Book Reviews: "The Class Strikes Back: Self-Organised Workers’ Struggles in the Twenty-First Century" (Studies in Working-Class History)

Half a century from its heyday in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, workers’ autonomy—grassroots collective action independent from unions as a central organizing strategy for political change—has shown signs of resurgence after the crisis of 2008 and as a consequence of the neoliberal restructuring of the economy. This is the thesis of The Class Strikes Back, a collection that bridges the global North and the global South, edited by Dario Azzellini and Michael G. Kraft, and now republished as a paperback in the Historical Materialism Book Series.

The book will be useful and accessible to activists as well as scholars. It brings together a wide spectrum of case studies focused on direct action, horizontal forms of decision-making, independent unionism, and anticapitalist and antiauthoritarian strug- gles originating from shop-floor grievances. The thirteen chapters span Turkey to Indo- nesia, the United States to Italy, and the United Kingdom to South Africa. Many con- tributors, including Broumas (Greece), Dinler (Turkey), Olaya (Colombia), Wigand (Germany), and Azzellini combine, or have combined at some point, a scholarly role with an activist one. The volume acts as a loudspeaker for workers’ perspective, one that is not often picked up by mainstream media or is downplayed in academic accounts of industrial relations. (...)

One might wish for an analytical conclusion, much beyond what the introduction offers, to bring together the intersecting discourses and insights the chapters bring to the fore. The question of the political and theoretical impact of such struggles, most of which have since succumbed to the forces of reaction, needs further exploration. It is for the reader to distill the repertoire of ideas and “counter-hegemonic projects” (244) that such experiences have in common and how they could foster enduring processes of social transformation. At the same time, by offering a wealth of examples of workers’ autonomy in times of neoliberalism, ranging from manufacturing to logistics, and with an emphasis on migrants and the precariat, this volume rekindles faith in the transformative power of collective mobilization and worker solidarity in the twenty-first century.

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The Class Strikes Back