What Labour needs to do to attract alienated working class voters

What the Labour Party need is a sufficient narrative which bestows upon working people not only material benefits, but also something more- a degree of recognition

Labour Party Rosette

Sam Hill is a frontline worker at one of the larger UK supermarkets

Alienation is a concept born from the works of Hegel and, later, Marx. It is an idea that, though formerly popular with the radical left, has now largely fallen out of use.

In this article, I seek to re-consider alienation, looking at its existence as a kind of alienation born out of the decline of worker agency, primarily as a result of the emasculation of the unions, the undermining of community through the diminishing of working class jobs within our national story, and, with that, the degradation of dignity both in that working people are not encouraged to see their work as valuable, nor are their working conditions often sufficient to live a good life. These are interlinked with one-another, and act as a kind of nexus to prevent working people from achieving the kind of prestige, well-being, or dignity which we might well have characterised many of them of having (comparatively speaking) during the post-war period. 

One focuses on this tri-fold because, it seems, that present Labour Party policy fails to address them as part of a wider, collective issue. To illustrate this point, let us consider that Keir Starmer’s party has committed itself to a £15 minimum wage. This will, of course, go a long way towards improving the lives of the British working class, but there is a sense that it is but remedying one particular symptom of a wider social problem.

For example, increased wages do not make up for the fact that we are often mistreated by customers, talked down to, and generally, in spite of our vital role during the pandemic, disregarded. In this example we see a clear overlap between the dignity which one gains through an increase in wages, at the same time as a corresponding loss in regard to community-derived prestige. One would argue then that what the Labour Party need in addition to such policies is a sufficient narrative which bestows upon working people not only material benefits, but also something more- a degree of recognition

In line with this, what I believe we need is to re-imagine our history of an ethical patriotism of the common good, popularised by figures such as Attlee or Tawney, or consider perhaps some other frame. What is important here is to shape a narrative in which working people are again to be portrayed, and recognised, for the value that they bring to our society, and for the vital role which they play in ensuring that we can live in the kind of society which political elites seem to take for granted. In many respects, working people are a foundational necessity of Britain that should be acknowledged, and their stories, experiences, and struggles better woven into our national self-understanding. There is a great history here, including the struggle for democratic rights within the Chartist movement, and quests for social equality in the Bristol Bus Boycotts, to name but two examples. Essentially, we must speak to these events and yet honour working people for their role in shaping our contemporary Britain.

The unions and other intermediary associations form the final piece of this puzzle as, even in spite of real wage increases, and a narrative which better recognises working people, neither truly give them a voice- a sense of agency. We need only consider the degradation which a significant portion of the class has felt post-Thatcher, and the resentment which has built up within it and unleashed in the context of Brexit, to realise the importance that such intermediary associations can have in addressing working class issues.

It is important psychologically to see that, not only is one becoming better off in a material sense, and better recognised, but that they also belong; that they have a sense of their own power, and it seems particularly poignant for such a voice to again come through the unions, though the expansion of other civil society associations is another option. The point, however, remains that workers need to have a sense of their own power, as well dignity and a sense of communal recognition, if they are to escape their present alienation.

To this end, I challenge the Labour Party to consider again the diagnosis of alienation, and the ways in which its policies can amount to something greater- a vision for a better Britain in which working people form a core part of our self-understanding, have a voice in our future, can actively challenge injustices through their associations, and, of course, can better live a life without need nor want. Our party has a history of addressing these issues and it seems pertinent to remember that, as well as to revisit the writings and speeches of particular forebears, like Attlee, Tawney, Lansbury, Cole, and others.

Comments are closed.