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Fight back at the Fringe

"Festival against the cuts" comes to the Fringe.

When London was experiencing the aftermath of looting, Edinburgh commenced its annual festival season. But the political backdrop to the explosion of sometimes nihilistic, often materialistic anger and frustration vented in England was not forgotten.

Public service union UNISON brought a “festival against cuts” to the Edinburgh Festival this year. “Mobilise, The Anti-cuts Festival” was held in an attic space in Edinburgh’s West End, hosting free events with artists and performers geared towards developing creat-ive campaigning skills, as well as a series of debates with visiting speakers.

Described tongue-in-cheek as a “boot camp for creative activists”, workshops included film-making, blogging and poster design. Braver participants could “enjoy” the chance to develop their skills in stand-up comedy, a traditional vehicle for dissenting voices on the Festival Fringe. The results were displayed in a gallery space with a changing exhibition of posters from the international labour movement and art based upon anti-cuts themes.

Now a prominent feature on the fringe of the Fringe, WordPower, Scotland’s only radical bookshop, sponsored a series of free books events. Owen Jones, fresh from facing off David Starkey at the Newsnight studios, talked about the demonisation of the working class.

Owen managed to articulate something that we instinctively know has happened but haven’t found the words to express; that working class people are now overwhelmingly presented as a feckless and dangerous rump of society. He described how almost all mainstream commentators in the media as well as in government share a common contempt for the poorest and lowest paid in society. They have pronounced that all “respectable” working people are now middle class, whereas anyone who cannot be classified as such is identified as being part of a criminally-inclined underclass who are deserving of any poverty-related predicaments that they find themselves in. Owen suggests that the prejudices held by the chattering classes have been given free rein owing to the weakness of the working class politically.

The richest and most powerful can now trample on the most disadvantaged. The use of the term “chavs” represents this trampling in linguistic form, where it is now acceptable to talk about working class people in a derogatory fashion that would be deemed sexist or racist in any other circumstance. In a strange way the discussion continued this problem, as some participants talked about “the working class” as “them”. There is surely a problem if people are talking about themselves in the third person?

Owen did not conform to the politician-speak of offering diagnoses, cures and solutions for rioting, as if we were all suffering from a disease. Rather he described a complex society and offered no recipes or answers other than the necessity to reclaim class politics, working class identity and the need for a debate about what this might mean.

Chavs: The demonization of the working class by Owen Jones, published by Verso 2011

Topics: Cuts | Culture | Class