When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation: Structural Unemployment and the Retreat of Class Politics

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Daniel ZAMORA VARGAS , Free University of Brussels, Ixelles, Belgium
The rise of mass unemployment in Europe in the late 70s and early 80s changed the conditions of the political struggle and debate in the west industrialized societies, producing a strong economic and political inequality within the working class. While the conflict between capital and labour had structured the analysis of the post-War years (with strong unions and labour parties), the 70s and 80s witnessed a shift of attention to the unemployment crisis and in particular its unequal effects (as evidenced by the centrality of debates around exclusion, urban marginality, and unorganized struggles). This simultaneously political, sociological, semantic and ideological turn is deeply rooted in the changes that have taken place within the salariat over the last forty years. The increase in unemployment, which is itself increasingly concentrated on parts of the population (both socially and geographically) resulting in the emergence of a vast stratum of (what Marx called) “surplus population”, is a key elements in understanding this evolution. This evolution also created the conditions of possibility for both the conservative political strategies aimed at limiting access to the Welfare State as well as the declined centrality of “the working class question” among authors and critics on the new left like André Gorz or Herbert Marcuse. In this new ideological framework, the “exploited” is defined by its exclusion and its increasingly precarious relationship to work.  Making use of new statistical data on unemployment in Europe, our paper will explore how the political struggle and debate was progressively framed around the question of the “excluded” and the underclass in a way that made less relevant the question of exploitation and changed the political agenda. This evolution is of fundamental importance – theoretically and practically – for the advancement of critical theory and for understanding inequality under neoliberalism.