The labouring masses are restless, as evidenced by the Canadian trucker strike, union drives in Amazon warehouses in the US and in demonstrations throughout the developing world. More revealing still may be the turmoil in the labour markets, where workers are changing jobs, creating their own and, overall, refusing to return to the structures of the pre-pandemic order.
Once working-class protests were often organised by leftists or even Communists, but many of today’s working-class radical movements take on a different, more populist and distinctly anti-statist character. One can question the positions adopted by protesters, particularly on vaccines, but also recognise that the new wave of working-class unrest, whether in Canada or among the gilets jaunes in France, reflects a deep-seated frustration with diktats issued from above by an increasingly authoritarian state.
Generally, these movements are not embraced but are largely met with disdain and even horror by gentry progressives and their media allies. As Edwin Aponte notes on the Bellows, a widely read Marxist blog, this ‘betrays the left’s allergy to the varied social character of the working class as it actually exists in 2022’.
These protests in the US, Australia and Europe are not led by Marxist intellectuals in quest of a new world order, but by those seeking to restore an increasingly threatened world, where individual workers still possess some power and small independent artisans or merchants can support a middle-class lifestyle. Given the persistent worker shortages and supply-chain issues, workers’ power to disrupt the economy and to push back is greater than at any time in the past half century.
This new leverage is rooted in demographic trends. The US’s working population – people aged between 16 and 64 – grew by more than 20 per cent in the 1980s. In the past decade, it has grown by less than five per cent. To make matters worse, an estimated one-third of American working-age males are not in the labour force, suffering from high rates of incarceration, and from drug, alcohol and other health issues.
This is not a uniquely American experience. China’s population, according to one recent survey, is expected to halve in less than half a century, and its population of under-60s may already be in decline. Germany, a long-established industrial powerhouse, suffers from a fatal lack of new workers – a factor in the notable slowing of its formidable manufacturing sector. Germany’s workforce is expected to drop by five million by 2030.
Read the rest of this piece at Spiked.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.