The trade-union movement has betrayed the working class

The labour left has turned its back on those it once claimed to speak for.

Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams

Topics Brexit Politics UK

Who speaks for the working class today? More specifically, who speaks up for the millions of working-class people, unemployed people, people on low incomes, people without qualifications, who voted to leave the EU? We know there is ‘a clear association between working-class and poorer people who expressed their view at the ballot box, and voting Leave.’ But who speaks for these people? It’s certainly not the Labour Party, whose leaders are now hell bent on thwarting Brexit in the law courts in order to represent their chums in Islington rather than the Brexity oiks of Huddersfield or Hartlepool.

And nor is it the trade-union movement which, with a few honourable exceptions, prefers cosying up to bosses and bankers and businesses determined to keep Britain in the EU rather than with mere workers who voted to leave. Earlier this week, Frances O’Grady, leader of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), called upon parliament not to budge on calls for a General Election until an extension to Article 50 has been secured: ‘My advice to MPs is this: when you’ve got your opponent on the ropes – don’t let them off. Hold your nerve until 31 October and call Boris Johnson’s bluff.’ Has there ever been a more explicit display of elite disdain for the working class than a trade-union leader urging the Labour Party to deny ordinary people a General Election?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, O’Grady’s salary of £167,604 is far closer to that of bosses and bankers than working-class Leave voters. Let’s not forget this salary comes from contributions paid for by union members. O’Grady is happy to get rich off the back of working-class people while riding roughshod over their political wishes.

To twist the knife further, the TUC this week launched a campaign to end class discrimination in the workplace – and has done so without any hint of irony. Apparently, in what must be the least shocking revelation of all time, working-class people earn less and get fewer career opportunities than middle-class people. Who knew?

The TUC campaign claims that working-class people earn less and have worse jobs than middle-class people because of discrimination. In other words, nasty bosses are biased against people with dodgy regional accents and ill-fitting suits. New laws are needed, campaigners argue, to prevent people from working-class backgrounds facing ‘“direct” forms of discrimination, such as employer bias during job applications and interviews’. The TUC also wants to outlaw unpaid internships that act as a gateway to well-paid jobs, and often depend upon knowing the right people to get a foot in the door.

The TUC has a distorted understanding of social class. On one hand, it seems to see class as a fixed characteristic – like skin colour or sex – that does not change over the course of a person’s life but must be respected for what it is. On the other, it sees class as a cultural identity – one that revolves around etiquette, ways of speaking and dressing. This definition reduces being working class to a preference for Hollyoaks over Shakespeare, and an all-inclusive in Mallorca over a cottage in the Cotswolds. Both definitions miss the point that class is primarily a social and economic relationship to the labour market, to capital and to power, that goes beyond individual access to an internship to define entire communities.

No doubt there are plenty of people, mainly graduates, who have got on the first rungs of the career ladder only to be stymied in their ambitions because they don’t quite fit in. But these are individuals. Jobs in public relations, journalism and advertising are so far beyond the imagining (or even the desire) of most working-class people that whether or not they need to complete an unpaid internship or demonstrate they know which is the correct item of cutlery to use in a posh restaurant is utterly irrelevant.

Class determines how much you earn and what job you do — indeed whether you have a job or a career. But this is not because some employers are prejudiced against people who don’t know how to pronounce quinoa, or even because those with contacts and the ability to work for free have a leg-up. The impact of social class on life chances is not reducible to graduates squabbling over a few work-experience placements.

Instead, the impact of social class is determined by the fact that whole swathes of the UK have been economically devastated by a lack of employment, opportunities and income over a long period of time. This means that successive generations have been parked on benefits and robbed of all agency over their lives. People from once thriving northern towns are offered handouts, charity and platitudes by the TUC and the Labour Party, but are denied political power to exert meaningful influence over their lives and their communities.

Working-class people didn’t vote for Brexit so their daughters could get a paid internship. They wanted to see a far more fundamental change in the fortunes of their communities. Their vote for Brexit was a vote against the status quo and a way to force a distant political elite to take them seriously. The likes of Frances O’Grady, with her huge salary, have chosen to patronise, ignore and reject the wishes of these working-class voters. Trade-union leaders, just like the Labour Party elite, are happy to use the working class as a stage army – just until such a point as they dare to express a political opinion. It is time these overpaid charlatans were kicked out of office along with the rest of the Remainer establishment.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. Her most recent book, Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, is out now.

Picture by: Getty.

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Isabel Cooke

18th September 2019 at 2:46 pm

It certainly is the Labour Party that speaks up for the working-class. You have only to look at Mr McLuskey’s closeness to the leadership to see that. You have only to look at Mr Corbyn’s refusal to take sides as a reflection of the respect he pays to the Leave vote.

Attempting to characterise Labour as made up exclusively of people living in Islington, and therefore middle class is utterly dishonest and elides and obscures the facts to suit a prejudice. Most people in Islington aren’t middle-class; and as Labour has over 500,000 members, there will be a fair few at least who don’t live in Islington and are working-class.
I can assure you, madam, that in Northern cities, there are lots of working-class and guess what, several Councils have increased their Labour Councillors and guess what, the trade unions are at the heart of that involvement.

Spiked would rather we didn’t have unions at all.

This article is simply yet another iteration of the brutish rabble-rousing that Spiked specialises in. Its one idea is that ‘the people’ are adrift from the machinery of government; its one remedy, a hatred of ‘the elite’. This is how the nazis whipped up generalised hatred that they could then manipulate.

There certainly is an elite, but Labour’s policies would attack it, not support it. Labour would introduce some form of the workers’ control the unions have been seeking for decades. Labour would also build decent new Council housing, with solar panels, in a green industrial revolution creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. Tell me, please, how that doesn’t help the working-class.

Spiked would rather you didn’t notice Mr O’Neill is funded by hard-right, climate change denier billionaires, the Koch brothers. Not really men of ‘the people’ are they?

A Game

12th September 2019 at 6:57 pm

Ah. Identity politics dressed up as class war. They can’t actually move away from identity politics and fight for the working class because they might accidentally achieve something and, as J Williams points out, they most certainly don’t want to do that, they love the status quo. So, they’ve found an angle to fire up the yobs and direct them very nicely into victimised, grievance politics.

Of course, it has to be elastic. They’ve just opened the door for every Jess “Fake F**k” Phillips to get ahead based on their accent, rather than their merit. I read Dr Sally Baker’s expose… with this idea in place, she wouldn’t even have to bother to get some two-bit qualification. Employ, me, right, or I’m takin’ ya to court!

Long term, it will end up like all identity politic schemes. People employed for their accent, not on their merit, doing a bad job, and thus, misrepresenting their class.
Dianne Abbott is Labour’s version of doing that. They pretend they are liberating black people of Britain, but when that black person is so average… what message are they really sending? Whereas someone like Kwasi Kwarteng (I’ve had limited exposure but what I’ve seen looks great)… he’s gonna represent. And in doing so… might accidentally push a few extremely average whities out of the way.

Yeah… this is the working classes’ version of cronyism. Its just as ugly as when its in the Tory Party. Frances should be ashamed of her traitorous self.

Excellent read and I hear the rallying cry!
I just hope the working classes of Britain do, too. They have to push past their deprivation, hopelessness (all fed by the system and their so called representatives, as illustrated beautifully in the article) and neglect and get active and aware.

Heather McEvoy

21st September 2019 at 10:36 am

Completely agree with your comments, and the analysis of the current situation in the article. Being patronised, or offered hand outs based on a ludicrous idea of the problems working class people face is the opposite of the liberation from the crushing misery of class society required.

jessica christon

11th September 2019 at 8:35 pm

The Labour party haven’t represented the working class in decades. Thatcher at least recognised that the working class aren’t socially left wing, and the real gap in representation is the lack of a party whose policies are ecomically left (spending on health, education and public services, contributions based welfare) but socially right (tough on crime, strictly controlled immigration, promoting the traditional family).

You’d have to go back to Atlee’s Labour party of the 1940s to find anything like it, but if some version of that were already established, would be ready to clean up in a GE right about now.

Isabel Cooke

18th September 2019 at 5:02 pm

And Mr Corbyn’s Labour does go right back to Attlee’s Labour, right down to getting the largest increase in the vote (2017) since Attlee’s landslide (1945).

Do you know about the new green industrial revolution? This will bring hundreds of thousands of skilled, long-term jobs.

Do you know about the FTT – Financial Transactions Tax – on the City’s dealings?

Of course you know about the nationalisation plans for rail, mail and water; and the revival of the bus network.

But do you know about the regional investment boards to encourage co-ops and local businesses? Do you know about the construction boom there will be building a massive programme of Council houses?

Do you know about the plans for 10% of profits in any business employing over 250 people to go to the workers to control?

James Knight

11th September 2019 at 6:01 pm

When it comes to Brexit, Corbyn and many union leaders sound like shills for big corporates and useful idiots of the EU.

Isabel Cooke

18th September 2019 at 5:08 pm

Fool. Who is betting on short positions to make billions out of Brexit? Who will make especially a lot of money out of a no deal? Hedge -fund bankers and the funders of Vote Leave, closely connected to Johnson and Cummings.

Winston Stanley

11th September 2019 at 5:50 pm

Oh dear, this seriously puts Brexit voters on the spot. And the attempt to maintain a two party system is working out so well for Westminster anyway…

> Boris Johnson launches extraordinary attack on ‘not fit and proper’ Nigel Farage: PM says he will NEVER strike an election pact with the leader of the Brexit Party who has demanded a free run at 90 seats

Winston Stanley

11th September 2019 at 6:00 pm

Meanwhile, Remoaners are starting to get their act together, at least in NI.

> Brexit: Single Remain candidate can oust DUP’s Pengelly, says Alasdair McDonnell as he pulls out of race for South Belfast

Dr McDonnell’s proposal would see Alliance leader Naomi Long been given a clear run if she runs in East Belfast, and independent unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down.
“This will be a Brexit election,” Dr McDonnell said. “We cannot afford to have another big squad of DUP Brexiteer MPs returned as that entirely misrepresents the views of the majority of people in Northern Ireland who voted Remain. (Belfast Telegraph)

Winston Stanley

11th September 2019 at 5:34 pm

Heads up, a majority in NI now say that they would vote for a united Ireland if polled tomorrow.

I said from the start that the obvious way to settle the backstop would be to give NI a poll on whether they want to stay in the UK with a border or to join with the Republic. That would have been the democratic path forward, accept our stated democratic verdict on Brexit and let NI have their own vote. But no. T May blew that in any case with her ridiculous snap GE that sabotaged the TP majority and set all this Remoaner nonsense in motion. Ironic if NI now votes a la GFA to leave UK anyway. And who could blame them with the right state of Westminster.

The NI demographic trend is the real kicker, nearly all nationalists would vote for UI and all Unionists for UK and yet the UI vote goes from 38% for the over 65s to 55% for 25s-44s and to 60% for 18-24s, giving an overall 51% for UI. Unionists have simply not been so pro-li fe between the sheets. UI is at some point inevitable. Likely Republicans would do well to give it another five years before a border poll.

> Poll: 51% of Northern Ireland voters back united Ireland, according to Lord Ashcroft survey

Just over half of people in Northern Ireland would vote for Irish unification if there was a border poll tomorrow, according to a survey.

The, poll published by Lord Ashcroft, shows that 45% of those survey said they would stay in the UK, while 46% said they would vote to leave and join the Republic of Ireland.
The figures break down to 51% to 49% for unification when those who don’t know and others who say they would not vote are excluded.
The over-65 age group was the only group surveyed in which the majority said they’d stay in the union (62% to 38% when excluding don’t knows and those who would not vote)…

The majority of those surveyed (59%) said if there was a referendum tomorrow, they thought Northern Ireland as a whole would remain in the UK.
But when asked about the outcome if a vote happened in ten years time, most (54%) said they believed Northern Ireland would vote for unification with Ireland.
The results show that unionists are considerably less confident about the chances of winning a vote in 10 years’ time. But 87% of Unionists believe Northern Ireland would vote to remain in the UK if a border poll were held tomorrow.
Nationalists are more confident. Just over half (53%) think Northern Ireland would vote for unification tomorrow and 93% believe this would be the case in 10 years’ time.

Winston Stanley

11th September 2019 at 6:27 pm

Another kicker, most no-religioners support UI. I could be wrong but my impression is that no-religion, growing in frequency, is more common in Protestant areas. Confessional sectarianism has long been associated with Unionism.

> Some 59% of those surveyed who identified as having no religion said they would vote for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and join the Republic of Ireland tomorrow…

Nearly half of Northern Ireland voters say they feel less close to the rest of the UK than they did five years ago.
In terms of timescales, one in three unionists believe a border poll is likely to happen in the next 10 years – as do nine in 10 nationalists…

Lord Ashcroft’s last poll in Scotland similarly found a slight lead for leaving the UK and Scotland becoming an independent country. (ITV)

William Murphy

11th September 2019 at 5:26 pm

The social climbing Trade Union representative is hardly new. George Orwell was writing over 80 years ago about the type of lower to middle grade representative whose main motivation was to get out of and stay out of the working class.

Linda Payne

11th September 2019 at 4:29 pm

If my comment is moderated out of existence, I will not be on this site again

Jerry Owen

11th September 2019 at 5:07 pm

Linda Payne
I have had lots of comments under ‘moderation’ they come through mostly at the end of the day if I have written them in the morning , and some never. It’s frustrating I know, but you are not alone !

Hana Jinks

11th September 2019 at 5:46 pm

Jerry Oven-Kraut.

Hey Oven-Bitch. I’m ptetty busy till mid-November, but I’m here to be a kunt to you lile ur a kunt to everyone else.

Hana Jinks

11th September 2019 at 5:52 pm

Jerry Oven-Kraut.

Fck you, Babydoll.

Hana Jinks

11th September 2019 at 5:59 pm

Suck it right off the street, Babydoll. Whaddya think that means to you?

It’s nothing good for you, Babydoll. And you know that.

Winston Stanley

11th September 2019 at 5:18 pm

I have one in queue. One link in a comment seems to be OK but more and it goes into moderation. Links can always be added as footnote comments anyway. Any post with spi iked seems to go into moderation as does any with Je ws, very odd. You can work around the system once you get a feel for it.


11th September 2019 at 2:41 pm

‘Instead, the impact of social class is determined by the fact that whole swathes of the UK have been economically devastated by a lack of employment, opportunities and income over a long period of time.’ —

And how the hell will leaving the EU resolve these structural issues? This regional poverty is the result of decades of economic mismanagement and the absurdly centralised nature of power in the UK (Thatcher’s devastation of local government did not help). It is absurd to blame the EU for the UK’s own domestic economic mismanagement.

Jerry Owen

11th September 2019 at 5:14 pm

Z Palmyra
The EU controls our business deals and our tarifs , even for deals outside the EU. It tells us how much trade we can do, and what trade we can do. The EU devastated our fishing industry .. but according to you Palmyra it was ‘Fatcher wot dunnit’ !! Text book SWP nonsense.
Jeez !

Jim Lawrie

11th September 2019 at 11:55 am

O’Grady picks up her pension in November. The usual union one sixtieth, retire at 60, something north of £80k p.a., given her long “service”. A take home in excess of £1,250. Per week.

Linda Payne

11th September 2019 at 11:00 am

Unions are also up to their neck in political correctness; I was sacked after being bullied by the union rep because I complained of unfairness in allocation of work (white nurses were at the back of the queue), everyone knew what was going on but the NHS is stuffed full of left wing shits who would rather a patient died from an incompetant agency nurse than show loyalty to staff that had worked in the NHS for decades

Isabel Cooke

18th September 2019 at 5:02 pm

Sounds like you’re a racist.

Amelia Cantor

11th September 2019 at 10:37 am

Who speaks for the working class today?

Certainly not the Revolutionary Communist Party / Spiked, who believe in the very same open borders and unrestricted immigration that the racist, xenophobic and anti-progressive working-class reject.

Of course, BAME communities rejected Brexit overwhelmingly, so the RCP / Spiked’s support for both open borders and Brexit is neither logical or coherent. But Trots were never known for their grasp of logic or reality.

And in the increasingly unlikely event that Brexit comes to fruition, we in the progressive community merely have to wait. In twenty or perhaps even ten years’ time, given the very heartening growth of BAME communities, there will be a permanent progressive majority in the UK.

Brexit will therefore be reversed and thrown where it belongs: onto the rubbish heap of history. But I’m hoping it will be thrown there in 2019 rather than 2029 or 2039. For one thing, there will be a lot more white male rightards around in 2019 to see it happen.

A Game

12th September 2019 at 7:49 pm

A Cantor:
Stop ranting and look around the world.
Australia has one of the highest annual immigrant intakes in the world per capita. They also have implemented very successful border security whilst doing it.
Border control and immigration are not mutually exclusive.

Philip Humphrey

11th September 2019 at 9:25 am

One of the reasons I stopped supporting Labour was that it had become middle class through and through and no longer cared about the workers. In fact it betrayed them with policies of unlimited mass immigration, deliberately driving down wages for those at the shop floor and inflating housing costs. And it seems to care more about the privileges of middle class women executives than about the shop floor workers. Labour also betrayed worker’s pensions with Gordon Brown’s stealth tax raid. The TUC has been largely complicit in this betrayal and egged it on. Who will stand up for the workers?

Alan Watson

11th September 2019 at 11:28 am

The working people in London see Labour councils and their developer associates building housing that is not for them but for international finance wanting a save place to put their dubious profits. The Labour party has been doing this for over a decade in London. A tragedy that is disfiguring this once great city and cleansing it of working class culture. I won’t forget.

Isabel Cooke

18th September 2019 at 4:54 pm

Labour. Haven’t you heard? There’s a new leader now; and new policies for a green industrial revolution that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs… for the working-class.

Jerry Owen

11th September 2019 at 7:52 am

The last time I remember the unions being strong was in 84/85 in the ‘great’ miners strike in which I was active. Scargill led the miners to eventual defeat, being outplayed by Thatcher’s government .
Many miners sold their houses to be able to continue the strike. One presumes they still bare the repercussions still today.
Meanwhile Scargill kept his nice Yorkshire home … And also his nice little Barbican flat which at the time no one new about.
His salary at the time was a 100k plus a year.
Workers are pawns for the socialist elites to play with and ponce off.
No wonder union membership is so dire.

Jerry Owen

11th September 2019 at 8:19 am

‘No one *knew* about.

Hana Jinks

11th September 2019 at 6:14 pm

Jerry Oven-Kraut.

Did you miss me?

Is this really happening to you?

Isabel Cooke

18th September 2019 at 5:11 pm

There is no ‘socialist elite’.
Those who will make money out of Brexit – and you seem particularly worried by folk who aren’t you, but who are making money – are the hedge-fund bankers connected to Johnson, Cummings and the Vote Leave gang. They’ll probably make c. £6 billion betting on short positions.
Angry about that?

Winston Stanley

11th September 2019 at 7:13 am

LP and TUC are locked into a moralista view of society and indeed of reality. It needs to be emphasised that social and moral progress depend on material progress and not vice versa. Productivity growth has been close to zero for 10 years. Social mobility depends on realistic widespread opportunity and not on “equal opportunity”. That is possible only through economic development. LP and TUC have no plan on that count.

It is absurd for them to pose as if they are in the “Marxist” tradition, their roots are within reformism, not in a materialism that emphasise the primacy of material development. That leaves their horizons limited and moralistic – and posturey. It is frankly claustrophobic and nauseating. If the TP were good at their job, at developing the economy, then the orthodox Marxist position would be to vote TP. As it is, neither of them are worth a vote on that count.

The one-sided association of socialism with reformist parties is fundamentally wrongheaded. There is indeed a place for social morality and fairness but only within the confines of what material development allows. The key is to develop the material forces as much as possible to allow for social and moral development. That should be the emphasis of socialists, to put the horse before the cart and not just to keep posing about the state of the cart.

The descent into posturey middle class moralism is frankly absurd.

Isabel Cooke

18th September 2019 at 2:50 pm

‘No plans’ for material progress? You haven’t read the Labour manifesto at all, have you?
If you had, you’d know Labour in power will start a green industrial revolution which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
It’ll also be kinda materially handy when the trains and utilities are renationalised and get cheaper.
Please don’t pontificate from a position of ignorance.

Amin Readh

11th September 2019 at 1:11 am

“It is time these overpaid charlatans were kicked out of office along”

Says the woman whose last article was getting the begging bowl out so she could setup a “think tank” to get the money flowing, to get on the same gravy train. The sheer insincerity is breath-taking.

Panhandling b**ch!

Steve Gray

11th September 2019 at 2:35 am


Now YOU are here to troll !

A Game

12th September 2019 at 7:57 pm

A Readh:

Careful, your hatred is showing.

Brandy Cluster

11th September 2019 at 12:18 am

The Left got rich. Simple as that.

Jerry Owen

11th September 2019 at 8:20 am

Brandy Cluster.
Nothing changes !

Hana Jinks

11th September 2019 at 9:08 am

Lights out in Lancashire, Scarlet Oven-Kraut.

Isabel Cooke

18th September 2019 at 2:47 pm

Really. Come to Liverpool or Bradford and talk to a whole city that’s left. And certainly not rich, pal.

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