Reinventing the working class

I have long disliked the term working class, it seems to hark bark to the First World War and outdated mindsets. However it clearly denotes something. There is an element of what was the working class that is now adrift. Living in sink estates, detached from employment, perhaps for generations. These people were the perfect workers and soldiers that built the British Empire, but now they seem to lack purpose, and they languish largely out of sight and out of mind.

When I went to secondary school the year was streamed at the end of second year, and suddenly half the year was lumped together into a group that had very little in the way of academic aspirations. I don't think any of them were terribly bothered by this, in a few years they would be done with school and glad of it. As long as there was a huge demand for unskilled labour, in the shipyards, on the land, in service, etc etc this arrangement worked perfectly well.

The nature of that society was that there was still a need for a huge army of general purpose infantry, with a smaller need for an officer class, and an even smaller need for a lofty general class above that. The system worked, it produced what the society needed in about the right proportions, people were generally happy with their lot. The bright, ambitious and hard working might seek to better their lot, the unfortunate or unmotivated might drop down the social scale, but an accident of birth, provided your breeding and determined which stock you belonged to.

But society has changed, the government believes that the way to a stronger economy is through a better educated workforce. If they can populate the country entirely with university graduates then the economy will thrive. Of course there are a residue of unskilled jobs, but if British people do not want them then economic migrants from overseas will relish the opportunity. Such guest workers have been common across Europe for generations.

If half the school population has no academic aspirations then suddenly you have a great many people without a place in this modern economy. There remain the traditional working class unskilled and skilled jobs, but with the loss of heavy industry and the move to a more skilled and flexible workforce, a sizable chunk of society no longer has much to offer. Having little to offer, they have little to gain. They sit detached from society, aware of aspirations and lifestyles that are as foreign to their lives as a fairy story.

I believe that this is more an issue of culture than ability, but cultures take generations to change. In the meantime there remain a considerable number of people who are largely detached from the economy and society. This cannot be right or just.

It is not that there is nothing that these people can do, it is not that they do not want to do anything. It is not that they lack value and dignity.

I would propose that the government starts to mobilise those who want, to join a peace time army. An army that can be deployed across the world to build infrastructure and social capacity. There is a proliferation of failed and failing states across the world. These need good government, decent infrastructure, society and not anarchy. In this country we have a multitude of people that are not only up for the task, but are more than capable of it. The major world powers are still to fixated on winning wars, we need to increase the peace. Increase the world supply of decency, honesty, trust, compassion. We do this by driving out corruption and inefficiency, providing adequate governance and infrastructure across the world. This need not be democracy and the first world as we understand it. Maybe these countries can leapfrog us to some better post Oil future society.

We have a vast supply of underutilised talent that we should use for good, before it is turned to ill use. The lesson across the world is that people have a huge potential, and we should be harnessing that for the good of all, before society is corrupted and degraded by a disenchanted minority.