The proletarianisation of the ‘squeezed middle’

RESPECTABLE, stable, well-paid families in decent homes throughout the western world are living in terror of the nightmare that is striking them down in growing numbers, as the effects of the global financial crisis hit home.

These are people who thought themselves secure. They paid into pension schemes, made wise career choices, worked hard, did their best to please the boss and had all the right insurance policies.

Suddenly all that protection is disappearing. Lose your job; get a couple of instalments behind on the mortgage, the insurance policies, the credit card repayments and bang, you are out on the streets with no job, no home, no entitlement to healthcare and no future.

In Athens a former civil servant whose job was cut — and along with it his health insurance — is told he can no longer have the regular diabetes medication that has kept him living a normal, comfortable life for years. Now, it is likely he will die soon.

In the United States tent cities are springing up like weeds; in remote parking lots dozens of parked cars have become the family home for people who have lost jobs and homes.

In Los Angeles schoolchildren report to their teachers: “We don’t have dinner in our house” and steal sachets of tomato ketchup to take home to make ketchup soup. These children do still get free school dinners and the teachers make up food parcels on Fridays to see the children through the weekend.

Under Las Vegas, in the sewers, young couples who just a year ago had jobs, homes and the American dream in their heads are trying to make liveable homes out of cardboard packaging, knowing that every so often it will all be swept away by a flood surge and they will have to start all over again.

Meanwhile the once prosperous and teeming Detroit City is looking as if it has been in a war: buildings are abandoned and crumbling; good schools are now roofless decaying heaps, blackened and rotting homes and factories are totally without windows.

These horrors are an echo of the appalling poverty inflicted on land workers in Britain some 200 years ago, as they were driven off the land by the enclosure movement to sink or swim in the towns. They ended up in the ranks of the emerging proletariat, getting work by the day if they could and horrendously exploited by the fat cats of the emerging industries.

It was a steep learning curve. All the ruling class propaganda about work hard and be a good obedient Christian was instantly revealed as absolutely useless as a means of protection against sudden dire poverty. They soon saw their fortunes had nothing to do with their own personal qualities but were governed by national and international economic forces way beyond their control.

But they also learned that their only protection was in standing together in absolute solidarity and fighting the bosses for better wages and conditions. The battles were long and bitter and they gave birth to trade unionism, socialism and ultimately Marxist-Leninist theory and in 1917 to the Great October Revolution.

Once this was established, in the West the battles for better wages, conditions and state welfare were more successful — the fat cats became aware of workers’ power.

Meanwhile in the Third World, the process of proletarianisation has been steadily forging ahead — land workers driven off the land to become propertyless urban workers. And not surprisingly class consciousness among these workers has been steadily growing. Battles between trade unions and bosses are fought in a life-and-death struggle with no room for sentimentality.

But, now the Soviet Union has gone, and workers in the West are at least three generations removed from those who fought so hard for the better wages, conditions and state welfare. Those victories have been taken too much for granted and complacency had set in.

It is time for the workers of the West to remember the struggles of their ancestors and learn the lessons: number one, the boss class is the enemy; number two, the only people you can rely on are your fellow workers; number three, get organised!