Socialist Worker

Have workers lost their strength?

Issue No. 2341

Some people say social changes mean that the working class no longer has the power to transform the world.

They claim that the working class is divided between “traditional” workers and a new, precarious class.

This is made up of people in low-paid, temporary and insecure jobs.

The implication is that they have less power and different interests to other workers.

It’s true that continual changes in the working class have meant that some workers are in unstable jobs.

But there was never a golden age where all workers had secure, well paid jobs.

And the extent of casualised work is often exaggerated.

Just over 6 percent of the total UK workforce was on temporary contracts at the end of 2011. This had changed very little over the past two decades.

Most workers still work in full time, permanent jobs in workplaces with more than 50 workers.


Even in Spain with far higher job instability movements like the Indignados have come to realise the importance of organised workers in their campaigns.

And where bosses have cut staff or brought in temporary workers, it doesn’t follow that these workers have less power.

Take Coca Cola. Around 150 workers struck at the firm’s plant in Enfield, north London, in 2010. Walking out for 12 hours stopped an estimated one million bottles being produced.

That’s more than six and a half thousand bottles each.

If Sainsbury’s supermarket workers walked out on strike they would have an enormous impact.

The vast majority of these are in fact on permanent contracts. Many of them are in the Usdaw union.

But Usdaw has a no-strike deal with Sainsbury’s.

Workers aren’t powerful because of the type of job they do or what they earn. Their power comes from the fact that they produce wealth—and can stop profits by refusing to work.

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Tue 19 Feb 2013, 16:26 GMT
Issue No. 2341
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