Academic journal article Social Justice

Alienation and Resistance: New Possibilities for Working-Class Formation

Academic journal article Social Justice

Alienation and Resistance: New Possibilities for Working-Class Formation

Article excerpt

A THEORETICAL LOGIC HAS ALWAYS INFORMED AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE STRUCTURAL economic conditions and the practice driving union organization. he transformation of the labor process under capitalism created the conditions for class formation (Tucker, 1978; Kautsky, 1971). Marx and many socialist thinkers believed that the objective conditions of exploitation predisposed the working class toward class-consciousness and ultimately led to class formation (Ibid.). According to this view, class relations determined both the objective and subjective conditions for working-class resistance (Kautsky, 1971). It was the recognition of human degradation through exploitation that sparked the workers' consciousness (Braverman, 1974). In the United States, however, the objective conditions that forced men and women to the city and factory failed to produce sufficient conditions for national class-consciousness and resistance. In fact, the period of industrial capital that promised to transform a class-in-itself into a class-for-itself in the U.S. has run its course, leaving behind only rumbles of working-class resistance.

Two related structural economic processes have emerged that directly affect the shape and possibilities for working-class formation in the U.S. First, the transformation from a goods-producing to a service-producing economy has created new class relations in which service jobs are central. The internationalization of U.S. financial capital that underlies the new global economy and fuels economic restructuring in the U.S. also plays a major role in determining who fills these new service jobs in the global cities. Second, more than any other push or pull factor, globalization has played a major role in diversifying the working class as capital breaks down the boundaries of the nation-state and makes the internationalization of labor and capital a fundamental process fueling the economy of the global cities (Kasarda, 1989; Sassen, 1991; Wilson, 1987). To the extent that service workers make up the largest segment of working class, and women, immigrants, and people of color occupy these positions in the large urban areas, it is important to reconsider the process of working-class formation in this new context.

The purpose of this article is not to question the viability of the objective condition of class under which resistance is possible and likely; rather, the goal is to pose two additional challenges to our understanding of class formation. How does the transformation of the labor process from industrial manufacturing to service production affect the possibilities for class formation? How does the subjective rather than objective condition of alienation rooted in racism and nationalism inform the process of class formation? In other words, does it matter who fills the slots of the class structure in the low-wage service economy? Both questions are relevant during this historical moment in which service workers outnumber industrial workers, and in which those at the center of exploitation in the new global economy experience race/ethnicity, gender, (1) citizenship, as well as class as salient aspects in their alienation as workers (Zamudio, 2001 ; 2002). Given the increased flow of workers across borders, which has more completely diversified the workforce in the global cities, the role of race/ethnicity and citizenship on class formation processes in cities like Los Angeles has become more important to understand, especially since immigrant Latina/o service workers have already shown a propensity to unionize within traditionally unorganized industries.

Various union campaigns in Los Angeles are telltale signs of the salience of race/ethnicity and citizenship in the class-formation process. Immigrant Latina/o workers organizing in the service industries of Los Angeles represent a snapshot of the social relationships that form under conditions of a global economy, in which the ethnic/racial and citizenship status of the workers in the low-wage service sector reflects the international commodity flows between the U. …

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