austerity / International / labor / marxism

Changes in the Global Working Class


Below is a short essay on changes in the global working class.  We are providing the following definition of imperialism from Lenin’s Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Contrary to what some of our ultraleft friends assert, imperialism is not US foreign policy — US foreign policy is a product of the imperialist nature of the US economy.

“we must give a definition of imperialism that will include the following five of its basic features:

  1. the concentration of production and capital has developed to  such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play  a decisive role in economic life;
  2. the merging of bank  capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy;
  3. the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance;
  4. the formation of international monopolist capitalist  associations which share the world among themselves, and
  5. the territorial division of the whole world among the  biggest capitalist powers is completed. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established;  in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the   international trusts has begun, in which the division of all          territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers  has been completed.”

Lenin, Imperialism as a special stage of capitalism

A reader rightly points out that this essay does not prescribe a way forward.  The implications from an activist and anti-capitalist standpoint are fairly clear.  Workers need to be organized for their own liberation from imperialism–  We need working class parties independent of the bourgeois parties, we need a unified, worldwide fightback against capitalist austerity, we need a revolutionary International capable of uniting these struggles and we need an unrelenting fight against imperialist war.   Finally, we need a socialist reconstruction of society on the basis of workers democracy.

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Global Working Class

by Tony Norfield

source: Economics of Imperialism

Here is a chart produced by John Smith that sums up the changes in the global industrial workforce from 1950 to 2005. It was produced as part of his PhD thesis, completed in 2010, and illustrates in a striking fashion the way in which, since the late 1970s, the distribution of the global working class (defined here as industrial workers) has changed.
The key features are the absolute decline in the industrial workforce in the ‘more developed regions’ since the early 1980s and a persistent and dramatic rise in the size of the workforce in ‘less developed regions’. By 1980, the absolute size of the latter exceeded the former, a development exacerbated by the absolute decline of the industrial workforce of the developed countries (indicated by the dashed line) from the early 1990s.
The source of the thesis is given in an earlier note on this blog (‘Imperialism and the Law of Value’, 3 December 2011), and this chart is on page 141, together  with notes on where the data came from.The working class does not simply consist of industrial workers, but these figures give a clear indication of where the bulk of workers producing value for, and being exploited by, capital is located.In the past three decades, developments in the imperialist world economy have seen the centre of gravity for capitalist production shift
towards the poorer countries. Now we have a situation where most products consumed in rich countries are made in poor countries, by super-exploited labour. Any working class movement in the rich countries fighting against austerity measures imposed on them needs to confront this cardinal fact, both in order to be taken seriously as opposing capitalism, and to be in a stronger position to oppose imperialism and the role their own states play in the global system of exploitation.
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