Class and Britain

Yikes… heavily neglected the boys in the last couple of months. No, you puerile infant, I meant the journalists three, Jenkins, Freedland and Mardell, my dark horsemen of the news print apocalypse, though adversely fighting the end with robust and admirable works. It was possibly a flawed concept to try and take on the same issues as they did, article for article, as more often than not I found myself with less to say in order not to repeat them.

I like to find a novel angle but all too often enough they were just covering the bases, and so this blog finds the adequate impetus to evolve again. Delighted as I am to continue selectively challenging their works I will also apply this focus to any writer encountered and… oh, look at that. Ellie Mae O’Hagan for the Guardian on class in Britain. A contentious subject if ever there was, no less from a young lady who works for Unite, the UK’s largest union, and is active with UK Uncut.

And she also writes for the New Statesman, Union News (trade union publication), New Left Project (socialist politics publication), False Economy (anti-austerity publication) and the Red Pepper (god knows, somehow feminist, green and libertarian publication). I’m not one for quickly labelling people but the picture building here is pretty clear, she is no lightweight, and it won’t surprise anyone to know that in this article O’Hagan is calling for a reaffirmation of working class solidarity and action.

That’s the long and short of it. Earlier, David Boyle earned her pinko gaze for suggesting that the middle-class is a necessary buffer in the protection of the working classes from ruling and financial elites. I agree and disagree with Boyle. The middle-class are certainly not conscious saviours but there are transmittable values between the two and the middle-class are politically a more potent force. It can be argued they potentially, indirectly preserve the working class to a degree.

But while I therefore also don’t disagree with O’Hagan’s critique, that the working class don’t need the middle to serve in this function and that working class interests are best served by the working class, her article is tremendously problematic for me. Not the least because it highlights the value of strike action in the 1880/90’s when unionised matchbox girls and dock workers laid the ground work for 8 hour days, holiday pay and the minimum wage, assuredly amongst other perks.

How the value of modern Western union actions stack up against the truly worthy battles of that day is something I think about quite a lot. I usually conclude that it does not stack up well at all, which is a shame. I appreciate the need to have a thriving, living defence of an historically vulnerable section of society but that defence needs to be considered and tempered like all things. Apologies for being selective and anecdotal, but Tube drivers on C£45k p/a don’t need to strike. Yet they do.

O’Hagan’s implication that the middle-class can be equally oppressive of the working class in working environments is also so profoundly anecdotal however, that I’ll forgive myself. Just to remonstrate briefly – I have had some superb middle-class employers who paid and treated me well, but the time I worked at a call-centre was misery under the boot heel of an angst ridden working man. That may mean something to me, but taken on its own it has no value as evidence.

She moves on to rightly indicate that working class cultures and values are being eradicated in an overemphasis on their middle class alternatives. And though O’Hagan is partly right in indicating Thatcher as an early cause for this, we can find inherent bias in the omission of Blair’s tenure and his middle class building efforts. These were in the vein of university attendance hikes and the killing blows to manufacturing and industry. Thatcher didn’t actually finish the job.

None of this is why I’m ultimately pursuing her article though. You see, it all begins with a notion that I’m quite uncomfortable with, as she quotes the lugubrious Owen Jones of “Chavs” fame in her opening paragraph, “To say that class doesn’t matter in Britain is like saying wine doesn’t matter in France.” It’s not just that this statement is so absurdly unscientific in its analysis that it is preposterously worthless, but more that I personally don’t believe in the sentiment.

Or I don’t want to. It’s said we live in the post-ideological age, which is bad news for O’Hagan and comrades, but that isn’t enough for me. I want to live in the post-everything age. Post-ideology, post-class, post-patriarchy, post-feminism… they are all in their “pre” or “present” iterations nothing more than implacable dividing lines and it doesn’t matter what side of that line you are on. Socialists often believe they hold the common, egalitarian ground but they don’t serve everyone, not by a distance.

In fact Marxism, the theory so laden with intrinsic class antagonisms and the need to remove them through struggle and arch-socialist measures, is so circular in its logic that I’m always surprised when intelligent people use it in constructive thought processes. The central theme of workers being the subjects of history is subjective and ignores the clear exchanges of influence between workers and power structures throughout history.

I’ll be the first to admit that my desire to particularly reject class notions is because they make me feel distinctly icky. I don’t want to live in that country or call its principles mine and perhaps it’s easier to deny these things than confront and fix them. No wait, it definitely is. I know this because the piece I’ve been working on for counterpart blog TranquilSigh has been such a f*@king pain in the arse to write that I’m currently procrastinating with this article.

Aware as I am of the slight contradiction in a post-ideology ideology, I’ve been exploring ideas of individualism and self-interest that can be functionally tied into a model with a strong societal emphasis. I’m pretty sure the outcome will differ from traditional models of ethical and regulated capitalism, which I feel in its proper incarnation achieves the right balance between the individual and society. But fewer seem capable of distinguishing between the C word and neo-liberalism these days, so on to the next phase.

Seriously… Coming soon to TranquilSigh. I promise. Unless I’m intellectually or logically defeated by the challenge, which is not beyond the realm of possibility.

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1 Comment

Filed under Current Affairs, Politics

One response to “Class and Britain

  1. Pingback: Corporatism Incorporated | prolongedsigh

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