New Internationalist Issue 281
From this month's editorsClass creates tensions that are leading some workplaces - in California for example - to add 'class-awareness training' to the list of appropriate therapies.
The NI is very much a co-operative, but even so a 'hidden hand' can sometimes be detected at work on our office politics. The design and office management teams on the ground floor - where Alan, who designed this issue, works - occasionally refer to themselves as 'the engine-room' or 'the trenches'; the editorial and marketing teams on the upper floors - where David, one of our editors, works - imagine periodically that they sit on 'the bridge'. From time to time a reasonably good-natured, low-intensity form of class warfare seems possible. In order to edit this magazine Alan and David have had, as it were, to bridge the trench: a painful posture which class-awareness therapy seems unlikely to change.
We ran a trial of the questionnaire that appears on page 14, asking some of our colleagues to fill it in to see where they feature in the class struggle. We assumed that everyone would, by virtue of an equal-pay policy and conventional wisdom, classify as 'C1' or 'middle'. There were, however, some perverse results. With a strange flourish, some people came forward with claims that they had achieved working-class status. Closer scrutiny revealed errors in the questionnaire, and a re-run duly evened things out.
'Class' has become one of those odd words that are used as adjectives rather than nouns. It is quite commonplace for someone to say 'working-class this', 'middle-class that' or 'ruling-class the other' - and remarkably rare for them to say 'the working class', 'the middle class' or 'the ruling class'. When we start to prevaricate with language it's a sure sign that something troublesome is afoot.
Some of the most interesting sections eventually had to be excluded from the questionnaire: the names we give our children; what we call the kind of houses we live in or the bodily functions we perform; the shops we use; the curses we utter. All of them betray something about the class system we live with and all are specific to the particular place where we live. The scope for the denial of common experience across cultural or geographical boundaries is pretty well limitless. Yet it is sometimes only by breaking down barriers that we can see things at all. Class, in a global supermarket, is one such thing.
Mad Cow Disease has come to our rescue in Britain by displacing class as 'the British disease'. The perception that class was a uniquely British obsession has prevented the NI from tackling it before. It was Alan - perhaps the only one among us whose personal experience told him why - who insisted that we must do so eventually. In the event, we could have filled the magazine many times over with revealing stories about how class operates around the world and the terrible constriction on the human spirit that it imposes, without mentioning Britain once. For both of us the experience has been a revelation.
You may not be entirely surprised to learn, nonetheless, that because Alan says 'class' as in 'mass', and David says 'class' as in 'art', it seemed possible at one stage that we would fail to understand each other at all and that this magazine would never have materialized.
Alan Hughes and David Ransom
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
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