The working class can kiss my ass: I’ve got the foreman’s job at last

Sorry for the somewhat rude title but that modification of the Red Flag (Billy Bragg sings it too fast here in my view) came to mind over this story.

Over 70% of the UK population now describe themselves as middle class, they have an average household income of £37,000: in contrast only 24% regarded themselves as working class and they had an average household income of £24,000. The survey by Britain Thinks (available here) identified six “middle class segments” and gave them a variety of terms from “Comfortable Greens” and “Urban Networkers” at the upper end of the income bracket down to “Squeezed Strugglers” at the bottom. As an aside the focus groups were asked to bring a defining object of being middle class: the most popular was a cafetière: I am unclear where this leaves me as I only drink Tetley tea.

Whilst the segments seem pretty arbitrary and simplistic (as all such surveys have to be) it is interesting that very large numbers of people now self describe as middle class. Many of those so describing would be in the C1 (Supervisory, clerical and junior managerial, administrative or professional) or C2 (Skilled manual workers) socio-economic classes.

The decline in those who self describe as working class has many causes: in part it is probably due to the reduction in mass employment manufacturing industries and the attendant reduction in unionisation of the UK workforce. However, much of it seems to be attitudinal: a generation ago many in the C1 and C2 social classes would have been proud to self describe as working class; they would have been keen to progress and “better” themselves and their family but in no way would they have seen that as a contradiction to being working class. In contrast now the desire to improve one’s financial and social status seems to lead many to describe themselves as middle class.

Politically this shift has been most problematic for left of centre political parties. Although many of the working class had always voted Conservative; Thatcher’s selling off of council housing helped her garner an increased portion of the working class electorate which helped her (along with the split in Labour) win three elections and Major (an archetypal working class man “made good”) a fourth.

These forms of attitudinal shift have been an even greater problem form many on the harder left. Appeals to the working class to unite against the bosses and throw off the chains of capitalism sound much less appealing when many of those to whom the hard left are speaking may own their own homes and be self employed. The facts that those people may be of significantly below average income, have almost nothing in common with “the bosses” and might according to the hard left benefit from the workers revolution are irrelevant if the appeal seems to threaten the successes they have achieved.

Tony Blair of course was the left of centre (just about) politician who managed to harness the voting dynamic of the working aspirant to middle class perfectly. Blair created the political concept of Mondeo man: the kind of 30-something middle income homeowner whom Labour needed to win over from the Tories in 1997. He achieved this even more stunningly than Thatcher had previously and easily won three successive elections.

One of the major problems for the left has been the fact that although many of the self defined middle class are far from wealthy and although they would benefit from income redistribution they rarely vote for it. Even increasing taxation on incomes over £75-100,000 a year is seen as a vote looser despite the fact that few of these people earn (or realistically will earn) those sums. Part of the problem is that although the poorer middle classes will not earn that sort of money, they aspire to do so, and increased taxation on the wealthy is seen as damaging what they aspire to.

The political right, also has some problems from the rise of the middle classes. The previous Tory governments of recent years were all solidly middle class: Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major were all state school educated and in no way from the upper middle let alone the upper classes. In contrast the current Conservative Liberal coalition is the most posh in years: in social class terms it is pretty indistinguishable from governments of the Edwardian era. This may represent a political problem: the same survey found that of 29 famous people the only one seen as upper class was David Cameron (Kate Middleton was only perceived to be upper middle class).

The coalition will have a political problem if they are seen to be calling for cuts to most people’s standard of living whilst being of and representing a social class which is not suffering from those same cuts. In that context the coalition’s claim that “We are all in this together” may start to look highly unconvincing. People may then ask (again to quote Billy Bragg) Which side are you on? in the quest to build Jerusalem.

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  • The Word

    Turgon

    Class warfare is clearly and indication of an absence of understanding of the meaning of Christianity.

    But those haughty accents certainly express a distance from Christ that will cause concern to the English people who do adhere to Christian values. The accents simply describe implicit unhappiness.

  • Mac

    A thought provoking read Turgon.

    Beyond the obvious “we’re all middle class now” quote, it put me in mind of the attitudes of a few girls in Prescott’s documentary “The class system and me”.

  • Turgon

    Mac,
    Thanks. I thought of that documentary myself when doing the blog: it was extremely interesting.

  • Mack

    Interesting post.

    Continued economic growth will bring prosperity to a wider base. Worth noting median household incomes for both groups would probably be much lower (particularly for the self-described middle class) – as they are limited on the down side by the zero bound (or welfare based income).

    It’s all relative though. The self-identifiying working class group have living conditions far superior to the wealthy of a century or two ago (think – longer life expectancies, hot clean running water, modern medicine & anti-biotics, much more choice of food from around the world, refridgeration, central heating, public health systems, modern transport infrastructure, cars, tvs, computers & the internet, access to a huge range of world foods prepared by experts etc). But yet they don’t see themselves as wealthy today.

    Despite higher average household incomes, the figures for Ireland are something like 40% self-identifying as each with the remainder undecided or other..

  • Mac

    I’m running the danger of parochialism here, I’ve got a cafetiere on my desk at work (can’t stomach instant coffee) and both my wife and I earn enough individually to pop us above the average ‘middle class’ income. But we would both describe ourselves as ‘working class’, perhaps it’s because we both come from working class (‘lower’ working in my case) catholic housing estates, or perhaps we are both just as coinfused/deluded as the girls who raised Pressa’s eyebrows.
    As with so much else here, there is an extra line of demarcation drawn by religion (for want of a better word) through people’s attitudes to their ‘class’.

  • lamhdearg

    good post turgon, something worth reading, for me the non working class will be the problem for the coalition as they are a fast growing group.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Turgon, Tetley is so working class, Punjana is much superior and would bring you into upper middle class at least! However I can’t say what class I am, because it dosn’t really apply here, most of the upper class aristocracy has gone, as has the “industrial working class”, but neither had become entirely ingrained, our “divide” overwhelmed the class divisions, interesting the Scots would probably have a similar story. The Republic is divided differently also, with the “traditionalist” and “modernist” ideal being the strongest.

  • The Word

    Mack

    Some things have improved for the poor and not necessarily the things that you have identified, but mainly as a result of a desire to serve GNP.

    There are still many people on tranquillisers, experiencing depression, anxiety, ill-health, obesity, fear of criminals in their areas, lacking real contentedness (not material), served by our system that still supplies them with “glamorous” cigarettes, excessive drinking, and poor diet as defining “happiness” of some kind.

    A world that is served by the entrepreneur will vere towards hell on earth necesssarily because the entrepreneur sees others as a opportunity, tends to use everybody, and defines happiness in material terms he has yet to demonstrate as true happiness.

    How can true happiness be expressed in material things that suggest that he feels that they make him better than others, a sense that derives from a feeling that he is actually less than others?

    Overcoming disadvantage in what can only ever be a sense of inferiority can never be dressed up as a dream that leads to happiness. The position must be explained rather than exploited.

  • Nunoftheabove

    The Word

    My understanding is that they mostly buy those themselves on a voluntary basis. Most of the shops I buy from also have nutritious and delicious fruit and vegetables available for purchase and a range of other mainly harmless goods. On the upside, most working class and/or would-be working class people nowadays have the cop-on not to seek the false consolation of religion as any kind of escape from, still less solution to, their conditions. It offers them nothing, the free market on the other hand – warts and all – offers them opportunity.

  • Mack

    @The Word

    In fairness all those areas mentioned (& or advanced listed) have come during that period and significantly lifted the standard of living of all (or nearly all) Westerners.

    200 years is a long time. It includes the rise and fall of Monto & The Irish famine for example.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monto

    Homocide rates have fallen significantly over that period (whatever our perceptions) and criminals can hope for much better treatment from the criminal justice system.

    Safe sedatives are available from pharmacies these days, not so 200 years ago.

    And ultimately everyone’s diet today is better than the diet than most of our forefathers. Certainly much, much better than the diet of the early industrial working class.

    A world that is served by the entrepreneur will vere towards hell on earth necesssarily because the entrepreneur sees others as a opportunity, tends to use everybody, and defines happiness in material terms he has yet to demonstrate as true happiness.

    If by entrepreneur you mean people-trafficker or pimp than I wholeheartedly agree, otherwise I think you are mistaken..

  • aquifer

    The American definition of middle class seems to include most people who work for a living. It is difficult to build a local poltical identity on the idea of a working class when the class who are making and growing things for us are often far away in a hot country.

    Having toffs with £1m personal trust funds running the country could get too ironic if jobs keep disappearing and prices rising.

  • It’s “arse”, Turgon. Keep your bestial proclivities or American bowdlerising to yourself.

    What is missing here is an appreciation of how the [working] class system went in practice. There was a world of difference between the skilled tradesman and the unskilled labourer: the last vestige of that discrimination might be found in the distance between the sergeant’s mess and the canteen for “other ranks”.

    The System (the capital letter is no typo) then eroded such distinction. Curiously it seems to persist in Germany, which is a far more successful capitalist economy.

    The final nail in the coffin of the skilled working-class was Thatcherism, which deliberately and with malice aforethought set about its extirpation. Unskilled labour was acceptable: they could be bullied and bossed around more easily. The tradesmen had their pride, and their pretensions. When such as the railway industry suffer deskilling, that’s the end of a proud tradition.

    Did anyone note two other elements in the Britain Thinks survey (and Andrew Marr’s tele-rendition thereof, in the service of the Census)? —

    1. That the UK shares with the US the distinction of having greatest disparities of income in the industrialised world.

    2. That the fastest growing area of employment is domestic and similar service? A “barista” is simply a ponce-y term for “bar-tender”, after all.

    As late as 1940, half the employed female population of Britain were “in service”. Back to the future …

  • Turgon

    Malcolm,
    My apologies: ass rhymes better.

  • The Word

    Nun

    “My understanding is that they mostly buy those themselves on a voluntary basis. ”

    Ever heard of marketing? A subtle desire to inform people of needs they never had, contrary to its own definition of itself, which can’t be relied on because we know that the profit motive informs all mercantile behaviour and moral positions are subservient to the national interest, the local interest and this new invention of recent years, the interests of jobs and prosperity.

    “the free market on the other hand – warts and all – offers them opportunity.”

    Yes, but that religion you reject influences buying behaviour and I suggest that the arguments about certain goods will intensify in future with the profit motive curtiled and notional interests that can delude and misinform set aside.

  • Turgon @ 10:58 pm:

    Only as a visual rhyme. South of the Trent it’s Saxon and “clarse”. North of the Trent, with the narrow Anglian “a”, there’s still some sense of solidarity. For example, Langland’s Piers Plowman has the good West-Midland “ers”. Such distinctions also matter.

    If we’re into lyrics. I’d suggest a far better critique was done by Alex Glasgow in that marvellous Close the Coalhouse Door of the 1960s:

    When that I was and a little tiny boy, me Daddy said to me, “The time has come, me bonny, bonny bairn, To learn your A B C.”.

    Now Daddy was a lodge chairman in the coalfields of the Tyne, and his ABC was different from the Enid Blyton kind.

    He sang:

    A is for Alienation, that made me the man that I am, and
    B is the Boss who’s a Bastard, the Bourgeois who don’t give a damn,
    C is for Capitalism, the bosses’ reactionary creed, and
    D is for Dictatorship, laddie — but the best Proletarian breed.
    E is for Exploitation, that the workers have suffered so long, and
    F is for Ludwig Feuerbach, the first one to say it was wrong
    G is for all Gerrymanderers, like Lord Muck and Sir Whatsisname, and
    H is the Hell that they’ll go to, when the workers have kindled the flame.
    I is for Imperialism, and America’s kind is the worst, and
    J is for sweet Jingoism, that the Tories all think of the first.
    K is for good old Kier Hardie, who fought out the working class fight, and
    L is for Vladimir Lenin, who showed him the Left was all right.
    M is of course for Karl Marx, the mammy and the daddy of them all, and
    N is for Nationalisation, whtout it we’d crumble and fall
    O is for Overproduction that capitalist economy brings and
    P is for all Private Property, the greatest of all of the sins.
    Q is for the Quid Pro Quo, that we’ll dish out so well and so soon, when
    R for Revolution is shouted, and The Red Flag becomes the top tune.
    S is for sad Stalinism, which gave us all such a bad name, and
    T is for Trotsky the hero, who had to take all of the blame.
    U is the Union of workers, the Union will stand to the end;
    V is for Vodka, yes Vodka, the one drink that won’t bring the bends.
    W is for all Willing Workers…

    …and that’s where the memory fades, ‘cos X Y and Z, me dear Daddy said, would be written on the street barricades.

    But now that I’m not a little tiny boy, me Daddy says to me:
    “Please try to forget the things I said, especially the A B C”.
    For Daddy’s no longer a union man, and he’s had to change his plea.
    His alphabet is different now they’ve made him a Labour MP.

    Now shall we pursue the collected works of Leon Rosselson?

  • Munsterview

    Damm! I used to occasionally buy Tetleys, now that is another product I can no longer get as the thought of who else may be drinking it will spoil my own enjoyment. Ah well, back to Barry’s and real tea I suppose !

  • The Word

    Mack

    “And ultimately everyone’s diet today is better than the diet than most of our forefathers.”

    We need to understand obesity, eating disorders and the other psychological traume of our communities.

    “If by entrepreneur you mean people-trafficker or pimp than I wholeheartedly agree, otherwise I think you are mistaken..”

    In his desire to escape his inferiority he fools himself into believing that he is superior. How? He exploits others. Do I need to go beyond “Dragon’s Den”?

    Men and women worshipping money, proving that they’re in control but not happy. They wouldn’t be there with all their money if they were happy. Happiness for them in defined as abusing prospect entrepreneurs, informing some of a material “happiness” while they themselves exhibit no evidence of having.

    I define Saddam Hussein as a entrepreneurial politician – he has palaces, wives, money, servants, he kills all his enemies, brutalises his people, and more than many thousands of times what he will ever need, and what does he want? More.

    As Iran and Kuwait, the Kurds, the Shiites, and everybody on the planet knows.

    Why? Because he has no happiness.

  • Malcolm Redfellow will be interested to know that Alex Glasgows version of the Socialist ABC is on “you tube” as is his version of “As Soon As This Pub Closes”.

    Much missed. “Poems and Pints”.

  • > Do I need to go beyond “Dragon’s Den”?

    Yes. Out of every 10 start-up businesses, 5 or 6 fail in the first year, 3 or 4 toddle along giving moderate returns and one makes a lot of money (average UK figures, quoted by Alan Watts, the chairman of the Halo business angels network).

    So unless you are an inveterate gambler, money is not enough to motivate you to throw everything in to a new business. The entrepreneurs I have met were enthused by the chance to do something different, without a boss telling them what to do. It was their investors who worship money.

    The entrepreneurs are part of the petit bourgeousie, like the small shopkeepers who are suffering in this recession because they don’t know how to sell online to people outside NI.

  • Nunoftheabove

    The Word

    So religion’s now a mere an instrument of the retail marketing profession ? It’s certainly in line with that old Clive James line about religions being “advertising agencies for a product that doesn’t exist”.

    Regarding consumer choice, we have this little thing called free will. You seem to believe that those credulous enough to believe in religion will also be easily swayed by marketing in the consumer sense like playthings and mindless idiots. Perhaps you’re onto something there – one more reason to reject the phoney consolation of religion in the first place.

  • Greenflag

    Religion is an instrument that has a varied repertoire but the same ‘happy ‘ music is always played to the poor and weak and defenceless in society no matter whether one is poor or of little consequence in Ireland or around the world as in this latest crime by the RC Church in this AP report .

    Word will no doubt tell us that these native American and Alaskan kids were ‘happy’ to be molested by these even happier priests?

    Jesuits settle sex abuse scandal in Montana, Northwest for $166M

    SEATTLE – In one of the largest settlements in the Catholic church’s sweeping sex abuse scandal, an order of priests agreed Friday to pay $166.1 million to hundreds of Native Americans and Alaska Natives who were abused at the order’s schools around the Pacific Northwest.
    The Jesuit order, called the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, has been accused of using its schools in remote villages and on reservations as dumping grounds for problem priests.
    Attorneys representing the mostly Native American and Alaskan Native victims said the abuse added to the mistreatment already endured by these children, some of whom were forcibly removed from their homes to attend these schools.

    Associated Press | Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011 9:30 pm

  • Greenflag

    Here’s Jared Diamond on religion and origin myths . The last word on the subject ? Maybe not but close enough .

  • The Word

    “The entrepreneurs I have met were enthused by the chance to do something different, without a boss telling them what to do. It was their investors who worship money.”

    Money seems to be telling everybody what to do here.

    Nun

    “So religion’s now a mere an instrument of the retail marketing profession ?”

    No, and you’re just proving that thinking that is deferred to “my interest” is faulty.

    free will – the materialist leads people away from free will to serve his own agenda.

  • The Word

    “Jesuits settle sex abuse scandal in Montana, Northwest for $166M”

    Completely reprehensible in my opinion.

    Maybe you can tell us how much was paid to the poor of Europe to compensate for their loss in fighting the battles of the Merchants over the past century.

    Maybe you could tell us why they had to fight on the front lines, why they had to run at machine guns or be shot as cowards.

    Tell us why 30 million died for Hitler, 50 million died for Stalin, and 100 million died for Mao.

    What was the compensation paid out?

    Maybe you can tell us how much the British empire has paid out to those it abused and maimed and killed over the course of its long history?

    It’s quite true that God only makes apparent the mistakes and sins of those who are destined to have a future. That’s because God loves them and because God chastises her own. You don’t want to know what God does to those who are not her own.

  • nightrider

    The Word
    Have you been watching ‘Wonders of the Universe’?
    Maybe its not on the schedule at Gransha?

  • The Word

    NR

    You must have understood the message.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Completely reprehensible in my opinion.’

    Whats reprehensible ? the fact that the Church paid out or the behaviour of the criminal priests ? You don’t make it clear .

    ‘Maybe you can tell us how much was paid to the poor of Europe to compensate for their loss in fighting the battles of the Merchants over the past century.’

    Ah so that gets the RC church off the hook of it’s obvious corruption ? Merchants , bankers , insurance companies do not PREACH heaven in the hereafter to their consumers like the Churches . Their motive is to make money and in so far as they ‘regulated ‘ by elected governments their gouging and avarice can be minimised . In the final analysis their products and services can be boycotted or ignored . Which is how the Irish public are now reacting to the corrupt and secretive on going cover ups of criminal activity in the RC Church .

    ‘That’s because God loves them’

    Who is them ? the Alaskan and natives children or the Irish poor ?

    ‘and because God chastises her own’

    Oh she does ? Not without criminal convictions here on Earth with evidence supplied by victims and whistle blowers he /she doesn’t -unless of course you believe that in the hereafter these criminal priests are roasted kebab style for all eternity . Should make you wonder what kind of God if any that these criminals believed in 🙁

    ‘You don’t want to know what God does to those who are not her own.’

    So that would be approx 6 billion of the 7 billion humans on earth ? Go on tell us what she will do ? Gnash their teeth or boil them in oil . Is there another more vicious ending to the horror story that is your preference ? Perhaps a novel variation on the torture theme ?

    What a load of rubbish 🙁

  • The Word

    Greenflag

    I can’t help feeling that that sad face you use twice is the way you really are.

    Which do you honour, the flag or the nation, the Merchant or the Marxist, when you deliberately misinterpret my definition of the reason for wars, wars that have caused millions of times more suffering than the Catholic Church in recent time?

    I would point out too that you’re only making a fool out of yourself in your endless droning on about the failures of ill priests while ignoring the role of the armies of history.

  • The Word

    As you can see, Turgon, I would suggest that I’ve got more than the foreman’s job.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Which do you honour, the flag or the nation, the Merchant or the Marxist’

    What does honour mean in respect of the above ? I maintain a healthy skepticism of all those who honour all of your above shibboleths beyond reason and beyond even their common sense . You omitted the Church/Churches/religion from your list any reason . You may have read somewhere that the Church via the papacy gave it’s blessing to William the Conqueror’s invasion of England and his decendant’s conquest of Ireland a century later.And then there were the Crusades .

    ‘I would point out too that you’re only making a fool out of yourself in your endless droning on about the failures of ill priests while ignoring the role of the armies of history.’

    It’s not the failure’s of sick priests which is the issue . It is the failure of the institution of the RC CHURCH over centuries to remove these ill people from the ministry coupled with the success of the church hierarchy in covering upon and lying to the public and the civil authorities all over the world particularly here in Ireland where they latterly held so much power . Even when forced to admit malfeasance this multinational institution did everything possible to avoid facing the civil courts . The Alaskan and native American is just one in a very long list of innumerable criminal offences against children and women which no doubt will be followed by others . We have yet to hear much from Africa, of Asia and South America. Give them time and it’ll be a replica of North America , Europe and Oceania

    ‘I can’t help feeling that that sad face you use twice is the way you really are.’

    Try again . The sad face is in reference to the comment or observation of a particular point I make . It is not indicative of the way I really am nor has it any other significance .

    I probably smile and laugh a lot more in real life than any of your ‘saintly ‘ god botherers 🙂

    ‘cast a cold eye on life and death -horseman pass by’