The Working Class Are Not A Problem To Be Solved


We are unlike any other nation, whilst only 25pc of our workforce are employed in manual occupations, 60pc of us believe we are yet to be liberated to the middle classes. Consider we don’t wish to be. The definition of one’s class is said to be distinguishable by occupation and assets, those who have nothing to sell other than their labour and skills. The definition is outdated, and yet the worldly perception of a quintessential British worker remains a salt-of-the-earth steal worker labouring to feed hungry children with mismatched shoes and mucky faces. But for Britons, working class is no longer a tax bracket or a Dick Van Dyke typecast; it’s a deeply rooted identity. We’ve clung to the Marxist term but dropped the definition. We are unlike any other nation because we are living in the shadows of past generations and adopting their hardships proudly, as our own.

In the political stratosphere the working class vote is the Holy Grail, a party that appeals to workers will hold government majority and continue to hold it as long as the workers are mobilised to vote for them. Brexit drew a voting turnout not seen since the 1970 general election with working-class voters voting in higher numbers than they do in general elections. The phenomenon triggered knee-jerk reactions from Remain campaigners who saddled the alleged working class Brexiteers with xenophobic labels. It ignited political dialogue across the country; it divided our nation into two groups and struck a political civil war. The casualties left politically homeless.

Trump utilised workers during his presidential campaign, picking up voters dropped as the Democrats shift from a glorification of the working-class ethos to middle-class left wing champagne socialism. Trump, a nonpolitician, appealed to workers because he spoke to them, he didn’t pander to them. He identified the political homelessness created by Obama’s lukewarm presidency and promised America 25 million new jobs over the next decade. It would be the most jobs created under any U.S. president, topping even the nearly 23 million jobs added under President Bill Clinton during the boom years of the 1990s. It was skillfully timed; 1 in 10 Americans were unemployed and millions had lost their homes. Trump tapped into America’s economic anxiety, and knuckled down on the Rust Belt. He won the election by turning counties in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (manufacturing states) from blue to red.

There’s something unappetising about the middle-class obsession with workers, and maybe that’s why Labour’s losing namesake members. This isn’t a simple case of political swapisies; the shift of our worker communities turning blue is largely due to them being turned off red. After all, Labour aren’t promising jobs, they’re promising unattainable pipe-dreams. Labour MP Phil Wilson flagged up a voter swing, speaking candidly after last year’s snap election, “for Labour to win a sustainable victory at the next election, we do not just need a middle-class hero, we need more importantly a working-class hero.”

Delivering working class policies has its challenges. In her maiden speech at conference 2016, Theresa May made clear ambition to rebrand the Conservatives as “the workers’ party”. She assured the public with a commitment to guarantee all existing EU legal rights in British law, so that rules and protections for workers would continue to apply after Brexit. She’d successfully achieved something Corbyn, Miliband and even Thatcher failed to do. She established poll leads amongst C2 (skilled workers) and DE (semi-skilled/unskilled workers, unemployed) voters. However, the workers’ proposals felt a considerable pushback from business lobbyists. May’s pledge to ensure workers a place on corporate boards was watered down to the point where you can scarcely identify pieces of the original policy floating around in bureaucracy.

With the dawn of automation mounting on the horizon, we’re entering a new revolution that will throw workers back onto the political tennis court. Five times more working class jobs are expected to be lost through automation than were lost in the downfall of the coal and steel industries in the 1980s. With Conservative seats primed to be the most affected by automation, the next election manifesto could make or break the party if they don’t stay ahead of progress. Opinion polling from insight agency Opinium, showed that almost seven in ten people think the government should provide money for retraining if someone loses their job due to automation. The Government must focus on schemes to retrain workers in areas unaffected by automation, as well as influencing employers to retrain their workforce to progress with automation, should they choose to replace manpower for machine.

The blurred lines of our class system is about to enter a new chapter and our generation will face its own hardships. We’re turning a corner, driving into a new revolution that will likely affect one in five jobs across the UK. Nevertheless we can acknowledge industry is looking to Automation to maximise profit, increased profits permit corporations to introduce new products, thus requiring more workers. Leaps in technological automation have consistently resulted in huge gains for humankind, and for this, we must thank the workers who carried us through the growing pains of industrial progress, as they’ll continue to lead Britain into the next era. The working class are not a problem to be solved; edging forward into political and economical uncertainty, they’re our ace in the hole and we’ll need them more than ever.

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  1. I agree with very little of this, especially as just over half of all children ( the next generation? ) are being raised on welfare, defined by me(!) as the family being in receipt of a means-tested benefit not including child benefit. Dependency, not class, is the battle ground – and Labour have seized the uplands of it.
    On automation, the levels of subsidy are appalling imv, farm subsidies being the worst, which have mechanised and destroyed rural jobs at a rate much faster than if progress was left to the free market of capitalists risking their own money. Other drives of automation are minimum wage legislation and high taper rates on benefit claims – that really goof worker you have on 16 hrs a week can’t be persuaded to go full-time because of the withdrawal rate of benefits, get a machine in instead.
    But the columnist can certainly write and deliver an uplifting message, so I’m glad that she’s on the side of freedom.

  2. My country has no class-based personal destiny (except that grafted on top of it by modern welfare dependency). No royalty nor peerage, no one holding you down, unless you buy into concepts like “permanent disability” or the rhetoric of demagogues.

    I agree with Charlotte’s interpretation of how Trump got elected, except that no one voted based on the number of new jobs in that meaningless and unenforceable promise. Less important than the unemployment level under Obama Economic Malaise is that 94 million Americans simply withdrew from the labor force. Charlotte omits mention of how uniquely bad Hillary was as a candidate.

    Uplifting messages are fine, but those that weave together vague images of social classes do not uplift me. A Republican talking about what he’s going to do for the “middle class” is a Republican who is going to fight using terms defined by the adversary.

    • No Kennedys or Bushes or Clintons where you live? Anyone who says “my country has no class system” is either exaggerating for effect or incredibly naive. Brits like to wail and beat their chests about such things, the rest of the world just gets on with life.

      And this is good old Boston,
      The home of the bean and the cod,
      Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots,
      And the Cabots talk only to God.

      • What I said: “no class-based personal destiny…no one holding you down.” Teddy Kennedy, Jeb Bush, and Hillary Clinton were permanently unable to grab the brass ring despite aristocratic surnames, and Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey were able to bull their way into someone’s “upper class” just by making enough of what people wanted. The Ford family was no big deal until Henry got serious about the assembly line.

        I did not say there are not old family names full of people trying to live off their laurels though they don’t even know how to sustain the family business. Good luck to them. Where I live, the Sununu brand was exhausted a decade ago and the only one in the news is the intellectual runt of the litter.

        Again, the only force keeping an American in his place is our wage and jobs laws, which knock the lower rungs off the career ladder; and the notion that the majority hates everyone of your skin color, which is only poison if you drink it.

        • Which differs from the position in the UK … how exactly? You’re doing fine when you talk about the US, where you have a certain amount of knowledge, it’s when you talk about the UK that you veer off into the realms of Mary Poppins. Which isn’t surprising, as that’s the image of the UK that Guardianistas hold and love to spout about.

          • You appeared to be contrasting the US with the UK (the subject of the article), by starting your post with “My country”. Apologies if I’ve misunderstood your intentions.

          • The point of my original post was to say that here is one American on which this article falls flat. The reason it does is that classes are presented as a done deal, omitting any explanation of what they are, why they might be binding, and how they might have the attributes claimed. It was a comment on the prose and not the UK. But I do “have a certain amount of knowledge” on the UK as well, and I’m with Rhoda (7:23 am).

          • FWIW, I entirely agree with Rhoda, too. My objection to the article is the suggestion that Britain is somehow unique because it has a class structure that the rest of the world has discarded as a Victorian irrelevance, whereas in my experience every human society (larger than a small village) has similar structures with similar effects – Brits (particularly those of the left) are just a lot more prone to beat themselves up about it.

            I still think you’re glossing over the degree to which class affects US society (while recognising your experience and expertise is greater than mine). “Teddy Kennedy, Jeb Bush, and Hillary Clinton were permanently unable to grab the brass ring despite aristocratic surnames” but many would consider that Senator, Governor and Secretary of State may not constitute the ‘brass ring’, but should at least count as a near miss. Another President named Kennedy, Bush or Clinton in the next 30 years may not be a certainty, but the odds against are not all that long.

  3. There’s some good sentiments in here. Where it goes wrong is the idea of government doing retraining.

    We’ve tried this for decades and I see no evidence that YOPs, YTS, evening classes, boosting university funding, or the recent apprenticeships push have been anything but expensive failures. The only thing that seems to work is handing large amounts of money to City and Guilds. And I’m not sure about that.

    My wife went to the local college about an evening class and they were teaching a web design technology that was no longer supported by the producer. Industry had ditched it 5 years earlier. Government is always going to catch onto what industry wants when it’s peaking, so by the time that feeds into action about 2 years later, industry is already moving on from it.

    What we should do is have the equivalent of student loans for private training. Measure the value of some certificates – what’s an HGV license or an MCSE certification worth to employers – and then lend money accordingly.

    • Yes, from Jimmy Carter’s CETA onward, “government job training” has always been nothing but a sop you have to throw at Democrats to get them to support a bill that makes the economy more free. The only “job skill” that these programs teach candidates are techniques to unionize a work force, and the only thing the teachers know about “work” is that you punch a time clock.