From racial division to class unity
|These profound economic changes have created a huge mass of poverty stricken people whose economic destitution is cutting across the color line. This new class is in the process of being formed from the disintegration of the very system itself. It is made up of the throw-away workers - the temporary workers and those working full-time with no benefits, the part-time workers, the newly unemployed as well as the permanently unemployed. It is made up of the welfare recipients, the elderly poor, the homeless, the absolutely destitute. This is no small matter in our country today. According to the U.S. Labor Department, one out four U.S. workers find themselves in poverty, whether they are working or not. This growing new class cannot live because its members cannot find work. They cannot find work because, more and more, there is no work to do.
The existence of the new class spells the end of the methods of control that have served the rulers almost since this country's inception. Despite a history of common poverty in the past, the poor could not unite. Petty social privileges granted to the white poor over the black poor have always made unity impossible. The poor could not unite when they were unequally oppressed and exploited. The hitherto unknown equality of poverty of the new class - a poverty which knows no color - is something new in our country. It has created the basis for real unity among the workers.
The new class of poor has developed along with the development of electronics. As the new technology was introduced step-by-step into more and more sectors of the economy, so has it profoundly transformed the social life (and invariably the political life) of this country. Primarily though not exclusively, African Americans made up the first members of the new class and as such they formed its core. This happened because labor-replacing technology was introduced first into unskilled work - the very area where African Americans had been forcibly concentrated.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, wave after wave of unskilled jobs were eliminated as auto, steel and other industries began automating aspects of their production, leaving behind permanent unemployment and the wreckage of black working class communities in its wake. So concentrated was poverty within the inner cities and among the mass of African Americans across the country that it made it difficult to see the new class as it began to arise.
Today, it's clear that what appeared to be the results of the latest version of racist policies was something else - the first stage in a more far-reaching process of economic and social transformation. The labor-replacing technology became more sophisticated and handled more technical tasks. As it did, skilled manufacturing workers, semi-skilled service workers and white collar workers all began to find their jobs disappearing.
Banking, the insurance industry, clerical and secretarial work, communications, retail and various government agencies are all taking advantage of electronic technology to cut costs and "downsize" their workforces. Just one example illustrates the trend. Commercial banking and thrift institutions eliminated almost 180,000 workers between 1983 and 1993, or 37 percent of their workforce. Estimates are that by the year 2000 90 percent of banking transactions will be with automated tellers, eliminating human workers almost completely. Neither are mid-level managers and upper level executives immune. Better paid workers - those making at least $50,000 a year - account for twice the share of lost jobs than they did in the 1980s. As managerial positions are eliminated, these workers find their one-time advantages in the job market have disappeared. They can go months or even years without finding work, some ending up working temp jobs for $5 an hour at places like H&R Block trying to make ends meet.
Competition demands that electronics be continually expanded to every part of the economy even at the risk of increasing the new class and the roots of revolution. The United States government cannot and will not care for this class. It no longer needs its labor. It has no social contract with these people, because they are not part of the economic system, and therefore, have no acknowledged existence in the social system.
This growing new class - this newly forming proletariat - is a mortal danger to the capitalist system. It is, by the nature of its social position, communistic. It has been told clearly that it is of no use to this society. It will not be able to meet its needs by reforming the current economic system. It is the only class in modern society where "each for all and all for each" has any real political meaning and where "from each according to ability, to each according to need" makes economic sense.
Like all ruling classes before it, the capitalists must defend the property relations which guarantee their power and wealth. At the heart of capitalist property relations is the idea that the propertyless must work to eat. When the reality is that there is no work to do, that means the threat of outright starvation, even amidst a land of plenty. This becomes the basis for the new class finally organizing itself as a class in order to take what it needs to live.
This class is rapidly gaining an elementary consciousness of itself and the world. Poverty is on the increase and the ills that come with it are spreading throughout society. Poll after poll charts the anxiety among the American people for the future, their resentment of the growing gap between wealth and poverty and their discontent with politicians, government, the corporations and various social institutions. In the past the struggle between the capitalists and the workers was also a struggle along the ethnic and the color line. Today, the struggle is re-emerging as between rich and poor, regardless of color. This does not mean, as some have suggested, a declining importance of race, but rather a dramatic rise in the influence of economic conditions on the position and thinking of the American people. The consciousness of this situation is elementary, but it is a different conception than that of white and black.
©1998 Speakers for a New America Books
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Last updated 4/27/15