working class

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A Nation of Shopkeepers – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/05/2024 - 9:39pm in

Dan Evans’s A Nation of Shopkeepers explores the growth of the “petty bourgeoisie” in the UK following Thatcherism, as the rise of home ownership, small landlordism and changes to the world of work instilled individualist tendencies among this section of the middle class. According to Vladimir Bortun, the book is an intellectual tour de force, though he questions aspects of how Evans analyses Britain’s class structure.

A Nation of Shopkeepers: The Unstoppable Rise of the Petty Bourgeoisie. Dan Evans. Repeater Books. 2023.

A Nation of Shopkeepers by Dan Evans book coverA Nation of Shopkeepers is not your typical sociology book. Rather, it feels like a long letter written by Evans to his fellow leftists about how they’re not “getting” the petty bourgeoisie. It was not always like that. As he shows in Chapter One, Marxist classics – from Marx himself to Trotsky to Poulantzas – paid close attention to the socio-economic and political characteristics of the petty bourgeoisie. Unlike the working class, it owned its means of production (shopkeepers, artisans, small landlords, farmers) but, unlike the bourgeoisie, was always at risk of being pushed into the ranks of the proletariat by capitalism’s inherent tendency towards monopoly and proneness to crisis. As a result of that, the petty bourgeoisie would eventually wither as a distinct class.

Over the past century, [the petty bourgeoisie] expanded and diversified, as key developments such as the growth of the (welfare) state, the massification of education or the rise of cultural industries have added new layers to the proverbial ‘shopkeeper’.

However, as Evans points out, the opposite has happened: over the past century, this class expanded and diversified, as key developments such as the growth of the (welfare) state, the massification of education or the rise of cultural industries have added new layers to the proverbial “shopkeeper” – this is what Evans calls the “new petty bourgeoisie”’. This class fraction is, despite some similarities, distinct from the so-called “professional-managerial class”, which sits below the capitalist class and is defined by its role in managing the affairs of the latter (executives, lawyers, accountants, journalists).

Thus, due to its unprecedented expansion, the ideology and values of the petty bourgeoisie have spread throughout society, including within the contemporary left. As Evans notes, “this is why it is so important to understand the petty bourgeoisie itself” (300). What are these values, then, and what are they rooted in?

Evans contrasts the stability that has historically characterised both the working class and the bourgeoisie with the inherently precarious condition of the petty bourgeoisie. This class is perpetually faced with uncertainty, striving to climb the social ladder or at least avoid falling down it. In turn, this breeds an individualist outlook which consolidated and spread during the neoliberal era and is today often translated – particularly among the “old” fraction of this class – into voting for right-wing populist parties. Countering that would require the left to build an alliance between the working class and the petty bourgeoisie, as both have interests that objectively clash with those of the capitalist class.

But there is something problematic in how Evans justifies the existence of petty bourgeoisie’s two fractions. If shopkeepers and farmers are part of the (old) petty bourgeoisie because they own their means of production, then with public servants or academics (the new petty bourgeoisie) it is their supposed individualism that places them in this same social class (150). In other words, the former is part of the petty bourgeoisie due to its objective class location, but the latter is so due to its subjective class outlook. Making the latter the top criterion of class is not just analytically inconsistent but also inconsistent with the Marxist tradition that Evans seems to align himself to.

Perhaps more problematic is Evans’ relative lack of evidence of said individualism. Indeed, he does not explain how that claim squares up with the increased levels of unionisation and left-wing affinities observable in recent years among some of these new layers of the petty bourgeoisie. As Evans himself acknowledges, “it is the declassed, downwardly mobile graduates who march, who have placards, who have adopted the accoutrements and iconography of socialism, the working class and collectivism” (141).

Only in the concluding chapter does the author attempt to makes sense of this apparent contradiction: the left-wing orientation of the layers of graduates in non-graduate jobs – who in Britain, as he correctly points out, have formed the main social base of Corbynism – would still be down to their individualist outlook, a by-product of their frustration at being denied the upward social mobility that their university degrees once bore the promise of. Yet again, the author hardly provides any evidence for this conjecture. Instead, he invites us to consider a hypothetical situation:

“The fundamental difference between the graduate call centre worker and the non-graduate call centre worker is that the proletarianized graduate did not expect to be in a low-paid, deskilled job. … It is unlikely that the proletarian colleague with no degree has a LinkedIn profile, for example, or is continually applying for other jobs. While they are sharing the same experience now, their experiences and ideology are not the same as the static life experience of the working class” (281).

Even if this difference was true, though, would it be enough to designate to different social classes people working in the same job? Are people’s career aspirations or educational backgrounds more defining of their class status than their objective location in the economic system? Also, as Evans points out, the “proletarianized graduate” is proletarianised because they face job insecurity, relatively low wages and restricted access to the housing market. Is bemoaning these things rooted in upwardly mobile aspirations? Or is it rather about simply wanting basic living standards that an advanced capitalist country like Britain accustomed most of its citizens to in previous eras?

Are people’s career aspirations or educational backgrounds more defining of their class status than their objective location in the economic system?

Moreover, Evans often seems to operate with a rather essentialist analysis of the working class, portrayed as inherently collectivist and content in its lack of upward mobility. Not only does this ignore the rich sociological literature on the (complex) process of social mobility among the working class, it seems to assume that the “non-graduate worker” is content with working in a call centre, which is at odds with the body of research documenting the alienation of workers (graduates or not) in this specific sector and its impact on their class consciousness. Equally important, it sidelines how the neoliberal transformations over the past few decades, which Evans aptly documents with regards to work (Chapters Two and Three), education (Chapter Four) and housing (Chapter Five), have impacted the outlook of the working class in Britain (as illustrated by its disengagement with, and exclusion from, the political process).

The only significant and demonstrable difference between the working class and what Evans calls the ‘proletarianized new petty bourgeoisie’ is a university degree, which inadvertently lends support to the very ‘Blairite’ narrative about social-mobility-through-higher-education that the book otherwise sharply criticises.

In the end, the only significant and demonstrable difference between the working class and what Evans calls the “proletarianized new petty bourgeoisie” is a university degree, which inadvertently lends support to the very “Blairite” narrative about social-mobility-through-higher-education that the book otherwise sharply criticises. Perhaps, given the shared objective location of both the working class and the new petty bourgeoisie in the capitalist mode of production (ie, the need to sell their labour in order to pay the bills), the similar material conditions they face, their broad orientation towards the trade unions and the political left, these groups might be different fractions of the same class. Perhaps making that analytic move – rather than artificially separating these groups in a way that arguably reflects (and reinforces) neoliberal hegemony – would render even more feasible the kind of political unity that Evans forcefully calls for in his conclusion. Perhaps the new petty bourgeoisie is, after all, the new working class.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: OlgaUA on Shutterstock.

 

Claudia Webbe MP confirms standing for re-election: ‘people need independent voice for real change’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/05/2024 - 8:31pm in

Webbe has shown she will stand for actual change that neither Tories nor Starmer’s Labour are offering

Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe has today confirmed that she will stand for re-election as an independent left candidate.

Elected in 2019, she became the first female to take the seat and the firs Leicester-born MP – and the first Black female MP – ever to represent a constituency anywhere in the whole county region of Leicestershire. Webbe was born and raised in the city and remained there to the end of her university education. Her father worked, with his identical twin brother, as an engineer’s hand at the former Wadkin Factory on Green Lane Road, while her mother – in a city famous for its garment production – was a dress maker who ‘made clothes to last’, who worked for companies like the old Fenwick and Corah & Sons.

Claudia Webbe, left.

Webbe has distinguished herself in Parliament by her fearless campaigning on local and international issues, from dangerous sweat-shop garment factories in Leicester and abroad, domestic abuse and politically-driven cuts to services, to the genocide in Gaza and the oppression of Indian farmers. She was also the only MP to speak out against the government’s dangerous plan, unopposed by Labour, to replace medical doctors with ‘physician associates’ – part of the so-called privatisation drive pushed by both main parties that she has also been vocal in opposing – helping to draw attention to the cost-cutting plan and make it the national issue it has become. She has refused to back down on these and other issues despite a torrent of racist abuse from supporters of other parties and of the oppressors.

Ms Webbe said:

It has been an honour and privilege to serve the people of Leicester East as their MP, representing all communities with passion and integrity, and I will ask them to re-elect me so that I can continue to serve their interests.

My independence means I’ll listen to local people and put them first. I’ll place people and planet over profit and vote for humanity and never against. I will work for justice for Leicester East.

I have shown that I will not stand-by silent while division and damage is done to Leicester East and the needs of the people ignored or injustice is perpetrated elsewhere in our name. After so many years of cuts and cruelty in this country, and wars overseas, the needs of ordinary people in Leicester East have never been greater to have me as their MP, who will genuinely stand up for them and what they care about, and not serve narrow party agendas or corporate donors.

My track record as MP for Leicester East shows that I understand their concerns and that I will work for the issues they care about, from low pay and exploitation in the garment industry and the closure of local services, to protecting access to NHS doctors, to speaking out for justice in Palestine, calling for a lasting, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

With the support of the people of Leicester East I will continue to campaign tirelessly for real change, real justice and a reversal of the inequality that has enriched a few while the many struggle”.

For more information, visit claudiawebbe.org. Skwawkbox understands that a campaign website will shortly be online and that Ms Webbe will welcome offers of campaign support. Her fundraising page is here.

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Clarke: 100 MP strategy to hold Starmer’s feet to fire

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/05/2024 - 7:03am in

Left strategist targets key MP wins to resist Starmer when he takes us into war or when he privatises our NHS’

Left-wing strategist Eoin Clarke, who has been at the heart of left resistance and the victories of the Corbyn period before sabotage and smears brought down the then-Labour leader, is targeting a hundred wins in the coming general election for grassroots candidates with the integrity and vision absent from what passes for the Labour party under Keir Starmer.

Clarke has laid out the target, which he has been working on for two years in a project named ‘Wag the dog’, along with a breakdown by nation of what could be achieved ‘to hold Starmer’s feet to the fire’ and resist the Establishment automaton when he tries to take the UK to war or to privatise our National Health Service:

Working with Clarke, the Ordinary Left grassroots activist group will shortly be announcing the socialist candidates, whether independent or associated with an existing party, that it will be recommending to the movement for campaign support. With the widespread disgust with Starmer over Gaza and his breaking of every promise he made to con his way into the Labour leadership, and the recent local election results showing independents and Greens surging compared to Labour and the Tories, and suggesting a potential hung Parliament, achieving the target does not look beyond the realms of possibility.

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Exclusive: Graham to be subpoena’d to testify in Ogle tribunal if she declines to appear

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/04/2024 - 7:09am in

Latest news from today’s session of discrimination case brought by Irish trade unionist against Unite and Sharon Graham as witnesses again ‘rattle’ union barrister – and former GS Len McCluskey will be called again

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham will be legally summonsed to appear in Dublin at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) discrimination case brought by Irish trade unionist Brendan Ogle against Graham and Unite, if she does not accept an invitation from Ogle’s lawyers. The news was confirmed after an attempt by Unite’s highly-paid barrister Mark Harty, to claim that Graham was not relevant to the case because she is the UK general secretary, was rejected by Adjudicator Elizabeth Spelman after Ogle’s lawyers pointed out that Ireland is a Unite region and Graham has overall responsibility, as well as allegedly telling Irish officials to inform Ogle that there was no place for him.

Ogle is claiming that Unite discriminated against him by sidelining him on his return from cancer treatment – and that he was told that Graham ‘recognises loyalty’ from those who supported her in Unite’s 2021 general secretary election. Ogle, like many Irish figures and branches, supported Graham’s rival, Howard Beckett.

The question of whether a subpoena would be issued to compel Graham to attend was left open at the end of the last three-day session of the case. Harty tried to claim Graham was not relevant to the case and may not be ‘amenable’ to subpoena, as if a legal summons is a matter of whether one feels like being summoned. Graham and her alleged words about getting rid of Ogle have featured prominently in the case so far.

In other news from the tribunal, Irish Unite stalwart James ‘Junior’ Coss gave evidence corroborating Ogle’s account of sitting through the creation of a whiteboard chart about how the union would be organised after his removal, to the evident ire of Harty, whom attendees described as becoming extremely aggressive.

John Douglas, former general secretary of Irish retail union Mandate, also gave evidence in support of Ogle’s case, to a similar reaction from Harty – whose approach in the preceding session in February led to several ‘sidebars’ with Spelman and Ogle’s outraged barrister Mary-Paula Guinness.

Tomorrow’s session of the hearing was postponed after Unite’s lawyers called pro-Graham union employee Therese Maloney in an attempt to rebut former general secretary Len McCluskey’s testimony that he had assured Ogle his job would be kept open. Adjudicator Spelman ruled that McCluskey must be on hand for re-examination before Maloney can testify.

Sharon Graham has previously cancelled appearances in the Republic, avoiding members’ anger and scrutiny over the union’s ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Brendan Ogle. The situation caused such outrage in Ireland that union members picketed Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community section condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and a whole sector branch threatened to disaffiliate.

Graham’s tenure as Unite boss has also been marked by a string of other allegations – which neither she nor the union has denied – including destruction of evidence against her husband in threat, misogyny and bullying complaints brought by union employees. She is also embroiled in a defamation lawsuit brought by Irish union legend Brendan Ogle for the union’s treatment of him and comments made about him by Graham and her close ally Tony Woodhouse.

She has also been alleged by insiders to have:

Her supporters also prevented debate and votes on Gaza at a meeting of the union’s elected executive earlier this month.

Failure to obey a subpoena in employment cases is a prosecutable criminal offence under Ireland’s ‘Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018‘.

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Starmer’s guest Herzog signs shells to fire on Gaza

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/12/2023 - 8:39am in

Genocide-mongering Israeli president warmly welcomed and presented with gifts by right-wing Starmer and Labour Friends of Apartheid

Israeli president Isaac Herzog has been photographed signing shells to be fired upon Gazan civilians. Herzog, like other Israeli government figures, has said that there are no innocents being killed in Israel’s wanton slaughter of Palestinian civilians:

It’s an entire nation that is out there that’s responsible. It’s not true, this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true.

So closely identified is Herzog with Israel’s war crimes that his comments were cited byexpert Raz Segal, the program director of genocide studies at Stockton University, as an example of the Israeli regime’s expression of intent to commit that and other war crimes.

According to Euromed Monitor, Israel has so far killed 30,000 people in Gaza, well over half of them women and children. Approaching 60,000 more have been injured, many of them severely.

As Declassified‘s John McEvoy has pointed out, Herzog recently received a fawning welcome from ‘Labour’ ‘leader’ Keir Starmer – who left him a signed note in a copy of a book presented to him by Steve McCabe, the parliamentary chair of the so-called ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ (LFI).

Starmer and LFI are no friends of working-class people – but they can’t get enough of those eager for war crimes against the Palestinians.

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