Addressing the ‘white working class’ – sense beginning to break out?
David Lammy MP has said something sensible about the ‘white working class’ issue that’s been rearing its ugly head again recently. Trade unionists are rightly worried about suggesting it’s sensible to segment the working class by race (interesting note – apparently it’s ok to talk about the working class – normally discouraged by politicians as old-fashioned and antagonistic – when you’re discussing something even more old-fashioned and antagonistic, eg race!) But clearly we do need to address the possible racism that could really divide working people.
What was interesting (and sensible – I don’t mean to suggest it’s unusual for David to be sensible, only that it’s unusual to find that much sensible said about race and class at the moment!) about what David Lammy said was to draw attention to the links that the Obama campaign has made between trade unions and race, and the positive role that unions can play in uniting working people and fighting divisions which only help right-wing political agendas.
The AFL-CIO, the TUC’s sister organisation in the USA, has been playing a key role for Obama in combating the Republicans’ disgraceful attempt to split the working class (or as they’re known in the US, the middle class) along racial lines. Richard Trumka, AFLCIO Executive Vice President, put it briliantly: there are lots of good reasons for working people to vote for Obama, and just one really bad reason not to – racism.
US trade unions have been working hard to make sure that their members, their families and their communities don’t let racism get in the way of voting for their interests, and Obama recognises the positive contribution they’re playing. In the UK, unions have been playing a similar, but often unrecognised role in opposing racism against migrant workers. The argument is the same here as in the US. Skin colour and nationality aren’t good reasons for division in the working class. What we have in common is more important than our differences (although they can be celebrated, too), and what we need above all is equal treatment and not discrimination.