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:
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.
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.
Tell us about your experience