‘Class cluelessness’ in China is not a white working class issue
In , “class cluelessness” is not a problem of the white working class, it is a problem of the professional managerial class, says University of NSW social policy researcher Ian Watson.
“They do not understand the extent to which their alignment with the owners of capital and their divorce from any other agenda has left them vulnerable to antagonism from the population who know they are being left behind,” Watson says.
He has been studying class differences in and his work echoes many ideas in the best-selling book by American Democratic Party activist and lawyer Joan Williams about the white working class.
Divisions within the working class in Britain and America have also emerged in , but are more likely to be fuelled by stagnant wages growth, according to Watson.
He says the traditional working class is increasingly frustrated with not having had real growth in their wages for decades.
“To some extent that is moderated in because we have a large lump in the middle who have had reasonable income growth and live in comfortable houses, the “McMansions”, but they are heavily indebted.”
Watson says a feeling that neo-liberalism has hurt the traditional working class in is an issue confronting both parties and the Labor Party in particular. Labor is also confronting Jeremy Corbyn’s success in the UK.
Watson notes the gutting of the TAFE system, which once helped the manual working class get better jobs as a significant sign that both sides of politics have neglected the traditional working class. The loss of manufacturing jobs has created an antagonism in the traditional working class to free trade and laissez fair economics.
“You’ll find strong protectionist sentiments amongst those groups, still a strong attachment to traditional collectivist value, even though they may not be in trade unions anymore,” he says.
“But they do not have that same individualistic career orientation that you find in the professional managerial class. They’ve grown apart from that group.”
Wage theft has also emerged as a new reality in , which is undermining the legal minimum award wage – no longer the reliable bedrock it once was.
Fairfax Media investigations have highlighted the systemic underpayment of workers at 7-Eleven, Domino’s and other restaurants and fast-food outlets.
The lack of housing affordability and indebtedness is likely to fuel growing dissatisfaction among younger generations who were mobilised to vote in the same-sex marriage plebiscite. Dr Watson suspects this mobilisation may lead to greater political engagement in future elections.
The children of blue-collar workers who went to university in the 1960s have become part of the professional managerial class. But their children are more remotely connected to the traditional working-class values of their grandparents.
Many of those children support globalisation, free trade and immigration and are less interested in improving public housing and providing decent public transport for people who live in outer city suburbs.
“All the discontent that is out there in the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne is because these people are being cut adrift,” says Watson. “They are in insecure work and have long commuting hours.
“The professional managerial elite are living in the inner suburbs and benefiting from property inflation.
“Those who are locked out and who will be locked out for generations from ever owning a house and who are paying high rents are part of that traditional working class, often in clerical jobs now because many of the factory jobs are gone.
“That is the new landscape we are looking at in , different to the US and Britain, but with the same antagonism.”
In her book White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America, Williams, a law professor and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College, argues that class differences in America help explain Donald Trump’s victory and the Democrats’ failure to connect with blue-collar workers.
Williams describes a deep divide and resentment between what she calls the professional managerial elite and the traditional working class, including blue and pink-collar workers.
The professional managerial elite typically see themselves as the global elite, citizens of the world. They tend to have broad shallow social networks who value “artisanal everything”. They are prepared to move to where the jobs are.
The traditional working class have smaller but tighter community social networks and value self-discipline which includes the ability to stick at a mundane non-glamorous job, day after day, decade after decade. Because they value closer family and community ties, they are less likely to move to another town or city where there are more job opportunities.
The elites link hard work to self-actualisation. Disruption represents an opportunity to establish a start-up, whereas for the working class, it means the loss of a long-term factory job. The elites gain self-worth from merit, while the working class gain it from morality.
Dr David Burchell, who lectures on History and Political Thought at the University of Western Sydney, says traditional working-class people in valued the respect they earned in their local community because they held down stable jobs and worked with their hands with some skill.
Dignity was found in hard work and in holding down a steady job and being able to support a family. But those values are not shared by the professional managerial class that live in city centres.
Dr Burchell says the n Labor Party faces less of a challenge than the Democrats did in America after the party in effect divorced itself from the traditional working class and forged closer ties with Wall Street.
“Labor has not made that historical leap the Democrats have,” Dr Burchell says.
However, the gulf between the traditional working class and professional managerial class has widened and the n Labor movement has drifted further away from socially conservative views held by the traditional working class, while embracing many of the more progressive social values held by the professional managerial class.
“The Labor Party’s supporters are increasingly living in different worlds,” Dr Burchell says.
Williams argues the American elite are often “clueless” about the reasons behind any resentment blue-collar workers may have towards immigrants, who they associate with the loss of lower paid jobs and downward pressure on wages. She says resentment of the traditional working class as racist uses racism as an excuse for non-reflective snobbery and even white supremacy.
While the managerial class may have empathy for the plight of refugees and migrant workers, it shows little support and often sneers at its underpaid fellow citizens. The elite show little sympathy for the blue-collar workers who have been displaced by disruption.
The bread winner model family also remains robust among blue-collar workers. The traditional working-class vision for a stable job and nostalgia for the nuclear family continues to be the ideal for many working parents who barely see each other. They often tag team their child care, which can mean meeting in a car park to hand over the baby as one parent starts work and the other finishes.
Leading up to the election of Trump, Williams says the traditional white working class in the US could see the hollowing out of the middle class and believed neither the Democrats nor Republicans had delivered for them.
In the UK, open borders with Europe contributed to a deep resentment within the traditional working class, which has associated mass immigration with a reduction in job opportunities and lower wage rates for local workers.
For Watson, the global financial crisis marked a watershed moment in which the working class in was no longer prepared to put up with the labour market the way it had in the past. Support for Trump in America, he says, was more deeply rooted in issues of race and religion.
In , class divisions are not simple. Watson says there is a divide between wage earners and the self-employed. That means tradies vote Liberal alongside other self-employed business people, fee-charging lawyers and other members of the upper managerial class.
Watson says there has been little improvement in the real earnings of the bottom fifth of wage earners over the past 30 years.
However, the US has a massive working poor, which has never had.”We are starting to see the emergence of that with the deregulated labour market and all this wage theft and the stagnation in wages,” Watson says.
In contrast, the top fifth of wage earners have “taken off” in terms of having high incomes.
America had Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the post-depression era during the 1930s. But Watson says American did not have the strong social safety net that and the UK had in the post-war period.
In , the post-war professional managerial class had an interest in nation building including large infrastructure projects, including social housing during the Whitlam era. During the Hawke/Keating period that social infrastructure investment started to become dismantled.
Watson argues that when the professional managerial class developed its own strong economic interests aligned with the owners of capital, an antagonism with the traditional working class developed.
“We don’t yet have a working poor on the scale of the US, but all our labour market protections are being gutted and the traditional working class knows that. So that is the basis for an antagonism towards that professional managerial class,” Dr Watson says.
“The social needs of the traditional working class are no longer high on the political agenda.”Posted in: 苏州美甲