Monday, February 9, 2009

Labour's abandoning of the working class

Increasingly, the media and politicians talk about the 'disadvantage suffered by white working-class people', and the need to 'listen to their concerns'. Hazel Blears, the government's Communities Secretary, says New Labour should fight to win back support in white working-class communities that feel abandoned by all mainstream political parties, in order to halt the rise of the far-right, racist British National Party (BNP).

Naomi Byron
But rather than change its policies - like reversing privatisation, ending the housing shortage by a massive expansion in council housing or socialist nationalisation to save jobs - New Labour is cynically playing the race card.

Instead of listening to the real concerns of working people, these big business politicians are going along with the sensationalist and divisive way that the media has begun talking about the "white working-class" as something separate and distinct from working-class people of other races.

A useful report by the Runnymede Trust refutes the false 'racialisation' of these issues and pointed out that from housing to education to health "where the white working-class are losing out, it is to the wealthy rather than to migrants or minority ethnic groups."

Contrary to media headlines that white working-class boys are losing out dramatically to black and minority ethnic groups in the same income bracket when it comes to GCSE results, the biggest gap by far in education results is social class.

Wendy Bottero, one of the report's contributors, points out: "We should look at the impact of the closure of the manufacturing industries which once dominated working-class communities; the neo-liberal deregulation of the labour market which has made their jobs less secure; the sponsoring of middle-class advantage through 'parental choice' of schools and the marketisation of education; the sell-off of council housing which concentrates the most disadvantaged in the remaining estates; and the stalling of incomes and expenditure at the bottom of society while the wealth of the rich rockets."

The current media debate, says the trust report, "exaggerates the differences between ethnic groups and masks what they hold in common. By stressing the whiteness of the white working-class, the class inequality of other ethnic groups also slips from view.

"This sidesteps the real issue of class inequality, focusing on how disadvantaged groups compete for scarce resources, rather than exploring how that scarcity is shaped in the first place. If we really want to understand disadvantage, we need to shift our attention from who fights over the scraps from the table, to think instead about how much the table holds, and who really gets to enjoy the feast."

Working-class people of all races and backgrounds have no organised political voice and are marginalised, frustrated and angry. The real question is what can be done about it. That is why we are fighting for a new workers' party that can act as a channel for working people to take collective action to defend our rights and fight for a better future.

Attempts to whip up the racial divide between working-class people are extremely dangerous, and must be fought. The only rights and improvements working-class people have won have been through our own collective struggle. The fight against racism and division is an absolutely essential part of this. The question of racism, particularly racist discrimination in the workplace and attacks against black and Asian people, is still a burning issue and one that needs to be taken up by the whole workers' movement.

Racism is deeply rooted in capitalism because the profit system makes use of 'divide and rule'. The more big business and the media succeed in creating resentment and division along racial lines, the harder it is for working people to fight back and improve our lives.

The more the main parties try to play the race card to prop up their collapsing votes, the easier it is for poisonous groups like the BNP to look respectable, gain support, and divide working people further. Help us in building a genuine alternative for all working people in the form of a new mass workers' party.