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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
A Question of Class
Response to Newton Emerson
Davy Carlin • 3.10.03

I found Newton Emerson’s article Thurs Sept 25th (Irish News) quite intriguing. It gave his usual witty account of a particular event, along with his attention being directed towards his perception on a particular issue. On this occasion the issue was that of ‘class’. Yet reading through this article with a smirk at times at his wit, one did find, though, that maybe he did not have a clear understanding of the nature of some aspects of class. In which case, I presume the satire on this occasion may have been used to attempt to conceal that lack of understanding. Newton makes a number of points of interest within the article. He writes of Eamonn McCann’s ‘theory of class conflict’, in which after Newton’s usual satirical points on such matters, he finished with a point of understanding in relation to the North. He states ‘the idea that Northern Ireland’s contemporary business leaders might harbour some selfish, strategic or economic interest in prolonging civil unrest here is lunacy.’ This seems quite a valid understanding and in that context many could nod in agreement, but to fully understand the nature of class one needs to go deeper on this matter. While the leading business class may not have any selfish and economic interest in prolonging civil unrest that does not mean that the leading business class do not have selfish economic interests. To put an understanding of ‘class’- economic and otherwise into a purely political context in an attempt to give a commentary on the ‘theory of class conflict’, gives firstly a false perception of the reality and secondly fails to draw out the understanding of both political and economic emancipation in relation to class.

With that in mind I would like to touch on the question of the working class and to what that terminology means. One at times reads of those that state that the working class is shrinking and that the middle classes are growing. Newton even makes a brief reference to the ‘three bedroom semis’ that are creeping up the Andytown Road and how he finds it ‘laughable' that large numbers of people in the North describe themselves as working class. Yet to have an understanding of class one actually needs to base it on the practical and real world of today within the continual development of Capitalism. What therefore is the definition of class? Class is not based on the perception of what class one is or one isn’t and it is not even judged on the type of work a person may do; class is about a person's objective position within the process of capitalist production and if they have any control over, or own any of the means of production. So in the present context of Capitalism and continual Globalisation, we therefore see changes and reconstruction of class within the developing and shifting patterns of Capitalism to meet Capitalism’s needs. Therefore Capitalism through those shifting patterns has in fact brought about those changes in the working class to feed its hunger for its continual accumulation of Capital.

What that has meant in real terms is that the industrial and manufacturing firms are now being replaced with new forms of low pay assembly lines seen in the vast call centres or the traditionally ‘middle class’, jobs of the Civil Service, banks, service sectors etc. So the continual shifting of Capitalism to meet its needs has changed the make up of the working class and their jobs in real terms to fit the need for the accumulation of that capital. So in absolute terms the working class has expanded not shrunk. Eamonn McCann’s understanding on class is the same understanding that I would hold. As a person born into a working class estate in the early seventies in Ballymurphy I have been though in many areas ‘across the divide’. Canvassing in Annadale flats, speaking on platforms in similar areas of East Belfast etc, all has helped me come to a firm understanding and conclusion in relation to class.

I ask what has a single mother of three kids in Annadale flats who tries to scrape money together to buy nappies for her kids or who constantly worries where the next meal is coming from have in common with the Queen or with the Unionist leaders living in leafy suburbia? What has a similar woman in a flat in Twinbrook have in common with the likes of Bertie Ahern? The answer, materially, nothing. Yet, it is the sense of being British or of being Irish that attempts to bring one closer together on those terms. Continually waving the Union Jack within the confines of this state or waving a Tricolour in a United Ireland means or would mean little difference to the lives of such persons without also economic change. Class politics looks to seek both political and economic change within society, it seeks not to fly a flag of sectarianism and division, but of unity and strength, a flag not of solely political change, but of and for real economic change. While those divisions political (sectarian) and economic (class) remain then real equality will always elude us. Therefore if cometh a day when political freedom comes to this small island in the form of a United Island, if the flag of political freedom is not also the flag of economic freedom that flutters in the wind, then the battle for real freedom will have only just begun.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

3 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Rite of Passage
Anthony McIntyre


32 CSM Condemn Abduction of its members
Andy Martin


Irish Republicanism As I See It
Thomas Gore


A Question of Class
Davy Carlin


It All Leads Back to This
Mick Hall


I Dreamt I Saw Joe H Last Night
Anthony McIntyre


Tail Biting Prohibited
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain


28 September 2003


Edward Said, 1935-2003
Liam O Ruairc


Civil Rights Anniversary
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh


Nothing But Contempt for the Court of the Rich
Anthony McIntyre


Ireland and Post Colonial Theory
Liam O Ruairc


2 Statements on the death of Edward Said


The Letters Page has been updated.




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