Featured Image: And The Migrants Kept Coming 1941 (escaping from National Socialist persecution in Germany) Jacob Lawrence
Above: New York In Transit Jacob Lawrence 2001
Look around Britain seventy four years after the second world war and I’d say you’re looking at a big story where the economic, political, and social structures are unfinished, where the images of working class people are foreshortened and ugly, where the end is always unhappy and needing charity or help.
Let’s re-look at the stories of working class, migrant workers and refugees after the second world war now and work out a route where these rich, real and powerful stories and histories reconnect us all and can help us move to a society, culture and economy where the creativity and ingenuity of people labelled as working class, migrants and refugees are revalued: they get a refund, credit and acknowledgement for their enormous contribution and their social capacity back: making a positive impact on how we should be thinking about new ways of making, living, working and collaborating.
It’s vital that we move beyond the brutalising structures of gig and gang labour employment propped up by alienating employment agency and rentier capital movement of people throughout their lives in our society into ways of living, working and relating to each other that are about one person one vote, a sense of voting for something that benefits everyone, transforms our cities, towns and countryside for everyone not just the few. Like Get Brexit Done, the Many Not The Few is still of vital importance.
We need to use technology in a way that challenges its power so that even the biggest businesses are smaller, more responsive and valuable to the communities they work in and for.
Putting information to work again for the many as well as the few so that we move telecom and social media companies out of the morally dark place of squalid silo monitoring of manufacturing supply chains into partners who can help us have better infrastructure, partners who can help create a living and working environment that has beautiful streets, pavements and richly creative and innovative ways of working, making, living and being that reach and inspire everyone.
I feel that people in tech are as anxious for change as we are.
They’re in an environment where they have to follow rules but they’re also exploited as drones who can only think in one way because the employment environment has reverted to the kind of military top down way that was used after the second world war, the difference being that we now have a standard organisational form of core employees and peripheral employees whereas before we had core employees and mass unemployment.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Core employees are people who are seen as essential to the functioning of the organisation: in the 1970’s and 1980’s when economic reforms of trade unions and workplace representation happened, the importation and substitution of american terms such as underclass for working class coincided with the re-emergence of second world war ideas of passporting and welfare rights, effectively through the administration of benefits, that some people had time limited rights, some people’s rights should always be contested.
To understand the ruthlessness of this, it was a reversion to an ideology that demanded obedience and compliance using the power of data, technology and credit to achieve this, rationing access to jobs, rationing job creation through agencies.
Agencies work by quickly and responsively mediating the employer/employee relationship, fill the ‘need’ but are like a drug because they’re set up for profit and never quite meet the need.
Over time instead of employers becoming more nimble, in touch with their business and their workforce, they become numb: the sense of accountability and responsibility that we all have for each other are just words. Job descriptions, roles and responsibilities don’t evolve, responsiveness to difference is blunted and we evolve a miserable view of people and human nature because no-one is allowed to grow and develop beyond the need and greed model of human nature and behaviour.
We need to look at how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been co-opted to this ideology. Maslow argued that we can’t reach our potential until we’ve met certain needs. The problem for working people is that over the last forty years workers have been denied continued and permanent access to secure and developing education, training, skills and employment, housing and health services because these services have been quietly privatising and differentiating and this makes access difficult, simple notions of health and wellbeing expensively complex, whether of time, or money.
Agencies, particularly in places like Nottingham (there are 150 in this area and another 100 who place people here) skew the opportunity for insightful and richer relationship between the employer, employee, educator and provider of skills, particularly when you consider the gap between the haves and the have nots here.
If we are increasingly privatising education meaning courses of questionable value ironically proliferate in the state sector while insight into the value of education training and skills apprenticeships is drowned out by the institutional presence, the ease of access to a warehouse, driving or factory job for an agency.
Although you may want to be educated the odds are already stacked against you. Agencies and colleges are in competition for the working class and the agencies are winning with all that implies in the same way that gambling shops and casinos compete for working class custom three hundred and sixty five days a year. The environment around working class people is full of shock and awe, scorched earth, trouble and risk and we pretend this is working class culture: regularly writing stories that blame the victims.
Work in agencies and contracted out supply chains continually deplete workers, pay just about a living wage without security and are always examined and investigated in isolation instead of as a network lock down between landlords, employers and agencies that started in the 1970’s against unionisation, the developing franchise and human rights, introducing the idea of time limited rights, almost like licencing, being in society, in an area, on licence. As the prison service privatised, so did the idea of an underclass from where all society’s problems arose and became the fodder of tabloid and daytime TV.
We need a society that recognises itself as an organism that can create as much creative meaning in an inner city as in the country house, learn from it, share it and introduce the idea of a shared future that we all contribute to. We have a crisis of economy, culture and meaning and we need to find out how we got here.
Where Marx might have cleverly turned Hegel’s idea that thought shapes the material worlds we experience into its opposite,a theory where the material world we experience shapes our mental landscape, the architects of credit, information and data collection that are now turned to in every organisational setting, health, education, police, retail, local authority, (Experian’s Mosaic), turned Marx on his head, so that structural exclusion appeared to be based on the quality of individual choice and decision making. The poor choose poor choice chicken and egg problem.
Many people won’t have heard of the 2010 Life Chances Act which was the name given to the legislation around child poverty : have a read:
Structured social confusion happens through the social segmentation and differentiation we experience every day that makes us think that social distance is normal.
This normalising of emptiness disconnects people so that our ability to express our feelings and communicate with others is prevented by age, class, race, ethnicity and gender and mediated by technology that delivers this.
When we accept this level of social distance between people we’re also losing touch with a notion that you can discover the common good when you ask and answer social questions. We’re introducing an uncomfortable limiting of expression that fragments our sense of ourselves and others as subjects with a past, present and a future.
To cope with the unbearable heaviness of now we consume more. Nothing solves it.
When society moves away from the collection of data for the public good to the collection of data for whoever pays you accept a dystopian norm where in the ever more permanent present nothing changes or improves but more data is produced and more individuals have labels.
Philosophy, religion and politics create a space in society that even if you aren’t clever or educated or weren’t interested, give you the chance to argue, discuss, debate.
Life needs to be constantly rejuvenated with possibility and dreaming. Ideas around and of the franchise, voting, equalities and education as well as a national health service keep us well when we need hope. Now, because the rich and affluent are so distant because we’re all being disconnected from any sense that our identities exist in a past, present and future, we have to work out how to begin conversations with people not like us that will enable us to be fully represented everywhere.
Connect this with an experience of life through the quality of services. Of health and social care that is disorientating and alienating because it’s contracted out, it’s in a hurry, it’s done by people who aren’t trained, paid or supported properly.
We have to free our workers and those who rely on them by creating a work, home and community environment that can be seen to be dynamic, that can be seen to be solving the problems of education, class, race, gender through new kinds of creative jobs and opportunities that will fill the gap and the vacuum in society and between people.
People have forgotten how to debate because no-one listens. They’ve forgotten how to listen to other people because no-one listens, no-one cares. Until we begin to care about the fact that we just don’t care and the reasons why, nothing of any consequence will happen for working people.
If we can begin to understand that people have overdosed on the bland, the lowest common denominator, the endless consumption of the same in ever different iterations and we need to encourage the courage to hope, to think big in the small, to introduce the idea of the richness of care to making our streets, pavements, buildings we work in and walk through more accessible, beautiful and meaningful but we need new kinds of jobs with decent contracts and training that will enable us all to develop as people.
To do this we need to stop sleeping out for the homeless, to stop letting charities become asset rich while relying on volunteers who are really poor. We need to question the overuse and mediation of employer employee relationships by agencies who don’t see their role in managing large numbers of working class and migrant workers for profit in highly risky and unhealthy environments as questionable. They’re taking the future away from too many people too much of the time.
If we can posit the ideal of direct communication, real, human, honest conversation, face to face with businesses about their plans, their history, understanding of the local and how local people can be part of the business on decent terms and contracts, if we can innovate to create new kinds of jobs with training and development throughout the life cycle, we’ll be on the right route.
Because parliament is currently run as UK Plc our own franchise to debate our rights, the kind of education, work, skills, health and quality of life has no space, is also held at arm’s length, seen as a purely instrumental, transactional thing instead of a dynamic process in real time that has power to shape the space in parliament.
During the election, Boris Johnson, man of action was seen throughout the campaign across the UK flooding the virtual environment with his face and body PR rituals saying one thing in many different ways, while debate and discussion of, say issues of underfunding in the NHS or infrastructural neglect around the River Don, for example, plans for green jobs, a national education service, training throughout our lifetime, access to the internet for everyone were not presented as worth even referring to.
We all know that strangely, since 1979, that the thing that all the establishment interests fear is the franchise growing and developing. Boris Johnson has been a PR man for the people who really run Britain in his work and activities for most of his lifetime and I don’t think he believes that the franchise should be a developing thing any more than David Cameron did. Cameron didn’t think prisoners should have the vote and was rabid about the way we should deal with Gaddafi. The way Gaddafi died was appalling and indicts anyone who believe in a civilising society as it allowed an untrammelled version of what one man (David Cameron) was pressured into believing not on the basis of proportional decision making. More than anything the end of Gaddafi taught me that checks and balances on elites and elite decision making are vital because although you may believe and feel in your heart that something is right you must never forget how siloed and closeted your world view is.
All closely held views are culture and that culture needs accountability. The idea of a calm, civilised society in a peace that is real because it comes out of an interactive, distributive sense of past, present and future means that we need to have political manifestos that reach people and are properly debated by the leaders of the parties at every election.
It should be a legal obligation to read and debate each party’s manifesto.
With the franchise, people have the respectful right to ask for more than a pretence at full employment, training, education and funding, more than a lock in around privatisation of care and mental health services that’s interested in more clients and ever more elaborate differentiation rather than great outcomes. A failing private service supported by a voluntarism and charity sector that gets richer and richer while asking people who have already had their future determined to give and be volunteers.
Privatisation for its own sake is patronising. It doesn’t take people seriously and is manipulative in health in the same way as in a privatising education and training system that puts working class people on never ending courses with a massive level of behaviour compliance while exploiting them in care and low status jobs and roles that create profit for their professional owners but deplete their workers. We need to address this class exploitation and to recognise that we’ve created a servant class in the 21st century who have little chance to change their life chances under the guise of compliance and safeguarding.
During the election when ideas of universalism, decent education, skill training, jobs, homes for all got too close to elite and working class communities the establishment rolled out their moral, historical and controlling almost military connection to working class people and call it friendship: Jeremy Corbyn is dangerous, working class people are sensible and want stability, working class people need the entertainment of a Boris: he’s a Jack the Lad like you only a bit more noble: “Get Brexit….””Done” they shout.
Yet the process of smashing any connection to a shared responsibility and shared world view, smashing aspirations, families and acknowledgement of historical, social or cultural reciprocity continues in the new version of government with Boris Johnson.
Any evolving sense of historical justice continues can now be a lie: lying is what politicians do when actually, most politicians are like us, disenfranchised from their vocation by the removal of powers to question the executive in the Brexit bill just as the protection of workers rights promised by Boris Johnson before the election have now disappeared.
In this new parliament we have the threat of further loss of hope and rights unless the working class voters who left labour have a real sense of their place in parliament, that they are interested in making the space currently dominated by the Dons of Gig and Gang Labour Rentier capitalism connect properly and permanently with their local needs for new kinds of jobs with training, skill development, decent contracts, looking at how local, regional and national supply chains affect the environment and life chances of local people and substantial house building.
Society is an organism: I think that the conversations and actions of local agencies, employers and landlords about the working class have powerful consequences in the same way that the actions of everyone have consequences.
We focus intensely on teaching thinking skills to NEETS (young people not in employment, education and training) , teaching them/cramming them about the needs of the employers, educators, the wider society but until we teach consequent thinking skills to the big landlords, the agency handlers of great big gangs of migrant and home workers, until we teach those thinking skills to the chief executives of academy chains, the owners of nurseries and after school care who moan and complain that profits are up but their burdens with these people they employ are enormous, we just won’t make progress.
People need to feel that their life in the local is registered, acknowledged and developed. If it means building homes ourselves then that is part of the process: working class people have been turned into an underclass that no one relates to properly. Boris’s connection with the working class has already changed in the House of Commons on Wednesday 19th December 2019 with a withdrawal of the promise to retain rights parity with Europe.
We need to understand how we express and communicate solutions in this rights vacuum.
Inside this representational deficit, inside this vacuum, we’ve gone back in time to the period after the second world war: the Royal Family, the Gig and Gang Rentier Don type are role models glamourising family, straddling the incursion of parliament as a place where naked management of supply chains is delivered and where the boundaries of legal and illegal are fuzzy because the purpose of parliament is now seen as delivering profit.
Margaret Thatcher said there is no such thing as society, Tony Blair thought there was nothing but society and the conservatives and coalition since then seem to have settled on family (and DNA) to explain and justify the problems of the kind of economy they continue to profit from.
It’s a promotion of family though without a sense of investment in everyone that takes us back to a prevailing sense that although we have technology we’re a country where the tradition of the class system is being rolled in to explain why the same people own and have access to the best of the old and the best of the new: well it’s in our DNA while others are destined to be …well…servants.
In fact because we’ve stopped the clock on the developing franchise all we have to do as a society is ‘be’ who we already are and be kind and charitable, especially getting involved with ‘children in need’ once a year, sleeping out (notice with is never ‘with’ but ‘for’ the homeless and supporting the myriad religious companies who’ve satellited themselves around our cities to help with working class indebtedness, lack of decent jobs and housing.
Consider how much money regularly goes from councils to charities: Framework supported housing in Nottingham charity receives about £42 million a year and has, in the past, received up to £60 million a year. £42 million is roughly the same amount that Nottingham used to spend on housing and jobs every year and it’s the same amount that members of parliament claimed in expenses for second homes in 2018-2019.
My thinking is we have money (imagine how many houses a small developer like Think Big Developments in Nottingham could refurbish and build with £84 million. We could self build homes and have a culture that wanted less access to information about people’s lives and conditions, a healthier environment. It is wrong to continually teach people to do the same things over and over again as if they have a deficit, as if they are lacking when it’s the lack of movement and activity in the environment around them, a structure of unbalanced and passive consumption that creates personal and social problems.
Lack of connection and engagement because of this creates the issues we call problems and so we’ve got into the habit of sending in young people often as interns or lowly paid or as volunteers who’ve read all the words about these people but who are secretly channelling a ‘royal doing good’ while they engage as well as hoping for an award as they do their voluntary or short contract role with the charity.
This creates problems for everyone and yet is seen as a positive outcome. It’s not.
We could create new kinds of jobs and we could task existing charities with the burden of making themselves redundant within five years, leaving behind a legacy of employed, trained and innovative people, new organisations and less of the OBE wanna MBE syndrome throughout the third sector and the sporting environment. It’s exploitative and perpetuates a system that needs to be made accountable in all its aspects, so that creative jobs and innovation are part of everyone’s lives in a genuine way.
Working class people need to be inside parliament, need to be active, lobbying not labelled, determined, distracted and gamed by the kind of government of the contracted out economy where special advisors try to tell us just what UK Plc really is and where in reality third party contractors kettle people into categories that they’ll never escape.
Noone sees this and so nothing improves: it’s about the massive emptiness caused by the way we employ, train, educate and care for people.
Just as the Private Finance Initiative architects rubbed their hands together dreaming of how hospitals could become hotels when Tony Blair came to power, just as Margaret Thatcher who sold and didn’t replace council houses thought she was removing the something for nothing generation and as how Shirley Porter sold council houses to conservative voters to gerrymander an election result, we need to restore a sense of history, of lives. Volunteering projects and charities keep us in this ever present present so familiar in the deep south slavery of the novels of William Faulkner.
Taking away the rights of any group of people which I think we’ve done since 1979 in actively importing ideas of ‘an underclass’ from America rather than people who live and work here with rights and responsibilities means we’ve given ownership and control of those lives to another group of people such as rentier landlords, agency employers, gig and gang master control in the food and distribution industry.
Often ex-military people, themselves suffering from post traumatic stress that’s never been properly dealt with are given resettlement in really stressful environments, prisons, in distribution and contracted out environments.
Being used to taking orders means it takes a while for them to realise that the environments they’re working in are full of harm and risk. When they realise what they’re colluding with they leave because they want better, want to work in an environment where everyone has a chance.
In the last ten years though, like the left, they’ve been on a mission to deliver a culture change in the working class on behalf of the establishment in the same way as UKIP, the Brexit company were set up by the establishment to use immigration to win the referendum and the election.
The changes we need though are in quality of education, training, skills, business and life cycle.
For labour, the surges in party membership weren’t reflected in a more responsive and representative organisation. Labour needs to train its technology in-house, to stop using third party contractors, be the supply chain it wants to see. Be dynamic, in charge of what and how tech is used and by whom. It needs to create a model of an organisation that reflects the future for working people it wants to see and that means relating better to unions, helping unions become more active, representative, helping people to participate and pay them for their work. If labour can do this employers will fund them. Labour need to be enabling employment and party membership to become less bureaucratic. The language of politics needs to evolve from everyone’s experience.
Labour should be the party of good work, to bring in a sense of a human scale to everything it does and then it will make a change to the quality of life, people will want to converse. When we talk about the environment and we’re alienated we should work out how and why we’re so excluded and whether we have a solution that could resolve my problem but include you too so you feel less excluded and you can be creative.
Because what we’ve lost is the freedom to plan, to think, to grow. When academics and intellectuals talked about the end of history at the end of 1989 they were really talking about the end of our establishment feeling any obligation to share power or narrow the distance between underprivilege and privilege.
The failure to build council houses after the great sell off was also the end of the establishment acknowledging the importance of developing equalities as a social good instead of an encroachment on what they saw were their assets and their power.
It was the dystopian culture where an overt lack of concern about helping other people to be successful became a relationship of overt exploitation, a recognition that the less social mobility there is the more power and authority I have as a successful person as the new norm. Everything in society began to be documented around a self development that increases the social distance between the successful and the unsuccessful. Instead of connecting or being able to connect as an ordinary human, helping in a reciprocal way, now the business person gives largely and publicly to charity, getting cudos and points for everything. The lack of insight into the way that makes others feel and how it changes their life chances for the worse in the delivery of charity projects is so embedded and it needs to be addressed.
Modelling of the behaviour of really rich people, extreme wealth and status is everywhere: the theatrics of self inside working and social environments that stay the same until they’re gone without warning, without replacement, though, highlights the lack of space for a public conversation, for debate, discussion beyond our own immediate networks.
Working class people have been socialised into spaces that are too small for them, spaces that confine the body, soul and spirit.