Coalitions Across The Class Divide
Source Dave Anderson
Date 01/01/01/23:20

Sociologist Fred Rose has written a significant book entitled "Coalitions
Across the Class Divide: Lessons from the Labor, Peace and Environmental
Movements." He argues that progressive social change is sabotaged by
conflicts between working class and middle class people.

He examines the relations between timber workers in a Pacific Northwest
community and environmentalists who want to save old growth forest:

"Working-class timber workers and middle-class environmentalists interpret
their interests as conflicting because of cultural barriers reinforced by
divisive conditions. Loggers and environmentalists come from alien
realities, and each side misinterprets the other through its own cultural
framework. Timber cutting means much more for logging communities than
environmentalists recognize, both psychologically and economically. And
protecting species and ecosystems means far more for environmentalists
than timber workers perceive--psychologically and in terms of personal
interests. These different meanings follow class patterns.

"Working- and middle-class lives are regulated and disciplined
differently. The working class inhabits a world of necessities imposed by
outside powers and authorities. Laborers must conform to work rules and
the pace of production. Unions confront this external power by organizing
workers' ability to deprive management of their labor. The issue of old
growth follows the same pattern of a conflict of interests against the
imposition of changes on timber communities and employment. While the
working class is regulated by externally imposed rewards and punishments,
the middle class internalizes the rules that regulate their lives.
Personal goals and ambitions to succeed are developed early and pursued
without supervision. In the workplace, outcomes are rewarded rather than
tasks being monitored. People choose to work for causes that provide a
sense of identity, purpose, and value. For middle-class individuals,
protecting old-growth timber is a continuation of their internally
motivated actions.

"Timber workers and environmentalists also define their identities and
social relationships in different, class-specific ways. For the working
class, being a member of a timber community with a good reputation defines
who one is. Identity comes from being accepted and known, so that stable
friendships and work relationships are important. These relations with
family members, peers in school and work, and neighbors tend to be
inherited in working-class communities. By contrast the middle class
defines itself by its activities and accomplishments. Most important,
professionals choose their careers, but working for a cause can also be an
important source of identity. Nuclear families are mobile to allow people
to pursue their careers and interests. So friends and colleagues are
chosen often for shared activities and goals.

"Because of these class-based cultural differences, working- and
middle-class movements have difficulty perceiving their common interests
and working together. The middle class is prone to seeing the working
class as rigid, self-interested, narrow, uninformed, parochial, and
conflict-oriented. The working class tends to perceive the middle class
as moralistic, intellectual, more talk than action, lacing common sense,
and naive about power. Each side has a different standard for evaluating
information, with the working class trusting experience and the middle
class believing in research and systematic study. The result is a wide
gulf in understandings of nature, sustainability, economics, and human
conduct. Worse yet, working-class unions and middle-class
environmentalists seek change differently. The working class seeks to
build power to confront external threats, while the middle class hopes to
change people's motivations, ideas, and morality. When each side feels its
options are limited, as in the case of old growth, there is fertile ground
for conflict."

Rose argues that both the working class and middle class worldviews have
their strengths and weaknesses. People need to understand each other.

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