Posts Tagged ‘‘Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class’’

Keith Joseph and the Tories Eugenicist Hatred of the Working Class

March 17, 2014

Keith Joseph Pic

Keith Joseph: Maggie’s mentor, and the man who thought there were too many poor people with retarded children. And they were breeding.

Yesterday I put up a piece about how the Tories really did have a visceral hatred of the working class, a hatred and desire to preserve the privileges and position of the ruling elite that confirmed Marx’s view that the state was the instrument of class oppression. One of the most venomous expressions of this hatred came from Keith Joseph. Joseph was Thatcher’s mentor in the Tory party, and an enthusiastic supporter of Milton Friedman’s monetarism and the Chilean dictator General Pinochet. Although he guided Thatcher and served in her cabinet, he never actually became prime minister himself because of a speech he made about the poor in 1974.

Joseph’s view was that there were too many of them, who were too poorly educated, breeding too young. Too many of their children were mentally retarded, and they were thus a danger to solid, genetically and morally superior middle class folk. Owen Jones quotes him in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class:

In a speech in October 1974, he expressed some of the attitudes towards ‘the lower orders’ that were once common among middle-class eugenicists. He argued that ‘a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and to bring them up. They are born to mothers who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5 … Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment.’ But the killer line was this: ‘The balance of our population, our human stock is threatened.’ Joseph’s message was clear. The poor were breeding too fast, and the danger was they were going to swamp everyone else. (pp. 45-6).

Keith Joseph’s speech could indeed have come from a 19th century Victorian eugenicist. Eugenics was founded by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton. It believed that there was a real danger of the human race degenerating through the unfit outbreeding the healthy. They thus advocated a series of harsh laws to prevent those they considered genetically unfit – the dysgenic – from breeding. The movement crossed ideological boundaries, and some of the most fervent supporters of the ideology were left-wingers, like George Bernard Shaw, who wished to improve society and humanity by making reproduction more rational, and so breed healthier children. Galton himself was a member of the upper classes, and so believed they were genetically superior to everyone else, and was afraid that their superior genetic material would be outbred by the lower orders. Eugenics and Social Darwinism was taken up by many members of these classes, as it seemed to argue against the need for passing any environmental or health and safety legislation to protect the working classes from the harmful effects of industry. If people were falling ill or being killed through exposure to harmful materials, such as lead, arsenic, mercury or phosphorous, or having deformed or mentally retarded children, or killed in industrial accidents, it wasn’t because these materials were unduly hazardous, but because their stock was defective. They weren’t as constitutionally healthy as everyone else, and it was therefore better if they weren’t allowed to breed. By the 1920s 45 American states had passed eugenics legislation designed to stop the congenitally ill from having children. It also led to the compulsory castration of mentally retarded children in American mental hospitals.

The Nazis boasted that they had invented nothing in their adoption of the eugenics programme, and pointed to America and other countries, which had passed similar legislation. Under the Nazis, however, not only did contribute to the vicious racialism of the regime, which saw Jews, Gypsies and Slavs as subhumans, who were to be destroyed, but it also led directly to the planned murder of the mentally retarded by the SS under the control of Hitler’s doctors.

131010benefitdenier

Ian Duncan Smith: Under him, as many as 38,000 people a year may have died through poverty. Does he share Joseph’s eugenicist hatred of the poor?

Joseph’s opinions are extremely worrying, because of the way they suggest a coherent political view that sees the poor and disabled as a positive threat to be removed. German eugenicists called the congenitally ill and retarded ‘lebensunwertigenleben’ or ‘life unworthy of life’. I’ve blogged about some of the similarities between the Nazi murder of the mentally retarded and the apparent complete disregard for the welfare of the disabled shown by Atos and the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith. Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void, Jaypot, Jayne Linney, the Angry Yorkshireman, myself and other blogs, like Diary of Benefit Scrounger and Benefit Tales, have reported the way the DWP and Atos have been concerned to have people thrown off benefit. As a result, tens of thousands are dying in poverty and starvation each year. Some have been so desperate, that they have taken their own lives. This has been reported on the above blogs. Stilloaks has a list on his blog of 45 victims of IDS’ policies, with a brief description of their circumstances when they died. It’s harrowing reading. A number of disabled people, both commenting on these blogs, and in everyday conversation, have said they feel there is a deliberate plot to kill off the disabled. Given Joseph’s 1974 rant about the genetic threat from the working class and their subnormal children, that idea begins to look all too horribly plausible.

atos-final

Does this attack on Atos really describe Tory attitudes to the poor and disabled after Keith Joseph’s rant?

I have to say, I don’t think there is a conscious plan to exterminate the working class or the disabled. It strikes me that what there is instead, is an attitude of culpable negligence arising from this attitude of class hatred and hostility to the working class disabled. There is no desire to kill them directly, in the way the Nazis did. However, they are seen as a threatening drain on resources, resources which could be better spent giving tax breaks to genetically sound multi-billionaire Tory donors. Rather than wishing to kill them actively. Rather it’s a case that their lives simply don’t matter. If they die of starvation, or kill themselves in despair or ‘while the balance of their minds’ is upset, it’s simply a case of natural wastage. They were obviously unfit to survive, as members of a feckless, profligate class. It’s simply nature’s way, and ultimately all for the best. And so rather than treat these poor souls with pity or humanity, there is simply a callous indifference to the fate of those, whose existence they regard as a real threat to society, the economy, and healthy human stock.

Karl Marx and the Wage Slavery of Call Centre Workers

March 15, 2014

Call Centre Pic

One of the main features of the modern, post-Thatcher economy is the rapid explosion in call centres. These seem to have taken over from manufacturing as one of the leading employment sectors. One cannot walk past the various employment bureaux without seeing jobs in them advertised. On the other side of the picture, ordinary domestic life is now punctuated by regular phone calls during the day from someone in Birmingham, Glasgow, or even Mumbai phoning you up to ask if you want to change your energy provider, telephone company or are aware that you might get some kind of refund on your insurance. If you phone up a company, you are automatically put through to their call centre somewhere else, frequently half way round the planet. They’re often in one of the developing nations, like India, which has a large reservoir of skilled workers, who can be paid very poorly compared to their fellows in Britain. British call centre workers are, however, joining them as extremely low paid employees working in dehumanising and exploitative conditions. I heard a long time ago from a friend that call centre work is one of the most miserable experiences people go through to earn a living.

Owen Jones on Degrading Conditions in Call Centres

Just how depressing and degrading they are is also described by Owen Jones in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. He writes

If you think shop workers have it bad, consider now the call centre worker. There are now nearly a million people working in call centres, and the number is going up every year. To put that in perspective, there were a million men down the pits at the peak of mining in the 1940s. If the miner was one of the iconic jobs of post-war Britain, then today, surely, the call centre worker is as good a symbol of the working class as any.

‘Call centres are a very regimented environment,’ says John McInally, a trade unionist leading efforts by the PCS to unionize call centre workers. ‘It’s rows of desks with people sitting with headphones. There’s load of people in the room, but they’re separate units. They’re encouraged not to talk, share experiences and so on … The minute you get in the door, your movements are regulated by the computer.’ Here is the lack of worker’s autonomy in the workplace take to extremes.

In some call centres he has dealt with, a worker in Bristol or Glasgow who wants to leave fifteen minutes early has to go through head office in Sheffield to be cleared. ‘We’ve likened conditions to those you’d have seen in mills or factories at the end of the nineteenth century.’ Think that’s an exaggeration? Then consider the fact that, in some call centres, workers have to put their hands up to go to the toilet. Computers dictate the time and duration of breaks, with no flexibility whatsoever. Employees are under constant monitoring and surveillance, driving up stress levels.

Many call centre workers have told McInally that the whole experience is ‘very dehumanizing. People talk abaout being treated like robots. Everything is regulated by machines.’ The working lives of many operators consist of reading through the same script over and over again. According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, increasing numbers of call centre workers are being referred to speech therapists because they are losing their voices. The cause? Working long hours with little opportunity to even have a drink of water.

That’s one reason why the sickness rate in call centres is nearly twice the national average. The other is deep alienation from the work. In once call centre McInally dealt with in Northern England, sickness rates had reached nearly 30 per cent. ‘That’s a sign of low morale’, he says – as I the fact that annual staff turnover is around a quarter of the workforce. And, like so much of the new working class, the salaries of call centre workers are poor. A trainee can expect £12,500, while the higher-grade operators are on an average of just £16,000.

The dehumanising regimentation and micro-managing of call centre staff by computer reminded me of some of the dystopian SF that appeared in the 1970s, speculating on the type of future if computers suddenly took over the world and humanity was reduced to their slaves, watched and controlled totally by omniscient machines. The intrepid crew of the Enterprise encountered one such society in the Classic Star Trek episode ‘Return of the Archons’. The crew of the Liberator, the Dirty Just-Over-Half-A-Dozen of BBC’s Blake’s 7, also encountered an alien civilisation under the totalitarian control of central computer, though were able to bring it down and break free to continue their campaign against the Fascistic Federation through the superiority brain-power of their own machine, Orac. Sadly, contemporary call centre workers trapped in their totalitarian, micro-managed environment, can’t look forward to being similarly freed.

Marx pic

Karl Marx on Wage Slavery

As for the similarity between the conditions suffered by modern call centre workers and those of 19th century mill workers, it is striking just how similar t6he former are to Marx’s classic description of wage slavery in the 19th century.

Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the foreman, and, above all, by the individual manufacturers himself. (pp. 1467-8).

Marx was wrong about many things, but here he is absolutely correct. What we need is are renewed campaigns to improve conditions for the working class, to give people a better future than simply functioning as another human cog being ground down by the inhuman and dehumanizing machines of big business.

The Unequal Tax Burden on the Poor Today and in 19th century Germany

March 14, 2014

Lassalles Pic

Ferdinand Lassalles: Founder of the first Socialist party in Germany, the German Worker’s Union.

Owen Jone’s book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class also discusses the way that the poor now pay a greater proportion of their wages as tax than the rich as part of the massive shift in wealth away from them and to the upper classes.

This ‘trickle-up’ model of economics has not come about because the people at the top have become more talented or more profitable. It has been driven by the smashing of the trade unions, a hire-and-fire labour force, and a taxation system rigged to benefit the wealthy. Even Jeremy Warner, a right-winger and deputy editor at the conservative newspaper the Daily Telegraph, finds something amiss: ‘it is as if a small elite has captured – and kept for itself – all the spectacular benefits that capitalism is capable of producing’.

‘There’s no doubt that the current tax system is regressive, ‘says chartered accountant Richard Murphy. After all, we live in a country where the top decile pay less tax as a proportion of income than the bottom decile. Murphy identifies a number of reasons, including the fact that poorer people spend more of their income on indirect taxes like VAT; the National Insurance is capped at around £40,000, and that those earning between £70,000 and £100,000 a year can claim £5,000 of tax relief a year over and above their personal allowance. (P. 165.)

The pioneering German socialist, Ferdinand Lassalle, criticised a similar arrangement in the Wilhelmine Germany of his time. Lasalles was the son of Jewish silk merchant, who became a Socialist activist after encountering a workers’ demonstration in Silesia. He founded the first German worker’s party, the Deutscherarbeiterverein, DAV, or German Workers’ Union, in English. In his Arbeiterprogramm Lassalles pointed out the way the German state made the payment of direct taxes a condition of voting, while the bulk of the tax burden fell on the poor in the form of indirect taxes.

Indirect taxes, gentlemen, are consequently the institution, through which the bourgeoisie realizes big capital’s freedom from tax, and burdens the poorer classes of society with the costs of the political system.

At the same time, notice the peculiar contradiction and peculiar justice of the proceeding, to put the burden of the requirements of the national budget into indirect taxes and consequently on poor people, making, however, direct taxes the measure of and condition for the franchise and therefore the right to political power, which only supplies the infinitely small contribution of 12 million to the total state requirement of 108 million.

Ferdinand Lassalle: Arbeiterprogramm (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun 1973) p. 32. My translation.

Contemporary Britain is clearly very different from 19th century Germany. Unlike the Germany of Lassalle’s day, Britain does have universal suffrage, and all adults, with the exception of the mentally ill or those in prison, have the vote. It could also be argued that also unlike Lassalle’s Germany, much of the tax burden in Britain still falls on the rich in terms of the amount of taxes they pay. Nevertheless, the similarities are striking. The rich and middle class are increasingly finding ways to stop paying tax altogether through finding loopholes, or making tax havens the location of their head offices through a series of accountancy fiddles. And although the majority of British adults do have the vote, working class voters feel increasingly disenfranchised and alienated from a political system which consistently ignores them. Tony Blair aimed New Labour at the middle class electorate, proclaiming ‘We’re all middle class now!’ As a result, although working class support for the Labour party is still strong, many working class people do not vote in elections as they feel their own needs are being ignored in favour of the middle class. Ed Milliband has declared that the Labour party should ‘reach out to the middle classes’.

Lassalle believed the exact opposite. Before he founded the DAV, the German working class identified its interests with the Liberals. In his Arbeiterprogramm, Lassalles criticises the Liberals in France and Germany with the attempts to limit the franchise through the imposition of property qualifications. He demands instead not the census of the Liberals, but universal male suffrage, to which class conscious working class activists should concentrate on waking and sleeping through their working day and their leisure hours, until they finally won the vote. It’s time for a new campaign to re-enfranchise the working class through policies designed to appeal to and represent their interests. A shift of the tax burden back on to the rich, so they pay their fair share, would be a good start.

Michael Bakunin on Privilege, and the Modern Privileged Hatred of the Working Class

March 14, 2014

Owen Jones devotes a whole chapter in his book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London: Verso 2012) to the way the media has also contributed to the demonization of the working class as feckless, drunken, drug-addicted promiscuous and violent wasters. He quotes expressions of such class, and also racial prejudice towards the White working class, not only from Right-wing columnists, such as James Delingpole, Amanda Platell and Janet Daley, but also Liberal anti-racists such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. He quotes Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel on the very narrow class basis of the journalists now sneering at the underprivileged and the working class, stating

As Rachel Johnson (editor of the Lady and sister of Boris Johnson) puts it: ‘What we’re having is a media which is run by the middle classes, for the middle classes, of the middle classes, aren’t we?’ She is spot on. The journalists who have stirred up chav-hate are from a narrow, privileged background. Even papers with overwhelmingly working-class readerships join in the sport. Kevin Maguire told me of a Sun away day in which all the journalists dressed up as chavs. Chuckle at their venomous columns by all means, but be aware that you are revelling in the contempt of the privileged for the less fortunate. In the current climate of chav-hate the class warriors of Fleet Street can finally get away with it, openly a flagrantly: caricaturing working-class people as stupid, idle, racist, sexually promiscuous, dirty, and fond of vulgar clothes. Nothing of worth is seen to emanate from working class Britain. (p. 119).

He then goes on to describe how such hatred and contempt for ‘chavs’ has become an amusing pastime for the privileged members of the Middle Classes, including Prince William, at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

This chav-hate has even become a fad among privileged youth. At universities like Oxford, middle-class students hold ‘chav bops’ where they dress up as this working-class caricature. Among those mocking the look was Prince William, one of the most privileged young men in the country. At a chav-theme fancy dress party to mark the end of his first term at Sandhurst, he dressed in a loose-fitting top and ‘bling jewellery’, along with the must-have ‘angled baseball cap’. But when the other cadets demanded he ‘put on a chavvy accent and stop speaking like a Royal’, he couldn’t do it. ‘William’s not actually the poshest-sounding cadet, despite his family heritage, but he struggled to pull off a working-class accent,’ one cadet told the Sun. Welcome to twenty first century Britain, where royals dress up as their working-class subjects for a laugh.

To get a more detailed sense of what the ‘chav’ phenomenon means to young people from privileged backgrounds, I had a chat with Oliver Harvey, an Old Etonian and president of the Oxford Conservative Association. ‘In the middle classes’ attitudes toward what you would have called the working-class, so-called chav culture, you’ve still got to see class as an important part of British life,’ he says. ‘Chav’ is a word Harvey often hears bandied around beneath the dreaming spires of Oxford. ‘You’d think people would be educated here, but it’s still something people find funny.’ Unlike other students, he dislikes the term because of its class meaning. ‘I think it shows a patronizing attitude and is rather offensive. It’s a word used by more fortunate people towards less fortunate people… Unfortunately it’s now a popular term that has been transplanted into people’s everyday consciousness.’

A place like Oxford is fertile ground for chav-hate. Nearly half of its students were privately educated, and there are very, very few working-class people attending the university at all. It helps unlock the truth behind the phenomenon: here are privileged people with little contact with those lower down the scale. it is easy to caricature people you do not understand. And indeed, many of these students owe their place at Oxford to the privileged circumstances that brought them a superior education. How comforting to pretend that they landed in Oxford because of their own talents, and that those at the bottom of society are there because they are thick, feckless or worse.

Bakunin Book Pic

Michael Bakunin: aristocrat and Anarchist revolutionary. Probably wouldn’t have been a fan of David Cameron

All this seems to bear out what the great 19th century Russian Anarchist revolutionary, Michael Bakunin, had to say about the corrupting effects of social privilege:

It is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and the heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart.

131010benefitdenier

IDS: Just about everything about him corroborates Bakunin’s comments on privilege.

Clearly not everyone in the upper or middle classes is a mass of seething hatred and contempt for the working class, despite the efforts of the columnists of the Daily Mail and Telegraph. And very few would wish to see present society destroyed rather than reformed in the wave of apocalyptic violence Bakunin recommended. ‘Even destruction is a creative act’, as he described his attitude to the exploitative state and contemporary society. But it does describe the class attitude, and privileged hatred of the poor and disadvantaged shown by the very upper class members of the Tory front bench. After all, with Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and IDS presiding over an administration determined to destroy the welfare state, reforms that have resulted in as many as 38,000 deaths per year, it’s difficult not believe that Bakunin had a point about the corrupting influence of privilege. This needs changing, and fast. And it must be through the ballot box that such class hatred, oppression and exploitation must be removed.