Workers and the Urban Lower Class
Massive rural-to-urban migration has resulted in the emergence of a burgeoning urban lower class, the most successful members of which have become urban workers. In the Venezuelan social view, the lower class consisted of those in low-status occupations (usually manual), the illiterate, and recent immigrants from the countryside. For many, the transition was traumatic and stressful, as epitomized by the presence of innumerable abandoned children in the streets of the capital city. Nonetheless, several studies indicated that most migrants felt that they had made the right move in spite of the hardships and disappointments. Most were confident that the urban environment would help ensure greater prosperity and opportunity for their children.
The urban lower class has not been ignored politically. Political parties made concerted efforts to enlist urban workers into their affiliated unions, and the government has also attempted to "normalize" squatter settlements by providing legal title, utilities, and other services. Nevertheless, the 1989 food riots that shook Caracas and left an estimated 300 dead demonstrated that many of the urban poor deeply resented the sociopolitical system in spite of numerous partisan and government efforts in their behalf.
The inroads made among the urban poor class by Protestant evangelical and charismatic sects provided another manifestation of this sense of alienation. Perhaps sensing that its traditional hold was being challenged, the Roman Catholic Church renewed efforts during the 1980s to reach out to this group of Venezuelans. Church-sponsored neighborhood organizations, whether Catholic or Protestant, tried to respond to the slum dwellers' immediate needs, such as gaining title to their ranchos. The churches also sought to improve the future opportunities for the children of the lower class. For many migrants, the expectation of greater opportunities for children was the major reason for coming to the barrio in the first place. Barrio residents also benefited to a limited extent from programs sponsored by political parties. Despite the hardships imposed by poverty and the alienation produced by a consumer culture, Venezuelan barrios were surprisingly stable. These communities were socially and politically integrated into the local and national systems, and their inhabitants generally perceived even the mean circumstances of urban slum life as representing improvements over their previous living conditions.
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