Periodically, the UK government publishes statistics to give an overview of who works in what sector of the economy. Using this data, media outlets can map the rise and fall of certain industries – the shrinkage of manufacturing over the last 30 years, for example.
Whilst these stats may be useful for measuring general trends, they hide as much as they reveal. By presenting each sector as a homogeneous group of workers that can be analysed as a whole by ethnicity, gender and other factors, they hide the class stratification of each group and the wildly differing experiences of people actually working in each sector. For example, it is unclear where a cleaner working in a company in the ‘banking, finance and insurance’ sector fits into these stats, and it is laughable that stats which included a female cleaner from a BME background might make the sector as people imagine it – stockbrokers in crowded rooms, boardrooms and bankers – appear more ‘diverse’ than it actually is.
In the What a way to make a living series, we will be asking people in different working-class jobs to tell us about their working lives, how they feel about their work, what struggles they face at work and how (and if) they have tried to overcome them. The experiences will often have a narrative feel, give the statistics we often see in the news colour and depth, and focus on analysis of how workers have tried to deal with their workplace problems. Hopefully, this bank of pieces will be a resource for socialists and others fighting capitalism, and read together they will sketch a portrait of modern working conditions across society, and how we could struggle against our exploitation collectively. We also hope that the series will encourage its writers to think critically about their jobs and how they might change their working conditions.
This project inevitably involves us defining what counts as a ‘working-class job’ in who we approach and why. However, this doesn’t mean we’re only interested in ‘traditional’ working class jobs. We believe that our understanding of working-class experience needs to change to include voices from workers who might have been overlooked by workerist orthodoxies – i.e. those who talked about socialism as if struggle is only worth paying attention to if it’s initiated by the working class in the manufacturing or construction sectors – which now make up less than 20% of the total workforce here. We pay particular attention to service sector jobs in all their varieties, and to jobs in the social reproductive sphere, such as teaching and care work. Many of these jobs have traditionally been unpaid, but for many people, care is the main work of their life, both on a paid and an unpaid basis.
If you would like to contribute about a place you work or have worked in the past, particularly if you’ve had a job in call centres, courier services, transport, sex work or cleaning work, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can work out how to get your experiences heard – whether that’s through a piece of your writing of between 400 and 1500 words or an interview. We are on-hand as supportive editors or listeners, so don’t worry if you’ve never published anything before – we want to hear from you.