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Unite Here rally for BWI workers in Annapolis, MD. Image: United Workers via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Unite Here rally for BWI workers in Annapolis, MD. Image: United Workers via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

by Barry Eidlin

In the 2016 presidential race, candidates from both major parties are looking for ways to address inequality.

Partly, they must do so because seven years after the 2008 crash, many Americans still aren’t getting ahead, according to several analyses by the Economic Policy Institute think tank. In fact, that’s nothing new. Factoring in inflation, wage growth has stagnated for the bottom 90% of Americans since 1979.

In the campaign ahead, these struggling Americans will be called many things: “forgotten,” “hardworking,” “ordinary,” “everyday,” and of course, “middle class.”

What they will not be called is “working class.” To the extent that anyone refers to the “working class,” it will be as a not-so-coded reference to white, male, blue-collar workers, even though the term can apply to people of both genders, and any race, in many different sorts of work.

This failure to talk about class obscures one of the primary drivers of the growth in income inequality: the decline of labor unions. Research I’ve been conducting on the intersection of political sociology, inequality and social policy suggests that union decline is linked to a political process that has pushed class issues off the table in the US – unlike Canada, where the income gap hasn’t widened nearly as much.

If the current crop of US presidential candidates really wants to address the growing inequality gap in America, getting class back on the agenda would be a good place to start.

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The University of Washington in St Louis has just hosted a colloquium on invisible labour. It was organised by Winnie Poser and her colleagues at the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Work and Social Capital. Two key questions informed the meeting: what counts as work, and why are some workers invisible? The starting point for the debate was the many forms of labour that are hidden from public view.

The keynote was provided by Arlie Hochschild who discussed her recent book The Outsourced Self. Everything including intimacy can now be bought on the market she explained – we can hire trainers to teach us to be the CEO of our love life, wedding planners, parenting surrogates and people to choose our babies names for example. All of our lives’ activities, not just our labour are now being commodified and sub-contracted to others. We need to reveal and research this development she said.  Read More