Tuesday 22 July 2008

Revolutionaries still top of the Class

Maybe the Equality and Human Rights Commission are attempting to fill the vacuum left by the right-wing shift of Labour and the collapse of electoral representation of the left. Or maybe they're attempting to protect the Establishment by trying to buy off the increasing support among workers for strikes and industrial action. Either way, it seems kinda surreal that Trevor Philips, the head of the EHRC, wants to extend its remit and focus on the issue of class (BBC News: Fight class divide, says Phillips).

Although this is dubbed 'a radical departure' from the organisation's remit, it will be very interesting to see how Philips and the EHRC view the issue of class, in practice. There is some confusion about what defines a person's class, with some seeing it as typified by cultural differences - the cliched 'cloth caps and whippets' of the working class, and 'airs and graces' of the so-called upper class (leading some people to mistakenly see contemporary bosses such as Richard Branson as 'working class heroes'). Yet class is not defined by culture or interests, or even purely by earnings or type of work. Class is defined by our relationship to the means of production; the ruling capitalist class (so-called 'upper class') own and control the means of production, and profit directly from the goods and services produced. The working class, by contrast, have no such ownership or control of our workplaces, and can only survive by selling our labour - which the capitalist class goes on to profit from.

A report by the EHRC - an amalgamation of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality, and Disability Rights Commission - rightly states that 'there is too much vertical division in Britain between social classes'. Yet let us not forget that class also exists across the 'horizontal' divisions of race, sex, sexuality and disability - there are now a minority of black, Asian, gay and disabled bosses, who are just as ruthlessly exploitative as their white counterparts. And despite the pernicious myth of the White Working Class™, white workers have far more in common with black and Asian workers than we will ever have with white British bosses.

What all capitalist bosses have in common is that they must maximise their exploitation of workers, while workers all share this exploitation. Although both are subject to forms of alienation, ie the divorce of our living standards from our own efforts, the alienation suffered by workers makes us feel insignificant, while the bosses feel an inflated sense of power. Small wonder, then, that the boss of British Gas, Jake Ulrich, responds to customers' fury and despair at the hyper-inflation in gas prices - out of which he stands to make fat profits - by telling us to 'wear two jumpers' (The Independent: How to beat 60% rise in gas prices? Wear two jumpers, says energy boss). Personally, I'd love to see Mr Ulrich wear two concrete shoes :-P

What workers also have in common is our ability, through collective strike action, to attack not only our bosses, but also the capitalist system which they are at the head of. Without workers' labour, their profits soon disappear!

It is also pointed out that Trevor Phillips is advocating an 'implicitly political policy', from an organisation which is supposed to be 'apolitical'. Yet this is the EHRC's greatest weakness, and not just on the issue of class. Racism, sexism, homophobia and disablism are political, they were created by the development of capitalism and are still perpetuated by the capitalist system, not least as a means of 'divide and rule'. Likewise, any opposition to such oppression, if it is to be effective, must take a political form.

Likewise, class cannot simply be reformed away by bosses being told to be a bit kinder to workers. Class, and the exploitation of one class by another, are a central part of class societies such as capitalism. The only way to solve once and for all the issue of class, is for the exploiting capitalist class to be smashed by a workers revolution, and for workers to take control. In the meantime, strike action by workers is much more effective not only for improving workers' pay and conditions, but also for challenging the political and economic structures which perpetuate class inequality, than any number of mealy-mouthed speeches by NGOs and their bureaucrats will ever be. ,

As Marx said in The Communist Manifesto: "Every class struggle is a political struggle"!

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