Taking back control – if only for a day

John Lanchester has a long piece in the London Review of Books reflecting on Brexit. It’s worth making the time to read it in full but this piece struck a chord:

To be born in many places in Britain is to suffer an irreversible lifelong defeat – a truncation of opportunity, of education, of access to power, of life expectancy. The people who grow up in these places come from a cultural background which equipped them for reasonably well-paid manual labour, un- and semi- and skilled. Children left school as soon as they could and went to work in the same industries that had employed their parents. The academically able kids used to go to grammar school and be educated into the middle class. All that has now gone, the jobs and the grammar schools, and the vista instead is a landscape where there is often work – there are pockets of unemployment, but in general there’s no shortage of jobs and the labour force participation rate is the highest it has ever been, a full 15 points higher than in the US – but it’s unsatisfying, insecure and low-paid.

There’s work but it’s not like work used to be:

This new work doesn’t do what the old work did: it doesn’t offer a sense of identity or community or self-worth. The word ‘precarious’ has as its underlying sense ‘depending on the favour of another person’. Somebody can take away the things you have whenever they feel like it. The precariat, as the new class is called, might not know the etymology, but it doesn’t need to: the reality is all too familiar.

This is the story that the economic statistics don’t always show. Sure, the employment rate is at a record high and inequality has barely risen since the early 1990s but the experience of work has changed. The sense that somebody can take away what you have almost on a whim makes people feel less secure. Of course, it has always been possible to sack people and evict them from their houses but go back a couple of decades and it was a lot more difficult to do so in practice. Furthermore, people had more of a sense that they had some say in the matter and some form of redress against unfair decisions.

Many years ago, I read an article (I can’t remember where) applying the concept of property rights to jobs. It was an intriguing piece, arguing that organised labour had challenged the employer’s ‘ownership’ of a job. It was no longer his to do with as he saw fit, a part of it ‘belonged’ to the worker. This was certainly the case when it came to disposing of employees. Unions often resisted the right of employers to sack people. In some industries, such as printing, they even told the employer who to hire. The job was as much the ‘property’ of the worker as the employer.

To stretch the analogy even further, you could argue that there was even a sense of hereditary rights over jobs. Many of the large industrial organisations recruited from families. In the company I worked for at the end of the 1980s, entire extended families were employed. Fathers, brothers and sons as engineers or on the labouring gangs, mothers, sisters and daughters doing clerical jobs in billing or dispatch. Some of them rose  through the ranks to become managers. It was very unwise to slag off a manager in public because you could never be sure whether or not the people you were talking to were related to him.

The longer you had worked for the firm and the better your reputation, the more likely it was that you could get friends and family members jobs as well. This didn’t do much for workforce diversity but it did give people a stake in the system. Loyalty to the company paid off in the form of patronage. Being able to get your son or nephew a start at the works reinforced the status gained from working for a recognisable company, like Ford, or a big utility like the local electricity board.

Something similar happened with housing. Go back 25 years and most people who didn’t own their homes lived in council houses. They had secure tenancies with fixed rents. Priority was given to people who had lived in an area for some time. You can argue about whether this was fair or not but, as with jobs, there was (and still is in some places) a sense that these homes belonged to people and to their families. They might not have been people’s property in the legal sense but their residents certainly had a sense of ownership.

Underpinning all of this was a lot of talking and listening. Paul Bivand and I were discussing this just after the referendum. There were joint committees of managers and trade union reps at national, regional, local and plant level. There is much talk now of Employee Voice but there was plenty of it in the unionised workplaces. The people sitting on these bodies came from the same backgrounds as those they represented. Sometimes even those on the management side had originally come from the shop-floor. In the company where I worked at the end of the 80s, on the joint committee for the London area, the management side was headed up by a staunch Labour supporter and the union side by a member of the Conservative trade unionists.

All this began to fall apart in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Liberal legislation is sometimes blamed but really it only played a minor role. The company where I worked, for example, was criticised by the CRE for recruiting from families. It had done it for so long that it barely occurred to anyone that the practice made it less likely that people from ethnic minorities would be recruited. That said, ideas of meritocracy and the drive for shareholder value would probably have done for such practices anyway. At the same time, union power declined, due in part to government policy but also to the disappearance of many of its strongholds as industries were restructured and jobs automated or offshored. All this happened remarkably quickly. Unions which had seemed all powerful a dozen years earlier were on the ropes by the early 1990s. As Paul Mason said, in his review of the Shane Meadows film This is England 90, a lot was about to change:

I recall feeling on that day that a lot of certainties were falling apart around me: the deference and hierarchy that had kept protests self-controlled, even during the fractious 80s. The social solidarity that enforced law and order in working-class towns, the maleness and the straightness of public life were fading; recreational drug use was flaunting its smiley face across mainstream culture.

This new fluidity meant that, when the economy recovered in the mid-90s, the labour market would become more stratified. The rungs on the earnings ladder separated rapidly, leading to sharp and rising wage inequality. It trapped the poorest but – as the free-market model found its stride – enabled the return of upward mobility by the 2000s.

If they’ve been lucky, the real Lol and Woody will be living in a nicer part of Sheffield having survived several episodes of layoff, retraining, outsourcing and offshoring. The real people I remember from the riots and raves of 1990 – mainly the clever non-graduates who populated the trade union movement – are now ward sisters, chemical engineers, shift supervisors in highly automated factories. Whatever the job title, most are working with a raw material that barely existed in 1990: digital information. The ones who didn’t escape will be living a life you know all too well from the benefit-porn documentaries: poor, hopeless and stuck; dazzled by the celebrity circus, perennially hounded by the DWP.

Many will no doubt take issue with this, pointing out that there has been no noticeable increase in inequality since the early 1990s and that, with the exception of the mid 2000s, real household incomes rose faster for those on lower incomes than for those in the upper deciles.


Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 18.16.26

Chart via Resolution Foundation: Living Standards 2016

But while that is true, it doesn’t tell the whole story. The cost of rented housing has risen faster than incomes and the proportion of the population in council housing has shrunk. As Declan Gaffney pointed out a couple of years ago, the caseload for most benefits has fallen since the early 1990s while that for working age housing benefit has risen sharply.

caseloadchart

Chart via Declan Gaffney

This chart tells the story of our times. The proportion of people on out-of-work benefits has been falling for the last two decades. The majority of people are now in some form of paid employment but these jobs are supported by tax credits and in-work housing benefit.

Furthermore, as the Joseph Rowtree Foundation found, a lot of people regularly move in and out of low paid work. Compared to most other countries in Europe the UK has relatively few people trapped in persistent poverty. This is because we share our poverty out more evenly. Most people don’t stay on a poverty-level income for long but typically around a third of the population will have had some experience of it during the last four years. It is no wonder, then, that people feel insecure.

This brings us to the nub of it. As John Lanchester said, the new work doesn’t do what the old work did. It feels less secure. Employment protection comes from the courts, if you can afford them, not from your own representatives. Employers may ask for your opinion and take an interest in your morale but they do so because they think it will improve productivity, not because of your bargaining power. The fact that an experiment in employee empowerment and a neo-Taylorist workplace autocracy can operate under the same corporate roof shows just how arbitrary people management policies can be. In the past, employers had to talk to worker representatives. Nowadays they do so because they think it might improve their profits. Tomorrow they might change their minds.

It’s the same with housing. The proportion of people in council housing and other social housing continues to fall. Even the secure tenancies that once went with council houses are now under threat. Those in rented accommodation have very little protection against eviction. To cover rent and bills, many find themselves relying on tax credits and housing benefit.

That sense of control, of ‘property’, over jobs and homes has gone, taking with it the sense of permanence and rootedness that employment once gave people. Nowadays there is the sense that it all depends on the favour of someone else and could all be taken away from you at any point. Even if you are in a permanent job, your employer could sack you tomorrow and you’d have to pay to go to court to sort it out. He might decide to abandon the employee engagement programme and introduce the Sports Direct approach to management. If you are on zero hours or agency employment, he might just stop phoning you. The landlord might evict you next week or the government might tell you the house you have lived in for years is no longer yours. Or it might decide to take away your tax credits and housing benefit. Just like that!

The point about all this is that it is someone else decision. The protection people might once have had, through their trade union reps or tenants’ associations, has either gone completely or is much less powerful than it once was. In short, there was a time when people had more control and a lot of them can still remember it. Whether the slogan ‘Take Control’ was a clever but cynical pitch, as John Lanchester says, or just a stroke of luck, it clearly struck a chord with people who have been feeling a loss of control for years.

It was when I read this piece by Lisa Mckenzie, a week before the referendum, that I feared the game was up. I grew up in Nottingham and I already knew from friends and relatives that there was a groundswell of opinion there in favour of leaving the EU. Lisa Mckenzie put these feelings in context. Voting for Brexit, she said, was the only way people who felt powerless could change anything.

[T]he EU referendum debate has opened up a Pandora’s box of working-class anger and frustration. It is clear that the Westminster politicos are quite unnerved by this. Even I am surprised by how the referendum has captured the attention and the imagination of the same people that only last year told me they had no interest in the general election “because ‘they’ are all the same”.

In the mining towns of Nottinghamshire where I am from, the debate again is about Brexit, and even former striking miners are voting leave. The mining communities are also worried about the lack of secure and paid employment, the loss of the pubs and the grinding poverty that has returned to the north. The talk about immigration is not as prevalent or as high on the list of fears as sections of the media would have us believe. The issues around immigration are always part of the debate, but rarely exclusively.

From my research I would argue that the referendum debate within working-class communities is not about immigration, despite the rhetoric. It is about precarity and fear.

Working-class people in the UK can see a possibility that something might change for them if they vote to leave the EU. The women in east London and the men in the mining towns all tell me the worst thing is that things stay the same. The referendum has become a way in which they can have their say, and they are saying collectively that their lives have been better than they are today.

Suddenly, people had power in their hands. The sort of decision that was usually reserved for politicians had been handed to the electorate. They could make a choice which would have a direct effect on the future of the country. That, only one month later, that choice has already lead to a complete change of government ministers and has had repercussions around the world, shows just how much power the voters were given. They voted so that something, anything, might change. Briefly, people who had seen their control over their lives ebb away were granted immense power. And they used it.

Whether it will make their lives any better in the long run remains to be seen. I think it unlikely. The damage caused by leaving the EU will almost certainly hit the poorer areas hardest. That said, I retain just enough optimism to hope that, rather than shrugging off the anger, our shaken up political establishment might pause and reflect. Rather than condemning people for doing something so destructive, shouldn’t we be asking why they were so angry in the first place?

Update

On a similar theme to this, Anthony Painter has written a good piece on insecurity and the new world of work in which he draws on data from the British Social Attitudes survey. There are a couple of particularly interesting findings here.

Firstly, the study finds an increase in feelings of insecurity among older workers and those in more routine jobs.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 16.46.36

The age difference might be because older workers can remember when they had greater job security than they have now and the younger ones don’t miss what they have never had.

Secondly, the sense of control over the organisation of their work has risen among professional and managerial workers but declined for those in routine jobs.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 16.50.52This reminds me of a discussion I had with Chris Dillow a while back on whether workplaces are more controlled and regimented now than they were 20 years ago. I suspect that your view of this will depend on the type of work you do and how many layers there are above you in the corporate hierarchy.

In general, though, these findings suggest that working class and older workers feel they have less control and security at work than they once did.

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44 Responses to Taking back control – if only for a day

  1. Fascinating piece. The resonance with another recent article about social value and voting tendency in the USA is striking. https://medium.com/@Chris_arnade/trump-politics-and-option-pricing-or-why-trump-voters-are-not-idiots-1e364a4ed940#.rlvcnoa84

  2. This analysis is spot on in my ever so ‘umble view.

    Add to the mix the concept of loss aversion, a concept that also underpins benefits sanctions (so beloved by the DWP as a “motivator”), then the logic behind the Leave vote becomes clearer. Precarious workers and other marginalised groups have their backs to the wall and have little to lose from lashing out – loss aversion has lost its power to keep them in line.

    All credit to Lisa McKenzie for her research. And shame on the last Labour government for failing to reverse the huge hike in inequality which occurred in the 1980s. One may be forgiven for believing that the current crop of Labour politicians don’t have the inclination or ability to address these issues.

    Comparing how successive governments have created the electorate’s state of mind to the story of Dr Frankenstein and his monster one may be justified in concluding that Life is imitating Art.

  3. Dan says:

    Very good post (and a good description of where the Labour party should be pointing *all* its policies at the moment).

    I wonder if you have any feel for how much the loss of secure jobs is due to the changing nature of the workforce rather than relaxed employment protections? I can’t remember the exact quote but somebody recently pointed out that it wasn’t that bad to be a zero-hours salad-bagger if you were a young low-skilled Hungarian only here for a short while to make a little money, but a very different prospect if you were British and trying to build a life for yourself. I wonder how much the availability of labour with no great need for security has driven the upsurge in insecure jobs.

  4. Jim says:

    You can go back to the work conditions of the 60s and 70s if you go back to the social attitudes of the 60s and 70s. You can’t mix and match – if you want the multicultural all inclusive rainbow sexual equality society we espouse today you can’t at the same time expect a close knit, closed in society to exist in the workplace and on social housing estates. The two are not compatible.

  5. Jonathan Chamberlain says:

    Excellent piece. Industrial relations thinking long recognised a concept of ‘property in the job’, hence the ‘last in, first out’ was the default selection criterion for redundancy for many years and indeed still has some sort of weight if only as a touchstone.

  6. Metatone says:

    I see no reason to think the Leave vote will do anything for the people Lisa Mckenzie describes. The hard-Brexiters are claiming a full on mandate (c.f. Daily Express front page today) and Liam Fox and David Davis are united around turning Britain into a low-regulation, low-wage economy.

    • Dipper says:

      I can’t speak for other Leavers, but for me the reason for voting to leave was to restore the primacy of parliamentary democracy and to make the elected MPs and government accountable. So in that sense I think it does address the issues Lisa described and described elsewhere in that MPs can no longer use the excuse of EU rules – it is down to them and no-one else.

      Take immigration as an example. Many have said that leaving the EU might not reduce immigration. Well, possibly so, but if immigration stays high then MPs and parliament will have to explain why they have chosen to do that, and explain the choices they have made. We can then vote on whether we agree with them or the alternatives. None of that would be possible if we were still in the EU.

      • gunnerbear says:

        Well said….no longer will the s**t-heads like Lammy in the HoCs and Hammond in HMG be able to say, “I’d love to do that but the EU won’t let me…..” (meaning of course, ‘Like f**k and I going to do that, I’m not listening to the plebs..)

        If they don’t do as we want, they’ll be out and I suspect that is something that the PM is very, very aware of….

      • Dan says:

        I suspect we may end up with just the same situation (if not about immigration, then still about a thousand other things) outside the EU but within whatever sort of deal we strike next. It is in the nature of international cooperation that we bind our hands somewhat.

        Being a full member of the EU may well be more encompassing than whatever replaces, and harder to extricate ourselves from when we chose, but the mere fact we are leaving proves that parliamentary democracy and elected MPs and government were always both prime and accountable – despite what some said.

  7. I think a lot of people who voted leave regarded the referendum as a free hit, either because they were sceptical about “project fear” or because they were past caring.

    As you say, it would be encouraging if politicians were asking them “why they were so angry in the first place”, but it appears both main parties are otherwise engaged. The Tories are negotiating with foreign governments and their own ultras, but not I suspect to buy time to quiz the wider population, while Labour has been launched on a leadership contest in the cause of “managerial competence” (oh, the irony).

  8. Patricia Leighton says:

    I don’t disagree with much of this analysis but coming as I do from a poor Welsh background I do not look at ;’yesterday’ with such rose tinted glasses.Life was often pretty dull and boring. What strikes me as interesting is that so few of those who spend their time moaning and blaming do what people have always done-that is, seek work elsewhere. Those berated migrants have taken some control of their lives, moved, worked hard and have a strategy for their lives..This moaning and blaming I find extremely depressing and as I work in many other EU states I can see different attitudes at work. I do have to agree, though, about the failure now of all the major political parties to provide any sort of direction and leadership. It is this that has allowed cynicism to reign.

    • gunnerbear says:

      “Those berated migrants have taken some control of their lives, moved, worked hard and have a strategy for their lives..”

      Because those migrants tend to be the ones who are intelligent enough to learn a foreign language, stay in their own tight knit community and live 15 to a house on wages that a UK family man simply can’t manage on….and then the same immigrants plan to return to ‘X’ after sending cash home to ‘X’ where it will go much, much further….

      • George Carty says:

        Perhaps some of the hostility to immigrants isn’t about xenophobia, but about rejecting an economic system that requires people to move where the work is instead of supplying plenty of opportunities for decent local jobs?

        • Dipper says:

          informative article in Saturday’s Times on Grimethorpe. Investment in a business park that advertised directly in Poland and Rumania and did not employ locals.

          • George Carty says:

            Shades of the earlier post on this blog about Britain’s decrepit small towns, which employers dodge like the plague because the local population has too many social problems:

            Well they are but we just can’t get the quality of people in Coketown. HubCity has two universities and a lot of colleges. The people are just better educated, more sophisticated and come with a better attitude.

            We have tremendous problems in Coketown. The older ones were used to working in industrial plants and even the younger ones, who didn’t, seem to have inherited the same attitudes. Coketown has huge social problems and people bring them into the office. We spend a lot of time trying to manage those problems. By locating ourselves in the middle of all that, we’ve taken on lot of aggro that we didn’t anticipate.

          • gunnerbear says:

            And Jezzbollah, the current Leader of HMLO simply doesn’t get it and never will…..his London-based world view won’t let him. If Jez brought himself and few of his middle class trustafairian supporters to a WMC in say Grimsby….Jez and his chums would s**t themselves at the comments about the EU, mass uncontrolled integration, and the best way to deal with criminals……

          • George Carty says:

            If the English working class are as reactionary as gunnerbear seems to believe, why didn’t the BNP (whose economic policies are more worker-friendly than those of the uber-Thatcherite UKIP) do a lot better in the last decade?

    • David says:

      Exactly my thouhts Patricia . When I couldn’t find work near me , I moved to where there was work , uncomfortable as that was .

      • gunnerbear says:

        Were you competing with millions of immigrants willing to share 20 to a house and work for less than NMW?

        • David says:

          “Those berated migrants have taken some control of their lives, moved, worked hard and have a strategy for their lives..”

          Your comment gunnerbear was exactly what I did . Never an easy option but always better than sitting on your arse expecting someone else to bail you out .

  9. Pete North says:

    For all your scorn of Brexiteers you stumble unwittingly on the essence of Brexit. You say:

    –“Whether it will make their lives any better in the long run remains to be seen. I think it unlikely. The damage caused by leaving the EU will almost certainly hit the poorer areas hardest. That said, I retain just enough optimism to hope that, rather than shrugging off the anger, our shaken up political establishment might pause and reflect. Rather than condemning people for doing something so destructive, shouldn’t we be asking why they were so angry in the first place?”–

    This is known as shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. We have had the great and the good telling us that the EU is in our best interests when what they actually mean is that it is in their best interests. Meanwhile the jobs and industries displaced by automation and globalisation have never properly been compensated for. Even during the notionally prosperous Blair years jobs were service jobs inside a bloated public sector and the youth unemployment problem was swept under the carpet by making universities social warehouses.

    Northern towns now look considerably better than they ever have by way of cosmetic regeneration but its the spiritual life of communities that has suffered the most. And this is partly to do with the EU. It has been the gradual drift toward corporate managerialism not just in local government but also charities, where community charities have become grant chasers instead of being out in the community doing the heavy lifting. The volunteer ethos has been completely demolished and the professionalisation of childcare has all but eradicated community based childcare and made it unaffordable for young mothers.

    Everything has become corporate, sterile and remote and the public are receivers of governance rather than participants in government. What they get is more regulation over their professions that make it harder and more expensive to operate without understanding why, without any advance warning and without the means to change it. Things that used to work without local authority intervention have now been taken over and now abolished or discarded due to lack of funds. People feel like passengers in their own lives, free to roam so long as you do not ask questions.

    From your perspective these people should be ignored. You have repeatedly made the case with your charts and your backlinks to prestigious economists that their opinions are of no value and that the technocrats really do know best. And in some areas I might even agree with you. But when it drifts over into snobbish condescension, foxtrot oscar is the only real response.

    Only now we have voted to leave the EU are people such as yourself looking at the stories “economic statistics don’t always show”. If you don’t like Brexit then remainers should have thought about your approach several years ago. All very well knocking out blogs with charts telling us how freedom of movement makes us better off but try telling that to a young family not getting enough sleep because the overcrowded house next door is having screaming rows in Polish and playing crappy Euro-techno til 4am. Try telling the causal security guard topping up his pension on building sites that freedom of movement makes him better off when he’s been laid off because a gang youths (who are also stealing building materials) is cheaper. Tell them that and then call them racists. Why wouldn’t they like it?

    Brexit is the shock to the system. It takes the toys away from the politicians and forces them to rethink their approach. And will it necessarily make them poorer as you assert? Who knows. You seem to think by poking at your spreadsheets that it will by way of looking at the distribution of EU funding. Did you ever bother to look where that money goes in the real work and whether it has any impact on the bottom decile at all?

    Following the global financial crisis energy prices were a major bone of contention of ordinary people. Meanwhile our politicians were signing up to new climate goals, and instead of axing wind turbines and other such fanciful schemes, Ed Davey and Chris Huhne took to the airwaves to tell the renting public to insulate their homes or switch providers at a time when there was virtually zero benefit in doing so. This is the political disconnect and rank hubris people are sick of and if Brexit does refocus politicians on answering those questions then it is worth the sacrifice.

    Right now remainers are sneering and saying “look at the stupid poor people. They voted to make themselves poorer – because they are thick”. Except that people are more than capable of weighing up the choices and the risks and rightly mistrust economists. They made a choice that Brexit very well might make them poorer, but a change of direction is needed, a change of government is needed and the political consensus embodied by the EU needs to end.

    You may not think Brexit will answer any of these issues and that the solutions are not to be found by leaving the EU, but a remain vote would have been taken as a mandate to carry on as normal. At the very least we can now say that Brexit has got their attention. It’s now up to the people to exploit the political opportunities that Brexit presents both locally and internationally. And there are many potential benefits to leaving the EU. Many ways it can be a catalyst for social and economic change and a chance to reshape European politics. Our political elites needed a kick in the complacency.

    As it happens I don’t think Brexit will be the disaster you hope it will be. What is disgusting though is the ongoing confirmation-seeking that may make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. If remainers put as much thought into the possibilities as they do having a petulant tantrum, perhaps the fog may clear from their eyes. Brexit as a means of clearing house and resetting the political clock can only be a good thing for Britain – but you have to look up from your spreadsheets once in a while to truly understand why.

    • George Carty says:

      Isn’t it the case thought that rather than British industrial decline being caused by joining the EEC, that both British industrial decline and Britain’s decision to join the EEC were the result of a common cause: loss of captive colonial markets?

    • David says:

      Punched the air ! Wish I’d written that Pete North .
      A plague on all the spread sheets and bar charts .

    • gunnerbear says:

      “If you don’t like Brexit then remainers should have thought about your approach several years ago. All very well knocking out blogs with charts telling us how freedom of movement makes us better off but try telling that to a young family not getting enough sleep because the overcrowded house next door is having screaming rows in Polish and playing crappy Euro-techno til 4am. Try telling the causal security guard topping up his pension on building sites that freedom of movement makes him better off when he’s been laid off because a gang youths (who are also stealing building materials) is cheaper. Tell them that and then call them racists. Why wouldn’t they like it?”

      Brilliantly put….

    • gunnerbear says:

      “They made a choice that Brexit very well might make them poorer, but a change of direction is needed, a change of government is needed and the political consensus embodied by the EU needs to end.”

      Utterly top notch……could not agree more….

      • Sesh Nadathur says:

        What makes you so sure they did make that choice? Polls before the referendum reported that if the question asked people how they would vote if they knew for certain that Brexit would make them £100 worse off per year, there was an 12-point swing to Remain (https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/04/28/campaign-memo-its-economy-versus-immigration/).

        That seems pretty unequivocal evidence that people did not make the choice you think, rather they just didn’t believe Brexit would make them poorer. I suspect you are projecting your own opinion on others …

      • Sesh Nadathur says:

        What makes you so sure they did make that choice? A YouGov poll before the referendum reported that if the question asked people how they would vote if they knew for certain that Brexit would make them just £100 worse off per year, there was an 12-point swing to Remain .

        That seems pretty unequivocal evidence that people did not make the choice you think, rather they just didn’t believe Brexit would make them poorer. I suspect you are projecting your own opinion on others …

    • guthrie says:

      I don’t have your optimism regarding using brexit as a means of clearing the political air. None of the political party’s are willing to countenance it, and there seems to be no way for us plebs to actually make that sort of thing happen.

  10. Person_XYZ says:

    I keep thinking that East Germany is a model for what a lot of working class people would prefer, and I’m not joking. You would leave school, get a job for life, be materially secure (albeit with few advanced consumer goods or luxuries), and have a secure retirement. The problem is that this is deadening for economic advancement. If everyone is engaged in metal bashing or mining coal, where is industrial improvement coming from?

    I must take issue with this:
    “In some industries, such as printing, they even told the employer who to hire. The job was as much the ‘property’ of the worker as the employer.”

    The second sentence does not follow from the first.

    • George Carty says:

      Good point on how working-class Leave voters may well be exhibiting something akin to Ostalgie, but what possessed them to think they could get what they wanted by empowering UKIP and the Tory right??

      • gunnerbear says:

        “..but what possessed them to think they could get what they wanted by empowering UKIP…” Because UKIP were the only ones talking about the issues…. …the Reds and the Greens were shouting that anyone who mentioned anything anti-European or anti-immigrant was a racist xenophobe…. …and the Blues were too busy kowtowing to business who loved the idea of and practicalities inherent in a huge pool of cheap labour……

        • George Carty says:

          The BNP were even more anti-immigration, and offered an economic policy that was far more worker-friendly than that of UKIP (who seem to want to turn the UK into a low-regulation low-wage tax haven).

    • David says:

      It was called the “closed shop” and was the most deadening arrangement although it did encourage employers to seek out the very latest in machinery and electronics in order the keep the work force at an absolute minimum and an industry artificially short of labour .
      I know because I experienced this closed shop from both sides . I can’t believe (on reflection yes I can) that the “intelligentsia” would consider a return this appalling state of affairs .

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  12. Almar says:

    Sorry to go back to the boring statistics; but how many households in the lowest decile in the household income charts were pensioner households? It makes a big difference tothe interpretation of the data.

  13. SimonF says:

    Thought provoking post and some excellent comments.

    Those council houses for life weren’t available to everyone. My father, who was brought up in the slums of Bradford and had to leave school at 14 despite earning a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School, used to tell a story of how when he went to register for a council house in 1956 with me in his arms the clerk laughed at him him and suggested that he put my name down and that I might get one before I retired.

    And those closed shops and heavily unionised industries weren’t just bad for racial diversity, they actively worked against equality for women. I distinctly remember rail unions push hard to stop female train drivers.

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