Yet Another Rant About Class From Me

Because you’ve not had enough of those, recently, right?
We’ve been hearing a lot from the right wing of the Labour party recently about how “we must listen to the legitimate concerns of the white working class”, and so on. Of course one of the reasons they have to listen is because there’s now a “we” and “them”, because the institutions that used to allow working class people* to become MPs have been eroded, in large part by the right wing of the Labour party, but let’s pass that by.

(*Well, accurately, working-class *men*. Not all the changes of the last few decades have been negative).

Of course, this “listening to the legitimate concerns” only applies when those legitimate concerns are people being “legitimately concerned” that black people live in their area, and not to people being legitimately concerned that their house has been destroyed in flooding caused by climate change, or that their children who joined the army because it was the only steady job they could get have been shipped off to fight in unending wars with Middle Eastern countries. Those aren’t legitimate concerns, that’s people being unrealistic and not understanding the big picture. But we have to listen to the *racist* legitimate concerns. Rachel Reeves doing an Enoch Powell tribute act, but without Powell’s oratorical skill or genuine conviction, is what the working classes want. Obviously.

Or rather “we” (I’m not one of the “we” and never will be…) have to listen to the concerns we’ve made up. Out of our heads.

Take for example Jolyon Green, the former head of press for the Labour party, who tweeted yesterday:
You’re a G4S security guard working nights for 18k a year. Labour leadership think your firm is a “war criminal”. Why would you vote Labour?

Now, I’ve never worked that particular job. But I’ve worked jobs as hard, and for less money. And I’ve worked for companies that are at least as horrible as G4S. (Mr Green, of course, has literally never had a job that wasn’t in politics or the media, but of course his two years as the producer of The Sunday Programme for GMTV, or his time as the head of the Labour Party’s media monitoring unit make him uniquely qualified to opine on the travails of low-paid manual workers).

And you know what? If, when I’d been in those jobs, I’d heard the Labour party saying the companies I was working for should be prosecuted (and some of them should — I worked for several months in a call centre for a telecoms company that routinely defrauded its customers, for example), I’d have been delighted.

When you’re working for a company that docks your wages if you’re literally a second late, that makes you get permission for toilet breaks and times them (or doesn’t let you take toilet breaks at all), that makes you work unpaid overtime, or all the other normal humiliations and injustices that are heaped upon everyone working on low wages (I don’t know if any or all of these are normal practice for G4S, but they’re standard in so many jobs I can’t imagine they’re not), then you’re not going to think of your employer as “your firm”, but as the bosses. What you’ll feel isn’t loyalty but resentment.

It’s possible to feel loyalty if you’re working for an organisation that treats you well. I’ve worked in well-paid jobs where I was allowed a large amount of latitude in my work, where turning up twenty minutes late because you got stuck in traffic was just something that happened, rather than a cause for a written warning and disciplinary measures. You don’t resent your employers the same way in that situation. I imagine that Green, who has worked his entire life in jobs like that — and almost all of it in politics, where your work actually matters, and is for a cause you believe in — identifies a great deal with his employers.
He might well feel upset when people call his former bosses war criminals. He might even imagine that someone working for G4S at minimum wage might feel the same way.

But I doubt they would. I suspect — though as I say I’ve never done the job myself (members of my family have, and hated it) — that working for G4S isn’t like being in charge of Labour’s media strategy. I suspect it’s more similar to the job I had where I had to spend all day every day typing customer numbers into a computer for minimum wage, and where each customer number I typed in would mean a customer being referred to a debt collection agency. A debt collection agency of precisely the type that was threatening me at the same time.
(I only did that particular job for a couple of months, because I couldn’t morally justify it. I only did it at all because my wife’s immigration status meant we couldn’t claim any benefits at all, so I literally had to do it or starve. That I did it even under those conditions, though, still haunts me more than a decade on, and contributes significantly to my self-loathing. I was forced by hunger into complicity with evil, but I was still complicit. Anyway…)

And this is something that a lot of our political classes — on all sides — can’t really understand. They can’t grasp, truly, that a job can be something you hate, how you can resent having to do something horrible just in order to survive.

I mean, just look at the structure of that tweet. You’re doing an unpleasant job for which you’re underpaid. Labour say your employers are bad. Why would you vote Labour? — that’s a question you can only ask if the idea of doing an unpleasant job or being underpaid is something purely hypothetical to you. And yet at the same time it’s trying to use the imagined concerns of this hypothetical working class person as a moral shield against all criticism. How *dare* you criticise that massive multinational? Don’t you know they’re the *employer* of many *working class people*? If you criticise the bosses, you’re criticising the workers, and you mustn’t do that. After all, the workers have legitimate complaints.

It’s an absolutely ludicrous way of thinking, and yet to a greater or lesser extent it’s endemic.

The specific people I’ve mentioned here are Labour “moderates”, and the authoritarian wing of Labour seems to be the *most* guilty of this particular kind of thinking right now, but it’s there in all parties, and in all wings of all parties, to an extent. It’s a problem that’s developed in the last couple of decades, thanks to the development of a specific political class.

Perhaps instead of the professional political classes talking about “listening to the working classes’ legitimate concerns”, and then making up stuff out of their heads… perhaps, just perhaps, we could try to create a system that actually allows working class people to *become* politicians? A system that doesn’t involve Oxford PPE graduates “listening to” working class people and then speaking for them, but that amplifies their voices and cuts out the middleman?

Nah. Never happen. It’s not a legitimate concern.

This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Yet Another Rant About Class From Me

  1. patrickhadfield says:

    A truly excellent rant. Thanks!

  2. crypticmirror says:

    I agree with everything in this post, but I do have to go one step further. There is one piece of the jigsaw Labour is, or at least was, ignoring. Shutting down unethical employers is a good thing and a lot of Labour voters want that, but they also want another job to go to instead, or at least be reassured they won’t be put on workfare forced labour schemes or given starvation and homeless level benefits while they try and find that new job. Labour signed up to austerity lite, and a huge chunk of it refused to take the opportunity to cripple the latest round of cuts by abstaining on the vote. That has to end. There has to be a well funded social safety net which has no element of coercion within it otherwise all that is happening is that wages grow lower and working conditions worsen.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I absolutely agree. I’m a Lib Dem, but I’ve been pushing within the party for us to support basic income and get rid of conditionality in benefits. I believe the Labour left are also looking at that, and the Greens and the SNP already support it. Making sure everyone is able to feed and house themselves even if they turn down abusive employment is the only way to make a start at fixing the system.

  3. Pingback: Interesting Links for 30-09-2016 | Made from Truth and Lies

  4. jolyongreen says:

    Not my finest tweet as I said myself on Twitter the same day. Amazed you thought it worthy of a blog. And for the record I have not worked in politics my whole life.

Comments are closed.