The end of the working class?

Peter Mertens, President of the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB)

We hear more and more the same story: Information technology and communication sciences have thoroughly changed production. Most developed countries are heading for a services economy or a post-industrial society. In Europe, 66 % of the working population is active in services. In the United States this number reaches 79 %. [1]

Due to this change in working class composition, we can no longer continue as we did before, says the Italian philosopher Antonio Negri: “I hate people who say: the working class is dead and the struggle goes on. No. If the working class is dead – which is true – the whole system linked together by this balance of powers enters a crisis.” [2]

The discrepancy between labour and capital

The working class was born along with capitalism. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the early accumulation, two important conditions were linked to its development. There had to be sufficient wealth accumulated to set up capitalistic companies: the capital. There also had to be enough manpower available: people without any properties or other income, forced to sell their manpower. Due to industrialisation at the end of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, the working class was formed and started growing: there was a constant inflow from the bankrupt farmer class and from manual workers. Together with the development of capitalism there was also a growth in the industrial reserve army of unemployed people.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, large capitalistic monopolies started ruling the various sectors in each country. Today, a century later, these monopolies no longer rule these sectors only on a national scale, but do so even on worldwide scale. Fusions and takeovers of state-owned companies created a huge concentration during the last decades. Some transnational corporations (TNC’s) control the sectors of the world economy. Never before in history there were so many people working on one single product, whether this is a car, a plane or a petrol derivative. There are between a quarter million and half a million people working for each of the twenty biggest TNC’s.

Never before in history were there so few players ruling production: there are three left in the petrol sector, six in the car industry, two in the maize corn market, four in the soy market, six in the agro chemistry, and two in civil aviation.

But has the discrepancy between labour and capital “reached a crisis”, meaning it is disappearing, as Antonio Negri is insinuating? No, the discrepancy between labour and capital has precisely even become planetary on the threshold of the twenty-first century.

And this makes the world ready for yet another production way, socialisation. “When a big enterprise assumes gigantic proportions, and, on the basis of an exact computation of mass data, organises according to plan the supply of primary raw materials to the extent of two-thirds, or three-fourths, of all that is necessary for tens of millions of people; when the raw materials are transported in a systematic and organised manner to the most suitable places of production, sometimes situated hundreds or thousands of miles from each other; when a single centre directs all the consecutive stages of processing the material right up to the manufacture of numerous varieties of finished articles; when these products are distributed according to a single plan among tens and hundreds of millions of consumers (the marketing of oil in America and Germany by the American oil trust)—then it becomes evident that we have socialisation of production, and not mere ‘interlocking’, that private economic and private property relations constitute a shell which no longer fits its contents, a shell which must inevitably decay if its removal is artificially delayed, a shell which may remain in a state of decay for a fairly long period (if, at the worst, the cure of the opportunist abscess is protracted), but which will inevitably be removed.” This is what Lenin wrote when he analysed the imperialism. [3]

The shell today are the capitalist relations of production: some thousands of families own the thousand biggest transnational corporations as their private property, and control almost all of the worldwide production. In this way, they also control directly or indirectly the labour of about one billion of people selling their manpower, with all of their families depending on this. They also control technology, communication, transport and organisation as their private property. They control all of this, not for the sake of social development or social progress, but to maximise their own profits. This implies that private property of production means (companies, farm lands, communication and transport means) has become the biggest hindrance for social progress of mankind.

Are the gravediggers dead?

Which force in the society will be capable of breaking this suffocating grip on production and on life itself? One of the fundamental elements brought in by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the young workers’ union was the idea that the social revolution could only be the work of the working class itself. The ‘gravediggers’ of this exploitation system are the workers themselves, according to Marx and Engels in their Communistic Manifest. Are the gravediggers dead themselves today?

Table 1. Percentage of employment in agriculture, industry and services in the world





























Source: ILO, World Employment Report 2007 and European Commission, Employment in Europe 2004.

The ILO Global Employment Trends Report indicates that services have surpassed agriculture for the first time in human history: “In 2006 the service sector’s share of global employment overtook agriculture for the first time, increasing from 39.5 per cent to 40 per cent. Agriculture decreased from 39.7 per cent to 38.7 per cent. The industry sector accounted for 21.3 per cent of total employment.”

The data in Table 1 highlights three facts. First: employment in agriculture diminished during the last half of the century from 67 per cent to 38.7 per cent. The farming classes are being ruined. In Europe, this process has been going on for three centuries now. Today, this process is developing worldwide.

Secondly, there is an increase in employment in “services”. We will come back to this later on.

Thirdly, we see stagnation and even a slight increase of employment in the industrial sector on world scale. This is the result of the decrease of industrial employment in the developed countries and the increase of it elsewhere. [4]

It is better to make a distinction between the primary, secondary and tertiary sector. The primary sector, agriculture, stands for extracting from nature. The secondary sector, industry, stands for transforming nature. And the tertiary sector for the rest. Nowadays, a lot of sectors belonging to the secondary sector are classified as “services”. This results in a distorted picture.

Moreover, these statistics do not take into account ownership relations. Owners of large estates, as well as small independent farmers and agricultural workers are classified as agriculture. In the same way, entrepreneurs, executives, self-employed people and wage labourers are classified together in the industrial sector. These statistics hide the class society which is in fact our actual society.

The capitalism grosso modo knows three classes, each subdivided into several layers. The owning class, being the owner of the companies, of the big land estates, of the machines and technology (patents), is the owner of the (large) means of production. They appropriate goods produced. The intermediate class is the class of small owners and independent producers. The working class is the class without means of production. They only have their manpower and working capacity for sale.

The working class is the beating heart of the system. It is the productive labour that is creating the wealth of society. The capital can only grow by the surplus value that is created in the production. The working class can exist without capitalistic bosses, but the patronage cannot without the workers. This is precisely where their role as actor for historical change for the working class is laid. The productive workers are in the middle of the production and every day experience the discrepancy between labour and capital. They are also in the best position to understand the nature of this system. Besides a core part active in the production, the working class is also made of many layers of wage labourers who are confronted more and more with the discrepancies of this system due to the constant crisis, the increasing work pressure, the raised flexibility and the constant uncertainty.

The unemployed people are also part of the working class. It is important for the tasks of the labour union and the labour party to emphasise this again. The unemployed people, however, form a specific layer, as they are, by definition, not capable to stop or to hit the economical vein of the capitalism, as they are – resulting from their situation – even more dispersed and disorganised, and because they miss the disciplining and organizing function of working, longer they are out of the production process, the more this is true. This does not mean that the unemployed part of the working class should fall out of battle, on the contrary.

The gravediggers are far from dead, they are alive and kicking. According to the broad definition, the European working class counted 137.5 millions of employed people in 2002, of which 2 million were agricultural workers. And on a worldwide scale, about 15 years ago there were 884 million people working in paid employment, of which 85 million agricultural workers. [5]

Who is producing wealth?

According to some opinion makers, the times where productive labour created social wealth lay behind us. The theory of the surplus value, the most important pillar of the economical theory of Marx, is said to be outdated. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt : “The central role in the production of surplus value, fulfilled earlier by the manpower of masses of factory workers, is fulfilled nowadays more and more by intellectual, immaterial and communicative manpower”, they write. “Hence the importance of developing a new political value theory.” [6]

This however, is very far from the truth. In order to live, people need food, clothes and other material goods. They have to work, to “produce”, for these products. It is the people who make society’s wealth by material production. All labour that is interpreted in this materialistic sense, can be considered as productive labour in general. The production is socially organised in group. Since there is more produced than we can consume immediately, certain groups of people have systematically appropriated this surplus. The society has been subdividing itself into classes. An owning class and a class without properties. In each class society, the ruling class appropriates the surplus, or the added labour.

A worker sells his manpower. He receives a wage for this. This wage is what we call the “value” of manpower. It is the money the worker needs to provide for sustaining, training, health, lodging and so on.

The worker makes product through his labour. But the created value of those products is higher than their wage. The difference is the “surplus value”, and that value completely goes to the capitalist. If a worker works 8 hours, for instance, in 3 hours he has earned his wage (or the value of his manpower). The remaining 5 hours work is surplus value for the capitalist. Marx: “Production of surplus value is the absolute law of this mode of production.” [7]

Those who are not working in production, the production of goods, do not make productive labour. Marx says: “Since the direct purpose and the actual product of capitalist production is surplus value, only such labour is productive, and only such an exerter of labour capacity is a productive worker, as directly produces surplus value.” [8] A producer of pianos is productive, whereas the pianist is not. The producer reproduces capital, but the pianist is only exchanging his work against payment. His labour is producing something, but he is not productive from an economic point of view..”

Due to the recent technological revolution, there is most certainly a great need for knowledge and science of the most modern production processes. However, intelligence and communication outside of production do not create a surplus value for the capital. The same is true for labour that produces goods that are not brought onto the market, such as a self-made work of art in clay.

Therefore, productive labour is a determination of labour that has nothing to do with its content or with the actual use value that it is displayed in, but rather with the social form in which it is realised. For this reason, labour of one and the same content can be productive and non productive at the same time.

Also the labour that is used by income, and not by capital, such as house servants, cooks, gardeners, chauffeurs and bodyguards is not productive, because they do not create a surplus value for the capital.

Because surplus value is only created with production (the making of products), labour in the financial sector (banks, insurances, investments…) is also not considered productive. The circulation of products (sale, warehouses…) also does not create a surplus value and is therefore not productive. Transport and storage, however, are considered to be an essential part of the production, and are productive, even if they are considered to be “services” in the classic statistics.

The recent technological revolution (IT, telecommunication, digitalising,…) means an enormous progress for the production forces, and proves better than anything else that the world is ready to pass to a production system which puts the needs of the population first. But it is not only the computers, the internet, computerisation and robotizing as such, which is producing wealth as Negri and Hardt suggest. It is the people acting on the machines who are the source of the surplus value. In the working class, in the big group of all those selling their manpower for a wage, there is a productive core. We are talking now of the whole group of wage labourers, active in the production and in the transport and storage of goods and services. The group that can be called the industrial workers.

Industrial workers, services and technology

The composition of the proletariat has changed, therefore also our concept of it has to change”, according to Negri and Hardt. “This industrial working class was often appointed the leading role (…), in economic analyses as well as in political movements. Nowadays, this working class is almost completely out of view. It does not cease to exist, but is expelled from its privileged place in the capitalistic economy and from its position of hegemony in the class composition of the proletariat.” [9] And, as both authors are stating: “We could call the transition from industry dominancy to the dominancy of services and information, a process of economical post modernisation, or better, computerization.” [10]

The fact that the industrial proletariat makes the “decisive part of the working class” has nothing to do with its number. What matters is its place in the production process. It is experiencing exploitation more directly. It creates the surplus value that is divided over the various non productive sectors. It rules the vital links of the economy.

However, there is a myth to be unveiled about the number of production workers. The industrial workers, the productive core of the working class, are larger than what the classical statistics consider to be “industry”. A major part of the paid ‘services’ also belongs to the productive core, namely the part that is active in the production process, in transport or storage. Grosso modo we can state that Europe has an industrial proletariat of about 60 million wage labourers in the industry or in services linked to the industry. [11]

In Europe, about 14 million wage labourers are active in ‘providing services to companies’. These are information technology sectors linked to the industry, technological maintenance, industrial cleaning companies, securing and technical maintenance, but also market research, advertising and human resources. [12]

The growth of these sectors is double. On the one hand, the evolving computerization makes employment in information technology increase. On the other hand, a lot of “out placed” jobs (outsourcing), which were previously classified as industry, arrive in these sectors. The essential point is that these services are linked with the production process. A low estimation would be that half of the 9 million wage labourers of the transport sector (by road, by boat and by plane) are active in the production process transporting goods. In addition, there are other services involved with production, for instance courier services such as DHL (Deutsche Post) that are now counted with post and communication.

As a consequence, it is not exaggerated to state that in fact 20 million wage labourers from the “services” sector in Europe are working for industrial production. We can only give an indication of the amount in this text. Further detailed studies should point out the exact number.

However, according to Negri and Hardt “factory working lost its hegemony in the last decade of the twentieth century, and “immaterial labour” surfaced instead: labour producing immaterial products such as knowledge, information, communication, relations and emotional reactions”. “Our theory implies that the immaterial labour obtained the hegemony from a qualitative point of view.” [13]

The revolutions in information technology and communication of the last decades were a leap forward in the development of the production forces. These technological revolutions, however, are not stand alone cases, as Negri and Hardt claim. They are completely imbedded in the capitalistic production system. According to Antonio Negri, this technological revolution has changed labour substantially, and even “freed” them. “Production even took control of the brains of the working people.” That is “because intelligence – the power of imagination, the capacity of inventing and creating – is really set to work”. His conclusion is as follows: “Today, people have become the owner of forms, of instruments, tools allowing them to produce wealth.” This means that “the seizure of production instrument through capital becomes impossible”. [14]

Negri forgets the ownership relations. Research, information technology, development, genetics are often privately owned nowadays. In the “knowledge society”, it is not “the intelligence and power of imagination” as such that matters, but the private seizing of knowledge by patents, certificates and copyrights. Marx writes: “The production of capital catches historical progress and uses it for the production of wealth.” [15] Each time a pharmaceutical giant receives a patent on a medicine, he also appropriates the scientific knowledge developed in university laboratories by various generations of researchers. “The seizure by capital is impossible”, is what Negri believes. But the contrary is what we see happening before our eyes. The capital appropriates the historical and social knowledge of society in all domains. By enclosing, imprisoning so to say, knowledge in patents and certificates, society becomes deprived of its intrinsic possibilities for social progress.

From the technological point of view, the digital revolution is a qualitative step forward, but from the point of view of ownership relations, there is no qualitative difference with the period of the advent of machines. Marx: “It is an undoubted fact that machinery, as such, is not responsible for ‘setting free’ the workman from the means of subsistence. (...) The contradictions and antagonisms inseparable from the capitalist employment of machinery, ... do not arise out of machinery, as such, but out of its capitalist employment! Since therefore machinery, considered alone, shortens the hours of labour, but, when in the service of capital, lengthens them; since in itself it lightens labour, but when employed by capital, heightens the intensity of labour; since in itself it is a victory of man over the forces of Nature, but in the hands of capital, makes man the slave of those forces; since in itself it increases the wealth of the producers, but in the hands of capital, makes them paupers...” [16]

Antonio Negri writes that “contacts, relations, exchange and desires have become productive”. [17] On the contrary, all ‘contacts, relations and exchanges’ that entered production serve to raise profits. Flexibility is necessary to save on dead moments and dead capital. Working at home and teleworking, the reintroduction of piece-wages, as it was during the manufacturing period, and bonus payments according to performance serve to save on manpower. By saving on dead capital as well as on living capital, raises the profit rate. For workers this increases stress, extra work and illness.

Deindustrialisation and industrialisation

The French government paid a research commission to have the statement that industry was disappearing checked. After months of research, the commission concluded that “the added value of production was growing faster in volume than the added value of the whole economy since the beginning of the 90’s. This means we cannot speak at all of deindustrialization, on the contrary: industry is growing. This phenomenon arises in all of the industrialised countries. At the same time, the industrial labour part is decreasing: from 24 % in 1980 to 15.9 % of the active population in 2002. This decrease is due to an increase of productivity of wage-earning people in the French industry, which, with its 4.1 % per year since 1990, makes it the highest in the world… What we call deindustrialisation is in fact an optical illusion caused by an industrial dynamism.” [18]

The European Commission also made an enquiry. The conclusion was: “From an analysis made by the Commission, it is clear that a general deindustrialisation process is absolutely out of the question. On the other hand, the European industry is experiencing a structural change process…” [19]

Production is increasing but made by fewer people. Productivity is increasing. Even the structure of companies has changed a lot over the last years by outsourcing tasks. Finally, there is also delocalisation: in Europe, this is responsible for 7 % of job loss in the industry. As for the decrease of employment in production, here are the three factors, typical for this system that hunts for maximum profit: the productivity increase, increasing outsourcing of the production and delocalisation.

The first cause of disappearing jobs in the industry is the increased productivity. That is no “deindustrialisation”. On the contrary, there is a higher production, but made by fewer and fewer people. Or, as Marx writes: “The condemnation of one part of the working class to enforced idleness by the overwork of the other part.” [20] The 300 biggest TNC’s control at least one fourth of worldwide production, whereas they account for less than one per cent of labour. [21]

In a socialistic society, technological progress serves to lighten the life burden of people and to fulfil their needs. Today however, higher productivity is aimed at the extraction of the greatest amount of surplus value beating competitors, leading to unbearable working conditions.

Secondly, “outsourcing” forces workers to offer their manpower for a lower wage to subcontractors, interim offices, IT-companies and etcetera. At the same time, part of the social protection is disappearing. Union rights are almost inexistent in most of the subcontracting companies and interim offices. Outsourcing is an attack on the collective power of the workers as a class.

But even here, an evolution within the industrialisation process is at stake, and not a deindustrialisation. As the Engineering Employers’ Federation in Great-Britain states: “Industry creates a larger part of the services by outsourcing departments such as maintenance, catering, juridical department… Production could make up to 35 % of the economy, instead of the generally accepted 20 % if we applied adjusted statistics definitions.” [22]

The cause is not “deindustrialisation”, but breaking up the productive working class into smaller companies and interim offices.

A third factor causing jobs to disappear from “industry”, and only in the third place, is delocalisation. It is very obvious that delocalisation around the globe does not mean deindustrialisation, but moving industry from one continent to another.

The class carrying its own future

One hundred and fifty years ago, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that the working class deserves the leading role in the social revolution, based on its place in the capitalism.

What makes the workers pioneers is the history itself, along with the economical, political and organizational laws of the capitalistic system. As long as capital exists, the social power that makes the capital increase will not disappear. Without productive labour there is no surplus value and no profit for the bosses. There are about a billion working families on this planet, they are the modern gravediggers of this system of TNC’s and maximum profit. They form, as Marx and Engels testify in their Communistic Manifest, the movement of the majority: “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.” [23]

Exodus and desertion

The former secretary-general of PVDA Nadine Rosa-Rosso tried to win the party with the position that working conditions today are so infernal that the workers can no longer be organised on the shop floor.

How did the young workers’ movement have to do it in the middle of the nineteenth century? Weren’t the starting industries also infernal places?

And yet the workers organised themselves “in conditions that are more infernal” than today. In those days, you had everything to lose: wage, food, health, even your life. Nevertheless, there was collective opposition. If Marx and Engels had only been sighing in face of all this misery, neither the First International nor the gradual consciousness of the need of unions would have been a fact.

No one will deny that working conditions of the last decades have become worse. Since the velvet contra revolution brought socialism down, the capital is again rasher working. Factories are transformed into barracks. Instead of black lungs, workers are now suffering from stress. Fixed jobs are replaced by interim jobs and part-time jobs, well paid jobs by hamburger jobs. The share of the wages in the global wealth is decreasing, and former, or new antistrike laws and penalties, are brought back again or created.

No one will however deny that the proletariat is opposing the wave of liberalisation and social disintegration. And this opposition has multiple degrees. The number of actions at the company have been increasing since the 90’s. Actions on the work floor, organised by ten thousands of union representatives, people made of flesh and blood. They did not leave the companies.

Also Negri and Hardt see the potential for opposition especially outside of factories and unions.

“The power of the working class is not in the representative institutions, but in the antagonism and the autonomy of the workers themselves.” That is what they write about the American working class in the years 1960 and 1970. “Moreover, creativity and militancy of the proletariat was also, and perhaps even more, situated in working population groups outside the factories. Even (and especially) those who refused active work, form a serious threat and a creative alternative.” [24]

During the period between 1960 and 1970, there was a creative force in ‘the disciplinary system’, according to both authors. “The prospect of a job guaranteeing steady and fixed work eight hours a day, fifty weeks per year for the rest of your life, the prospective of entering the normalised regime of the social factory, which was a dream for many of their parents, now seemed to be like death. The massive rejection of the disciplinary regime, which took different forms, was not only a negative expression, but also a moment of creation…” [25]

During this period, Negri and Hardt claimed they drew their inspiration to propose ‘new forms of class struggle” also for today: “desertion and exodus are powerful forms of class struggle, within and against imperial postmodernity.” [26] They explain: “Whereas in the disciplinary era sabotage was the fundamental notion of resistance, this may be desertion in the era of imperial control... Battles against the Empire may be won through withdrawal and exodus.” [27]

For some intellectuals, the factory is an infernal machine, but for workers it is the place where they earn their living, and also the place where they proudly practice their profession and the ideal place for the battle. The factory organises and brings the workers together in a direct eye-to-eye confrontation with the bosses. The factory, which brings in enormous profits that capitalists are using to get rich, is also their Achilles tendon. In opposition to exodus, there is the escape, a “withdrawal from the disciplinary regime” this is a vision of Lenin that is still very current: “For the factory, which seems only a bogey to some, represents that highest form of capitalist co-operation which has united and disciplined the proletariat, taught it to organise, and placed it at the head of all the other sections of the toiling and exploited population. And Marxism, the ideology of the proletariat trained by capitalism, has been and is teaching unstable intellectuals to distinguish between the factory as a means of exploitation (discipline based on fear of starvation) and the factory as a means of organisation (discipline based on collective work united by the conditions of a technically highly developed form of production). The discipline and organisation which come so hard to the bourgeois intellectual are very easily acquired by the proletariat just because of this factory "schooling". Mortal fear of this school and utter failure to understand its importance as an organising factor are characteristic of the ways of thinking which reflect the petty-bourgeois mode of life and which give rise to the species of anarchism that the German Social-Democrats call Edelanarchismus, that is, the anarchism of the "noble" gentleman, or aristocratic anarchism, as I would call it.” [28]

The revisers of Marxism have now argued for one and a half century to leave the work floor. Other social groups would embody the creative power and the creativity of change, bring in fresh air or lead the social revolution. And each time it was said that “times have changed”. First, the breakthrough of the bourgeois democracy within the national countries had “changed everything”, then the rise of the monopolies “had made everything different”, afterwards the enforced rights for social security in the welfare society had thoroughly altered the situation, and today recent production changes would have left nothing as it was before. Each time, it was said that the “militancy was to be found outside the factory walls”, “oxygen is to be inhaled elsewhere”, “workers have become egoistic”, “the European working class missed its appointment with history”, and “other groups now have to play the pioneer role”. The pour ones, the outcasts, the people who refuse work, the migrants, the ecologists, the green movement, the peace activists, the women, the scientists, the IT specialists… they were all declared one by one to be the social group that would lead the social revolution during the last century. What these theories have in common is that they all pass the social and economical laws of history, that they avoid the problem of the production and the control over the production.

The battle between labour and capital is the core of each actual change. As for this, the analysis of Lenin is quite correct: “The strength of the proletariat in any capitalist country is far greater than the proportion it represents of the total population. That is because the proletariat economically dominates the centre and nerve of the entire economic system of capitalism, and also because the proletariat expresses economically and politically the real interests of the overwhelming majority of the working people under capitalism. Therefore, the proletariat, even when it constitutes a minority of the population (or when the class-conscious and really revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat constitutes a minority of the population), is capable of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and, after that, of winning to its side numerous allies from a mass of semi-proletarians and petty bourgeoisie who never declare in advance in favour of the rule of the proletariat, who do not understand the conditions and aims of that rule, and only by their subsequent experience become convinced that the proletarian dictatorship is inevitable, proper and legitimate.” [29]

The fact that the productive workers on the work floor fight the real battle between labour and capital, does not imply at all that they are the only ones fighting; it does not mean that there is no need for a large alliance between production workers, the other layers of the working class, the farmers, the proletarian layers of intelligentsia, the progressives and young people choosing the side of the exploited people. The opposite is true. Precisely because the productive workers are schooled, organised, and disciplined in the battle, precisely because the industrial workers form the core of this production system, they have the task to pull the other exploited and oppressed layers forward. They don’t approach the other social layers to “find their breath again”, to “find oxygen”, or to gain “creative power”, but to draw the entire social struggle chariot. This is why the steel workers of Forges De Clabecq joined the big movement of teachers, pupils and students in 1994-1996.

“At this very moment, we see how traditional forms of opposition, such as the institutional worker organisations that developed in the nineteenth and twentieth century, start to lose their power. According to Negri and Hardt a new form of opposition has to be invented”. [30]

New big challenges are undoubtedly waiting for workers’ movement and its unions: the organisation of part-time, flexible and precarious manpower, the mobilization of interim workers and the workers in subcontracted companies, the involvement of the unemployed part of the working class, etc. When certain executives from the union, as is the case in the management of the European Labour Unions, deliberately identify themselves with the setup of the big European monopolies and their European Union (that means “to institutionalise”), the labour union indeed looses power. But is the problem found within the worker’s organisations themselves, or within the concept of the labour movement as organiser of the working class? Or is the problem to be found in a small group of executives from labour organisations?

It is up to the party, the communists, to direct the Union onto the whole class, and help it reach its political demands. Lenin emphasizes the task of the communists in the labour unions. “To fearthis "reactionariness," to, try to avoid it, to leap over it, would be the greatest folly, for it would be fearing that function of the proletarian vanguard which consists in training, educating, enlightening and drawing into the new life the most backward strata and masses of the working class and the peasantry...” [31]

“But we wage the struggle against the "labour aristocracy" in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win them to our side; we wage the struggle against the opportunist and social-chauvinist leaders in order to win the working class to our side. To forget this most elementary and most self-evident truth would be stupid. And it is precisely this stupidity the German "Left" Communists are guilty of when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the trade union top leadership, they jump to the conclusion that … we must leave the trade unions!! that we must refuse to work in them!! that we must create new and artificiaI forms of labour organization!! This is such an unpardonable blunder that it is equal to the greatest service the Communists could render the bourgeoisie.” [32]

Today, at the end of the twentieth century, and at the beginning of the twenty-first century, revisionism has taken over a number of revolutionary parties, there is a task waiting to be completed that will bring the communist movement back at the head of this movement struggle. Today these two challenges remain valid: building up a revolutionary headquarters that is skilled in this struggle and in Marxism, and that has the capacity to build the unity of the working class and the social alliance of the working class with the other oppressed strata.

[1] Source: ILO, World Employment Report 2004-2005 and the European Commission, Employment in Europe 2004.

[2] Antonio Negri, Return. Biopolitics ABC. Discussions with Anne Dufourmantelle. Amsterdam, Van Gennep, 2003 [2002], p. 43.

[3] V.I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, [1916].

[4] Source: UNCTAD, Trade and Development Report, 2010. Note: in this statistics, employment in the production (‘manufacturing’) is only a part of the employment in the industry.

[5] Source: European Commission, European social statistics, Labour force survey results 2002, 2003 Edition. For figures on world scale: Deon Filmer, Estimating the world at Work, World Bank 1995.

[6] Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, The New World Order, Amsterdam, Van Gennep Publishing, 2002, blz. 45. Hardt and Negri claim to take over this theory from ‘a group of contemporary Italian marxistic writers’, without specifying whom they are.

[7] Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy, [1867]. Volume I, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, p. 306.

[8] Karl Marx, Capitalist Production as the Production of Surplus Value, Productive and Unproductive Labour. Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, in Theories of Surplus Value.

[9] Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, The New World Order, Amsterdam, Van Gennep Publishing, 2002, p. 68. Italics added, pm.

[10] idem, p. 283. Italics added by Negri and Hardt.

[11] L’Europe en chiffres — L’annuaire d’Eurostat 2010

[12] In the international statistics of Eurostat, services are subdivided into (g) repairs for wholesale and retail trade, (h) hotels and restaurants, (i) transport and communication, (j) financial intermediation, (k) business activities and real estate, (l) administration and (m-q) other services. In (k) is also included ‘services to companies’ (sections 72 and 74). The data in the quoted study are totals, without distinction between wage labour and independent work for the ‘business sector’. We ourselves kept a proportion of 86 %, because in whole of the European ‘services’ there are 86 % of people rendering paid services.

[13] Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Mass of people, War and Democracy in the New World Order, Amsterdam, De Bezige Bij, 2004, p. 120-121.

[14] Antonio Negri, Return. Biopolitics ABC. Discussions with Anne Dufourmantelle. Amsterdam, Van Gennep, 2003 [2002], p. 83.

[15] Karl Marx. Grundrisse. 3. Chapitre du Capital (suite) [1858]. Paris, Editions Anthropos, 1968, p. 143.

[16] Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy, [1867]. Volume I, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, p. 216.

[17] Antonio Negri, Return. Biopolitics ABC. Discussions with Anne Dufourmantelle. Amsterdam, Van Gennep, 2003, p. 60.

[18] Max Roustan, Député. Assemblée Nationale. Rapport d’Information fait au nom de la délégation à l’aménagement et au développement durable du territoire, sur la désindustrialisation du territoire. Présidence de l’Assemblée Nationale, May 27th, 2004, p. 46-47 Italics added, pm.

[19] Commission des Communautés Européennes, Communication de la Commission. Accompagner les mutations structurelles : Une politique industrielle pour l’Europe élargie. Bruxelles, COM (2004) 274 final, April 20th, 2004, p. 2.

[20] Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy, [1867]. Volume I, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, p. 315.

[21] Jed Greer, Kavaljit Singh, A Brief History of Transnational Corporations, Corpwatch, 2000. p. 18-19

[22] Swasti Mitter, Common Fate, Common Bond. Woman in the Global Economy. Londen, Pluto Press, 1986, p. 98.

[23] Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist party [February 1848]. Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1970, Third print, p. 45. See:

[24] Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, The New World Order, Amsterdam, Van Gennep Publishing, 2002, p. 272. Italics added, pm.

[25] idem p. 277.

[26] p. 219.

[27] idem p. 217.

[28] V. I. Lenin, One Step forward, two Steps back, [1904]. See: Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, p. 391-392.

[29] V. I. Lenin, The Constituent Assembly Elections and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat [December 1919]. In: Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, p. 271.

[30] Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, The new World Order, Amsterdam, Van Gennep Publishing, 2002, p. 309. Italics added, pm.

[31] V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder [December 1919]. In: Selected Works, English edition, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952, Vol. II, Part 2. Reprint by Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1970, p. 42.

[32] Idem, p. 43-44.