I was reading a collection of documents from the Love and Rage Federation the other day and came across a brilliant theory piece discussing the role of white youth in revolutionary struggle. It pointed out that white working class youth are "reproles," insofar as they are they children of a generation of workers that sold out to the capitalist state. Today, the white working class has been thrust back into the working world, the promises of their alliance with the capitalist class turned sour. (This isn't to argue against a white privilege analysis of racism, which is one I stand by. White privilege is still a powerful system, but the welfare state and its attendant ideologies have failed the white working class's attempt to escape from capitalist oppression. This also isn't to diminish the continuing struggles of white working class people who were never allowed into the "middle class." They never escaped and continue to fight capitalist exploitation.)
This concept of reproletarianization really grabbed me. It describes so perfectly what I have seen in my own life and in the lives of my friends and age cohort out of high school. Many of my close friends and classmates have become reproles. Their parents were raised to aspire to middle class ambitions and raised them to do the same, but the changing economy has not allowed them to take the same routes. This isn't to ignore the agency involved in these decisions. Many folks I know have left college, the traditional path to skilled worker positions, because they couldn't stand it any more. (This is something worthy of way more analysis, perhaps by someone with a stronger psychoanalytic knowledge than myself.)
My interest is how these reproles have proven so difficult to organize with. While I help out in the IWW, my role as a student means that I only have so much energy to spend on that project. But I have taken my training as a Wob and applied it. I routinely offer workplace advice to my friends and high school classmates. Nearly everyone I know gets screwed at work, inevitably in the service industry. (My friends in direct production roles, like in factories, actually seem to do better. I have no substantial proof of why, but my gut tells me that this is the remnant memories of class resistance by the old labor movement.) They don't get paid the right amount, no overtime/too much overtime, they have shitty bosses, etc. These complaints are nothing new to any young person working.
But my comments and suggestions go completely ignored by my friends and classmates. It's not that they don't have problems with the work, or that they're Mr. Block either. They hate their bosses, they know what they want changed, and I've helped them understand how easily they can bring about that change. The problem, I think, is consciousness and despair.
The reproles of my generation have no concept of class struggle or class consciousness. Thrust back into the working class, they have no models or history of struggle to look to and get inspired by. The white reproletarianized youth of today is divided by the historical barrier of race from workers of color, from whose history there is a lot to be inspired by. They seem to have no concept of what it means to be "working class," but also have not completely bought into the bootstrap myth. They remain ambivalent towards the welfare system, progressive on social issues, but confused about their historical role as workers. In fact, I think that one of the first bridges that I have to cross with these reproles is getting them to accept the word "worker" as a descriptor for their work.
I think that these reproles will play an important role in class struggle in the United States, particularly as the country's economic future becomes more and more clouded by China and the European Union. I accept Martin Glaberman's suggestion that action proceeds consciousness, so my concern is not in radicalizing these folks via ideology. Rather, I think what the revolutionary movement can do for these reproles is to continue the work started by the Autonomists for the Italian working class in the seventies: we must explore and valorize the kinds of resistances that these workers are already participating in. We must show these workers that their actions are already representative of class struggle, and that the next step must be to organize these individual actions that refuse work into collective refusal and creation of alternatives.
How we go about doing this is a big question, but I see it as one that I need to struggle with. I think my job as an anarchist revolutionary in the next few years is going to be focused on reproles and the process of action and radicalization amongst them. We'll see where that goes.