Having spent a lot of time thinking about what equality actually means when it’s tackled by movements and organisations and even governments and political parties, and also a fair bit of time writing about it, I have come to a number of conclusions. They won’t surprise some people, in fact they probably won’t really surprise anybody who is truly concerned about tackling social, educational, employment and of course economic inequality in the UK.
Surely equality is an extremely noble sentiment? Well, I would suggest it is. Is it actually possible in the world at large? I don’t think it is. Is it actually possible in the UK? I don’t think it is, in fact I don’t think it is anywhere. But before you misquote me, or put only those words in my mouth, hear me out. I do believe in equality, I do believe in racial equality, I do believe in class equality, I do believe that women doing the same job as men should be paid the same, I do believe that every human being should be treated equally and fairly before the law. We know that this isn’t happening at this time, and it has never happened. But in spite of this, we can and should work towards making things fairer for people at the bottom of the economic pile, whether they are in work or out of work.
Equality organisations and movements, after studying them for some time, seem to be repositories of poverty and social exclusion statistics and numbers of painful stories about people living in poverty largely because of government mismanagement or even wilful persecution. Now this is all well and good, but there are a number of problems with it all. Most of the statistics and painful stories those of us who are working class already know anyway, and if this is so, what exactly is the point of regaling things we already know? There has been a proliferation of equal rights legislation for forty years and yet things for millions of people have noticeably got much worse. Our political and economic system has allowed the very wealthiest individuals and national and global corporations to exploit cheap labour without paying any real kind of fair tax, whilst UK governments actually have to top up low wages because big businesses are not paying anywhere near what a living wage should be, utilities like gas and electricity are far too expensive and public transport is too expensive. At the same time, workers rights have been seriously eroded, people are often in casual short term and even zero hours contracts jobs that have little if any real future in them, whilst the wages of the middle class, but not all of them, and particularly the very wealthiest have grown exponentially and shockingly, some of the CEOs of major companies and corporations now getting many hundreds of times the salary the lowest paid worker in the same company gets. The lower down the corporate scale you go, the harder and more stress people seem to get for often low pay, and the higher you go, the more people get paid, sometimes for lacklustre performance or even failure. To the majority of us this simply does not make sense, and nor is it fair either. In the long term, I think this is not a viable economic plan at all. For healthy economies, there needs to be more money in the bottom and the middle to truly create economic and social stability. The last forty years of neoliberal ‘free market’ economics which has simply made the rich much richer, and many millions of people much poorer or struggling even in work to make ends meet, get on the property ladder, pay for a decent higher education and plan for any kind of future, is simply not working for the majority of us.
It is now that those of us who see this as unjust and unfair make a stand, however that manifests itself. Peaceful protest, genuine campaigns for a proper minimum wage and of course to make corporations who do business in the UK to pay proper levels of tax. We, those who are being paid low wages, those who cannot find decent employment, who are being persecuted because we are disabled, or because we are women paid less than men, or black and Asian people struggling in long term unemployment and of course the whole of the ‘economic’ working class at large who are living through an age of artificially imposed austerity whilst the very richest and the corporations are being paid more than they ever have. If we are the fifth biggest economy, as we keep being told, then it’s time we demanded a bigger slice of the pie. It’s also time for people who have compassion for others to demand more economic justice for those who have borne the brunt of economic failure and mismanagement by the rich and the political class. But it means honesty and no more faux left wing sentiments from people who couldn’t care less. Even beyond left and right wing, it merely means people deciding between right and wrong.
Did someone mention ‘class’? Oh yes, I did. How careless of me. It seems no one in the mainstream media, any of the national newspapers or MP's in any of the big political parties do though. Yes, the elephant in the room of the equal society, indeed the Achilles heel itself, is the now almost pathological and certainly studious refusal by anyone to mention class as an issue. This used to anger me and upset me a lot, but it doesn’t anymore. I will simply write and write about it till more people wake up to it. Some to shock and anger, some to surprise, some to embarrassment. When a writer such as myself purposely writes about something which most of the media, the political and academic world studiously and obviously ignore or simply won’t acknowledge, you might think this makes things more difficult. On the contrary, I am brought to George Orwell’s saying ‘In an age of universal deceit, the truth becomes revolutionary’ and I am inclined to think this is true today as it was when he said it. When whole groups of people decide in some way to deny the truth, for usually unjust ends, or go along with the more absurd pronouncements of political correctness to shout down people who may have a different opinion, and words like ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’ are bandied about to silence people unjustly, sooner or later people with common sense, courage or the gumption to challenge such blind ignorance and arrogance have to speak out, not even to disagree but merely to speak the truth.
For me, it is the easiest thing in the world to speak honestly and truthfully when so many people in the media, politics and even in general society speak or write what they think makes them look clever, or tuned in or even something which antagonises others, and of course just to silence anyone challenging the prevailing political winds that blow at this time.
Now, to make something perfectly clear, I am not against an equal society, in fact as a working class person whose parents come from the old traditional working class who did fairly humdrum jobs that a few generations ago were for life, I actively welcome it. But in really giving this some thought for a long time now, I am given to ask the question, what exactly is the equal society, what does it mean and what will it amount to? In fact, what is all the plethora of equal rights legislation and equality organisations and equality movements all about, come to that? Of course, it is all about bringing all the poor and the economic working class to every kind of equality, be that educational, economic, employment and all other equal opportunities.... isn’t it?
I have written to quite a few equal rights organisations and equal rights movements in the last few years often asking them about the lack of articles and general stuff on the class system and class discrimination. In nearly all cases, I have rarely got a reply from any of them, not even a courteous one, I have just been completely ignored. Sometimes, I just write to those who ignore me, half humorously, asking why they are treating me unequally and what happened to my equal rights. But of course, there is a serious side to it all. I’m aware, as many of us now are, that equality legislation and most of the movements and organisations are not really what they appear to be. In fact, simply put from one angle, the growth and proliferation of equal rights legislation and many such equal rights organisations has actually mirrored the decline of any real equality at all, particularly economic equality. Things have got much much better for the very wealthy, better for many of the affluent middle class and much worse economically for many of those who comprise the economic working class, be that black people, Asian people, white people and new immigrants. Workers rights have been almost completely eroded, employment for the working class has become basically casual, low wage, often temporary and even the horror of zero hours contracts. No such thing for some middle class people and particularly rich people, politicians, judges, chief police officers, principals of universities, and all of those very well paid jobs at the top of society that seem more and more to go to select cliques of people who went to expensive private schools that few of us get near. I would say that the much vaunted equal society is actually now circa 2016 UK one of the most unequal societies of all the post industrial modern nations, excluding America. I believe they have the dubious honour of being the wealthiest nation with the biggest economic divisions. But, as ever, when it comes to negative honours, were racing right behind them.
We then may ask what exactly is the point of the much vaunted equality legislation and all kinds of equality movements if things have got much worse? I will put some links at the bottom of this essay so you can have a look for yourselves, and I also ask you to look again at the 9 protected statuses of equality. Have a good look and then see if anything is missing. I actually feel the problem with most equality organisations and those who make equal rights legislation is that they don’t really want any kind of economic equality at all, just a kind of vague social equality that is largely irrelevant and doesn’t really make sense anyway. No one has the right to confer equality anyway, and the fact that most of the people in equality movements tend to be white, affluent and middle class could also be a problem. Very rarely if ever do middle class people recognise class as an issue, and if you don’t believe me take a look at some of those links below. You won’t find much about systemic class discrimination or the rigged economic system linked to class prejudice and class discrimination there.
It is becoming obvious that there is no genuine desire whatsoever for any kind of real equality for poor people, black people, Asian people, white working class people and anyone else who doesn’t fit the bill, nor equal pay for women. If it was going to happen we would be moving towards that and simply put have a left wing party eyeing up being in government to do just that. When ordinary grassroots democracy starts making a comeback, the whole political system, most of the media and the establishment have fought it tooth, nail and claw. I wonder why?
You may decide what the elephant in the room is, but there is certainly one giant in there, and possibly a number of them which have been studiously ignored particularly by those who at the same time claim to want more equality for the economic working class.
What we need are more working class people to get involved in What About Classism? and we also need more middle class people to get involved, too. We need people who truly believe in equality in all of the meaning of that word, who believe in social justice, and do it just because they are motivated and passionate about it and not because of a wage packet or other perks. We who believe in economic equality have nothing to lose but our chains, and everything to gain.