Friday, 21 January 2011

Show me your cred(entials)

Im attached to defining myself as coming from a working class background. That’s not imagined but from that point on things do grow more murky, in becoming ‘ten pound Poms’ and emigrating to somewhere that gave better employment/housing and educational opportunities things changed for me. From an early age my life began to shape in significantly different ways from those in my extended family who remained in the UK.

Education in particular is one of the things that marks me as separate from my birth family and creates the feeling of belonging to something of a class diaspora.
When I return to the place where I was born I can find myself checking my own class credentials, trying by visual and cultural means to affirm that I really DO have a working class background and by doing so to justify for myself the discomforts I often find in trying to navigate in certain social circumstances.

Im am one of those people who can get annoyed with those who are visibly/audibly more middle or upper class than myself. I tend to play out via hostility the inferiority I have felt in the past when entering social spaces I didn’t know how to be in – anywhere from a restaurant/what I deem to be a ‘posh’ store or an educational establishment – I would also throw in dealing with institutions of most kinds/authority figures and getting very grumpy and envious towards people who have a sense of automatic entitlement.

Much as its an easy way out to say ‘oh that one has a real chip on their shoulder’ I also bloody well love the times when I mention feeling uncomfortable about stuff like this to other people and instead of bemused/blank or (oh fucking god help me) guilty and defensive looks I get the response of ‘YES! I know how you feel’. Those moments when I can safely acknowledge YES there is a system of privilege in operation and it adversely affects me.

But when looking for means of opening a wider discussion I approached one of the people I would like to invite to Beograd later in the year to speak on this. (Usually we aim for a balance of people from within the Balkans and those from outside the region who we think can bring in valuable experiences and ideas) it was he who raised the idea of ‘class complex’ - being able to consider class not as a rigid single issue but of something existing as a compound of factors (so in conjunction with issues of race/gender/freedom to cross borders and so on) and that is not static but complex and in movement.

His analysis of the current situation in the UK, particularly the attacks on education by the tories gave me much pause for thought – and I will give a rough paraphrase. It may not be news to you but it helped me to gain another perspective: ‘in the past there has been some idea of a situation of class equality, or class mobility coming about via education – that everyone will in effect become ‘middle class’ via an equal access to education and better jobs and so on because of that. In this current climate what the tories want and envisage is to reshape Britain as a manufacturing and exporting power, therefore there is a less of a need for educated white collar workers and more of a need for actual blue collar workers. The scraping of the supported education programme is part of a move to drive people into apprenticeships rather than higher education, to create a greater pool of working class.’

im very happy for people to chip in with better explanations of class complex and this snapshot analysis of tory 'vision'. what im trying to do is sketch out some ideas as a basis for our eventual project/discussion in Beograd.

For my next installment I want to write a little about how people survive, financially, from day to day. What kind of work we do both paid and unpaid and how we organise and sustain and ourselves to do this work.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

No war but the class waaaaaaa

Class is a topic that seems to have dropped off the agenda, well at least in certain places where I would have expected it to be visible it has.

Two scenes that I move through but feel equally ambivalent about are the queer DIY scene (I rarely go there) and the ‘anarchist/activist scene – again I have been intimately aquainted but somehow let my membership lapse.

In both cases when I last visited I noticed a very odd approach to issues of class:

1. I go to a queer DIY gathering, well it’s a bit complicated...the reason I go (because really I would rather poke my eyes out with pins than spend too much time at this sort of event) is because it is in the closest mutual country I can get to that a non-E.U friend has a visa to get into. while we are there we do spend a bit of time at the event, my friend keeps saying to me ‘jeez, how many times can people use the word ‘privilege’ and why do they keep on going on about it?’ … I explain this is a mostly western fixation. But then in an already fucking annoying workshop where some asshole keeps on going on about ‘well I’m studying this in my PHD’ I raise the issue of class and get told ‘well, im half working class myself and I don’t think we need to talk about this’ …in other words shut.up.

2. in some weird hysteria I go to a meeting on ‘the future of the anarchist movement’ these strange moods grip me at times where despite spending much of my day to day working on political projects/living a political fucking project I feel the need to reconnect with ‘the movement’ and to show my face in ‘political’ circles. After we split into smaller working groups so discussion can be more equally shared and people will have a better chance to be heard – one of the women in our group is explaining how she has 3 kids and had to get childcare to come to the meeting, and that she thinks this is a class issue. Several people in the group start to look panicked, a halting discussion of class breaks out in which the strongest and most vociferously argued strand is that ‘we are all working class these days/so the working class doesn’t exist anymore/and or we are all middle class these days/so the working class doesn’t exist anymore’ in other words…shut.up.

Funny old world huh.

As part of Queer Beograd I have for a while been wanting to to present 'class' as one of the topics in our forums for discussion – the transcripts of which form the basis for our publications. And I begin to ask myself and others ‘but how?’ how will we do this? With what framework will we approach? How will we begin to open this discussion? and what is our own position at this point?

Because I see some very interesting contradictions taking place; still the romanticised/mythical vision of ‘the worker’ is promoted as the only authentic subject, who must also be ‘saved'. Then so many of us facing some sort of burn out, illness, childcare issues, mobility issues which can often drop us to a point of becoming invisible within activist circles. And also this strange situation that even as we fight capitalism, so often the current question of how we get from day to day with food/housing/sanity does not seem to be relevant. At the same time as we fight that system the reality of being crushed by it is ignored.

i want to raise the complexity of this subject, to bring into this the concepts of 'class complex' as others have described it to me... but damn it im exhausted at this point...after the strangest day of trying to figure out how to earn a living im having trouble sustaining the energy to write.... so im gonna have to come back to it.