If you’re under any illusion that the working class have not been marginalised in the UK for decades then you must read this book (a new edition was published in 2020).
From the political history of what happened to the working class, to who is considered to be working class now, we’re taken on a journey to see how terms such as ‘social mobility’ started out being defined as a way for people to “escape” their class.
Jones asks valid questions:
- What does it mean to be working class?
- Who is the working class now that the UK has no real industrial or manufacturing heartlands left?
- Should the working class be something to escape? What are people supposedly escaping from? Is it just financial circumstances, or is there a cultural escape that is being alluded to?
- How has the media perpetuated stereotypes of the working class, and is it surprising seeing as it’s mostly made up of very privileged middle class people?
People like to keep politics out of inclusion conversations, and I understand why. Just this week I was asked to avoid mentioning these two stories in our Class in the UK workshop.
But if socio-economically diverse people are going to be invited into organisations, then organisations need to have difficult conversations about why that diversity doesn’t exist in the first place. Where biases exist. How those biases entrenched themselves. And what they are going to do once a more socio-economically diverse workforce is built.
I remember in one of my earlier jobs a colleague of mine from Essex became so frustrated and upset at the jokes made about their accent they started having elocution lessons to fit in with the overwhelming middle class make-up of the firm.
This is a conversation that has to happen, not least because of passages like this which show how intertwined classism and racism are:
“A lecturer tells me that when he mentioned to a public school-educated student that working class people were more likely to have a relationship with someone from an ethnic minority,
the student paused for a moment before asking: ‘Because they can’t find anything better?’”
Too often a focus on class is looked at with disdain because it’s seen as a singular issue, it’s even labelled class reductionist. But the working class is made up of a diversity of people across gender, race, sexuality and more.
So if we’re going to talk about inclusion, class has to be part of the conversation because the fight for gender and racial justice has always included economic inequality.