Thursday, November 17, 2016

Look, for God's sake, *you* are working class, you bloody idiot!

Not actually working class: A billionaire property mogul and a private schooled City banker. 
"I was looking for a job and then I found a job and Heaven knows I'm miserable now," sung Morrissey in Manchester band The Smiths' song from the depths of Thatcher's England in the mid-80s.

I have never really heard a better description of the essential condition of the working class, forced to look for work they hate just to survive. I don't want to get all "Karl Marx" on you, but that is the basic definition of that mythical beast, The Working Class ... those that fucking work, or seek fucking work, and do so because they have no fucking choice.

Does that apply to you? Does that apply to the vast majority of people you know? Then I am sorry to be the one to break the news, but you're Working Fucking Class. Or WFC if that makes you feel any better in this age of social media-speak, hell go for a #wfclol hashtag if you want to retain your essential ironic sense of self-deprecation. You'll still have to get up far too fucking early tomorrow morning and go perform mind-numbing and possibly body destroying tasks under the direction of some prick you despise.

Does this matter? Does such a passe concept as "class" really count for much in our glorious neoliberal post-modern, post-class, post politics, post fucking a safe fucking climate for human fucking habitation world? Does it matter if most people view "working class" as some outdated trope of a white bloke in a hard hat or as some sort of sociological label determined simply by income level? As opposed to, you know... whether you work?

Yes, I think so, to judge by the endless think pieces right now on a fictional working class where everyone is white and fulfilling the stereotype thought up in the heads of some journalist who, just days ago, was certain Donald Trump would lose badly and now, having ignored class for years, is full of wisdom about a mythical Working Class that Must Be Heard.

I think it matters because, understood as "those that work", the working class is a large majority in the world, divided up, of course, across many racial, ethnic, gender and other lines.

It matters because we've been hearing so much about this great mythical Working Class beast since the Brexit vote in Britain in June. We've been hearing even more since the position of Leader of the Free World/Nation that Drone Strikes Children and Overthrows Governments for Fun and Profit, was won by the KKK-backed billionaire child rapist slumlord Donald Trump.

Many, understandably, want to know how the Hell did that freak reality TV show bigot win the White House.

Was it maybe the hollowing out of US institutions and total corruption of what little democracy that was by oceans of corporate money? Was it maybe the fact that the Democrats, in the Oval Office for the past eight years, have long pushed a brutal neoliberalism destroying livelihoods across the country, while also pursuing brutal war overseas and mass incarceration of predominantly Black people at home (a key part of their voter base), while also mass deporting Latino migrants... and in doing so totally destroying the ground on which they seek to stand?

Was it the fact that when Bernie Sanders ran an insurgent campaign for the Democrat nomination, setting it alight with calls for a "political revolution" against the "billionaire class", and received polls after polls suggesting he could easily defeat Trump while Clinton would struggle, the Democrats sabotaged his campaign and installed the ultimate establishment candidate any way?

Was it the extreme restriction of democracy in the self-proclaimed Greatest Democracy on Earth(TM)? Things like the fact that many who wanted to vote couldn't, in part coz the elections are on a working day, the Voters Rights Act to protect Black voters had been rolled back for the first time in 50 years, and there were hundreds of less polling booths in places where predominantly poor and black people vote? Was it the fact that literally millions of (again disproportionately Black) prisoners and ex-prisoners were denied the right to vote at all?

No. It was, as alleged "think" piece after alleged think piece insists, The Working Class. Somewhere, Hillary Clinton is angrily shaking her fist as terrified campaign workers cower while she shouts, "AND I WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT, TOO, IF IT WASN'T FOR THOSE DARN WORKERS!"

Don't worry about the fact that actually the evidence is Tump attracted the support of wealthier voters than Clinton (perhaps not surprising since he did promise widespread tax cuts), don't worry about his appeals to deep-seated racism and bigotry, don't worry about the fact that the Republican vote actually dropped overall compared to 2012, it is just the Democrat vote dropped even more.

Forget all of that. In some key states, some white rural workers with economic concerns voted for Trump and therefore, we must all listen to The Working Class, OK?

And don't get the liberal think pieces wrong. They don't mean this as an attack on The Working Class! God no!

Sure their version of The Working Class voted for a misogynist racist self-confessed sexual abuser, but it is only because the poor people are in such pain. We just need to listen to their pain! Don't call them racist just because they say, think, chant and vote racist. Try to understand.

Of course, at this point, it probably important to note that the working class of these think pieces has one clear characteristic that is usually openly admitted.

That it, it is white.

Yes it was the white working class, which, to go by the think pieces, is the most workering working class to ever be a class and also work! 

This, of course, is not the entire US working class. Huge chunks of working people in the US are not, actually, white and research suggests white people will be a minority of the US workforce in about 15 years.

Not a white worker.
But not only do many pieces talk about the US working class as if it is exclusively white, they describe a narrow layer of blue collar white workers.

Take this piece I've seen shared around. It's headline is "What Many People Don't Get About the US Working Class" and it was shared by Daily Kos, a pro-Democrat liberal, progressive leaning site as a "must read".

Despite a headline suggesting it is about the "US" working class, it explicitly about, and only about, a narrow sector of workers — a layer of blue collar white workers who, as the post spells out, support a right-wing agenda, such as resenting and opposing those poorer than them receiving government assistance.

And what does the Daily Kos, a website associated closely with the Democrats, conclude?
Must read Harvard Business Review article for all of us as we reflect and regroup. We don’t have to pander to any racism but we still need to retain enough of the white working class vote in MI, PA and WI for 2020 with a message of economic populism even as we wait for the demographics to turn. 
Well that is real caring for The Working Class right there!  Send a "message" of "populism" to a sector you clearly don't understand and seem to despise while you "wait for the demographics to turn"!

Really I have no idea how such people failed to defeat Trump.

Forget Black people robbed of the right to vote! Forget the poor who found voting near impossible or just couldn't bring themselves to vote for either candidate who hates their guts, forget the fucking millions of Latino migrants who grow the fucking food and clean the fucking homes and face mass fucking deportation (and not just from Trump but from Obama first)...

The Key Sector is the White Working Class. And the White Working Class backed Trump because... well because it seems to suit people to imagine they did even when the statistics say that wasn't who voted Trump.

And I see this shit about the "need to listen to the working class" being shared on social media by people who a) don't support Trump in the slightest and b) are themselves working class.

Now that is self-hatred for you. Left-wing working class people pushing the idea that the working class, as a collective, is right wing. The working class is forever presented as some sort of "Other", mysterious, romantic, hard-to-pin-down... as opposed to what it is — that is, those who work.

So was Brexit and Trump's win a "revolt" of the working class?

Yes, in Brexit, many working class people voted for Brexit. Many working class people also voted to stay in the EU too. In the stay camp was the large majority of people who identified as Black, as Asian and/or as Muslim — who are overwhelmingly working class — and most Scottish and northern Irish people.

So if you want to talk about the "working class revolt" in Brexit and ignore Black, Asian, Muslim, Scottish and Irish workers within the British state.... then... well the polite way to put it is you are not really helping combat racism exactly.

And in Trump's win...  we are told, endlessly, we need to listen to Trump supporters. Never mind that actually the vast majority of American people did not vote Trump and he won with about 25% of registered voters.

The problem with presenting The Working Class as that narrow layer of white blue collar workers who joined the largely middle class voting base for Trump is it ignores a key challenge facing the actual working class. Which is how, when so stratified by race, ethnicity, gender and more, to actually unite to pose a challenge to all of our enemies in the corporate elite?

Because Trump's appeal is to small-minded privilege, for white people to blame those weaker, for men to keep their power over women in their lives, and to see the "Swamp" in Washington in these terms — those whose "political correctness" hands over the narrow, petty privileges of white people, of men, of straight people, of "proper Americans" over the fucking usurpers of every minority that wants to get the fucking boot off their necks.

We hear repeatedly that "We need to listen to Trump supporters", but the people who say that clearly don't. I mean have a fucking listen! It is not like they are quiet! These bastards SHOUT their views and concerns at the any opportunity!

As  wise man once said (ie me in my Green Left Weekly column last week):
When Trump supporters chanted “We don’t like Muslims, we don’t like Blacks, we want our country back”, it is unlikely this was code for “we need to be more concerned about the impacts of pro-corporate trade deals on our nation’s manufacturing industry and its flow-on effect to a drastically weakened working and middle class”.
It is likely they meant they don’t like Muslims and they don’t like Blacks.
And when Trump supporters at Sydney University responded to Trump’s win by chanting “grab them by the pussy, that’s how we do it!”, it is unlikely they meant “What Australian politics needs is a genuine outsider to take on a corrupt, out of touch political class and reverse the neoliberal economic policies causing a serious decline in living standards”.
It is likely they meant they like sexually assaulting women.
 Plus there is this tweet, which says the same thing in much less words:

If you want an actual working class revolt in the United States... well I can think of two right now that are worth actually listening to... and these revolts are completely against the interests and policies of BOTH Trumpite Republicans and Clintonite Democrats.

On May 1 2006, more than 1 million largely Latino migrant workers staged mass walk-outs in protests for amnesty for undocumented migrants and and end to deportations. They shut the country down.

More workers who aren't white.

As Green Left Weekly said at the time:
According to combined police estimates, 1.1 million immigrant workers and their supporters marched in more than 75 major cities across the US on May 1 ...Over and above those who marched were hundreds of thousands more who boycotted shopping and skipped school or work ...

One of the goals of the actions was to demonstrate the impact of a "day without immigrants". This goal was surely met. School attendance in cities with large concentrations of immigrants was way down. The New York Times reported that "stores and restaurants in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York closed because workers did not show up or as a display of solidarity with demonstrators". In one area of Chicago, only 17% of students showed up. There were TV pictures of empty supermarkets usually patronised by immigrants.
In California's Central Valley, where much of the country's produce is grown, no farm workers came to work. TV showed eerie shots of vacant fields. Much of the construction industry was shut down across the country. Major meat-packing companies, including Tyson Foods, Swift and Perdue chickens, shut down many plants because their immigrant workers didn't show up. The largest port on the west coast, in Long Beach, California, was shut down, because the truck drivers were nowhere to be seen. 
Vast swaths of service industries — hotels, restaurants, car washes, and so forth — were affected. Nannies took a day off. Workers who couldn't take the day off went to rallies after work ... 
I might go out on a limb and suggest this is what a working class revolt against an out-of-touch establishment looks like. But there is a second, more recent, example. CNN reported on October 31 on a mass strike by US inmates, who do large amounts of forced labour for very low pay, producing key goods for various authorities and companies:

Last month, on the 45th anniversary of the infamous Attica Prison uprising, tens of thousands of US inmates launched a nationwide protest that continues today, according to advocates who helped organize the effort.
The inmates' grievances are as varied as the states they came from: Pennies for labor in South Carolina, racial discrimination in California, excessive force in Michigan. However, they share an overarching goal: End legalized slavery inside American correctional facilities...  the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, while banning slavery, allows prisoners to work for little to no pay, in what inmate advocates say crosses the limits of human decency, amounting to modern-day servitude ... 
Since September 9, the Incarcerated Workers' Organizing Committee, a prisoner rights advocacy group, estimates as many as 50,000 inmates have taken part in coordinated strikes planned through social media on cell phones and snail mail across nearly two-dozen states ...

OMG,  more non-white workers? But then who do we listen to???

Don't forget that those carrying out these working class revolts generally can't vote (as prisoners or undocumented migrants). Yet, hand-wringing liberal media responses to the rise of right-populism notwithstanding, they form part of the working class you might want to consider listening to.

This all matters because working people have some real power. But not if you invent a fictional working class, based on a narrow layer of some white workers, because it fits some strange narrative you are trying to present. Consider that actually, the actual working class, the one capable imposing its will  for progressive change, includes you.

Here are two songs about the working class I really like. The first is those working class Welsh rockers and socialists, the Manic Street Preachers, with their track about working class culture and defiance (which went to number 2 int he UK charts in 1996). the second Latino hip hop duo from the Bronx, Rebel Diaz, re-interrupting the classic working class anthem "Which Side Are You On", written in the 1930s in support of a US coal miners strike, for the 21st Century.

Libraries gave us power
Then work came and made us free
What price now for a shallow piece of dignity
I wish I had a bottle
Right here in my dirty face to wear the scars
To show from where I came
We don't talk about love we only want to get drunk
And we are not allowed to spend
As we are told that this is the end
A design for life

Making money for suckers and our communities poor
Ripping flags off of coffins, man, this ain't our war
Colonized and terrorized by the world's biggest killers
The US government, the biggest weapon and drug dealers
Filling prisons with children, incarcerating the future
Myspace and Facebook got us stuck on computers
Stuck on stupid bumping music that's abusive to the shorties
And the nonsense that you spitting, they just listen and absorb it
I've been dormant, I've awoken, I'm a giant, I'm ready
I'm with the APPO in Oaxaca and we holding machetes

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