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 The definition is outdated, and yet the worldly perception of a quintessential British worker remains a salt-of-the-earth steal worker labouring to feed hungry children with mismatched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.