Community organizers in the United States have two tasks today: a short-term defensive one of holding back the rightward assault against both the social welfare state and the working class in general; and a long-term, mobilizing task of building a constituency strong enough to transform the welfare state itself. We cannot lose sight of this latter goal, for the method and objectives we set for ourselves in the short-run will greatly determine the feasibility of our long-term goals.

This is no small matter, for the assault on the welfare state is as fundamental to the restructuring of class and social relations today as the New Deal was in helping to stabilize and expand social wages for working people in the 1930s . Today, economists as varied as Silk, Gordon, Bluestone and Thurow see our society moving toward a highly stratified, two-tiered class system of very well-off professional workers and managers and a huge layer of far poorer, underskilled workers kept passive by their fears of joining the so-called underclass.1 Homelessness and gentrification; the birth of yuppies and the emergence of the underclass; the rise of privatization and the decline of entitlements are all part of this new stratification. In this context, the roles of social workers, with the exception of those entering private practice, can only become increasingly marginal, less skilled, and less autonomous if this crisis is not altered politically.2