The Prestige of the Working Class

Greg Schofield gschofield at
Tue May 8 20:15:06 MDT 2001

A honest question, an honest observation by you. We would all be better off
I feel if we all had the courage to say what we think, rather than is often
the case the empty phrase that is known always to appeal.

Too often them left is merely caught up in its rhetoric, they lose sight of
the people.

I worked for a time as bus driver, most of whom (99%) were going to vote
Labor in a coming  election, I was sitting at a table as one courageous
driver tried to explain why he was voting conservative. The workers around
all put up how Labor would better their lives, while he argued that the
conservatives would make life harder for us, but would run the economy
better and that was for the benefit of his children - he was wrong of
course but for the best possible reason.

It was a lesson then and remains with me now, no-one knows enough to be
right even a small amount of the time, but I cannot criticize that fellow
who was far more "socialist" in his bones than many others. For his
children's sake he would embrace the enemy, moreover he would stand up for
his beliefs against the flow. Far from being a heated discussion it was
full of humour and a comradeship which is largely missing from our movement.

Inherent good sense is not always obvious. The bus drivers had a rightwing
union (catholic right leadership in those days), which lost all major
battles but won on many minor ones - there was a good sense in this as
well, though I found it hard to see at the time. The same union was the
first to establish 24 hour childcare for the drivers (pushed by drivers at
another depot), and when it was suggested that woman returning to driving
(though there was few at the time) after having a child should go to the
bottom of the list (a union suggestion by the way) it was universally
decried - even the most notorious misogynist at the depot stood up to
declaim the wrongs of such a move.

This same misogynist, loud in his petty comments, when a young Lebanese
driver took offense at being told what to do by the first female inspector
in the state, this same one who constantly heckled women at the depot,
pulled that young driver into line and told him in no way was that a way to
behave (an ugly situation was defused and things went better after that).

I have seen workers behave also in despicable ways, have worked in places
where they have been at each others throats, but this has been in my small
experience very rare, rather people get on with life and under the worst
circumstances with good humour which I always admire.

At that depot the same character who was misogynist was not unsurprisingly
anti-gay, his daily verbal sparring with a driver who's sexuality was
anything but hidden, often led to the whole pay-in room barracking and
laughing at the exchange at what was a delightful example of good humour
but none that would pass as politically correct (from either side). A
driver's lot is not a happy one, but I have never been in a more pleasant

As appearances can be deceiving I would remark I also worked for some years
in the advertising industry. Middle ad upper middle class, if incomes and
backgrounds were anything to go on. There were no racist words, misogynist
or anti-gay - on the surface it was all very civilized, but the amount of
actual racism, the prejudices of every type that were exploited there (in
the office environment, in competition with others, in the actual material
being produced) still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

The drivers used racial epitaphs quite freely, but never once did I detect
any real racism, at least not to the degree I found elsewhere. I mention
this not because the drivers were above racism, but at work they were
workers and the solidarity there was amazing. Not all work places are like
that depot, but for me it held a fascination because appearance and reality
was a complex interchange - the few times the so-called left appeared to
sell their papers, what the workers said cut to the heart of the
disconnection between the "socialists" and their lives. We had a small rank
and file organisation there, a couple of us were known as communists and
strangely these external "socialists" were never associated with us (who
frankly embarrassed me when they appeared at the depot gates).

I was then a member of the CPA but could not bring myself to sell their
paper, which was so out-of-place, suffering everything which Stewart
remarked in his post, worse, unlike the bourgeois papers it smirked its own
self-importance and underscored some insignificant left position as if it
were news. Worse when this paper covered industrial issues, the patronising
tone could not be hidden, the lack of knowledge and the disconnection were
obvious - it was not just irrelevant it was proud about its irrelevancy.

On the differences between how the left behaves and how communists should
behave came through personally, as this bears on the complexity of the
situation I would like to tell you of it.

While training as a nurse, the instructor for no apparent reason launched
into an anti-communist rant. I sat there wondering if I should reveal
myself and contradict the stupid things being said (I was at that stage
very new), when a young woman stood up and announced that she was from
Broken Hill (a large mining town where communists had worked tirelessly for
many years).

She stood up and proclaimed that communists were the only honest ones that
fought for workers, that she would not stand here and hear them insulted
and that the comments better be withdrawn - which they were. I note she was
not a communist but the daughter of a miner (who was also not a communist).
Where communists had done good work for the class in the past the
impression remains - she was an example of someone who knew no more about
communism than what she stated so clearly.

Sometime later I was involved in rank and file work amongst nurses - some
left-wingers appeared selling their newspaper, a nurse I knew well came in
fuming about "commies" and what a bunch of ratbags they were. I pointed out
that I was one, she halted in her tracks to say something like "I know you
are a communist, but your not a communist." It seemed to make sense to her
as she continued informing me of what she despised about "commies", their
papers and the way they pushed themselves forward.

Much of this I say only to re-enforce the wisdom of what Stewart has
already said.

There is food for thought in his observation and something we must all
strive to achieve.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

At 10:10  9/05/01 +1000, you wrote:
>Indeed I am reminded of the exchange in the Yeats poem between the poet
>and Lady Gregory in the poem 'The People'.
>Lady Gregory:
>'The drunkards, pilferers of public funds,
>All the dishonest crowd I had driven away,
>When my luck changed and they dared meet my face,
>Crawled from obscurity, and set upon me
>Those I had served and some that I had fed;
>Yet never have I, now nor any time
>Complained of the people.'
>And yet, because my heart leaped at her words,
>I was abashed, and now they come to mind,
>After nine years, I sink my head abashed.

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