This post is written in response to the Brent Green Party article “The Issue of Class in the Green Party Leadership Contest”.
Historically when mainstream commentators talked about the working class, they conjured up images of flat caps, soot-covered faces and dirty overalls. Nowadays with the UK’s manufacturing base largely gone, have the working class disappeared? Are we, as Tony Blair said, all middle class now?
Unfortunately all these definitions of class are rooted in academic sociological terms. They see class in terms of things like educational achievement, profession and income, or even social status and accent! Thus anyone who has a University degree and sits at a desk is declared “middle class”, yet skilled workers like electricians, who can earn substantially more than the average wage, remain working class in the eyes of the academics.
TUSC have a very simple response to this point: If your primary source of income is earned based on selling your labour to an employer, then you are classed as a worker. From this statement, it is clear that most people who may see themselves as middle class, perhaps based on having a good education or an above average wage, are in fact working class. Many of these people are only a few pay packets away from poverty, historically relying on the availability of cheap credit to buy their own home, pay for holidays and fund a more material lifestyle. In addition, those lucky enough to remain in work have seen their pay go down in real terms since the financial system crisis in 2008. For example, teaching was seen as a middle-class and respected profession, but following years of real-term pay cuts and declining working conditions, teachers organised in the unions are at the forefront of defending education from market forces; they are clearly part of the organised working class now.
However, there are many people who did not see the benefit from the credit-fuelled economic growth of the 90’s and 00’s. With the manufacturing base in this country destroyed by Thatcher, primarily to undermine the organised working class in the unions, the economy shifted towards a service-oriented one. Nowadays, the base of the ‘traditional’ working class is in places like supermarkets, call centres and public services. There are some of the lowest paid people in the country, so low that the government has to subsidise their pay through tax credits and benefits, effectively subsidising private company profit!
Historically the Labour Party was the political representative of the working class by primarily advancing the interests of the unions, who in turn represented the organised working class. Unfortunately, the Labour Party was hijacked in the 80’s by right-wing, careerist and pro-big business elements who have slowly strangled internal democracy, leaving trade unionists and ordinary members very little say in party policy. Neil Kinnock started the witch-hunt of socialists and working class fighters, egged on by the Tories and Murdoch Press in an effort to make the party ‘respectable’. The end result of this process was realised in New Labour, a party “completely relaxed with people getting filthy rich” and wedded to Tory policies of privatisation/PFI, imperialist wars and anti-trade union laws. The Labour Party had been transformed from a workers’ party to another party of corporate interests. Political apathy, vast inequality and market madness is their legacy.
It is clear to TUSC that this lack of working class political representation is the biggest crisis in politics today, and that is why our main task is to build a political alternative based on the working class, trade unions, socialists and independent activists.