Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Rise And Fall Of The Old Working Class

Half a century ago the working class or proletariat — however one chose to define them, and definitions varied — were surely something close to half the population or more. In a much more real sense than today they were a community, or string of communities. No sense of human or social failure hung above them; to be among them was to be among a mainstream. As in any thriving, self-confident and culturally rich community, people respected each other and looked after each other. The existence of social barriers (though permeable) to upward mobility sharpened self-definition and a sense of belonging and shared responsibility.

That's from a Matthew Parris column, in the Spectator, giving out about the consequences of social mobility in Britain. It occurred to me that much the same can be said of the trajectory of the Canadian working class, perhaps especially noticeable in the case of the transformation of Vancouver in recent years. Been to Hastings and Main lately?

The photograph above is from around Granville and Smythe; from the collection of the great Fred Herzog. In his footsteps, these days you'll find the likes of Keith Freeman.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Great piece by Mr. Paris.

Mark
Ottawa

12:26 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Strong working class communities still exist here in manufacturing centres of Ontario, although they may not last another generation.

And many of the workers on those assembly lines are college and university graduates. Whether there is going to be room in the knowledge economy for their children is an open question.

12:43 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

If you think Cardiff's rough try heading a bit north to Aberdare and environs. The Stereophonics are from there and sing about it. My brother-in-law took us there to visit their father's hometown and grave last year. A once proud and thriving community has been decimated by the ravages of change as coal mining is finished, and like many northern British towns, only tourism industries (subsidized by London) and big box stores on the highway offer any sort of employment. Many have moved away. Pretty on the outside but a lot of rot at the core, especially "downtown". From the sounds of it Ontario is suffering much the same fate, as manufacturing jobs go overseas to cheap labour centres like China. I don't know what the answer is, but it sure looks like an ugly future for many of us.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

Welcome back Gatekeeper. I lived at Main and Hastings, in another time. It has been awhile, surely it hasn't been yuppified? Many of Toronto's old working class neighborhoods are all but unrecognizable now. Familar landmarks like the Kodak factory I passed each day to school are being torn down.

6:57 PM  
Blogger dirk buchholz said...

The good old days,but seriously I would agree the idea of working class solidarity and community has changed.But than so has every thing else.
But towards the end of the article the author gets into trouble

..."And what, in part, keeps them there is a dynamic which we might call an unintended side-effect of increased social mobility. People with any drive, capable and motivated people, can find their natural level in our less classbound society. They move on, and up; they move away. They are tied neither to class nor locality. Over time this tends to intensify the concentration of human hopelessness into the small areas that already started deprived and become more so"...

Which seems to imply blame,and the idea that those the live in such areas ,i.e Main and Hasting are less capable or have no drive.
As one who has lived in the area I can categorically state such notions are pure rubbish,typical middle class,work ethic,induced nonsense.
People live in these areas because of all the rooms and rooming hotels.When one is young,single,poor,working poor,on welfare,or on old-age pension with little resources one has little choice of where to live.
The majority of those living in such areas are normal people down on their luck,or the working poor.Of course there are people with problems living there all so.But this is due more to the societies abandoning the mentally ill to the streets,closing hospitals and group home living etc...
In short due to society abtegating it's responsibilities to the market
The majority of faces in the DTES change every few years or so as people move on find better paying jobs,roommates,etc etc.

1:35 PM  

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