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Jonathan Neale: Hurt, despair, longing, rage and revolt

Jonathan Neale: Hurt, despair, longing, rage and revolt

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Jonathan Neale contributes to the debate about whether neoliberalism has changed the working class in ways which make struggle weaker. He argues that neoliberalism has changed us "in ways that make struggle harder, and easier, and different, and more explosive".
Jonathan Neale contributes to the debate about whether neoliberalism has changed the working class in ways which make struggle weaker. He argues that neoliberalism has changed us "in ways that make struggle harder, and easier, and different, and more explosive".

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Published by: revolutionary socialism in the 21st century on Nov 07, 2013
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11/24/2013

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Hurt, Despair, Longing,Rage and Revolt
Jonathan NealeThis article was originally written for Socialist Review, which did not  publish it. It is an attempt to say something about a debate on the British left about whether neoliberalism has changed the woring class in ways which mae struggle weaer. I argue that neoliberalismhas changed us in ways that mae struggle harder, and easier, and different, and more e!plosive.
Something has to be fixed
For two years I have been trying an experiment in Britain and the USI say to someone! "Lots o# people believe that there is something terribly wrong with this $ountry % it has to be #ixed % it won&t be #ixed %and no one in publi$ li#e spea's #or me( )lmost everyone nods and says, "*es +hat&s me I thin' that(very so$ial o$$asion I go to now, in the pub, people over #or a meal, a #amily do, the $onversation turns to!
what can we do?
 +his is a $onversation about $lass, although people o#ten don&tput it to themselves that way Let&s remind ourselves what $lass means It&s a relationship ) wor'er is anyone with a manager +he wor'ing $lass is everyone witha manager Some people say $lass has $hanged, and matters less now+hat&s wrong -lass has $hanged, and it matters more now .ur noses have been rubbed in $lass ine/uality every day #or years Ine/uality has grown in almost every $ountry in the world +he power o# management has in$reased at almost everyone&s wor' +here is an epidemi$ o# petty bullying and petty humiliation veryone has a story o# something management did that invaded their dignity or a basi$ valueIne/uality in$reases right a$ross our lives very in$rease in ine/uality is also an atta$' on some wor'ers ) library $losure, #or example, is also an atta$' on library wor'ers )nd the language and values o# the mar'et are everywhere So people are #ull o# hurt, anger and longing It&s not 0ust that they hate the +ories 1Some do, some don&t2 It goes deeper +hey despair, and #eel trapped3hat happened4 3hat $an we do4
 
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How We Got Here
.ur union movement in Britain used to be deeply de$ent and re#ormist From 5676 to 5689 our grandparents built various 'inds o# ran' and #ile networ's )t the $ore were shop stewards, short stri'es,and a $onstant struggle over $ontrol at wor' +his was true o# miners,$ar wor'ers, do$'ers, hospital $leaners and so$ial wor'ersSteward, union leaders and wor'ers were all trying to get a bigger pie$e o# a growing e$onomy :eople&s lives were getting better 3or'ers were more and more $on#ident ;ilitants began to believe that $on#iden$e was $ru$ial % ea$h little vi$tory $ould lead on to the next
Serious Trouble
+hen $apitalism ran into serious trouble :ro#its #ell about 568< and have stayed low -apitalists in Britain and everywhere laun$hed whatwe now $all neoliberalism +his was an attempt to get pro#its ba$' up by $utting the share o# the national in$ome going to wor'ing people +hat meant holding down wages, bene#its, pensions and servi$es, trying to brea' our unions, and ma'ing everyone more une/ual =eoliberalism was not a hobby #or the power#ul It was $riti$ally important #or them to ma'e it wor', be$ause $apitalism is $ompetitive -ompanies that don&t ma'e pro#its die 3ithout enough pro#its, $orporations #ailBut neoliberalism didn&t wor' Sin$e ><<? we have all been trapped in a long e$onomi$ $risis, with low pro#its and high unemployment +he $apitalists& rea$tion has been austerity +hat isn&twor'ing eitherBut a#ter 568< our side, the wor'ers, the people with a manager, ran into troubles too +he #irst problem was the $ollapse o# "$ommunism( in 56?6 +he Soviet Union was so$ialist li'e $ats are mi$e, and li'e torture is love But even a lot o# people in the Labour :arty thought that Russia was somehow an alternative to $apitalism 3hen that #ell, almost everyone a$$epted the idea that $ommunism had not wor'ed and was not possible.ur se$ond problem was that the moderate so$ial demo$rati$ parties, li'e Labour in Britain, have been eating their own assholes In the 56@<s they #o$used on ma'ing things better by getting a bigger share o# a growing pie #or wor'ers +his wor'ed #or a while But whenthe pie began to go bad, they then 0ust ran the system so that $apitalism $ould survive +hat made them atta$' the things that mattered to their voters Lots o# people still vote Labour, on a$$ount o# #amily history, and be$ause they&re not +ories But those people have lost #aith in a so$ialist alternative +he vision o# alternative died 3ith $apitalism in serious trouble, that mattered Ba$' when things were getting better, our sidedidn&t need to have an alternative 3e 0ust wanted our share
 
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+he long e$onomi$ $risis and the death o# alternative ideas present an a$ute problem #or the "leadership( o# the wor'ing $lass .n one level this means union leaders hold ba$' and $lose down struggle But the problem goes deeper than this+hat approa$h $ould not deal with the long e$onomi$ $risis 3hen the employers or the government or the Labour :arty said we have to $ut, most union leaders and most militants protested But they had no vision o# an alternativeDe#eat led to de#eat +hat does not mean it&s harder to win a stri'e now mployers may want to $ra$' down hard, but they also need the $ash#low #rom our wor' Austintime and international supply networ's mean stri'es in produ$tive industry $ut harder and #aster )usterity means any publi$ se$tor stri'e is a powder 'eg #or governments It also does not mean people won&t stri'e 3hen we are balloted #or stri'e a$tion, we vote yes by mu$h larger margins than we did during the militant years o# the 568<sBut the de#eats have demoralised our leaders )nd we $an&t go ba$' +he union movement we had @< years ago was built on expanding $apitalism and #ull employment 3hen we as' ourselves how to get out o# this hole, our best examples are not the British ran'and #ile movements o# the 568<s or the ;inority ;ovement o# the 56><s It is more important to loo' to Cree$e now, or ;ari'ana in South )#ri$a, tea$hers in -hi$ago, or textile wor'ers in gypt :eoplewho are wrestling with the same problems we are wrestling with  )lso, we need to 'eep one lesson #rom the old ran' and #ile tradition +he union leaders negotiate between employers and wor'ers +hey live and wor' in the middle So sometimes they $all stri'es and sometimes they sell out 3hat de$ides that is pressure #rom above and pressure #rom below +he strongest pressure we $anorganise #rom below is anything that ma'es the leaders believe the stri'e will get out o# their $ontrol But at the same time, when a struggle threatens the system, they will be deeply $onservative
Longing and Revolt
 )ll this sounds blea' It is But there is another side )ll that hurt, rage, despair and longing is not the property o# the le#t It&s everywhere Be$ause it&s everywhere, there is a $olle$tivelonging #or solutions, and #or revolt )lmost everyone is waiting #or someone else to really #ightI# someone really #ights % not a oneday stri'e or a mar$h o# 5<,<<<, but what everyone will 'now is the real thing, by real people  % then everyone will see themSmall allout stri'es and small o$$upations $an be$ome enormous $hallenges to the system, pre$isely be$ause so many people are desperate and the e$onomi$ system is in su$h trouble

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