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If we need to test if our workplaces and schools are safe to return to, here’s why Eton and the bankers should be first in line

Dr Lisa McKenzie
Dr Lisa McKenzie

Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire and became politicized through the 1984 miners’ strike with her family. At 31, she went to the University of Nottingham and did an undergraduate degree in sociology. Dr McKenzie lectures in sociology at the University of Durham and is the author of ‘Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.’ She’s a political activist, writer and thinker. Follow her on Twitter @redrumlisa.

Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire and became politicized through the 1984 miners’ strike with her family. At 31, she went to the University of Nottingham and did an undergraduate degree in sociology. Dr McKenzie lectures in sociology at the University of Durham and is the author of ‘Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.’ She’s a political activist, writer and thinker. Follow her on Twitter @redrumlisa.

If we need to test if our workplaces and schools are safe to return to, here’s why Eton and the bankers should be first in line
The UK prime minister’s shaky speech ordering the working classes back to their menial jobs while the middle classes stay safe "working" from home and pontificating on social media, exposes our society’s deep divisions.

If anyone was in any doubt that the class war is still raging and that class in the UK is still the base determinate of all social inequalities, then Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 speech to the nation on Sunday night should leave you in no doubt.

Although the statement from the prime minister appeared confused and vague, in reality there was no ambiguity in his statement for those of us who have been fighting this very British of wars – the class war – for generations. We heard it very clearly even through the obfuscated, bumbling tones of Eton Man: working class lives are worth far less than middle class lives, and absolutely less than the political and upper classes.

I sat watching raging with anger and fear for my family members who are now being thrown into a petri dish to see what happens when there is some increased social interaction. The image that came to me was that of a curdled bowl of cake mix that is ruined, and which by sieving in flour you test its consistency and hopefully save the cake. Now the working class is to be folded into the coronavirus mix to see if they strengthen its consistency... or die trying.

From the data being collected, and the strategies being employed by this government, it is obvious that the working class are being sacrificed for the greater good. Again.

We know all about this – it’s always been like this. During the Industrial revolution, the working classes were treated as fodder for the rich, housed in appalling conditions, and worked to their early deaths. In order to get the profit margins of the bourgeoisie up, an overworked mill worker in Salford had a life expectancy of just 19 years, as Engels wrote in The Condition of the Working Class in England.

Today, we know that working-age men are at a greater risk of dying from Covid-19 virus than women, with 9.9 deaths compared to 4.2 fatalities per 100,000 people. However, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that it’s men working in the lowest-skilled jobs who face the greatest risk of dying from the virus.

Let's break this down further. Men working as security guards have one of the highest rates, with 45.7 deaths per 100,000, followed by taxi drivers and chauffeurs (36.4), bus and coach drivers (26.4), chefs (35.9), and sales and retail assistants (19.8). People who are care workers and home carers also have higher death rates, with 23.4 deaths per 100,000 men and 9.6 deaths per 100,000 women. All working class people – all condemned to premature deaths.

So who did the prime minister order more to go back to work on Sunday? More working class people, of course: construction workers, factory workers, nursery school teachers.

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Being used as guinea pigs, to see if it’s safe for a wider return to work in ensuing months. Being sent back – on foot, because they mustn’t overcrowd public transport – to work a shift in a job they probably hated three months ago, for a minimum wage that affords them nothing but anxiety and stress when it drops into their bank accounts and doesn’t even pay off their overdraft or meet their rent. Putting their lives, their family’s lives and their community’s lives at risk.

Meanwhile, the middle class are to carry on working from home – and waiting for the virus to pass them by. Getting full pay, for doing what has now been shown, in the grand scheme of things, as inconsequential and meaningless work.

In times like these, I like to turn to George Orwell – as an Old Etonian himself, he knew these people and their motives. In Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell notes that the middle class have a deep fear of the working class mob, especially in times of crisis; it is better to keep their hands busy and their minds clouded by misery, otherwise they might rise up rioting, and take over the homes of the wealthy and burn their books

The point that Orwell makes is that the most dangerous mob, actually, is the middle- and upper-class one rampaging through society taking and using up every resource they wish.

Here’s my modest proposal. If we need people to step into the petri dish to test the resilience of our post-lockdown nation to this virus, let it be those that want to be leaders; let them lead the way.

First Eton College must return, followed by every fee-paying private school in the country. Let’s see what the virus does to them, before we send our poorer and more vulnerable children back to their state schools. Followed by MPs and the House of Lords: 1,400 of them packed into the Palace of Westminster should give us a good idea of how the virus is moving.

Then let the bankers, the insurance moguls and the City lawyers try their commute to London’s Bank, Liverpool Street and Canary Wharf stations. They can all be our canaries in the Covid coal mine. While the important workers – the ones doing the really vital jobs – are kept safe.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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