Lets do away with the term Working Class

I’ve always struggled with the term working class. Technically speaking I am working class, or was…

Some would say that class is based on how you were born, your family status and their history, you can’t become middle or upper class just because you have money or live in a particular place. I was born into a low income farming family, my parents separated and we lived in council housing off of state welfare, making us firmly working class (or worse?) Mum worked when she could and was upset that we had to have a council flat, at one point my sister and me sharing a room, scraping by with just enough.

I stayed in this low income position into my adult years, I didn’t go to university and took work washing dishes and so forth, I never had money to spare or save. This was OK by me, I was used to not having much and made the most of what I did have. I was working class and proud, although I never used that term to describe myself. I never thought about what class I was. It may be quite human to think in regards to hierarchy, but it’s not particularly normal to think about class, but people do quickly find ways to classify themselves and others.

People don’t like talking about money, no one likes to say what they earn or what they pay in rent like it’s giving away some kind of secret information that will affect you. We’ve seen it happen with lottery winners who are publicly known, others quickly scavenge what they can. I used to ask people what they earned or paid out of curiosity with no sinister intent, it’s helpful to others to know. But people always looked baffled that I even asked and mostly don’t know how to say “I don’t want to say”

I earn over £30000 in my day job. There you go, not an exact number but it’s the most money I’ve ever earned, for some people it’s pathetic, for others it’s a fortune and I feel pretty good about it. Particularly as I’m uneducated and work in Social Care. I never see myself as competing against others, so I don’t feel pride in earning more than another person but only if I do better than what I have previously done. The class system is largely about competing against others, that even regardless of money or even real life status, if you aren’t born upper class you never will be. People with huge amounts of money seem to be pretty happy to tell others what they have, to gain status.

Forbes magazine publishes its world famous rich list every year of who has the most money in business and entertainment, I do find this interesting but it does show how we hold people in high regard for having more than everyone else, whereas we should actually hold these people in great disdain. The exception would be those rich people who give back.[1]

My view of status was always as an artist, and for me commerce and art didn’t match up. My job was to help me be an artist and not worry about money. As I never went to an art school or even really studied art beyond high school I had no sway to gain good exhibitions in big name galleries, but that was OK, because I wasn’t trying to make a living out of it. Many artists will disagree with that approach, they should get paid for what they do and that is fine by me if that’s how you want to approach it but it’s not my way.

Percussionist Angus McLise famously left the Velvet Underground for the very reason that he couldn’t deal with the idea of getting paid to make music. I respect that.

Being a famous artist or musician could move you into the realm of the upper class, it isn’t just about money but if the upper class want what you do your status can shift dramatically.

In the UK right now there are 4.1 million people living in poverty out of a population of over 62 million, significantly more fall into the category of “working poor” which means they work but barely get by. In addition to that the rate of homelessness has increased dramatically with many more thousand people living on the street. Let that sink in, I suspect the USA has an even higher percentage which is just as baffling. In countries that are economic power houses, people are in poverty due to systems in place by a few people in power.

The class system is like a pyramid, with a very small amount of people at the top, the middle being a greater amount, those who make a decent living and can maybe even afford a house and car and then everyone else at the bottom.

In recent years there has been protests against the 1% at the top, those with the majority of money and power. This has always been a problem but the balance has increased for the few with more money and influence than ever making the “working class” become poorer and have less influence.

Voting is obviously a way for the people at the bottom to have their say yet we still end up with conservative governments who serve the rich and powerful, somehow fooling people with policies that blame immigrants for your problems, or claiming the country can’t afford to help the needy but still manage to find billions for military programs. It’s easy to give up on these systems when you see no positive outcomes for yourself and your community.

Many other people are working class and proud. Working class used to mean you worked hard to provide for yourself and your family, you lived modestly and were happy with that.

If you look at media now working class represents people who watch Jeremy Kyle, live off benefits, have 12 kids and no teeth, live off fried chicken and crack. There are a few people like this, many living in poverty stricken places with little employment but we can’t paint people as hopeless and stupid. Poverty does not equate to low intelligence, but it can equate to bad choices. Poverty does not equate poor taste.

There has been an increase in what is called the “middle class” and if you live in a city like London it is very apparent by the lifestyles that many are able to live but London and other big cities aren’t a microcosm of the rest of the country, they are different and despite massive multiculturalism actually have their own economic ecosystems.

The reason we shouldn’t use the word working class, is because there is no such thing. There are different levels of poverty and prosperity but working class doesn’t represent a specific group of people. The way work is has changed, people very rarely take a job for life anymore. In the past it was typical whether you worked in a coal mine or became a doctor you would do that for your life, get a mortgage, have a family and a couple of pets and most people did that until retirement or death. The world has changed and people will change jobs numerous times in their lives, the hard toil of labour doesn’t have the same value anymore and paying your way through university has become prohibitively expensive for many people. Despite the changes in the world of employment there still exists a bizarre idea of class.

Your class status is irrelevant to your intellect, your work ethic, your contribution to the world and many supposedly upper class people have done nothing for the world which does raise the question, who is a bigger drain on society? The rich or the poor? The worldwide recession was caused by bankers, not people on benefits. In economic terms poor people require more public services but that money pales in comparison to the amount spent on war.

Many people who have little are told by the media that status is gained by having an expensive car, or watch. There is a huge culture that has grown out of social media of people showing off their riches, and for many it’s just a façade, pretence of being rich. Children aren’t born thinking about class, or moving up in the world this is taught to us. There’s nothing wrong with ambition and nothing wrong with having things but it shouldn’t be for status, but without status maybe people wouldn’t try to improve themselves. People are classified by their economic status, which is inherently not humanistic.

There have been many cases of homeless people being fined for being homeless, hardly a means to help people get out of the situation they are in.

The main problem I have with class systems and calling people lower or working class is that definition is designed to keep those people there. Anyone who thinks of themselves as upper class will likely enjoy their place as “better” than others which would mean they won’t want others to join them. This elite small group is happy being small. The “haves and have nots” is a phrase that has always annoyed me, why should having be important, it is in the sense of survival but the phrase refers to rich and poor, and those poor are kept that way by the rich, it’s not about class at all but oppression. You cannot be put into a category because others prevent you from succeeding, that’s why we should do away with the terminology. The news should stop using it as that just perpetuates it even more.

You should stop referring to yourself as being any kind of class. If you believe that every person deserves an opportunity then do away with these concepts. People will always seek status, to be seen by others in a positive way but that status should be based on deeds no wealth and possessions.

 

 

 

[1] Harry Potter author JK Rowling has famously given away so much of her wealth she has dropped several places on the list.

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2 Comments

  1. I am also extremely curious about what people earn! I just think it would be helpful for everyone if there was more transparency – how do I know if I’m being paid fairly if I have no comparison? And how can I defend a coworker for being exploited if I have no idea what they are making?

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