Thursday, 12 January 2012
Blaming the Victims
Zillah bought me a copy of ‘Chavs - the demonization of the working class’ by Owen Jones for Christmas. I realize the book has been out for a few months and many people have already seen the book and raved about it. I also acknowledge that Owen Jones was up in Edinburgh in November speaking at the Radical Book Fair organised by Tarlochan and Elaine at Word Power books. As I was contesting the election for Rector of St Andrews University at the time I missed the chance to meet him.
‘Chavs’ is a book I just couldn't’t put down. I read it from cover to cover in two days and was both angered and energised by it. Owen Jones articulates how working class people have been put upon by politicians, journalists and the chattering classes. Even the term itself has been besmirched, slandered and confused.
I am proud to consider myself working class. I have never seen myself as anything else and nor do I ‘aspire’ to. I was born and raised in the tough environment of a declining industrial town in Lanarkshire. Both my grandfathers were steelworkers although my grandpa Fox whom I barely knew had his life defined more by his experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war forced to work on the infamous Burma railway than by a blast furnace. He died in the early 1960’s but his cause of death had been ‘written down’ back in 1946. My grandpa Mackin was a foreman with the Lanarkshire Welding Company and built ‘most of the bridges in Scotland’ post war – and virtually single-handedly if you were to believe him. Both men were ambitious and determined to build a better life for their kids and grandkids like me.
I found myself both incensed and elated at ‘Chavs’ because it laid bare how millions of such working class people in Britain have been exploited and driven into poverty over the past 25 years and that during a so called ‘never-ending boom’, and then to add insult to injury they were made to feel as if the brutal and obscene failures of the system were their fault.
I had just finished writing a pamphlet for the Scottish Socialist Party on fuel poverty and the consequences of the exorbitant increases in gas and electricity bills when I read Chavs. And it made me go back to my pamphlet and stress the point, for the benefit of one million households in Scotland that the fuel poverty misery they are being forced to endure it is not their fault. This ‘blaming the victims’ culture must be defeated. These energy bills have gone up, income have gone down and energy efficiency schemes decimated because of a failure in the economic and social system we endure.
Our elected representatives, our mass media and the rest of system try to blame the victims of capitalism for its failings and let the real culprits off Scot-free.
CHAVS is a book every socialist should read just before they go out and rebuild the socialist movement in the schemes and communities across Britain. They truly are needed more than ever.
‘Chavs- The Demonization of the working class’ is published by Verso priced £14.99 and is available from Word Power Books, West Nicholson Street, Edinburgh.