Thom Workman: If You're in My Way, I'm Walking: The Assault on Working People Since 1970.

Author:Heino, Brett
Position:Book review
 
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Thom Workman If You're in My Way, I'm Walking: The Assault on Working People Since 1970, Fernwood Publishing, Black Point, 2009; 150 pp.: 9781552663264, $22.95

Over the course of its short and unhappy history, neoliberalism has always approached the working-class Janus-faced, seeking to entrench the economic necessity of employment precarity and austerity whilst at the same time heralding the boom times supposedly upon us. Thom Workman's If You're in My Way, I'm Walking is nothing less than a concise yet devastating critique of this veneer, beneath which is revealed the ever-present contradictions of capital. The elucidation of these contradictions, including crises of profitability and the many-sided manifestations of the class struggle, are the golden threads binding his illuminating account of the Canadian experience of neoliberalism.

Workman begins by situating neoliberalism within the history of Canada's political economy. Drawing upon regulation theory and the social structures of accumulation approach, he periodises post-Second World War Canadian capitalism into a Fordist and neoliberal phase, each attempting to moderate the endogenous crisis tendencies of capital through a variety of political, legal and cultural forms. Whilst both systems are designed to protect capitalist social relations, the former, combining mass production and consumption with Keynesian economic management, afforded a basket of protections for the working-class, including security of employment, liberal rights to unionise, and modest unemployment benefits. Although it functioned effectively enough from the end of the Second World War until the late 1960s, Workman maintains that Fordism in Canada proved too much for capital in light of the burgeoning economic crisis of the 1970s. Hit by a fall in the rate of profit, rising real wages, stagflation and increased labour militancy, Fordist arrangements no longer proved an optimal accumulation strategy for capital, which set in motion a protracted process of 'rollback,' an unravelling of Fordist institutions and norms from the late 1970s onwards.

Tracing the physiology of this rollback phase in a theoretically consistent manner is the main task Workman sets himself. The real virtue of this effort is his desire to reveal neoliberalism as a multi-faceted bundle of economic, political, legal and cultural practices that changes the material circumstances of workers at the same time that it alters the ideological matrix...

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