Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
Owen Jones (Verso)
Chav: a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of (real or imitation) designer clothes. (Oxforddictionaries).
Chavs was the number one best selling political book in the UK last year. Such was its impact, it managed to cross that the difficult terrain that usually prevents most left wing books from gaining a wide readership beyond the left wing milieu.
The book 'benefited' in the aftermath of the London riots, as people sought explanations for the riots that didn't merely blame the protesters for what occurred. While the British Establishment simply threw 'the scum' into jail, Chavs explains how the British working class has been stigmatised by successive Brutish Governments and by its allies within civil society.
In New Zealand chavs would be defined as 'the underclass'.These are the people that right wing talkback host Michael Laws says shouldn't have children - the women, he says, who should be sterilised. He has discussed this abominable idea on air with the Minister for 'Social Development' Paula Bennett - who did not immediately reject it. Bennett herself has opined about young women having to take the pill while on the Domestic Purposes Benefit. We can't have 'the mongrels' breeding, can we? Look what they get up to on Outrageous Fortune, for god's sake!
When did it become the norm to simply dismiss the working class as lazy, criminally inclined, sexually promiscuous, drug addled, drunk? When did it become acceptable to turn the working class into caricatured objects for entertainment in such shows as Shameless and Outrageous Fortune? When did the working class suddenly become 'STUPID'? When did the British working class suddenly into Vicki from Little Britain? When did the issues of poverty, and unemployment become not an economic question but a moral issue about how poor people should be treated? When did it become the poor's own fault for being poor?
To his credit, Jones pinpoints the stigmatisation of the British working class within actual material conditions. He argues that the process of demonization began with the election of the Thatcher Government and the subsequent 'neoliberal revolution '. Facing only sporadic resistance from the so-called defenders of the working class the gains of the post-war era were gradually dismantled. Indeed, the so-called 'leaders' of the working class movement did as much damage as Thatcher did - if not more. The likes of Tony Blair and his allies in the trade union hierarchy have a lot to answer for. Blair is not just a 'war criminal'.
Jones writes that the policies of neoliberalism have devastated and impoverished working class communities. This is not an issue of cultural oppression (the 'get out of jail' card that many liberals might like to play in order to not confront the issue of class) but one of economic oppression. It is about who rules society and who doesn't. It's not a question of 'why can't we all just get along?' and token reforms that achieve nothing.
While some right wing commentators - and even some so-called 'left wing commentators' - would like to argue that the working class no longer exists, Jones writes that it has become transformed rather than wiped out.
He writes that when traditional British industries had once provided well paid and secure jobs the erosion of Britain's manufacturing base means that these jobs have been replaced by badly paid, insecure and low-status jobs in retail and ‘customer service’. It is also largely a de-unionised workforce - Jones estimates the only fifteen percent of the British workforce in the private sector is unionised.
While Jones is writing about the British experience there are obvious parallels with New Zealand. That's the thing about capitalism - it screws us ordinary Joes and Joannes, no matter where we are.
We have widespread poverty and unemployment in New Zealand yet Paula Bennett will not accept that it might be the three decades worth of neoliberal economic policies that have led us to this devastation.
You can throw statistics at her as much as you like but she continues to victimise the victims. Too many poor women having children! Too many people whooping it up on the 'riches' that a benefit provides ! And so it goes on.
And while she claims she wants to give the poor a 'helping hand' ' that 'helping hand' actually holds a big stick which she regularly whacks beneficiaries with. Believe me, it'll hurt you more than it hurts her.
We also too have a Labour Party and a trade union hierarchy that have betrayed the very people they pretend to represent.
Read what Owen Jones writes about Britain this and reflect on how it might relate to New Zealand:
“It is both tragic and absurd that, as our society has become less equal and as in recent years the poor have actually got poorer, resentment against those at the bottom has positively increased. Chav-hate is a way of justifying an unequal society. What if you have wealth and success because it has been handed to you on a plate? What if people are poorer than you because the odds are stacked against them? To accept this would trigger a crisis of self-confidence among the well-off few. And if you were to accept it, then surely you would have to accept that the government’s duty is to do something about it – namely, by curtailing your own privileges. But, if you convince yourself that the less fortunate are smelly, thick, racist and rude by nature, then it is only right they should remain at the bottom. Chav-hate justifies the preservation of the pecking order, based on the fiction that it actually a fair reflection of people’s worth.”
Left defenceless by a trade union hierarchy that won't fight and a Labour Party that largely agrees with the economic policies of the National Government, ordinary New Zealanders are largely politically voiceless and vulnerable to attack by a Government encouraged, in the absence of organised resistance, to push on with its anti-working class policies.
And we are expected to believe that the election of another neoliberal Labour Government will save us! It is a sick joke indeed but one that is being played on us right now by the trade union big wigs - none of them short of a dollar, I might add.
As Western economies continue to decline - irreversibly so - many countries are implementing drastic austerity measures that hit both the middle and working classes.
Meanwhile, the villains at the top of the pecking order, continue to live the lifestyles they have grown accustomed to - courtesy of taxpayer- funded bailouts . What the economic crisis has clearly exposed is that Western governments, such as New Zealand's, are dedicated to the protection of the ruling class, at the expense of everyone else. The state in the end, is not some neutral arbiter of society's woes, but always remains a capitalist state. The social democratic illusion has been smashed, the heirs of Eduard Bernstein have nowhere left to run. They are a pathetic rabble, bankrupt both of ideas and vision.
It's as if the curtain has been pulled aside to reveal who is really puling the levers of power and, surprise, it ain't us!
Those who presently hold these levers of power must to be removed in order that we can build a fundamentally different society that is managed for the betterment of all and not just the few.