Can the working class change the world?
218 pages, $ 19 per pack, ISBN 9781583677100
Through Michael D. Yates
Reviewed by Fathimah Fildzah Izzati for World Labor Journal
… The question of reproductive work, heavily occupied by women, is also highlighted in this story. It is crucial to point out that reproductive work, including social reproductive work, tends to be ignored in social studies in general. Yates also elaborates on the gender pay gap, sexual harassment and other threats in the workplace and their importance to workers. This reviewer argues that his elaboration on this problem constitutes an essential contribution to the pioneering field of research of Federici (2012), Bhattacharya (2017) and others. Another often overlooked problem – work-related mental health problems – is discussed separately in Chapter 4 of the book (p. 91).
… In Chapter 2, Yates develops the theories of labor exploitation from a Marxist point of view. It provides the fundamental knowledge workers need to organize resistance in a very concise way – for example, the elaboration of major theoretical concepts such as capitalism, the exploitation of wage labor, racism, patriarchy, colonialism and the imperialism, and how these social relations affect workers. “Conditions on a global scale. He argues that women, “especially those who were poor, never stopped working for wages” (p. 54). On imperialism, Yates notes that “the world market, always rewarding those with the most economic power, has channeled the profits of what we now call the Global South to the Global North” (p. 51) and that “capitalism since its” (p. 47), “especially in the Americas and in Europe” (p. 64).
Chapters 3 and 4 contain a discussion of the importance of trade unions and labor movements as well as the important challenges facing the working class today. Unions, Yates points out, “have played a pivotal role in forcing employers to provide workplaces that are safe, free from injury and health hazards” (p. 89). However, he argues that the engagement of labor movements in politics is essential since “the state, at all levels, is closely tied to capital, the main adversary of labor” (p. 99). From this perspective, history indeed shows the many significant changes in public policies that have resulted from the engagement between labor movements and politics. The cases of Sweden and the United Kingdom (UK) are provided as examples. The Labor Party in the UK, for example, has succeeded in nationalizing “certain industries like coal and steel, and created a modern welfare state, including the National Health Service. [NHS]”(P.102). Yates argues that the NHS, a free public health service, is a remarkable achievement in the engagement between labor movements and politics. In short, the traditional function of the unions is no longer sufficient to tackle the program of transformation of the working class today.
In addition, the working class faces alienation and individualization, which threatens the unity of workers as a class (p. 76; Keating, Rasmussen & Rishi, 2010). Capitalism, Yates writes, “has radically transformed class society” (p. 65) because it is involved in all aspects of human life, including in the workplace. In earlier forms of capitalism, he argues, “workers simply carried out orders” (p. 69). Today, alienation penetrates more deeply into the lives of workers and, as a result, affects the organization and unionization of workers, despite the countless efforts to organize unions around the world (Chun, 2008; Pratap, 2014 ; Izzati, 2020). The precarious conditions of the working class, as Yates explains in Chapter 1, also affect the unionization of workers. In these conditions, he notes that “it is difficult to form unions or engage in political action” (p. 107). The racial and patriarchal nature of capitalism has also “generated fundamental scissions in the working class” (p. 80), while the unity of the working class and the solidarity within it is crucial in the labor movements.
In Chapter 5, Yates points out that neoliberalism poses significant challenges for unions. As Yates noted, there are some regressive aspects of unions. Some unions “are bureaucratic, with undemocratic chains of command. Their leaders assume many pitfalls – expensive homes and cars, oversized expense accounts, private schools for their children, and more. – of their class enemy ”(p. 123). These notions remind this reviewer of some Indonesian unions that share the same characteristics (TD et al., 2015). These unions tend to undermine the workers’ struggle and have challenged the class struggle itself (TD et al., 2015).
All along Can the working class change the world? Yates demonstrates that “capitalism is a system of austere individualism” (p. 140). According to him, only radical thought and action “has a chance to avoid accelerating levels of barbarism” (p. 184). Therefore, in the latter part of the book, Yates offers suggestions on what organizations can do in the class struggle, pointing out that “the ‘I’ must be removed and the ‘we’ must be put forward” (p . 140).
Arguing that the working class “must have at least a general idea of the world in which we want to live and how to go about making such a place exist” (pp. 141-142), Yates criticizes certain destructive tendencies of social movements, including labor movements, such as liberal feminism and compromised non-governmental organizations, among others. He stresses that all movements and organizations must engage in class struggles (p. 145). Can the working class change the world? is a bold call for the reorganization of the world working class to overcome its living conditions through collective action. Thus, this journal recommends the book as required reading for academics, students and union activists who seek fundamental analysis in today’s labor movements….
You can read the full review at World Labor Journal