In defence of the Barking and Dagenham working class
PUBLISHED: 12:21 18 July 2011 | UPDATED: 14:46 18 July 2011
When Owen Jones set out to write Chavs – the Demonization of the Working Class, he ventured out to Barking and Dagenham at the height of the 2010 pre-election campaign when the far right BNP was hoping to take the council and Barking’s parliamentary seat.
His excursions and interviews were an effort to understand why a once proud and strong working class community would have catapulted 12 BNP councillors into the town hall during the 2006 elections.
Mr Jones, 26, who was born into a middle class family and grew up in a working class district of Stockport, said: “That was a wake-up call.”
Whilst campaigning against the BNP with Hope not Hate in the Spring of 2010, he interviewed residents, councillors, and Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas.
He said: “It was a really friendly and warm community. People were happy to talk but there was a cloud there. People were angry and frustrated, they felt disenfranchised and said they did not really have a voice. They spoke very clearly and very honestly.
“People there still had that pride and a sense of community.”
“They came out in their droves and rejected the BNP in 2010. But the problems with housing and jobs have not gone away.”
In his book he argues that the anti-immigration voice has more to do with economic factors than with racism.
Mr Jones said: “It’s so easy for immigrants to be scapegoated by politicians and media by saying, “there’s not enough housing to go around – why are we not prioritising our people?’
“The right-wing press exploit that ruthlessly.”
He believes the answer lies in a living wage and in building enough affordable housing.
But low representation in the ever-growing service sector, which the book describes as the bastion of the new working class, combined with a high turnover of staff and harsh union laws make it difficult for unions to organise and barter for better pay and working conditions.
However, Mr Jones, who describes himself as middle class, is optimistic. He said: “It needs a real struggle. But I would not have written the book if I did not think it was possible. I think things will change.”
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