One of the most disturbing aspects of the election a few weeks ago was the large and rising number of voters who felt disenfranchised and voiceless, not only those who felt abandoned by Labour in Scotland, nor even the 9% who deserted the main parties to vote for UKIP, but the untold hundreds of thousands who felt alienated by current politics and refused to vote, yet were burdened by grievances they couldn’t offload. They include those who are the victims of a tax exile who wants to bulldoze their homes to make way for luxury property, a single mother who finds herself penniless on the back of a non-performing zero hours contract, a young jobless man sanctioned because he didn’t attend a job interview even though he had informed the DWP beforehand that he would be having an operation in hospital that day, and countless persons who once again didn’t vote because they never have because it’s pointless and ‘they’ always win.
So how do they defend themselves? Neoliberal society obliterates organised dissent. It breaks down solidarity and propagates the myth that we all rise or fall as individuals based on personal effort irrespective of class, gender, age, region and economic conditions. As result of the shift from an industrial to a service-sector working class, jobs can be more precarious and short-lived, and mutually supportive communities are no longer based round supermarkets of call centres as they once were around mines or factories. Trade unions have been weakened by anti-union laws and mass unemployment. Part of the reason for the Tory promotion of home ownership was that it inhibited strikes because of the need to pay mortgages. Trade unions and local government gave working class people political experience and know-how, and their decline plus the general professionalisation of politics has ensured middle class dominance in Westminster.
Those marginalised by these trends are forced to be creative to get the powerful to listen. They cannot rely on the mainstream media which are largely the plaything of a few privileged oligarchs, so they bypass it with social media. They tweet out their situation, argue their case, appeal for solidarity and resources, and ask others to build pressure on their corporate tormentors and on local and national politicians – including Russell Brand, an important emblem of this grassroots campaign. Democracy no longer listens to them, but local struggles particularly over housing led by working class women in Focus E15 and the New Era fightback last year are increasingly making themselves felt across the country. If Labour is to regain its role as their representative, it has a huge job ahead getting in touch with them, listening to them, and taking part actively and enthusiastically in whatever campaigns they feel will meet their needs.