Rebuilding the unity of labour

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Rebuilding the unity of labour

The linkage between the current scientific and technological revolution (with particular regard to its information technology dimension) and the socio-economic strategies implemented by the dominant forces (and particularly the most powerful segment of the capital set up by the trans-national entities) have brought about far-reaching changes in the organisation of labour and the working world for that matter.

The so-called “fordist” mode of production that marked a large part of the last century, which was based on the concentration of the big mechanised industries and access to markets seldom differentiated from mass consumption, had therefore specially structured the hierarchies of the working world (mass labour, supervisory staff and management) as well as the new social life in urban settings. This mode of production had also created the conditions of procedures for collective negotiations (Unions – Employers) at the base of the Welfare State. The then dominant forms of organisation (socialist and communist parties and mass unions), like those concerning the organisation of struggles (strike actions and negotiations, demonstrations and elections) produced in this framework turned out to be efficient and therefore credible and legitimate.

In the developed capitalist centres, the functioning of all these mechanisms had guaranteed a high level of employment (the almost “full-time” employment and social security) and stable income distribution. The limitations of the system – ideologies and patriarchal or even male chauvinist practices, waste of natural resources and disregard for environment – were criticised by women’s movements and ecologists, who progressively raised popular awareness in this regard.

Some systems akin to the one described above had also been implemented in the sphere of the really existing socialism motivated by the desire to “catch up” by accelerating planned modernisation-urbanisation-industrialisation. The lacunas in the system – waste of investments, but especially lack of democracy, replaced by the forced control on the part of the ruling party – are of course the root cause of its crisis and the subsequent collapse.

On the other hand, in the peripheries of the global system, this same model could at best be implemented only partially in the “modernised-industrialised” niches (in China, India, South-east Asia, in the Arab world and Latin America) immersed in an ocean lightly and especially inadequately integrated into the national set. The political formulas for managing such “dualism” between the modern formal sector and the informal peasant worlds generally implied an undemocratic “control” and prohibition of direct expression among the dominated classes. The success of the national populism, in which such management found expression, did stem from the overtures it offered through social mobility upstream and the expansion of the new middle classes. Today, this page of history is turned.

The rapid dismantling and latent restructuring of the organisation of the working world now dominate the scene. In the relatively privileged centres, this far-reaching change process is manifested in the recurrence of mass unemployment, job flexibility, casualisation of many employment opportunities, with the resultant resurgence of phenomena of “poverty” (that inspires a language implying a reversion to the 19th Century “charity”) and proliferation of all kinds of inequalities, which in turn have a bearing on the democratic traditions in crisis. But simultaneously, this process ushers in the reconstruction of new forms of labour organisation whose analysis in terms in terms of “networks” constitutes the most obvious expression even if it is sometimes formulated in naïve terms out of inordinate “optimism”.

In any case, this “systemic crisis” calls into question the forms of organisation and struggles of the previous phase, which find expression in the crisis of parties (and of politics), union crisis, fuzziness and fragmentation of “movements”.

The trend is much more dynamic in the peripheries of the system. The integration of peasant reserves in the sphere governed by the principles of neo-liberalism (Cf. The new agrarian question and the future of third world peasant societies), stagnation or decline of the modernised niches or even their expansion into formats dictated by job flexibility – insecurity result in the gigantic growth of the “informal” system with its deplorable social repercussions (“bidonvillisation”…).

The objective of the Working Groups set up to deliberate on this theme was to broaden out the debates on these new challenges in order to reconstruct a workers’ movement and contribute to the invention of new forms of organisation and action adapted to objective and effective developments capable of restoring credibility and legitimacy.

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