What follows is a first sketch of a campaign proposal that is designed to bring to an end a form of discrimination referred to here as institutionalised classism. What exactly is meant by this term will become clear as we proceed. But for now I will just say that this proposal is inspired by the three class analysis that informs the participatory economics model. I am putting this proposal “out there” in order to seek feedback from others who might have an interest in this area of, and approach to, social justice organising. More precisely, I am seeking comments, criticisms and suggestions for improvements from those who have an interest in and knowledge of; (1) class analysis, (2) anti-discriminatory law, and (3) organising and campaigning.
On the 1st October 2010 a new piece of anti-discrimination legislation was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. That piece of legislation was the Equality Act 2010. The national human rights institution, The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), state that the Equality Act (2010) “simplifies, strengthens and harmonises the current legislation to provide Britain with a new discrimination law which protects individuals from unfair treatment and promotes a fair and more equal society.” More precisely, according to the GOV.UK website, the Act specifies the following nine “protected characteristics” that are covered by the Equality Act (2010):
- being or becoming a transsexual person
- being married or in a civil partnership
- being pregnant or having a child
- race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
- sexual orientation
Combined these protected characteristics legally define what is meant by “equality” within Britain today. Clearly, there is much to be celebrated within the Act, as it outlaws many of the forms of discrimination that progressives have been fighting for, often over long periods of time.
However, the Equality Act also helps to explain a lot about the strange world of politics in which we all have to live today. What is striking, to me at least, is the way in which this legal definition of “equality” says nothing about economics, or more precisely, how this piece of anti-discriminatory law fails to even begin to tackle institutionalised classism as a form of discrimination. This omission helps to maintain one of the features of society that generates inequality and social injustice, making a nonsense of the (EHRC) claims highlighted above. In effect, excluding economic factors from the Act legalises classism. As Polly Toynbee pointed out back in 2009, “How can you challenge the unfair treatment of women, minorities, the disabled and the old while ignoring the one great inequality that trumps all these several times over?”
When I looked into this a little bit more I found that the Equality Act that was passed only contains 90% of the original Bill with the socio-economic duty missing. This socio-economic duty was designed to reduce class inequality but was dropped from the Act. As already suggested above, omitting economic factors, and classism as a form of discrimination, reduces the Equality Act to a very bad political joke in which the notion of “equality” is used as a Liberal mask that conceals the reality of class exploitation and oppression. This is pure ideology which ignores the evidence base that shows the damaging impact inequality, that resukts from institutionalised classism, has on people and society.
However, I also feel that the Equality Act can be used to help inform a contemporary campaign that builds on the progressive success of the past. After all, it seems clear that institutionalised classism – as a form of legal discrimination – constitutes, if not the, then one of the major issues that progressives face today. Given the combined neglect and significance of this issue it seems like an obvious area around which progressives could build a popular movement.
Such a movement could have a number of functions but should probably be based on a shared understanding of the institutional origins of classism. Here I would like to suggest two possible contenders that are highlighted within the participatory economics model. The first is private ownership of the means of production (the power source of the capitalist class). The second is the corporate division of labour (the power source of the coordinator class). These two institutional features of capitalist economics not only represent the root cause of classism but can also be used to inform a campaign designed to address classism.
Furthermore, self-managed worker councils and balanced job complexes (respectively) are proposed as alternatives to these two capitalist institutions. Again, it seems that these alternative institutions could be used to help inform such a campaign.
Some possible objectives of a campaign to outlaw classism could include:
- Raise awareness of institutionalised classism as an unacceptable and yet legal form of discrimination.
- Highlighting the similarities between classism and other forms of discrimination – such as racism and sexism – and the damaging impact this has on people’s lives and society as a whole.
- Getting protective characteristics added to the Equality Act that outlaw classism.
Perhaps the history of the abolition of economic slavery based on white supremacism can be used to inform a modern campaign for the abolition of economic slavery based on class supremacism? I would be interested to know what you think…
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