Posted by: quiscus | June 26, 2011

June 26, 2011

A great, great article:

“America. The Working Class Versus the Middle Class

Solidarity or Competition in the Face of Crisis?


“I don’t think you realize how hard it is for the oppressed to become united.  Their misery unites them (…) But otherwise their misery is liable to cut them off from one another, for they are forced to snatch the wretched crumbs from each other’s mouth”. Bertolt Brecht Collected Plays Vol. 9, (Pantheon Books New York 1972) p. 379


There are two uncontestable facts about the United States :  the economy and the working class are experiencing a prolonged economic crisis which has lasted over three years and shows no signs of ending; there has been no major revolt, mass national resistance or even large scale protests of any consequence.  Few writers have attempted to address this seeming paradox and those who do, have provided partial answers which in fact raise more questions than they answer.

Lines of Inquiry

Essentially most writers emphasize one of the two sides of the “paradox”.  The ‘crises’ analysts focus on the extent, duration and enduring nature of the economic breakdown, outlining its harsh impact on the working and middle class in terms of losses of employment, benefits, wages, mortgages etc.  Others, mostly left progressive, emphasize the local protests, critical responses registered in opinion polls, occasional complaints of trade union bureaucrats and the hopes and intimations of academics and pundits that a ‘revolt’ is on its way some time in the near future.

Among the minority of less sanguine critical analysts, there is despair, or at least a more pessimist view of the ‘paradox’.  They point to several deep-seated psychological, organizational and political obstacles which prevent any revolt or mass unrest from taking hold among the United States ’ public.

On the whole these critics see the working and middle class as ‘victims’ of the system, acted upon by false leaders, media manipulation, corporate capitalism and the two party system which prevent them from pursuing their class interests.

Key Concepts:  Clarifying ‘Crises’ and its Impact

Economic crises, even severe, prolonged ones, such as is affecting the US today, do not have a uniform impact on all sectors of the working and middle class.  The unevenimpact has segmented the working and middle class, between those who are adversely affected and those not, or who in certain circumstances have benefited.  This segmentation is one key factor accounting for the lack of class solidarity and has resulted in ‘contradictions’ within and between the working and middle class.

Secondly the uneven development of social organization – especially trade unionization – between public and private sector workers, has led to the former securing and retaining greater social benefits and increases and wages, while the former has lost ground.  The public sector workers draw on public financing to fund their ‘corporate interests’ while private sector workers are forced to pay increased taxes, because of regressive fiscal legislation.  The result is an apparent or real conflict of interest between well-organized public workers organized around a narrow set of (self) interests and the mass of unorganized private sector workers who, unable to increase their wages via class struggle, side with “fiscal conservatives” (funded by big business) to demand cutbacks from public sector workers.

Political partisanship, especially among middle and working class Democrats, undercuts class solidarity and weakens unified social resistance. This is evident in relation to issues of war and peace, the economic crises and cutbacks in social programs.  When the Democrats hold office, as they do today ad the wars and war spending multiply, the bulk of the peace movement has disappeared, labor protests against budget cutbacks focus on Republican governors, not Democrats, even as the working and middle class (including public sector employees) are adversely affected.

An Alternate Explanation for the ‘Paradox’

One of the key problems inhibiting an understanding of the paradox is the treatment of the key concept – “crises”.  Many writers conceive of the ‘crises’ in a ‘holistic’ way, presuming what is ‘general’ or ‘systemic’ has  a homogenous effect on the middle and working class.  In fact the vast majority, say three-quarters have not beenseriously impacted by the “crises”.  Assuming that the unemployed and under-employed comprise about twenty percent and adding those who have suffered serious downward mobility, we still have at least 70 percent whose main preoccupation is to retain their ‘privileged’ position and to disengage from those who have fallen out of their class-social orbit.  In the US , more than any other country, the sharp internal differences, between employed and un-underemployed, has led to ‘competition’ not solidarity.  In most countries of the world ‘unemployed’ and underemployed workers can expect backing, active support from unionized workers; in the US once middle class employees and workers lose their job and cannot pay dues they are dropped.  Even in terms of social, family and neighborhood life, they are seen as a ‘cost’, a potential drain on the resources of those who are employed. The employed see the unemployed and poorly paid as a welfare cost , hence an added tax burden instead of as an ally in a struggle to make the corporate elite pay higher taxes and reduce war spending.  Among employed workers higher taxes, means capital flight; lesser military expenditures mean few war industry jobs.


Middle and working class are differentially, impacted by the crises:  those with jobs and ties to the Democratic Party place their partisan loyalties above any notion of class solidarity.  Job holders don’t support the jobless – they see them as competitors over a shrinking income pie.

If we examine these two groups in detail we find that the poorly paid and un and underemployed tend to be young people under 30 years, blacks, Hispanics and single parents; the better paid employed middle and working class tend to be older, white educated and of Anglo-Jewish background.  The generational, racial, ethnic divisions play a far bigger role in the US than anywhere else, because of the obliteration of class identity and outlooks, which has diluted any notion of class solidarity.

The segmentation of the middle and working class is deepened in the US because those with stable employment in many cases benefit from the adverse consequences affecting downwardly mobile (unemployed) employees and workers.

Employed middle and working class homeowners see themselves as ‘tax payers’ allied with corporate and real estate moguls fighting to lower taxes by cutting welfare and social services for the low paid working class and unemployed.  The growth of upper and middle/working class tax revolts against the welfare state is in effect a war of one segment of the class against another.  Clearly one segment fights to grab the crumbs from the mouth of another segment.

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