I've been thinking about identity and class politics ever since I began reading the Liberation Series (this link takes you to the latest instalment). I'm not sure I've made massive progress in my thoughts as just when I think I really do think something, then I start thinking something else. Possibly much like Winnie the Pooh, who always seems rather circular when I'm doing bedtime stories. But I am going to have a crack at putting my thoughts into words and order. It's really worth reading the series of articles yourself, but for a very short summary, it explores the changes in New Zealand politics since the beginning of the 1980s which meant that the Labour Party left the working class behind and focused more obviously on issues relating to gender and racial inequalities while at the same time pursuing a neo-liberal economic agenda (market is God, private sector good while public sector bad).

Some thoughts:
1. I can't shake off the feeling that there is an assumption in class analyses of politics that the working class must not have desires outside of working class power. There is a finger pointed at women and Maori and homosexuals that they changed the agenda and then class got knocked off and neo-liberalism came in. But aren't the politicians of today the children of the baby boomers (or the younger baby boomers)? The ones who had access to education like generations of working class kids before them could only dream of? The ones who had the choices that depression parents scarcely dared imagine? In the wool price boom and the prosperity which gave opportunities to so many up to the 1970s, social mobility was a real option. I was the first to university in my family, but before that my maternal grandparents, newly married after WW2, saved up their money from his work as a plumber and bought a farm. They saved up and worked hard and made the five children work hard and eventually got a bigger farm. They didn't hugely value formal education but their values of life long learning and what could be achieved with hard work and astuteness carried on with their children. My father had similar values, though less adventurous, and it is because of the value my parents placed on education that my sister and I really saw university as a real possibility.

Of course I have gone into a personal story - thank goodness for the flexible norms of blogging compared to academic writing - but I am trying to make concrete some of my thoughts. The era who began their climb to power in the early 1980s (Lange - Clark - Goff et al) had really experienced social mobility. The many who have not experienced 'upward' social mobility certainly need a voice and analysis of how economic reform has savaged their life choices. The more that working class people are locked in to limited choices, the more (I speculate) that they will see power in a class based analysis and struggle. The problem for a group (union) which relies on large numbers to fight a relatively small and powerful elite is that partial success will fracture and dissipate the group dynamic.

2. This quote from John Bernstein's contribution to the debate:
So in regards to women’s oppression, socialists advocate such demands as
free abortion on demand, free 24-hour childcare for all, and free quality
I can't remember when I last felt so alienated from the term 'socialists' as when I read this sentence earlier this evening. I want to scream: don't you know what institutionalisation does to people? To Communities? To Human Beings? I'd prefer to leave the abortion issue alone, as it doesn't fit my fury at the moment and also because it tends to generate so much heated debate that it alone threatens to melting the ice on both North & South Poles. I am clearly too much of a child of capitalism to imagine that free restaurants could provide quality food (the national conception of what quality food is at the moment is a point for shudder enough). But as for who would provide the 24 hour childcare and how it could possibly meet the needs of humans who need loving community, we already have schools brainwashing our children into not thinking at the same time as pretending to do the opposite. The 20 free hours for 3 & 4 year olds has so far provided cheap childcare for many affluent working parents while severely reducing the pre-school group experiences options for children in the poorer suburbs of New Zealand AND sending a message to families that an institution can help a child develop into a healthy human being better than anyone at home. Meanwhile, institutionalised childcare is a booming big business.


Maia said…
Hi Sandra

I've been reading the liberation comments too - I'm glad to see someone else commenting on them.

As I understand it the demand for free 24 hour childcare (which is a demand of the women's liberation movement), wasn't a demand that children spend 24 hours a day in childcare, but that childcare be available 24 hours a day. This would provide childcare for all sorts of situations beyond what is currently provided for at the moment, including breaks for primary carers when they need them (whether that's an evening or a week).

I think there are important questions about what arrangements for childcare meet kids needs the best (in terms of ratios, in terms of set up, in terms of variety). But I totally support provisions that give parents relief and options, and don't think it necessarily means institutionalisation (likewise free canteen style food is my dream, there is nothing wrong with people cooking individually for themselves and others when they want to, but it should not be an obligation, or the only way to get affordable food).

But I do agree that if you imagine these demands being fulfilled under capitalism then they end up not looking that flash.

I also think that John presents a very limited view of liberation and almost demonstrates the problems with an analysis that states that class is the primary contradiction (although in point of fact I don't think analyses that state that class is hte primary contradiction have to mean bad analysis of other forms of oppression, it's just common).
Hi Maia
Thanks for your comment. I agree that there are a whole lot of things missing from John's discussion. I'm finding Sharon Astyk's thoughtful discussions of community (her blog link is on my sidebar) interesting and it seems to come from some kind of understanding of human dynamics which is missing from John's analysis (or Bryce's). There are major worldview differences and I'm still thrashing out how to join them up and weigh them up ...

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