of increasing dependency on wage income we could call, in Marx's sense, 'proletarianisation'. This means: an increase of real purchasing power; it is therefore in the long-term interests of capital, but against the interests of individual capitalists who are interested in low reproduction costs of their workers, meaning, they are interested in a 'semi-proletarianisation': a household economy based on income from different sources and the subsistence economy or in-house-work. 10

In contrast, full proletarianisation (meaning: both wife and husband are free wage-labourers and buy all of their means of subsistence) is desired rather by the proletarians. Full proletarianisation requires a 'welfare state', which transfers income to those who don't work. East Germany was a role-model case for 'full-proletarianisation' - which solved its labour shortage problems with migrants from Vietnam and Mozambique. Based on Luxemburg's thesis that capitalism is not able to reproduce the workforce it exploits, Wallerstein demonstrates that large parts of the global population never achieves full-proletarianisation, but rather that households stay dependent on subsistence production and self-employed activities of all kind.

Forces of Labor

Wildcat pointed out the vulnerability of the new transport chains within the new global landscape, which were otherwise difficult to comprehend due to rapid changes and shifts. We focused our attention on the new locations of production - during the 1990s, automobile factories not only emerged in Asia, but also in Eastern Europe.

Helpful in this regard was the book 'Forces of Labor' by Beverly Silver, who, within the framework of world-systems analysis, positioned working class unrest at the centre of her research. She was able to point out that, historically, wherever capital goes, struggles follow: in reaction to the workers' revolts in the 1970s capital built new car factories in South Africa and Brazil - and thereby triggered a new dynamic of powerful workers' struggles. During the 1980s the car industry boomed in South Korea - which lead to similar persistent struggles by a new generation of workers.

What was important was that Silver looked at the entire globe and established the fact that 'fixes' were only temporary repair jobs of the system and that capital time and again had to confront resistance - because labor unrest is endemic to capitalism. Though her schematic categorisation into 'Marxian' struggles and 'Polanyi-type' struggles were less helpful.

Silver assumed that the weakening of workers' 'bargaining power' in the countries of the global north would only be temporary. Her empirical data initially only reached up to 1990, but was then extended to 1996 - and up to 1990 her analysis does fit the picture. In Eastern Europe though, wages are still significantly lower than in the West. Automobile workers have ceased to be the best paid workers, at least this is not true for all places around the globe. Silver has a cyclical picture of the world, crisis is always cyclical, always followed by phases of development and boom. From her perspective a big crisis would mean that fundamental transformations, instability and a new hegemonic force in the world system would emerge. She does not pose the question of how workers' struggle might lead to communism and she has 'not noticed' the long phase during which workers in Southeast Asia did not pose a revolutionary threat to capitalism. Today, Silver explains the deep crisis of the global labour movement by the fact that the 'financial fix' was combined with a 'de-making' of the established working classes. Capital has been removed from production, the destructive side was dominant. Nevertheless, she states that the financial fix was effective only temporarily and has also shifted the crisis geographically - and has finally lead to a new and deep crisis of legitimisation of capitalism. 11

And it is true that there has hardly ever been as much organised resistance against infrastructure projects, dams, power plants etc. - particularly in the more recently industrialised countries like India, Indonesia or China. Whether we grasp them as struggles against 'commodification' - or simply as against the destruction of the basis of livelihood: by now a global experience has emerged that 'technical progress' does not automatically lead to 'development', but is going hand in hand with destruction - and that we can get organised against this.

This is contrasted by the fact that capital has never before, during a process of industrialisation, encountered so little resistance from workers as during the phase between 1990 and 2005. It was able to deteriorate workers conditions continuously without being seriously threatened by their collective resistance. The compensation of industrial jobs with high-quality service jobs that had been predicted vanished into thin air. During this period workers' struggles globally - in China, too - had a largely defensive character, lead by the 'old working classes' against closures or outsourcing/re-locations. (That also explains why, during the same period, the left threw the notion of class overboard.)

The opening of the labour markets in India and China during the 1990s led to a 'supply shock': almost overnight the supply of labour power doubled. There were double as many workers employed in industry in China compared to the G7 states put together. China became the factory of the world and main export location for industrially produced consumer goods, in particular of those with high product volumes. The consequences for a part of the global working class were - as predicted - catastrophic: the garment industry left Mexico and shifted to Asia. China joining the WTO in 2002 and the Multi Fibre Agreement 2005 was supposed to be the peak of this development - but then things changed: in China workers in the new factories started to fight and their struggles expanded...

What has changed in the last 40 years

Since the 'oil crisis' in 1973 there have been changes with long-term impacts: today over seven billion people live on this planet. Between 1950 and 1970 the annual growth rate of the global population was 2 per cent, since then the growth rate has slowed down, in particular in those areas where proletarianisation takes place.

In the 'developing countries' the labour force has been increasing by 2 per cent, which means that the total labour force has doubled in 30 years, while in Europe this process took 90 years. Proletarianisation takes place at a much more rapid pace than the capitalist economy is able to absorb: many do not find wage labour that pays enough to live on. A huge number of proletarians end up in the informal sector. The share of women as part of the total the labour force increases. Unemployment rates are high, particularly amongst young people, even higher amongst migrants, or rather, minorities. (This aggravates the ruling class' fear that was previously mentioned: there is a correlation between high levels of unemployment amongst young men and frequency of social unrest; 'social unrest' has hiked after 2009, with an increase of 10 per cent of recorded incidents - mainly in the Middle-East, North Africa, but also in Southern Europe, the former Eastern Bloc and a little less in South Asia.)

Employment in agriculture has shrunk dramatically; only in the poorest regions does more than half of the population still work on the fields. The concentration process in the agro-industry continues and peasants turn into agricultural labourers, some of who live in towns rather than the countryside. In East Asia the flight from the countryside leads, to a large extent, directly into industrial work, while in Latin America and Africa it is mainly the service sector that registers growth. Since 2007 (more than) half of the global population lives in urban areas. In the developing countries in particular the mega-cities grow, 80 per cent of the inhabitants live in slums. Slum cities are an expression of the fact that people want to become part of the global working class. They are starting-points and transit-stations for a better life - in the respective or a different country, wherever labour is needed.

In the worldwide process of proletarianisation 'mobile labour' (or 'migrant labour') has become the most general form of labour, as much in the form of migration to a different country (e.g. the EU) or as internal migration (e.g. in China, where the government estimates that there are 130 million migrant labourers, out of whom 80 million have migrated from the poorer inner regions towards the coastal towns). The number of international migrants today (2013) is higher than ever before: 232 million (in 2000 there were 175 million), out of which 20 to 30 million are without papers. Their share as part of the total population increased between 2000 and 2013 from 2.9 to 3.3 per cent. The large majority are labour migrants, not refugees or asylum seekers.

A noteworthy development is the increase of a proletariat of migrant workers, who - mediated through the international recruitment agencies - engage in 'simple' work in different countries for low pay, but who are not supposed to settle down there: construction workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh who work on the big construction sites in the gulf states, who live in camps and whose collective situation has frequently resulted in strikes and rebellion - confronted with draconian repression. Millions of domestic workers from the Philippines or Indonesia etc. who work in rich or better-off households in the gulf states, but also in Hong Kong. Care workers for elderly people, who move from Eastern Europe to the West, in order to work in households that cannot afford to hire a local carer. Increasingly industrial workers, as well, are recruited to work in faraway 'free production zones', in order to undermine the local working class.

Peoples' living conditions are largely determined by where they live - but the working conditions of 'simple' workers in the global north and south are becoming structurally more similar. In the assembly plants for the production of complex mass-consumer goods in China and India, too, machinery of the most modern standard is used. Simple manual labour takes place at the fringe-parts of the supply-chain in the slums' backyards, but also in the warehouses of the distribution centres in the heart of Europe or the US. Within the same value chain absolute and relative surplus value production are combined.

Up until the crisis of 1973/74, persistent economic growth had more than compensated for productivity increases and for successful 'rationalisation', meaning, the employment rate did not decrease and the welfare state was expanded. Since then, growth of industrial production has stagnated - currently it is around 3 per cent, in the near future around 1.5 per cent?

Employment in manufacturing (including construction) has increased globally, but rates of industrialisation like we saw 50 or 100 years ago are not reached anywhere anymore: capital leaves places much faster than in the past, relocates production to 'cheaper' areas or transforms it locally into a 'service' - or stops investing at all. In many of the newly industrialised countries the share of industrial workers has already reached its peak at 20 per cent of the total workforce.

In the old industrial nations a process of de-industrialisation takes place - though we can make out major differences: in the US 11 per cent work in industries, while Germany is at the top of the list in the EU with 22 per cent (2007). In 1970 industrial workers still accounted for 37 per cent (while today, work outsourced to 'industry-related service providers' does not count as industrial work anymore). 12

Globalisation has resulted in a new polarisation between higher and lower qualified jobs. In the older industrial nations any jobs that require a medium level of qualification are reduced, new jobs tend to be temporary and less well paid. The 'service sector' grows globally - and here, as well, these two poles are replicated: both 'simple work' (cleaning, care-work) and 'non-routine' jobs of higher skill-levels increase, whereas routine jobs of medium level qualifications (accountant, office clerks) decrease: the introduction of computers has made many aspects of this work redundant or it was able to be relocated more easily. This is one of the reasons why the wage gap within the sector widens.

Unequal incomes

During the 19th and 20th century the differences in income levels between different countries were the most pronounced. Over the years these differences decreased due to the working class struggles within the countries. In the last 20 years this tendency towards equality has changed again: while conditions between different nations become more similar, income differences within countries have sharpened drastically.

In the newly industrialised countries the wage gap is similarly high as in Europe 100 years ago. In the US wage differences were the least stark during the period between 1950 and 1970 - during the 1960s they were less pronounced compared to France, where only after 1968 were the lower income levels able to catch up. Since the neoliberal counter-revolution the income disparity has exploded, which has been further aggravated since the global crisis - especially once we look at take-home wages after tax and transfer-incomes. Between 1970 and 2010 the average value of private assets in money-terms increased significantly, particularly in Japan and Europe. This increase of the 'savings rate' translated into a decrease in growth - companies stopped investing. Financial assets owned by the nation state decreased and state debt grew. (Not only) in the former state-capitalist countries, extreme plundering and amassing of assets into private hands took place during the process of privatisation. 13

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[1] "Vom Klassenkampf zur 'sozialen Frage'" ["From class struggle to the 'social question'"], Wildcat Zirkular 40/41

[2] "Vom schwierigen Versuch, die kapitalistische Krise zu bemeistern" ["On the difficult effort to deal with the capitalist crisis"], Wildcat Zirkular no.56/57, May 2000

[3] "Note: There is no simple translation for the German word "Umwälzung". It means transition, transformation, turning upside down, in some circumstances circulation - in fact: radical change."

[4] "Vollendung": insinuates 'completion' and 'end'

[5] "Globalize it!", preface to Wildcat-Zirkular 38, July 1997

[6] "Asien und wir" [Asia and us"], Wildcat-Zirkular no. 39, August 1997

[7] "Open letter to John Holloway", Wildcat-Zirkular no.39, August 1997

[8] "Die neuen Arbeitsverhaeltnisse und die Perspektive der Linken" ["The new work relations and the perspective of the left"], Wildcat-Zirkular 42/43, March 1998

[9] "Chiapas und die globale Proletarisierung" ["Chiapas and the global proletarianisation"], Wildcat-Zirkular no.45, June 1998

[10] "Historical Capitalism", Immanuel Wallerstein, 1983

[11] "Forces of Labor - Workers' movements and globalization since 1870", Beverly Silver, 2003

[12] Peter Dicken, 'Global Shift, Mapping the changing contours of the world economy'. 6th edition. 2011

[13] Goeran Therborn, 'Class in the 21st Century', NLR 78, 2012

Courtesy of Wildcat Nr. 98
Publication date of original article: 15/07/2015
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Tags: Global Working ClassClass StruggleWorkers' StrugglesLogical Revolts

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