From the August 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
If you are a member of the so-called “middle class”, is your life better than a member of the “working class”? Well, your income may be higher, and this may enable you to obtain a better home, a better car, better food, better electronic goods, a better pension, better child education, better holidays . . . But then again, let's take a closer look at those “better” benefits.
Keeping hold of that better home may depend on you not losing your better income. But with globalised free markets, there comes unavoidable pressure on employers to minimise wages and maximise savings in order to stay in business and increase profits. This results in job losses from mergers and takeovers as firms seek efficiencies of scale, greater market share and more financial clout and protection from becoming bigger players. There is also further pressure to keep up with more competitive rivals who sack employees here as new technology permits switching over to cheaper workers in large call centres and other remote business service facilities in counties like India. Previously “safe” occupations like banking and insurance have already seen such transferences of many jobs, and this trend will inevitably continue with many more lower-paid employees in other countries taking over from the middle class in additional occupations as the technology and business opportunities make this more attainable and appealing.
That better car will often get snarled-up in traffic with all the others wasting your precious time. The police will set up increasing numbers of speed cameras to raise revenue as you rush about to, from and during work, causing you further aggravation. Privatised traffic wardens, too, will want to keep their jobs by taking some of the pay from yours if they can. Your insurance will keep rising as growing inequality causes poorer motorists to choose inferior cheaper policies, or avoid paying altogether. Eventually, the carcinogenic chemicals and particulates from exhaust fumes inhaled during all those years of driving may exact their toll on your health – perhaps just after you retire to enjoy your last work-free years.
That better food you bought – organic of course – may in fact turn out to be nothing of the sort. When it's so easy to use deceptive labels or sell ordinary food as organic and thereby pocket far bigger profits, and there are no, or very few, expensive checks on quality, your hopes of avoiding pesticides, fungicides and other nasties will be defeated by others ruthlessly pursuing that same capitalist necessity called money that you yourself are also chasing, day in, day out.
The better video cameras, TVs, computers and other electronic gizmos are being manufactured to become obsolete in ever shorter periods of time as businesses ever desperate for more profit want you to buy another new replacement. And another. And another. And as you do so, the landfill sites grow ever bigger with dangerous poisons that will leech into the water we drink, and rubbish incinerators will pump ever more quantities of cancer-causing PCBs, dioxins and other chemicals into our lungs.
The better pension you expected to enjoy after you retire turns out to have not been as successfully invested as you thought, and will only provide a half or even a third of what you had expected, leaving you with the prospect of either making do with a much worse standard of living in your old age, or continuing to work into your 60s or even your 70s, assuming you are able to, and can find an employer wanting someone who may then be far less efficient than a blindly enthusiastic younger employee.
The better educated children will no doubt “benefit” from their schooling and parental encouragement to become middle class workers themselves, doomed to carry on the same crass competition for bigger pieces of cheese in the endless rat race.
And when you go on your better holiday – assuming you haven't been affected by “presenteeism”, and avoided taking it for fear of being seen as lacking commitment – do you honestly think that a couple of weeks in the sun will make up for all those months of pressure and stress?
Worst of all there's your failure to see that you never did belong to a superior middle class, since your exploitation to produce profits for employers meant you were in fact a member of the working class, with problems and suffering just as bad as experienced by those stacking supermarket shelves, selling McFood or sewing clothes in sweat shops. And by failing to see that you were all collectively exploited by capitalism – instead believing yourself to have been above others – you helped maintain the divisive system that unnecessarily cheated, manipulated and punished you all. An overwhelming majority of people who had always possessed the opportunity to come together and get rid of all their problems for good, but never had the sense to do it.
Do you agree that all workers who produce profit for others, by being denied full payment for their work – the only way profit can be made – are in the same capitalist boat? You do? Then why not row with us towards a money-less, stress-free, socialist future of free access to whatever we need, rather than keep going round in inescapable circles by constantly competing with one another? Wouldn't that be “better” for us all?