A new dawn for the working class?

A new dawn for the working class? By Joel Kotkin.

Given the persistent worker shortages and supply-chain issues, workers’ power to disrupt the economy and to push back is greater than at any time in the past half century.

This new leverage is rooted in demographic trends. The US’s working population — people aged between 16 and 64 — grew by more than 20 per cent in the 1980s. In the past decade, it has grown by less than five per cent. To make matters worse, an estimated one-third of American working-age males are not in the labour force, suffering from high rates of incarceration, and from drug, alcohol and other health issues. …

The pandemic has worsened the shortage. Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions sparked the ‘Great Retirement’, with 3.2million more US seniors leaving the workforce in the third quarter of 2020 than in the same quarter in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.

A persistent lack of workers is now exerting pressure on wages. There have been massive shortages across a wide range of sectors — from nurses and delivery people to farm labourers, truckers, retail, hotel and restaurant workers. Nearly 90 per cent of companies surveyed by the US Chamber of Commerce cited a lack of available workers as the biggest drag on their growth. ‘It’s a workers’ labour market now, and increasingly so for blue-collar workers’, argues Becky Frankiewicz, president of staffing firm Manpower, Inc. ‘We have plenty of demand and not enough workers.’ …

The people who kept society functioning as the ‘laptop classes’ stayed behind their screens are demanding some well-deserved respect as well as greater compensation. Politicians like President Biden talk about having to ‘learn to code’ to fit into the ‘new economy’. But in the real world, the biggest demand is not for coders, but for skilled, dependable workers, like drivers, machine-tool operators and welders. …

In the AI-driven future economy, venture capitalist and entrepreneur Rony Abovitz told me recently that the future may be brighter for people who can install plumbing systems or maintain machines. ‘It’s the end of the white-collar knowledge work’, Abovitz suggests. Instead, he predicts that the future will be shaped more by the rise of the ‘sophisticated, technically capable blue-collar worker’. …

Instead of ‘dumbing down’ on skills and merit, scrapping such things as exit exams while focusing on ideological indoctrination, the schools in the West need more rigorous training, not less, and a greater emphasis on skills and the ethic of work. …

All of the ruling class is now hostile to workers:

Our leaders tend to be more concerned with virtue-signaling on climate, gender or racial issues than with meeting the aspirations of the masses. Not surprisingly, the protests in Canada have been labelled by Jeff Bezos’ mouthpiece, the Washington Post, as ‘toxic’. Instead of listening and trying to understand the trucker protests, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau tars them with all the progressive calumnies: ‘Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, homophobia and transphobia.’ This even though the drivers include many minorities — most prominently Sikhs, who make up a large share of Canada’s truckers — and have remained, as CNN would put it, ‘peaceful’.

This hostility to blue-collar aspirations has become a permanent feature of progressive politics. Prominent left-leaning observers such as Joan C Williams, Paul Embery and Didier Eribon have all noted that the working class are now widely written off as culturally toxic and hopelessly reactionary by so-called progressives.

The Democrat’s grand strategy of identity politics and a coalition of the fringes strategy is failing. Would they consider championing the working class again, or are they now permanently the class of the bureaucrat and the well-off?