The Geography of Class Struggle

LeoCasey at aol.com LeoCasey at aol.com
Fri Jul 7 08:44:26 MDT 1995


It will be impossible to discuss the _historical_ changes and evolution in
the nature of class struggle is we insist that the world has stood still,
that a model of the primacy of the industrial working class developed a
century ago is still the only way to see the world...

The last great moment of the industrial working class in the United States
was more half a century ago, in the period of the Great Depression, with the
rise of the CIO and the industrial unions. The industrial unions and the
industrial workforce have been in clear decline since the 1960s. It simply
will not do to explain this decline away as the failings of a class
collaborationist leadership -- the same decline is evident in _every_
advanced economy with an industrial base, including nations where the union
movements have a power and efficacy we Americans have only dreamed about. A
joke among union organizers about what was once the flagship of American
industrial unionism, the United Autoworkers, is sadly illustrative: UAW
stands for Union of All Workers. Indeed, one sad index of this development is
the mad scramble of the once proud industrial unions -- not just the UAW, but
also the Steelworkers and the Machinists -- for dues-paying members of any
type.

To employ the vocabulary of those who raise the flag of materialism, this is
'historical reality'. How one interprets it is a different question. I would
simply state that the notion that recognition of the decline of the
industrial working class somehow implies a position with respect to 'middle
classes', a term which is so vague in the American context that it is
impossible to know what is meant by it, is a leap of logic without
foundation.

My suggestion was simply that we consider the ways in which class struggle
has been transformed, and that one interesting tool for that purpose could be
radical geography (a lot of which has been written by Marxists such as David
Harvey and Manuel Castells). It seems clear to me that if we look at the
terms of the actual struggle which is taking place today, a very important
dimension of it is the cleavage between the urban, especially the inner city,
and the suburban, with a subordinate rural component. The heart of the
Republican right, from New York to Georgia to Texas to California. lies in
the suburbs. The object of the anti-statist and anti-tax politics of the
Republican right are the social services concentrated in the urban areas.
Even the infamous 'culture wars' are directed against the occupants of the
cities.

Let me introduce an issue of seemingly non-theoretical and mundane union
politics to illustrate why I think this is an important issue. The AFT and
the NEA are now in the midst of negotiations for merger, and progressive
teacher unionists are hoping that this process is successful. One of the
issues clearly revolves around that fact that the AFT (the smaller of the
two) is by and large an union of urban areas, while the NEA is more an union
of the suburban and rural areas. Given the ways in which urban education is
systematically underfunanced and the ways it is being targetted for more
cuts, it is crucial that there remains an organized voice on its behalf. Can
an unified teacher union be negotiated in a way that urban education is
strengthened, rather than harmed? For me, this is class struggle in the
1990s.



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