Class Interests

 

The Branko Milanovic–Christoph Lakner "Elephant Chart" showing global growth rates from 1988 to 2008 arranged by income percentiles, with its four major highlights: mediocre growth in red for the poorest people, or most people in the poorest countries, extraordinary growth in green for most people in the emerging economies of Asia, especially China, serious stagnation in blue for the pretty rich people of western Europe and North America in particular, and fabulous growth in purple for the global super-rich (not as fabulous as China, but keep in mind that the 1% are starting with a lot more money, ending up by 2020 with 43% of all the wealth in the world).


This post from Nathan Newman ("Education Polarization in Elections: People Are Voting Their Class Interests"), giving me at long last a way of thinking about that "White Working Class" that makes some sense, has been sitting in an open tab on my computer for almost a month. He's looking at the same voting pattern as everybody else, but he's seeing it in the historical context of how it effectively happened that the outsourcing economy of the last 40-odd years primarily affected white workers in relatively rural areas; because that's how the distinction between workers in the growing service industries and and those in the shrinking manufacturing industries had sorted itself out in the US, where the former remained as traditional multiracial and urban, the latter came to be concentrated in

towns built around a single company factory [now] in steep decline. These communities were often created in an earlier generation of outsourcing, when companies fled unionized cities, deindustrializing heavily black urban areas as scholars like William Julius Wilson detailed.

Some of the firms that left succeeded in escaping their unions while in others, workers managed to maintain them - but the racist politics of suburbanization meant most of those factories ended up in far more homogeneously white communities in smaller towns and exurbs than the racially diverse urban centers they left behind. So when the globally-induced deindustrialization of more recent decades came, the communities experiencing those losses and the culture of those trade-induced grievances were more homogeneously white as well.

Capitalism sucked them out of their natural habitat and planted them there in the middle of nowhere, where they were sitting ducks. I say this with some personal knowledge of what happened to all the women in the Chinese garment factories in Brooklyn and Manhattan in the 1990s: nothing, actually. As their work was taken away by companies in China and Bangladesh and Vietnam, they fairly quickly found new work that paid better. Pretty sure that's even truer in L.A., and Newman speaks for factory workers in Europe:

A destructive aspect of the fragmentation of American manufacturing into exurbs and small towns is that it was unable to respond effectively when emerging economies added new competition. Vibrant industrial districts in places like Germany and Italy, where industry clustered together in historic urban regions, were able to retool their approaches and kept roughly 20% of their working population in manufacturing jobs.

Out in the sticks in Missouri and Ohio and Indiana, on the other hand, those white guys were just entirely abandoned, other than by the opiate pharmacists and gun sellers marketing the means of relatively easy death, and eventually the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, workers in services were getting the squeeze too, in that first joint of the elephant's trunk, but in different ways—they weren't losing work, but they were getting more and more corporatized and wages held down, even in the knowledge industries—as I was arguing in early 2016, practically everybody is a proletarian now, if not a member of the gig economy precariat. though some of us have much more comfortable lives than others, house yobs vs. field yobs if you know what I mean. Newman agrees:

The increasing disappearance of small firms and the centralization of bigger firms means there are far fewer opportunities for such professionals to have an ownership stake in their workplaces, meaning they are far less likely to identify with the ownership class than in decades past.

Even doctors are increasingly just employees of medical services chains. 2018 was the first year more doctors were employees than in the management of their own firms and this is just accelerating with 70% of physicians under age 40 now being employees.

The difference shows up politically in attitudes toward global trade, with manufacturing workers seeing the cause of their suffering in competition with foreign countries with lower wages, rightly or wrongly—that's the point, that it might be wrong, but it's not stupid or irrational. Service workers, in contrast, see their problems as caused by the owners determined to keep wages down, stop unionization, and so forth. The exurban "white working class", which really is white, is drawn to political nationalism, as the Republicans eventually discovered (Pat Buchanan had been telling them for decades) and the multiracial urban working class, which includes many immigrants, is not:

Given their economic flexibility, Democratic-leaning urban areas can far more confidently expect that investments by a well-funded public sector can produce new jobs to replace any potential losses threatened by corporate elites if their taxes are raised. On the other hand, the desperation of workers in Trump regions to hold onto their remaining industries at all costs, given the unlikelihood of their replacement with comparable jobs, makes their politics of collaboration with those corporate elite more understandable, even if futile in the longer-term. Throwing their lot in with their corporate employers in a nationalist showdown against emerging economies - and against their local political standins, immigrant workers, seems their only option.

Not realizing that it's the corporate employers, not the Malaysian and Mexican factory peons, who harmed them in the first place. This is where the success of the Trumpery as political scientists report it really does come from, ; by the same token, the comparative radicalism of the new urban proletariat, expressed in intersectional terms around the rights of immigrants, women, and African Americans, and demand for more progressive taxes and government spending, alongside support for labor organizing—

This is also why so much of new union organizing that has occurred in the last few decades has been among service workers, including janitors, home health aides, hotel workers, as well as increasing efforts to organize large-scale retail like Amazon

—has legitimate sources as well.

Labor organizing, in the end, is what Newman thinks can make inroads on the "white working class" electorate, and that leads him to get more excited about Biden in areas some of us don't feel great about: the slowness with which the president is withdrawing from Trump's attacks on immigration and international trade, while focusing on Biden's insistent attention to unions and union jobs, especially within the push against climate change, the "green jobs" it's supposed to generate. I too think this is a hopeful approach to those voters now seemingly bent on harming their own economic interests, remote as it seems right now.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names