2010s >> 2019 >> no-1377-may-2019

We are the Working Class

I am, you are, we are. In fact the masses of the great majority of the global population are of the working class. Together we deliver everything that we need to survive, to live, to dream about even. We depend on each other often without realising it. Who likes a beer at the end of a day’s work? How often do we pause to consider from where and how did it come to be in front of us? The preparation of the soil, the sowing, planting, reaping and picking of the hops and the barley, the choice of water and the skill of how to combine these ingredients to satisfy us with a decent pint – and consider the making of the barrels, the storage and transport to the bars where the beer pipes and taps all need taking care of before we, as end users, can satisfy our thirst.

Consider your own work, or that of any other individual: however you arrive at your workplace, how many other workers were involved to enable you to get there? By car? It may seem that if the car is yours then you don’t need anyone else until it’s time for a service or routine fill up, but what about the design, the mining of the raw materials and all the individuals required for making the car? It’s possible that dozens, if not hundreds, of individual workers from different parts of the world had a role in producing the car that you call your own. The same holds for public transport with the addition of all the staff required for driving, ticketing, servicing, cleaning, refuelling and timetabling. So many fundamental functions performed throughout our daily lives without a thought for the integral part played by so many others, most of whom we’ve never met.

I well remember the sixties in industrial South Yorkshire working for 2s 6d an hour in a toy shop during the Christmas break from University. It seemed grossly unfair to me that a ‘regular’ girl eighteen months younger than me earned less for doing the same job. Then there was the factory work during the longer summer break. Sorting peanuts from a fast-moving belt for two hour stretches followed by weighing two ounces of said peanuts onto a fast moving vertical machine, assembling cardboard boxes, filling boxes and so on, all for two-hour stretches. Hand up to visit the lav and don’t stay too long or you’d be in trouble. Here the women were also working for peanuts, but it was this or something similar they had to look forward to. I considered myself lucky as I planned ‘a better job’ later. Then I recall the brass foundry where muscles were greatly strengthened hurling the huge water valves we assembled onto the ground. On the opposite side of the aisle were the skilled men, toolmakers and the like and walking up and down all day were the men, usually immigrants on the lowest pay scale, pushing and loading trolleys non-stop day after day.

These were my introductions to working life after growing up hearing the stories of my father and grandfather as blast furnacemen, my five uncles, brothers who all started as coal miners, and our neighbours who were all engaged one way or another in the industrial sector, whether as labourers, skilled workers, office staff or management. If the women worked outside the drudgery of their own homes at that time the work was mostly shop work, hairdressing or cleaning. They worked at what they could find to improve standards at home or to help pay for a summer holiday as a family in a caravan by the seaside for a week or two.

Fifty years later

Fast forward fifty years or so and things have changed a great deal in some ways from those times but definitely not necessarily for the better. South Yorkshire now seems bereft of industry and manufacturing. There are plenty of call centres and warehousing it seems and all the towns have some kind of shopping mall, but production seems very limited – similar to what has and is happening in many parts of the developed world. Now bigger profit is much easier to achieve a long way from home. Developed countries long ago began looting and plundering the ‘undeveloped’ parts of the world for their own advantage and it seems that they are now reaching the top of their curve as they cause more and more misery to the millions of working-class people of the wider world. Companies open mega factories of clothing, electronics, computer, mobile phone or other assembly or manufacturing plants, and huge corporations make deals with foreign governments which involve emptying great swathes of land of people, working class people who, up till that time worked the land for themselves and their local communities. What we are witnessing here is on a scale our predecessors could only dream about. My point here is that we, the working class of developed countries, in large numbers, do not seem to be aware of what is being done by our own countries’ controllers to bring untold harm, deprivation, starvation and death to the working class population of a large part of the world, supposedly to provide us with our needs and wants.

Socialism is a universal concept. You, me, we – we’re dependent on one another, all of us. We absolutely cannot do without each other and this message has to be driven home until it is understood by more and more of our fellow workers. It doesn’t matter what your take home pay is, whether you get it weekly or monthly, it’s nothing to do with the size of your house, the make of your car, whether you receive some form of benefit, whether you can afford a holiday or not. Skilled or unskilled, male or female, indoors or out, working from home or travelling abroad, fulfilling work or crap job – if you can’t continue paying your debts or feed yourself and your family without that wage coming in then you are undoubtedly of the working class – welcome! Academic, blast furnaceman, chemist, doctor or dry cleaner, librarian, miner, nurse, window cleaner, youth worker, zoo keeper… Fill in the gaps, there’s unlimited scope.

Another question we could ask each other and ourselves is about how many individuals we know who are not working class. I mean know personally. The likelihood of bumping into one of the capitalist class on the way to work or at the pub or restaurant we choose, at the gym or football match, at the hairdressers or the supermarket. Yes, we know of them by name or reputation but do we ever get a chance to put our views and questions to them? The people we see every day are, whether they know it or not, working class. We have more in common with them than not and we have to get used to it. Globally and locally we need each other and if we are going to reach the goal of socialism we need to engage at every opportunity.

As for the better job idea I had five decades ago, and this is relevant, well, of course, it didn’t turn out as expected. I involved myself with various occupations to put off the day when I would ultimately begin work as a teacher – but fast forward again to the decision to retire early when my long-term partner was medically discharged from work. This decision was first and foremost related to income and mortgage. As Socialist Party members domiciled overseas we are economic migrants. We can’t afford to live in the country of our birth – yes, this is thought to only be happening the other way round, with much noise and opposition to ‘these foreigners’ taking our jobs in the UK and other European countries.

And so much of this misplaced noise comes from large sectors of the working class themselves who fail to understand that the cause of the problem is not the ‘foreign’ working class at all but the real cause, the real enemy is the capitalist system with its focus purely on profit and absolutely no regard for negative effects on workers wherever in the world they live.

Now, living in a ‘foreign’ land for more than twenty years life seems to revolve around tea. Our neighbours recognise us for who we are and we them. A rural area with mostly small farm plots where life is generally hard. Called into the tea house as we pass by, conversation soon turns to the economy. Stories are legion – the high price of tractor fuel, the rock bottom price for lemons this year, the cost of buying in straw and extra silage for the cows, the increasing price of general, necessary foodstuffs not grown by themselves, another hike in the cost of electricity. As we finish our second or third glass of tea and prepare to leave there’s always someone at the table ready to tell us, ‘that’s capitalism you know!’

Our world is a very big place. Our world is also a very small place. Understanding ‘the other’ is a vital cog in the wheel of bringing us all closer together, to recognise the absolute need of the workers of our world to achieve our common aims together. Different languages, different colour skin, different cultures, an amazing tapestry of humanity of which we are all a part.

JS