Friday, 6 April 2018


I heard a part of a debate the other night concerning class.  
Do the 'working class' still exist?  What class is left?   Is there any class?
In the past class was quite clear, there was the aristocracy at the top of the upper class, a growing middle class, especially during the 19th century, and the rest, at least a third of the nation who were working class.  Those at the top had all the money, all the influence and a real desire to keep it that way.  To ensure they kept it that way they gave out the impression that if you, the working class worked hard you too could reach the top, lies, all lies!
It was certainly true that individuals did climb from the bottom to the top by hard work but these were the minority, for the rest long hours, hard work and poor pay with limited opportunities to change.  There were many efforts to improve the condition of the working class at that time, usually from middle class churches and groups of men working together to support one another whereby carpenters for instance would contribute a few pence a week to the group and receive a small sum in return if sick or unemployed.  These men would gather in a pub once a week and pay their subs and have it recorded in front of everyone.  This explains why so many subs are called the 'Carpenters Arms' or some such name.
The growing middle class of the 19th century saw wealth greatly improve by 1900.  They also saw an increase in snobbery as it became important to mix with those of correct class and be seen to be in the right position, the place where you belonged.  Real class snobbery it seems to me begins with such middle class outlooks at that time.  
This of course continued into the 20th century but times were changing, working men had stronger unions, education was high, almost all men and the majority of women could read and newspapers and trashy books abounded in the way social media and trashy TV do today.  People always prefer the cheap and easy option!   However some claim the Great War eroded much class separation as Lieutenants and Captains, almost always from 'better class' backgrounds got to work in life and death situations with men from the 'lower orders' and a change in attitude was begun.  Harold MacMillan, later to become Prime Minister, was one man influenced by his men.  Always on the left of the party he became member of parliament for Stockton in the north east of England, a place that suffered badly during the depression years.  MacMillan and his wife ran soup kitchens to feed their people at the time and never forgot their suffering.  This explains Upper Class MacMillan's disgust at Lower middle class Thatchers worship of money in spite of the cost to the workers.  The daughter of a shopkeeper who worshipped money was never going to care for the workers.   Ah the lower middle class, the real snobs in society!  The ones who have not quite made it but clutching their 'Daily Express' still think that their hard work ought to get them higher up the social scale, are they right?

 Miners cottages Cowdenbeath

Today I say things are somewhat different.  In spite of the thousand or more foodbanks, the hungry children attending school or the many 'homeless' on the streets we still have the sixth richest country in the world, though Brexit will of course erode that considerably for all but the 'elite' at the top.  
My mother was born in 1915 and brought up in a two roomed miners cottage in Cowdenbeath.  Her mother died in child birth, the third wife grandfather had lost that way, and she shared these two rooms with her dad and the nine children he had produced.  There was no bathroom but they had a tap for water and an outside toilet, a cooker and a 'copper' a boiler for hot water.  The men planted veg in the grounds  to supplant the diet and as miners this gave them the opportunity to spend time outdoors in daylight.  In between they endured six months of the general strike and a few confrontations with police in the High Street.  These men were not troublemakers just men wanting a fair deal.  The authorities opposed this.  It is no wonder both the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party had a centre in Cowdenbeath! 
Today things have changed.  Where once the 'Pug' pulled the coal trucks across the roadway hindering traffic to the marshalling yards now traffic wardens patrol ensure folks don't block the streets as they visit the supermarket.  Many houses are in good condition, mums house has long since been knocked down and new housing built, and many are no doubt bought by the descendents of Communist and Labour men who fought for equality and a decent wage for so long.
Do the people consider themselves 'working class' as they get in their cars, watch their colour TVs and holiday in the sun?  Are they 'working class?'  Do any work in smelly, noisy factories in overalls?  Or are their factories white , clean, quite places?  
Even the aristocracy is no longer the same.  No longer is a seat in the House of Lords guaranteed,  they keep their money and open their houses, unless offered to the National Trust, to make money.  While they are still well off their position does not have the nation regarding them as 'above us,' except for the readers of the 'Daily Express' and 'Daily Mail' of course.  Their the lower middle class fantasise on joining the aristocracy.  
The merging of the classes is clear even though people still tend to mix with their 'own kind' unless they can find ways of mixing with others.  I did this through the churches and living in London, those who continue to live in small towns, like this one, are slow to mix and merge though the society around them does influence them.  'Class' as it once was is no longer around, the rising economy has seen to that, but there is still 'class' division, especially where the people wish it!

This is rather a jumble of thoughts, what thinkest thou...?


Dave said...

I think the "working class" is now virtually obsolete in as much as the majority of people, due to the welfare state system, have a good basic standard of living. Its interesting you mention the factories because I suspect that due to the application of the H & S laws they are far safer / cleaner / hygienic places to now work in. There's lots to say on your topic and probably often discussed in the pub over a few beers. That is if your well off enough to afford the prices now charged.

the fly in the web said...

What about the phenomenon of the white collar wage slaves who think they are middle class....

Adullamite said...

Dave, I agree the 1945 government increased health and H&S in many ways and by the 60s standards had risen. Ah yes, beer prices, I remember when beer was 1/6d.

Fly, Ah yes, the Daily Mail reader, I knew some of them.

Jenny Woolf said...

Did you see Grayson Perry's TV series on class? very interesting. I went to see the exhibition too. I think class does still exist, in the traditional way, although it's not quite the same as it was 100 or even 50 years ago, but there again nor is anything else.
Things which held people together like jobs everyone did and social activities everyone did, are less common now so people don't reinforce their class by going around with people just like them. Their friends come from a wider social circle and have wider interests perhaps.
Well that sounds a bit muddled too. I don't care, it's a huge subject and probably one that many people have written large books about.

Adullamite said...

Jenny, No I didn't see that programme. I agree it exists but greatly watered down, however many wish to live amongst 'their own kind.'