Editorial Notes

The White Collar Unemployed

(May 1931)

Written: May 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 10, 15 May 1931, p. 2.
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While the prolonged unemployment of millions of workers and the drastic reduction of standards for the entire class, are rapidly maturing the conditions for an enormous development of the proletarian class movement, the process is being assisted and supplemented from another quarter. The evil days which have fallen upon the professions, the small business people and the “white-collar” stratum of employees will undoubtedly have a considerable influence, even if it is primarily a negative one, in narrowing the gap between the working class movement of America and its industrial development.

Like every crisis, but on a far wider scale, the present one has the effect of hurling vast sections of these intermediary classes down into the proletariat. In the further entrenchment of big capital, and the more economical organization which ensues, the great bulk of the victims will be permanently displaced. Even more important: The chances for workers to climb into these preferred positions are correspondingly restricted.

In the American Mercury for April there is a graphic account of the ruthless swath which rationalization, spurred on by the crisis, has cut through the white-collar division of industry, from clerks to high-powered salesmen and junior executives. Many of them are dispensed with permanently as part of the waste that scientific management has learned to avoid. A whole army of people whose incomes ran into five figures are on the industrial scrapheap. Brooks Shepard, the author of the article, speaks of “former top-sergeants, lieutenants, and captains of industry” who have come to the end of their tether and face the stark problem of existence which but yesterday seemed pleasant and secure.

There are no statistics on the curtailment of professional incomes, but we know in a general way that it has been severe. Occasional news items and reports throw a revealing light on the situation. “I know lawyers with first class training and experience who are starving “ said Justice Jacob S. Strahl at a meeting of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association in Brooklyn. “One of them is reduced to peddling razor blades ... Another was arrested recently for selling tomatoes without a license.” So reports the Times for May 6.

In the hey-day of imperialist prosperity the class movement of the workers was undermined, among other things, by the opportunities for individual escape from wage labor created by the exceptional circumstances The workers’ movement was systematically robbed of its natural leaders and almost the whole class was poisoned with the psychology of individualism, fatal to class solidarity. The lesson to be read in the present plight of the white-collar elements is the closing of these avenues of escape from the proletariat, and the increasing insecurity of those who have already attained such positions.

A prolongation of this state of affairs will redound to the advantage of the labor movement. The more futile the hope of individual emancipation appears, the stronger will grow the determination of the ambitious worker’s to rise with the class. Individualism will be replaced by the class psychology of the proletariat. This development will be an important factor in liberating the unbounded energies of the American workers for the revolutionary struggle.

Last updated on: 27.12.2012