Who Cares About the White Working Class?

In answer to that question, it seems absolutely nobody. Equal rights organisations talk about the rights of everyone but the impoverished white working class, and there are nine protected statuses which are protected in law, but class discrimination is not one of them. Why not?

There has obviously been a definite and concerted refusal to acknowledge growing class discrimination in the UK, at the same time as class discrimination, particularly the economic and political and even social disenfranchisement of the white, and other, working class people has got much worse over the last thirty five years or so. There is, as many of us know, a reason for this. It is ultimately to find another scapegoat now that racism is taboo amongst the wealthy and the chattering classes and the metropolitan liberals and those who claim to be concerned about poverty. That scapegoat has become the white working class, without anyone really saying it outright, but the sad fact is that the economic deprivation and widening gap between the wealthy and affluent on one side, and the growing mass of poor, low paid and those in very insecure employment, knows no colour or ethnicity. Those who claim to be concerned about black people’s and minority rights, women’s rights and so on, but never mention class discrimination at all, must be aware that if the rights and growing poverty of millions of poor white people obviously don’t matter to them at all, which is ironic when some of those people are part of equality organisations, that other poor minorities do suffer economically, too. If you were truly concerned for people, you would be concerned for all, not being divisive and selective.

Division is ultimately the goal of the media, the affluent and the establishment, so that poor, impoverished and marginalised groups compete against each other and blame each other for their poverty. I don’t think apportioning blame is necessary, but we do need to ask what our democracy has come to when more wealth and power becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands? It is not healthy, to be perfectly frank. Alongside this, ordinary working class people, in the broadest sense of that term, have been kept out of political power and key jobs in the media, and most people now accept that social mobility is just not happening for working class people at this time. We have, in many spheres, a pretend democracy that works for a relative few, and against the majority. This is not democracy. We also have governments that can spend billions of nuclear weapons, spying on people, giving tax breaks to rich people and foreign corporations, and yet not pay fair wages to its own people, and the sham of right wing governments claiming to be nationalistic and patriotic but which sells off gas and electric companies to foreign countries who charge extortionate rates.  

Class discrimination and class prejudice serves a number of functions in a society where, although there is a pretence to us all having the chance to get on and that social mobility is one of the cornerstones of modern democracy, those who don’t ‘get on’ are seen as losers and only ‘deserve’ to be paid low wages in ‘rubbish’ jobs, jobs like security, cleaning, shop assistants and care work and the like. So in effect, those who are seen as lazy and only do such jobs deserve to be paid low wages. It is another scam, basically. Someone has to do those jobs, and many of us have even if we don’t want to spend our lives doing them. But even if people do want to do a job like that all their lives, why can’t they be paid a decent living wage? We need cleaners, care workers, security guards, shop assistants, baristas and all those workers who keep places clean and safe and tidy, and look after our family members when ill or ageing. Who feels that CEOs and politicians and many other people at the top of the economic pecking order are paid far too much and most people at the bottom are paid far too little? Probably most people reading this. That has to be tackled. A fair living minimum wage must be implemented and a progressive tax, simply put, the more you earn the more you pay. Also, the end of offshore tax havens. If people want some economic justice, let’s start with those things before anything else. It’s time the wealth of this country was shared a bit more fairly and equally.

Let’s also tackle this almost pathological blind spot that the media, politicians and even sadly many equality organisations have about class discrimination. Why is it acceptable now that if someone is poor, white and working class, they don’t matter anymore? Ironically, the poor white working class is dismissed because of the colour of their skin, and the other prejudices and stereotypes that have been covertly, and not so covertly, laid at their door. Because, of course, if poor white working class people are racist, work-shy, criminal and indolent, they deserve all they get and the prejudice aimed at them isn’t prejudice anymore, it is merely stated truth. Sound familiar? That is exactly the same type of mentality that racists use against black people, Asian people and other groups. Rather ironic that those claiming to defend and fight for the rights of every marginalised group, except the white working class, seem to use the same type of prejudice and mindset against the white working class as the racists they claim to decry. This has to be tackled and spoken about, because it cannot be acceptable anymore to allow any equality organisation not to include class discrimination and the prejudices against white working class people as part of their fight for justice and equality. If needs be, we also need a working class led equality movement that actively works not only for others but for themselves too, because they will personally benefit from better wages, workers rights and the like. Not a talking shop, or merely someone reporting on the poverty we all know exists, but a movement that lobbies for a living minimum wage, workers rights defended in law and other things that create more economic equality between people. Because that is what all working class people want, a fairer economy that works for them, and not just the middle class and wealthy.

We know the Labour party has basically abandoned the poor white working class, and become a right of centre party for middle income people who might feel the Tory party are too nasty, but still want a party that looks after them and keep the economic system stable for the wealthy and affluent, at the expense of the poor, and that means all the poor, be they white, black, Asian and others. To replace concern for the economic, there now is the rise of identity politics, the idea that one’s ethnic identity is more important than any other consideration. The reality of identity politics is that it actually creates or helps create the problem it pretends to address, and is really more liberal diversionary tactics to continue to ignore the growing economic divisions between the poor and low paid on one side, and the middle class affluent and wealthy on the other. Until poor working class people of all ethnicities come together and challenge the economic deprivation that exists in all cities and amongst all ethnic communities, be they black, Asian, white or whatever, we will all be sidelined, marginalised and disenfranchised from decent jobs and the political discourse. This is about the betterment and advancement of all working class people. We quite simply want a bigger slice of the pie. The Middle class and particularly the very wealthy have had it very good for many years. Now we all want a bigger share of the successful economy we live in. It really is about economic justice and having a bigger political voice.

It is also obvious to many of us that the overarching social, political and economic system we have in the UK, the US and most modern developed Western countries is heavily rigged in favour of the wealthy and the affluent middle class, and sadly against the majority of the economically working class. To have wealth concentrated in some areas, it effectively has to be taken off poor areas. Sadly, to have very wealthy people, there has to be large pools of poor people. I don’t think anyone has to be a university educated economist to understand that. What is the answer? First to get this out in the open, and an end to the growing wealth inequality and political disenfranchisement of those at the bottom of the economic pecking order. Incidentally, I use the term ‘economic working class’ because that means all who are poor, black, white, Asian and whoever else, although I am often writing about the white working class. In truth, those who demonise the white working class and are indifferent to the prejudice and discrimination and economic and political disenfranchisement they are enduring, cannot truly care about ethnic minorities either. Selective concern sounds like the Victorian idea of the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ all over again. Who decides in this world who deserves compassion and who doesn’t anyway? Is that not the ultimate beginning of all bigotry and prejudice? Those who make or condone such hard hearted decisions, and wilful and blithe selectivity may one day find themselves on the receiving end of similar indifference and injustice.

So, nobody seems to care about the white working class, certainly not most of those in political parties, nor those in government and sadly even many in so called equality organisations and equality movements, who, and I am talking from experience here, will talk about almost anything and everything except the British class system, and its inherent social and economic discrimination and inequality. Why is the class system and class discrimination not discussed? Well, it is primarily because, for all the talk of equality for minorities, and for occasional vague talk and concern for ‘the poor’, Britain and other wealthy societies operate on the idea of low wages and struggle and poverty for a large chunk of the population, a middle class that has to buy into the reality that they accept such injustice to get on and turn a blind eye to it, and a very wealthy elite that is economically, politically and socially removed from the harsh decisions that are imposed on the poorest. I’m not saying something people don’t know here, but until those of us who are economically disadvantaged and politically disenfranchised challenge this, it’s unlikely anything will fundamentally change. And I say to anyone who is black or Asian, or any other ethnic group not white, for all the talk and so called action emanating from equality policies and equality organisations, has anything changed economically or socially for most black or Asian and other ethnic minority groups? I would suggest that not a great deal has actually changed, nor has the economy shifted in any real way or society shifted in any real way to change the economic inequality between the mostly wealthy and affluent white people, and the majority of those deemed economically working class. Talk is cheap, after all. Coupled with the fact the South East of England and London has most of the wealth and economic and political power, we have a massive imbalance in the British Isles which has to be tackled decisively, and not just with fine words spoken eloquently by middle class academics in universities or other hallowed halls of the mostly privileged. We’ve had an economy and political system that has only really worked for the very wealthy and affluent for over thirty five years, now it’s time we, who haven’t benefited from the wealth of the world’s fifth biggest economy, had more affluence and more economic justice.

Nobody cares about the white working class. But, ultimately, what goes around comes around, and one negativity strengthens and reinforces others, one acceptable prejudice gets swapped for another acceptable prejudice. This time the acceptably sanctioned prejudice is the white working class, the next time it’s immigrants, the next time after that is Muslims, and so it goes. To make a whipping boy or scapegoat of one group of people, or a number of poor and suffering people at the bottom of society shows that society for what it is. The UK is not a fair and reasonable society anymore. It has deteriorated since the late 1970s. It was not perfect before, of course. But when people cannot afford houses, there is a massive growth in low paid insecure unemployment, a widening gap between the rich and poor, austerity being imposed on the poorest and tax breaks for the affluent and the richest in society, ordinary people cannot really afford to get a university education anymore and any real idea of social mobility dead in the water, something must be done.

Nobody does anything for the white working class, or the economic working class in general, after all if they can’t escape poverty and low paid employment through their own efforts and merits, they deserve to struggle either in poverty or constantly low paying jobs. This is the new way of looking at the working class, that if we can’t ‘escape’ our ‘awful’ working class backgrounds and join the liberal middle class, we are beneath contempt. So, all those working class jobs we have the temerity not to escape from deserve to be low paid, and rightly so. As ever, most institutionalised racism and class discrimination and sexism is really underpinned by the most important consideration of all, the economic one. Dismiss people as somehow less than the affluent white middle class person, and they can be treated as second or third class citizens and paid accordingly. Strange how often the most hardest and dirtiest and most back breaking jobs are almost always the lowest paid, and the cushiest and easiest jobs further up the scale are much better paid. Perhaps we need to ask why the difference between jobs at the bottom of a corporation, and those in the middle and particularly those at the top are so much better paid, especially when people in the middle and the top can be paid very well for lacklustre performance or even failure and people at the bottom have to prove they are a valuable asset and sometimes subject to all kinds of rigorous performance tests to make them perform better and better for no improvement in wages.

Nobody speaks up for the white working class, in fact the mainstream media has gone almost silent on the subject of social class and systematic class discrimination, but occasionally the media points its accusatory fingers at some criminal from a council estate and tries to tar everyone with the same brush who happens to also come from a council estate. This allows governments and all political parties to effectively abandon the economic working class to poverty, despair, low wage jobs and lack of any real help, whilst then claiming that those people simply cause their own poverty and their own problems. Yet again, the parallels with the racist mindset cannot but be noticed. Racism and all prejudices are very similar in operation, and the almost pathological and wilful denials of prejudice and discrimination whilst many of the most obstinate deniers are from those who at the very least turn a blind eye to prejudice, or perhaps even benefit from it in some way. It’s a time honoured tradition.

Few could care less about the economic working class, but they are the people who serve your coffee, who keep your streets clean, put out fires and pull you from burning buildings, clean the offices and buildings and places you work in, volunteer in charity shops raising money, have to endure economic struggle often in and out of work, they are the ones who often work as long and as hard as you but for low wages and have to pay their taxes by law, unlike many of the very wealthiest who sneer at or otherwise dismiss those who aren’t privileged enough to be middle class or born with a silver spoon in their mouths like the elites and super rich. That’s who the working class are, the people who keep society running, whilst being condemned or ignored by the media and the political class.

If they don’t care about us, the economic working class who are the majority, then how about we start working together and creating business cooperatives that work for us, where we get most of the profits, where there is less hierarchy and we work for the group instead of a top heavy over privileged and over paid management and ‘self made entrepreneur’ sitting in an office smoking expensive cigars and taking three month holidays on expensive yachts whilst others are slaving to do all the work and not getting any kind of real reward for that. It’s time we asked ourselves, the majority of us who do all the hard work and get the least reward or opportunities, what sort of society we want. The unfair and unjust one we have at the moment that rewards a relative few for the labour of the many, or one that is fairer for many more people? Wealth does not trickle down from the rich to the poor, it floats up in the form of unfair tax breaks and other stealth legislation that benefits the already wealthy and penalises the already poor and those who struggle to make ends meet even in work.

We have established that nobody really cares about the white working class, and we can safely say that if one major group is disenfranchised and marginalised from better jobs and the political process, nobody really cares about other poor economically working class ethnic minority groups either. The political class, equality movements, the media and business needs to be more open to ordinary working class people of all ethnic backgrounds, and including white working class people, and not closed shops to right-wing mostly white wealthy people who are interested only in carving out a career even at the expense of their conscience and morality, and everybody else. It’s time those of us who cared for more than money and social status and the attainment of wealth at any price began to work together. There is more to life than money, after all.