Facing the Populist Challenge – Bringing Labor Movements and Urban Social Movements Together

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Peter BESCHERER, University of Tubringen, Germany
Social change (precarious work, labor market liberalization, workfare programs etc.) has broken up the connection between wage labor and social security and has caused fear of losing social status among many people. Furthermore, wage labor has lost social recognition. Labor is hardly considered a reason to feel proud and the working class is usually represented by the so called underclass. In both respects, material as well as cultural, the transformations of labor bring about worries and frustrations for the working class. Working people consider unions and parties to be part of the elite that has betrayed them and prevents them from enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Next to the working place housing and neighborhood are crucial points for peoples political attitudes and ideas of society. The less labor could cover social security and the more it looses its reputation, the more important those other ways of social integration become. Urban politics is, however, as well a site of insufficient democratic representation as labor. But it also became a major issue for social movements all around the world. They address the whole range of people who suffer from the rejection of their material as well cultural interests. Urban social movements, therefore, are important for initiating a counter-movement. Cross-movement building means to address common interests (e.g. the distribution of the surplus value on the job and on the housing market) but also to bring the ethical debate among different forms of life and their contribution to a ‘good life’ back in the liberal political public sphere.

Based on an outline of the “populist gap” in labor as well urban politics, I discuss first empirical findings of urban activism in the struggle against right wing populism conducted in the context of a research project on populism and democracy in urban areas.