Why the Working Class?

Chibber, Vivek
Publisher:  Jacobin
Year Published:  2016
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX19000

Workers are at the heart of the capitalist system. And that's why they are at the centre of socialist politics.



Now it is true, of course, that workers face all sorts of indignities and material deprivation, and any movement for social justice has to take this as a central issue. But if this is all there is to it, if this is the only reason we should focus on class, the argument falls apart pretty easily.

After all, there are lots of groups who suffer indignities and injustices — racial minorities, women, the disabled. Why single out workers? Why not just say that every marginal and oppressed group ought to be at the heart of socialist strategy?

Yet there is more to the focus on class than just the moral argument. The reason socialists believe that class organizing has to be at the center of a viable political strategy also has to do with two other practical factors: a diagnosis of what the sources of injustice are in modern society, and a prognosis of what are the best levers for change in a more progressive direction.


There are many things that people need to lead decent lives. But two items are absolutely essential. The first is some guarantee of material security -- things like having an income, housing, and basic health care. The second is being free of social domination -- if you are under someone else's control, if they make many of the key decisions for you, then you are constantly vulnerable to abuse.

So, in a society in which most people don't have job security, or have jobs but can't pay their bills, in which they have to submit to other people's control, in which they don’t have a voice in how laws and regulations are made -- it's impossible to achieve social justice.

Capitalism is an economic system that depends on depriving the vast majority of people of these essential preconditions for a decent life.


progressive reform efforts have to find a source of leverage, a source of power that will enable them to overcome the resistance of the capitalist class and its political functionaries.

The working class has this power, for a simple reason -- capitalists can only make their profits if workers show up to work every day, and if they refuse to play along, the profits dry up overnight. And if there is one thing that catches employers’ attention, it’s when the money stops flowing.

Actions like strikes don't just have the potential to bring particular capitalists to their knees, they can have an impact far beyond, on layer after layer of other institutions that directly or indirectly depend on them — including the government.

This ability to crash the entire system, just by refusing to work, gives workers a kind of leverage that no other group in society has, except capitalists themselves.

This is why, if progressive social change requires overcoming capitalist opposition -- and we have learned over three centuries that it does -- then it is of central importance to organize workers so that they can use that power.

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