[lbo-talk] Fwd: Petty Bourgeois (was "Big Business Takes Distance... ")

James Creegan turbulo at aol.com
Sun Feb 12 08:56:31 PST 2017

-----Original Message----- From: James Creegan <turbulo at aol.com> To: marvgand2 <marvgand2 at gmail.com> Sent: Sun, Feb 12, 2017 11:53 am Subject: Re: [lbo-talk] Petty Bourgeois (was "Big Business Takes Distance... ")

Discussions about class tend to be scholastic unless the structural position of individuals is correlated in some way with attitudes and social behavior. Also, distinctions can never be hard and fast, since the classes shade into one another. But it is inadequate, IMO, simply to categorize as working class anyone who works for a wage or salary. How about Lloyd Blankfein, Megyn Kelly or Peter Salovey? They all work for a salary, but I don't think anyone would count them as part of the wc.

Things get a little murkier as we move down the social ladder to people like tenured professors, middle managers, skilled IT employees, media professionals, etc. These individuals often have interests that conflict with employers from time to time over salaries and conditions of employment; some of them do belong to unions, and have been known to go on strike (as even major league baseball players or A-list actors sometimes do). But how do they see themselves, and how do they act, on a daily basis and in relation to society as a whole? Do they view themselves as oppressed or exploited? Do they enjoy a wide margin of autonomy in the work they do? Do they have a range of options regarding what work they will do and the ability to negotiate their work conditions, or are they forced to take whatever work is available and obey orders without question? Do they see their work as a sacrifice or an at least potentially fulfilling career? Do they tend to be solidaristic or individualistic in their outlook and MO? Would they feel more comfortable and socially compatible in the company of big business owners and stock brokers, as opposed to that of truck drivers and Walmart sales clerks? I think these are the kinds of questions that should be asked in determining where such individuals fit in to the class order.

Whatever the answers to these questions, one thing does seem clear. The line of cleavage, as experienced by the great mass of ordinary people in today's Western societies, does not run between those who live off property and those who live off a wage or salary (although this distinction is fundamental at the upper reaches of political and economic power). It runs between, on the one hand, those with little higher education who must perform boring and repetitive tasks, take orders most of the time, and struggle to make ends meet, and, on the other hand, those who possess higher education, more or less rewarding careers, and a degree of autonomy and material security--between those who are permanently dissatisfied and angry (no matter the objects of their anger), and those who are basically content with their lot (whatever their -particular grievances, or however much social injustices may offend their sensibilities). These two groups are greatly estranged from, and often hostile to, one another. The gap between the worlds they inhabit is much greater than that between the skilled and unskilled manual workers of the industrial era. And the latter professional-technical-managerial stratum is very big and ambiguous in class identity. It is this ambiguity in relation to the existing order that marks them as petty bourgeois--in the social psychological, if not in the strict economic, sense.

Jim Creegan

-----Original Message----- From: Marv Gandall <marvgand2 at gmail.com> To: James Creegan <turbulo at aol.com> Sent: Sat, Feb 11, 2017 8:04 pm Subject: Fwd: [lbo-talk] Petty Bourgeois (was "Big Business Takes Distance... ")

Hi Jim,

For some reason, I don’t get your posts to LBO. Could you kindly bcc me when you send them. Thanks.



> Begin forwarded message:
> From: Marv Gandall <marvgand2 at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [lbo-talk] Petty Bourgeois (was "Big Business Takes Distance... ")
> Date: February 11, 2017 at 5:00:50 PM PST
> To: LBO <lbo-talk at lbo-talk.org>
> Quite apart from the academic debates about what constitutes value and which sectors produce it, I see little to differentiate contemporary blue and white collar workers from so-called “professionals and managers”, usually defined as those those with a post-secondary education whom some on this list view as belonging to an intermediate, petty bourgeois layer between the working class and the capitalists. In part, this is based on my observations as a shop steward in an industrial union (USW), an organizer in the service sector (SEIU), and a negotiator and union official who represented a mix of intellectual and support workers in the Newspaper Guild and a federal public service union representing economists, statisticians, and other policy analysts. These latter constitute the most recent and fastest-growing stratum of of the labour force.
> Clearly there are differences of income and status between and within these different working class sectors, but that’s been characteristic of all stages of working class formation under capitalism. What they have in common, however, is more important than what divides them - specifically an inherent tendency to form or join unions where the opportunity presents itself, rooted in their MATERIAL interest as hourly wage or salaried workers. The last period of labour militancy which ended in the 80’s, for example, prominently included the newly-organized sectors of the workforce (teachers, nurses, journalists, government workers, and others) produced by the rapid postwar expansion of the welfare state and service economy.
> Nor is there much to distinguish these sectors ideologically, in terms of their level of consciousness. Today’s workers in all industries and at all levels, with few exceptions, are much less class conscious than preceding generations and support bourgeois parties rather than engaging in independent political action behind union-based and avowedly socialist parties as many once did
> I continue to maintain anyone who works for a wage or salary may be fairly described as belonging to the working class (eve if not a class “for itself”), while the petty bourgeoisie comprises small propertyholders whose economic survival depends on profits, interest, and rent. Consequently, they frequently find themselves in conflict over measures to raise the wage level and other workplace conditions as well as public spending on social programs. Their respective interests typically steer the former to (“liberal”) left-centre parties and the latter to (“conservative”) right-centre ones.
> As has been noted, the issue of class position is more complex in large and highly stratified public and private enterprises where the line between the more highly educated and well paid employees and management is often blurred. Here it’s important to note that unions have always taken the position that wage and salary earners - including many with supervisory responsibilities at all levels - should have the right to organize and bargain collectively so long as they don’t have effective control over the strategic direction of the organization. Employers have always taken the opposite view, and have sought to exclude large numbers from unions precisely on grounds they are “managers” rather than employees.
> We should avoid falling into the same trap, by whatever mode of faulty reasoning takes us there.

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