I respect Richard Sennett for the sensitivities he displayed towards working class culture in his early books . We both grew up working class in Chicago in the 50’s and that may bias my view, but I think Senntt has a genuine understanding of his subject from the inside out and so I was pleased to see that he had a comment on Obama’s Jobs Speech. He thinks Obama blew it and will be a one term President.
That’s not news, but what he does say that goes beyond the sorry comments by the US Left epitomized by, for example, the likes of Richard Wolff (WBAI economics pundit), is that the US economy has prospered for decades without a robust labor force. And further, Sennett mentions the real cause of the loss of US manufacturing – technological advances; and not the “run away corporations” that the Left focuses on.
As Sennett mentions in his Obama comment:
the digital revolution is finally realising an old nightmare – that machines can reduce the need for human labour; by 2006 this “replacement effect” already stood at 7% annually in the service sector.
However the real taboo Sennett breaks appears in the next sentence:
And the viability of an old-fashioned career was long over before the recession began; lifetime service to a corporation is a thing of the past. The result of all these changes is that western workers have known insecurity and the spectre of uselessness for a long time.
This simple fact is difficult for the so-called US Left to contend with. One imagines that the past thirty years has been an aberration for these folks and that they imagine the industrial proletariat will return with a vengeance (like a caged animal) onto the world stage to reclaim its rightful place. I have long held the view that the Judeo-Christian mythology has totally perverted US politics, including the Left, and this notion of a proletarian eschatology, could be my entire case.
So much for my cheap shots, the main point here is that Sennett, and this is his problem in his most recent work, only touches on an issue to quickly abandon it for some easy to swallow palliative. In this case he counsels that “we” need to follow the labor practices of the more enlightened capitalists of Northern Europe – the Norwegians, the Germans and even the Dutch!
Of course insecurity has been no stranger to workers, but the point is that the ascendency of stability in the life of the working class culminated in the late 50s in the US – when my father, a union member, could buy a new car every three years and take three week vacations and still have money in the bank. The descending curve of that imaginary graph of the good life marks not only the end of an era, but also the irrelevance of what passes as the progressive agenda. Full employment? Green jobs?
Who can take these slogans seriously?
Guy Standing in his new book, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, considers the implications of an increasingly insecure life for the young, the immigrants and now for the formerly employed. The precariat is the new proletarian with no assurance of gainful employment and a future that is therefore precarious. Standing’s point is that this new class is growing and only the populism of the neo-fascists addresses the feelings of helplessness that are evident. His point seems valid. Insecurity leads to fear and this leads to intolerance.
I believe that Standing’s book is the most relevant political tract to be written in many years and I plan to write more about the implications of his analysis.