Thursday, April 04, 2013

Class - you've either got it or you haven't?

According to the BBC I am part of the established middle class (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22007058). I must tell the bank - maybe they'll increase my overdraft!

More to the point though, this "new" approach to a superficial definition of "class" doesn't actually assist our understanding of society. Class isn't a category, it's the expression of a social relation of (in a capitalist society) exploitation and struggle. (http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/Chapter%201%20--%20Wright%20Jan%202004.pdf)

An obsession with class as a category is an obvious manifestation of individualism as an ideology. It starts with the individual's question "what am I?" Class then becomes a badge worn by an individual and loses - as a concept - the explanatory power which it could (and does) have to help understand, and therefore be able to change, this hideously unjust society.

Essentially, those who sell our labour (or "labour power" to be precise) in order to live are workers. Those who live off the labour of others are bosses (capitalists to be precise). These two groups exist in an exploitative relationship, which is a class relationship.

There are, of course, those who are (at a particular point in time) in "contradictory class locations" between these two extremes, as well as those (such as the self-employed, small shopkeepers and students) who are permanently or temporarily outside this fundamental class relationship. Also, those of us who work in the public sector are workers employed by the state (on behalf of the capitalist class as a whole, rather than any individual capitalist).

However, the exploitative relationship between workers and bosses in a capitalist society is of fundamental importance in shaping both our society and the opportunities which exist to transform it.

A compelling vindication of this (Marxist) understanding of class is that, in every case where capitalist social relations have established themselves, workers have sought to form trade unions in order to express and defend our class interests as workers in a capitalist society (and these unions either do, or aspire to, organise all the BBC's "classes" except "the elite").

That's why the most important news about "class" in the last couple of days relates not to the BBC survey but to the TUC consideration of the "practicalities" of a General Strike (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22029895).

The politics of our Tory Coalition Government, which are the UK expression of a global ruling class offensive, are the politics of naked class war. This week, millionaires got a tax cut funded in part by benefit changes which threaten people with the loss of their homes if they have a spare bedroom.

If you "get" class then you "get" that this is a very real struggle in which we have to join. From the "established middle class" to the "precariat" workers need to be united against these attacks on our interests. This does require a labour movement led by people willing to show almost reckless courage.

Which reminds me that I need to blog about the UNISON NEC elections...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i like to think we are all "different class" mr Rogers,