Why We Need Working Class Spaces

We need protected working-class spaces for the same basic reasons as other oppressed groups

Class is about power. If you are working class you probably didn't grow up with much money and may still be on a low income. Class in many ways is more about culture and cultural barriers than money, although they usually go hand in hand and together add up to formidable disadvantage and challenge within our society. One that is barely acknowledged and has been dropped or diminished within important sources of working class power over decades, such as within unions, the Labour Party and within further and higher education Sociology courses.

Even if working class people overcome the many barriers and become financially stable, or gain status from their work, their social class is still visible to those around them. Because of these social forces, those around them will predominantly be from middle class backgrounds or be straight-up affluent and a working class background still marks people out as different. It still holds people back. It can effectively force working class people to either culturally assimilate or to experience bullying and severe, sustained suppression (something Pierre Bordieu called symbolic violence). This can take many forms.

The research on this phenomena may be sparse. Who's interests would be served by funding research into it, after all? There is no protection within the law for the range of silencing, suppressing and bullying approaches that may have lasting and damaging effects on working class people who's efforts land them in what can feel like a culturally alien and hostile world. This is why it is all the more important that we have protected spaces for these conversations.

If you listen to the working class voices of professionals and intellectuals cast into the abusive social class 'no man's land' a complete picture of the many forms this suppression takes starts to be revealed. Important changes stem from that. Firstly, we get to hear that we are not alone, that this is an incredibly common but incredibly neglected experience. It is real. It is vicious and harmful. It can be subtle, but like the 'thousand tiny cuts' of endemic racism or sexism, it harms and it holds people down. It stifles potential and society is the poorer for that. It makes a lie of notions of meritocracy and it helps to explain the widening gulf between mainstream politics, culture, art, research, wealth and every influential aspect of our society from the working class. People who do well and refuse to culturally assimilate can be severely punished for non-compliance and this needs to be brought into the light. We do that by sharing our stories, because that appears to be the only viable means within our grasp.

For working class people who venture outside of the sphere that society has designated as our 'place', we suffer a similar effect to that which can disadvantage women for being born as women, people who are disabled, BAME or from other oppressed backgrounds. How did those groups achieve legal and socio-cultural recogniton and protection? Through protected spaces, through speaking out and sharing their experience and through the use of legitimate anger to achieve change.

So please listen to the stories we share (link to videos). Get in touch so you can add your own and become involved in this important national project. This is OUR space, which we will create TOGETHER. Middle class people, because of a range of privileges we don't have and they may not be fully conscious of, have their own space and a lot of the important spaces that we used to be able to access and influence. This is how we put that right.

See how many of these you can relate to:

  • Not being fully accepted by middle class peers, regardless of ability

  • Being spoken down to or 'infantalised'

  • Being regarded as 'course' or too honest and open

  • Finding ideas readily appropriated by others or ascribed to others, then being 'discarded'

  • Having ideas and insights only taken seriously when re-presented by middle class voices

  • Being serially overlooked for promotion

  • Being regarded as a threat just for being yourself

  • Being even less welcome if failing or refusing to 'culturally assimilate' or blend into the background

  • Struggling to find things in common in middle class dominated educational or work spheres

  • Being on the 'outside' conversations due to cultural and experiential differences relating to class and privilege

  • Being regarded as aggressive for using language or humour that are accepted when used by middle class colleagues

  • Having to curb views and feelings about class discrimination and suppress any reference to social class

  • Being more readily negatively judged as irresponsible, a bad parent, untrustworthy

  • Facing extreme hostility for discussing class privilege within mixed company, often coming under attack - this can take a number of forms

  • Having no unmixed company spaces in which to ever discuss class injuries

  • Speaking and being ignored or talked over repeatedly

  • Being stripped of the right to speak on behalf of your class or from direct experience due to attaining a role in society traditionally associated with being middle class career territory

We can all probably add to this list. Sometimes class bias and bullying is conscious (symbolic violence). Sometimes it is unconscious. We experience it in many forms, every day. The result is the same - it harms our class and robs society of all that we have to offer. It curtails our children's opportunity to reach their full potential and to live financially secure and confident lives. It makes our faces, voices, and insights invisible across all of the positions within society where decisions are taken that affect us all - our perspective is missing from how our society is shaped and run - in who's interests it is run. The fact that class has been air-brushed from the national conversation means that we don't even get to access an education and discussion about how this has been able to happen in plain sight.

Without that class education and awareness, without that conversation, without having the opportunity to recognise our invisibility, experience, and express the legitimate anger that comes from that, we can't assemble the tools to deconstruct and dismantle working class discrimination and oppression.

The frustration of not being heard and not taken seriously can be really demoralising and draining, whether or not you venture outside of your community and roots in your education and job.

For working class people in middle class settings, this is the ongoing backdrop to their lives and extremely wearing over time.

It is not unusual to hear working class people after a few years say 'I don't care anymore' or 'I have given up, I hate them'.

It is important to note that this has not been the starting position for most working class people but is born from years of frustration, repeatedly bumping up against barriers, assumptions, suppression, hostility, visible injustice and in some cases, psychological trauma. It can be exhausting, physically and emotionally. The fact that it is acknowledged by almost no-one anywhere only adds to this psychological trauma.

Working class children and young people may encounter these cultural barriers in school or in certain social situations. This can have a very serious impact on self-belief, self-esteem and attainment of our young people. When politicians talk about a lack of aspiration amongst working class kids, this context is never seldom taken into account - perhaps because most of them have never experienced it? Because through the lack of any acknowledgment or analysis of these repeat on our talented and creative children, self-blame is the only natural human response.

Your Struggles Are REAL

Their sense of inadequacy or failure to fit in or get on is neither imagined nor the result of individual inadequacy but more about a culture and system that doesn't value them, doesn't recognise their struggles, neglects to explain to them how this works to hold them back. Just knowing that they are not alone in this experience can itself be helpful and hopefully, many working class children and young people will connect with this site and start to realise that class discrimination is real, is often subtle, is extremely powerful, serves everyone but the working class interest and is not their fault. If this spurs them on to understand class theory and what research we do have available and to assemble themselves some tools for change, for a better future for our class, then so much the better for all classes.

People are not their skin colour or class, but in the system we all live in, capitalism, these factors play a big part in who gets on, who gets to 'win' and who is consciously or subconsciously judged as lesser or greater. This powerful and ingrained effect takes place and causes harm whether others admit to 'seeing class' or 'seeing colour' or not. These factors have not evaporated over time, as some claim. Platitudes about us 'all being equal' don't magically erase persistant, deep and broad systemic faultlines that serve to help some and hinder others. Capitalism is not a fair system. It doesn't function so that we all have the same chances, it relies on some of us failing. There have to be losers for there to be winners and these areas of prejudice are part of the fabric of capitalism - it relies on us not talking about them openly in order for it to continue to function and for some to benefit. They will be with us for as long as capitalism is with us.

So let's talk about this issue loud and clear.

The concept of Social Mobility may be used to infer that anyone can shift through the class system or income gradient with the right attitude, intelligence and effort.

The Social Mobility conversation is rarely had about who might have to shift down to make room at the top and whether endless upward social mobility for everyone is either possible or desirable.

Analysis of the socially constructed hidden advantage and disadvantage of social class is almost always absent from any discussion of social mobility.

It is sometimes argued that almost everyone identifies as working class (according to around 60% of people do) and that it is divisive to even talk about class (especially on the new political Left), on the basis that middle and working class people share more in common with one another than the combined 99% do with the 1%, or that it is only acceptable to talk about class and act on these barriers if a clear definition of class has been agreed first. On the other hand, others argue that no one identifies as working class any more, that this is a good thing and that class division and inequality is a thing of the past.

This is frequently argued across the Left of politics and silences those that can see the extent to which political spaces that used to feel like home to their class now feel distinctly middle class-dominated.


Although the official Survey of British Social Attitudes found in 2016 that 60% of people in the UK identify as working class, the survey also suggests that "some objectively middle-class people identify as working class because they perceive they are disadvantaged in a society dominated by a tiny wealthy elite". So although class identity is said to be 'alive and well' in the UK, it is questionable whether all who are identifying as working class are in fact facing the kinds of barriers and discrimination that those on this website can identify with.

According to Ipsos Mori, 45.8% of household heads are in the manual worker or lower-paid social grade bracket known as C2DE (a broader definition of working-class)

Class discrimination is so commonplace and yet so neglected within common discourse that we are vulnerable to internalising and normalising it.

One recent antidote to emerge has been the creation of Working Class Officer roles in universities. This has been a powerful development and one way to begin to challenge the standard minimisation, denial and aggression that often result from pushing the issue of class back onto the agenda.

Our Voice

Tell us about your experience

Increasing numbers of universities are appointing Working Class Officers and policies, in recognition of the barriers and discrimination that can often be faced by working class students. There are recent examples of attempts by working class artists and academics to make it ok to have the conversation about class again and to articulate these experiences. Met by an often defensive response, this can result in serious negative career consequences. Often, working class people that understand class discrimination and systemic causes well raise their voice knowing this may harm their prospects and income security. Given the often monumental additional efforts that working class people have to exert just to get through the door of a career ladder of any sort, this is a serious undertaking and sacrifice that only really happens because at a certain point, social injustice becomes more unbearable than the thought of landing back at square one, with no money or status, possibly having been bullied and publicly disgraced.

Let's talk about how this works.

Just as other oppressed groups have needed their own spaces to articulate these experiences amongst those who truly understand and will not dismiss, feel defensive, attack or minimise, so working class people need to come together to share and validate common experiences.

Not to wallow, or to blame, but to gain strength from which to work out what is to be done and to push as one voice, for change. Also to help to make sense of something that can be damaging to self-esteem and cause endless frustration and anger.

Anger about unfairness is legitimate. Naming and making visible these common experiences and setting them in context is the beginning of taking them on.

Working class voices are rarely genuinely invited into more privileged spaces to take up positions of power and to influence systems to make them fairer and more accessible.

When working class voices manage to make it into spaces that are middle class-dominated, they are often isolated and sidelined.

We need as a class to support each other, to develop a community, re-locate our own voice and work collectively to start taking up more space across all spheres of influence. We need to encourage our young people to do the same.

In order to tell the truth about class, poverty, socio-economic inequality and all combined, we need to be honest about the which social backgrounds dominate the positions of influence across our society, the vested interests and biases that entails and the fact that perhaps the most damning of all equalities issues is entirely edited from equalities legislation and protections and from the common narrative.

We need to be honest about the differences between evidence and popularised narratives about why people are poor, why some people get on and some people seem doomed to fail, why succeeding as a working class person and the insight that brings is accompanied by conflict and anger and while we are at it, let's have some honesty and transparency about the neglect of social class within modern sociology and neglect in financing further evidence and data in pursuit of social justice.

The gatekeepers of the current unfair social order have a lot to answer for. If these are uncomfortable questions, it is worth us looking closer at why that might be.

We can also look at our heritage - who are our role models from the past? Just as with Black and female heroes and heroines of history and social justice, working class heroism has been under-reported and buried, their achievements often accredited elsewhere.

We need to uncover those stories and allow ourselves to be inspired by them.

Just as Black voices and women's voices have been integral to the fight against those forms of social injustice, so must working class voices be heard and set alongside the evidence.

It stands to reason that this will be an uncomfortable and threatening conversation for some people.

That did not stop the women's movement, or the civil rights movement and it must not stop us from tackling social class injustice.

Given half a chance, we are amazing. Learn more and be inspired by what WE CAN do

Working Class Role Models