Chris Harman


The return of the working class


(Autumn 2007)

From International Socialism, No. 116, Autumn 2007.
Copyright © 2007 International Socialism.
Downloaded with thanks from the International Socialism Website.
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If the commentators and academic theorists are to be believed, the growth of global capitalism has as a necessary correlate a reduction in the level of working class struggle. Capital is “footloose”, we are told, able to respond to any serious resistance by simply moving abroad; it is able to rely on a “precarious” workforce, too intimidated to fight back.

But over the past couple of years a whole series of struggles have begun to prove the fallacy of this conception.

There has been a rash of strikes in Argentina, where fear of mass unemployment kept the employed working class from playing an important part in the popular uprising of 2001–2. [1] Across the border in Uruguay the revival of struggle has, if anything, been on an even greater scale. [2]

In Chile the struggles of students and school students a year ago were followed by action by miners. The country is witnessing the biggest workers’ struggles since the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende’s government 34 years ago.

But the revival of struggle is not confined to Latin America. In this issue of International Socialism Claire Ceruti reports on a dramatic revival in strikes in South Africa. And in Egypt the sudden re-emergence of class struggle has shaken the Mubarak dictatorship.

As the Egyptian socialist Sameh Naguib explains, this movement has drawn together “informal” and flexible workers, who many commentators wrote off as too weak to fight, with those in more regular employment, who were supposedly bought off by slightly higher wages. The result is an explosive combination.


1. For one of the many accounts of these, in Spanish, see José Luis Roko’s Emerge una Nueva Generación Obrera, Socialismo o Barbarie (December 2006).

2. For a series of interviews with activists involved in these, see the article El Regreso de la Clase Obrera Industrial, Socialismo Internacional 12 (September 2006).

Last updated on 1.12.2011