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The authoritative source for independent research on UK-EU relations

12 Nov 2018

Politics and Society

An argument for solidarity

Solidarity is an important concept for working class people. The Marxist historian E.P. Thompson showed clearly in his book ‘The Making of The English Working Class’ that solidarity has been central to working class identity: the trade unions, and in fact the Labour Party were always organised around the concept that through solidarity, those with little institutional power can, and should, hold those with most power to account.

Western democracies rely on this concept for legitimacy, and to stop them drifting back towards monarchy, or into dictatorship.

The other weekend an estimated 750,000 people marched through London demanding a ‘Peoples Vote’ – another, or a first chance (depending upon your perspective), to have their say on whether the UK leaves or remains in the EU.

Those that support a ‘Peoples Vote’ claim their intentions are simply to further our democracy by allowing the electorate to have their say on the Brexit negotiations so far, and ultimately what will be the final deal. I wish they would be more honest: ultimately they want the first referendum to be overturned, and they want to stay in the EU.

I have no problem with their point of view, it’s theirs to have, but I do have a problem with how they see and understand democracy in the UK. This is not a new gripe or critique of mine. I say, write and argue this weekly and sometimes daily in my work, research, and life as a working class academic.

A context to my argument

There are parts of the country, and millions of people, that have seen their communities decline over the last 40 years. Deindustrialisation has had devastating effects on specific areas within the UK: people have lost their communities, skills, work, respect, and identities.

Deindustrialisation has had the same devastating effects upon working class peoples’ lives as the industrial revolution did.

I am from a mining community on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, and my family live very close to Cromford, the site of Arkwright’s Cotton mill and the birthplace of the industrial revolution.

Within a 20 mile radius of where I grew up there were once hundreds of thousands of jobs that employed working class people holding together communities, families and working class identities.

This is the place where trade unionism was formed and workers’ rights fought for, where men women and children once dug out coal naked three miles underground, after walking five miles to get to their places of work.

The British working class have unionised, fought, died and survived in places that were hostile, but their resilience turned those places into warm and creative communities.

After those mines closed, and the factories that took the places of the mills moved overseas, it is now monstrous distribution warehouses that stand in their place. Sports Direct, Amazon, Boohoo and many others are the new mills of exploitation – poorly paid, with only a soul-destroying prospect of a future.

Voting Brexit

Although those who live in the deindustrialised areas are only one part of Britain’s working class, those areas overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU: 58% in the East Midlands, 58% in the North East, and 58% in Yorkshire and the Humber.

In other parts of the country and amongst other working class people their eyes are wide open to the consequences of eight years of austerity for the poorest, and socialism for those with economic, cultural and political power.

Since the banking crash of 2008 there has been a scarcity of resources for the British working class, material but also the resources that are connected to dignity and respect. Whether we like it or not, the British working class have always found their value, their inner dignity and their wider sense of worth from family, community and work.

The austerity programme that has hit the social services that are relied on to maintain working class life in an already unfair and unequal system has been severely cut.

The consequences are a breakdown in communities, as people struggle to find work that offers enough pay to feed their children and put a stable roof over the heads of their family.

Basics like healthcare, welfare services, and education have been cut to the bone, which has a massive impact on not only the physical lives of the working class but also how they see themselves in relation to how they are valued.

I am not suggesting that middle class people did not vote to leave the EU. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson do not represent working class peoples’ lives or experiences and the support for their politics come from political beliefs than are exclusionary, elite, and supremacist.

However, to try and overturn a referendum that was won by a democratic majority with the argument that people were misled, lied to, or they simply didn’t understand the arguments – and worse are too ignorant and uneducated to be taken seriously – and therefore the referendum should be rerun, is a gross mistake.

Democracy already hanging by a thread

Many that voted Brexit did so because they had suspicions that mainstream politics is not for them, that their voices, views and concerns do matter in Westminster.

Our democracy is already hanging by a thread, because of the physical and emotional distance between Parliament and its people, because of deindustrialisation, and because of austerity.

To force a new referendum will only quicken the decline of the broken and decrepit Westminster parliamentary democracy, which we still have a chance to change, into something far more sinister.

Far right populism in the UK is thankfully marginal; it has not pushed itself into the mainstream unlike many EU countries.

People are seeing the idea of democracy as elitist, and exclusionary – western European neo-liberal democracy is becoming recognised through ordinary and working class people’s experiences as a Monarchy, a bubble of the out of touch, the uncaring, and the greedy, a parliament of Marie-Antoinettes.

Therefore I am suggesting a show of solidarity.

To those that want to stay in the EU yet understand that the Leave vote was used by some working class people to express their experiences of class inequality, an unfairness in our society that they are at the sharp end of, and a desire for something new, I say this: instead of trying to fight to get your own way, to belittle and to ignore, you could stand in solidarity, you could acknowledge inequality, you could push for social change, to end austerity, and invest properly in the health, and wellbeing of those that are currently being exploited and left out.

Forcefully pushing the view that are you are undoubtedly right, and those that voted Leave are not only wrong but are actually morally wrong, might get you what want – back into the EU – but at what cost?

It seems incredible and far-fetched but you might end up with Nigel Farage as your Prime Minister. Not so long ago it would have been inconceivable that Donald Trump could be President of the United States.

By Dr Lisa McKenzie, lecturer in Sociological Practice at Middlesex University London.

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