What happened to the working class?
In this section I will draw on the stats quoted in Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race when Reni Eddo-Lodge discusses the British working class. The shaping of the argument is entirely mine, however.
The myth of the white working class
First, the old industrial working class in Birmingham, Northern England, North Wales and Glasgow have gone. The financialisation and flight of heavy industry to cheaper climes of the 1980’s destroyed the industrial base they depended on. There is a lasting legacy of severe deprivation in these areas. Ironically, given the Brexit vote, these areas received large sums of regeneration cash from the European development funds. You can imagine how the modern Tories would have made sure a good part of this money went in their own pockets, but this didn’t happen.
Quite rightly the people living in these areas feel abandoned. This is because they were. Thatcher’s government talked about managed decline for places like Merseyside, which was arrested to some extent by EU money and the intervention by unlikely people like Michael Heseltine after the riots in the 1980s.The places that didn’t riot, or weren’t financial hubs like Leeds or Manchester, were left to slowly crumble. Blair did nothing for these people but cynically banked their loyalty to gain power. He used these reliable constituencies as rewards for his place men and women to stand in. Those who stood are the people we now see yearning for a return of blairism and the power they once had.
The abandoned are the people who are vulnerable to specious arguments about immigration. These are the folks who live in sink estates, where the only routes out of poverty are being good at sport, selling drugs, or joining the armed services. These are the places where schools are supposed to get by on shrinking budgets, and what little opportunity that might come from education is hard to capitalise on. These communities are isolated and struggling.
These are the people that are condescendingly called the white working class, that unashamed empire socialist cynics and fascist demagogues call on when they moan about the metropolitan elite and political correctness. The word here is not elite, so much as metropolitan. The large cities still have low paid jobs and transport infrastructure that more or less works. The new face of the working class is there, for demographic reasons discussed elsewhere in this essay it has far more BAME people, immigrants, and women in it. So, it’s obvious, the concerns of the rising working class in those metropolitan areas will be more about issues of police violence, racism, urban poverty, sexual discrimination and so on because there are disproportionately more people from those demographics in it. The disingenuous use of the word elite is to divide us, and silence the articulate voices of the urban working class.
Where are they now?
So, who are the working class in the UK now? Who lives in the urban centres and is easily drawn into the service industries?
Firstly, who is poor, who is marginalised, who is subject to the hyper exploitation talked about earlier? A disproportionate number of BAME people, who are also the ones who disproportionately are dying from Covid-19 is in the new class who do the work of modern post-industrial capitalism. Their class, and their hyper exploitation, makes them extremely vulnerable to the virus, and to all manner of illegal employment practices, such as not making protective equipment available, won’t get reported because they need the work and hyper exploitation goes with fear.
Similarly we have seen the rise of what is termed the precariat, a portmanteau word combining precarious and proletariat. People who find it hard to fit into the day today work world but still need to eat, so they become Uber drivers, or pound their bikes up and down the pavement for Deliveroo. These people are even more marginalised, and even more at risk, both from physical dangers like Covid and sharp practice from amoral bosses.
The precariat, and the other hyper exploited parts of the modern working class, is huge but unseen. It isn’t organised and at the moment lacks a voice. People are beginning to organise, Deliveroo workers managed to get slightly better conditions recently, but it’s a long road.
So, we must not abandon places like Wigan to the racists. The people there need something to build upon, whether it’s the green new deal, or something else that comes from actually talking to them and seeing what they need. By the same token we must acknowledge the changed face of the working class means their voices are increasingly not white, or some racialised version of the term English.
British jobs for British workers
This is more empire socialist code. British means white in this context. This is something you hear from Steven Kinnock, and most Labour MPs at one time or another. The most recent example of this I can recall was dear old Gordon Brown again, but I do remember even saint Jeremy saying some things that were quite close to this too. All the way back in 2009 oil companies were shipping in Portuguese and Italian workers because they were cheaper than British ones, and also ununionised. Instead of campaigning to make sure all workers were on the same benefits Brown said British jobs for British Workers, which only goes to emphasise the points made earlier about dividing the working class on race grounds making it easier to exploit people. A moral, correct, position would have been to outlaw the creation of the different contracts with different terms and conditions, instead of trying to make sure British workers were first in the queue to have the piss taken out of them by the employers.
This use of “British” is very common in the Labour Party and often goes unquestioned. It’s part of the time worn empire-tinted goggles that they wear all the time.