Why Class Matters

National Museum of Scotland’s PCS Branch Chair, and Assistant Branch Secretary Alex Lawrie talks about why young people need to understand the important of class warfare.

I recently had a chat with a fellow Young Member regarding the issue of the Scottish Independence Referendum. I happened to pose the issue of where the working classes featured in this whole debate. Their reply?

‘You always go on about this ‘class’ thing. I don’t like to think of people in different classes as it makes it seem that some people are better than others, and that one class is better than another. I’m not in any class.’

Sadly this wasn’t based on Socialist or even Anarchist concepts of a post-revolutionary classless society, but a reiteration of an idea that permeates through the mainstream media. Unleashed by Thatcher and promulgated by its offspring New Labour the idea is quite simple – ‘we are all middle class now’. The working class is dead, those left behind have degenerated into benefit cheats. It shouldn’t have surprised me really. It reminded me of an incident that took place when I was at a university tutorial group:

‘My Dad still claims to be working class, but I mean all of us here are middle class really’

I didn’t dispute it at the time – I was in open mouthed shock, and I’ve regretted not challenging it ever since. Then I went and told one of my friends and they retorted:

‘But you are not working class! You speak properly and listen to Radio 4. Working class people are all on benefits and stuff’

It really was like something out of a dystopian novel. Apparently if you took an interest in the ancient world, liked to read books, or listened to debates on the radio you were thereby baptised as middle class – the working class residue was washed away. Welcome to civilization – we have balsamic vinegar on tap!

The post-Thatcherite world brought about not only the hammering of the Unions, but saw the insertion of this damaging myth. The working class is gone. It never existed. Now go buy your ipad, and join the privileged in society. Slowly and subtly it has grown alongside rampant consumerism to make the concept a relic to go along with that old trope of ‘Union Dinosaurs’. Young people are particularly vulnerable to this because Unions are rarely talked about in a positive light on TV and radio, and even amongst working families like my own Trade Unions are seen as something of the past. They couldn’t be more wrong.

The main problem lies in the fact that the powerful in our society never forgot about class war – they just made sure you forgot. As Warren Buffet famously said, ‘There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.’

Just look beyond your ipad and the other trinkets for a minute and see what is happening around you – for at least the last 25 years the government has been incessant in its attacks on the Trade Union movement. The latest attempt to take away Check Off is a direct attack on our own PCS Union and its members. They want to cut you off from one of the last entities that can help you fight to preserve your terms and conditions and to protect jobs.

If you have no capital, no property, and work for someone else then you are a member of the working class. You can pretend that class doesn’t matter, but class warfare is happening regardless. You are right in the middle of it. Look at how bankers’ bonuses soar whilst everyone else is given pay cut after pay cut to pay for their mistakes. They are out to get you, and they will unless you join up and fight back!

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