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The ‘right’ working class…  April 26, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.


I like Jamelle Bouie on Slate.com and here he has an excellent piece on the perceptions of the working class amongst Trump et al in the US. Particularly a telling statistic… 

“More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all the people employed in the coal industry.”

And yet there is a reification of certain jobs. And in a way that is understandable but problematic – some of those jobs are dangerous, difficult, appalling in their conditions.  But that is still problematic. Because it allows narratives of particular virtue to emerge and – on occasion – be appropriate by reactionary forces.

As Bouie notes:

Retail jobs aren’t good jobs, per se; on average, they pay little, provide few benefits, and are notoriously unstable. But roughly 1 in every 10 Americans works in retail, which means millions rely on the industry for their livelihoods. As the Times notes, “The job losses in retail could have unexpected social and political consequences, as huge numbers of low-wage retail employees become economically unhinged, just as manufacturing workers did in recent decades.”

But why this? Bouie points to three reasons – firstly ubiquity – these jobs are everywhere. Secondly they are low-skill and low-risk (and he makes a very good point regarding attitudes to them in relation to the former). Finally two key aspects…

There’s one other answer to consider, one that speaks to deep divides in our society. Retail work in malls and shopping centers and department stores is largely work done by women. Of the nearly 6 million people who work in those fields in stores like Sears, Michaels, Target, J.C. Penney, and Payless, close to 60 percent are women. There’s another issue to consider. A substantial portion of these workers—roughly 40 percent across the different kinds of retail—are black, Latino, or Asian American.

As Bouie notes, work itself, in the right narrative is gendered and racialized. Last week I mentioned how critiques around identity politics can be problematic, how it can be far too easy to see the left as focused on sexuality in the contemporary era when the right stringently, viciously, policed it in the past and still in parts attempts to do so. But note how virtue is awarded along gender and race even in terms of work.

Which is not, by the by, to abandon miners or the rust belt or whatever more local equivalents are. But while jobs change and those employed in different areas change likewise the reality of work and working lives – all work and all working lives, has to remain central to left projects. And efforts by the right – quite deliberate ones at that one has to suspect, to divide workers must be pushed back sharply.



1. CL - April 26, 2017

Reading Bouie’s piece one gets the impression that blacks don’t do manufacturing work and that the decline in manufacturing is therefore a ‘white’ issue. This is nonsense. As anyone familiar with cites such as Flint, Detroit, Youngstown, Gary etc. knows.

“All manufacturing workers and communities have suffered because of factory job loss and industrial flight — but the impact on black workers has been profoundly and disproportionally negative.”


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