Sunday, January 10, 2010


While the official unemployment rate in the US remains at 10% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a sobering article at The Huffington Post reports that BLS figures indicate only 80% of men ages 25-54 held jobs in the month of December. One in five men of working age are presently unemployed. For men these numbers — which do not include the underemployed — rival unemployment figures during the Great Depression (numbers that peaked at 25% in 1933, four years after the precipitating crash). The new BLS figures have inspired a few evidently dull economists to refer to the present moment as a "mancession" and, coupled with the global feminization of labor in manufacturing over the past few decades, these stats punctuate the final stage of what has been a deeply gendered process of deindustrialization in the US and elsewhere.

For men struggling to hold onto some deluded, destructively nostalgic sense of an industrial working class past (where culturally specific forms of pride, dignity and resistance are gendered masculine and shot through with an idea of the nation) the jig is up and has been for a long time. But for women and men in the US presently laboring in the retail, service and manufacturing sectors (chicken processing plants in the so-called "broiler belt" running from the deep south to the Texas panhandle immediately spring to mind), the need to reimagine gender neutral but class specific forms of resistance, defiance, dignity and rage that are not bound to particular trades or occupations has never been more urgent. This is cultural work — the essential work of a cultural politics.