The Demonization of the Working Class

Book - 2011
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"In this groundbreaking investigation, Owen Jones explores how the working class has gone from 'salt of the earth' to 'scum of the earth'. Moving through Westminster 's lobbies and working-class communities from Dagenham to Dewsbury Moor, Jones lays bare the ignorance and prejudice at the heart of the chav caricature, and reveals a far more complex reality: the increasing poverty and desperation of people left abandoned by the aspirational, society-fragmenting policies of both the Tories and the New Labour. A damning indictment of the media and political establishment, Chavs is an illuminating, disturbing portrait of inequality and class hatred in modern Britain."--P. [4] of cover.
Publisher: London ; New York : Verso, 2011.
ISBN: 9781844676965
Characteristics: 298 p. ;,23 cm.


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Oct 11, 2012

Jones is writing about England, but his thesis would apply to America as well. He argues that the working class has been abandoned by mainstream political parties – the Conservatives under Thatcher and Cameron, but also by “New Labour” under Blair. He compares the latter to neo-Liberals like Clinton and Obama in the US.

Several problems. First, he doesn’t distinguish between those in the working class who actually work and those who subsist on state handouts. In fact, he continually switches back and forth between the two. He would insist that this is because the media and politicians see them as one stratum – that they have “demonized” the working class by portraying them all as feckless bums.

Second, he doesn’t make a good case for cause and effect. Is the dysfunctional behaviour of the underclass (as distinct from the working class) the result of their poverty or the cause of it? He condemns the latter view out-of-hand. He cites Charles Murray (Coming Apart: The State of White America) but dismisses him as a pseudo-sociologist and an apologist for the ruling class. According to Jones, the underclass are victims, pure and simple.

Third, he doesn’t accept that there were macro-economic forces at work during the last 30 years – free trade, technological change, globalization, etc. For example, he describes the closing of coal mines in England and the impact this had on working class communities as if it was entirely the result of Thatcher’s union-busting policies. No consideration is given to the possibility that the mines were played out and that coal was being replaced by gas and nuclear power. Same with manufacturing plants that closed – it didn’t happen because of China, but because British politicians refused to protect them with tariff barriers.

During recent trips to Turkey and Spain, we ran into hordes of English package tourists. Most were typical working class people. Not welfare moms and soccer hooligans – but people with jobs and enough disposable income to go on a foreign holiday. They might be chavs, mocked in the press and scorned by the toffs in Knightsbridge and Windsor – but they certainly haven’t been abandoned by the post-industrial economy.

An interesting subject, but Jones’ account is completely lacking in balance.

roadshowrigoletto May 29, 2012

Well, it's more than worth a read. And before you go thinking "It's ol' Blighty, not the good ol' US of A. What could it say to me?," read it. The transliteration is easier than you might think.

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