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    Working class prejudice at the BBC

    by Sunny on 3rd February, 2009 at 7:11 pm    

    Padraig Reidy at CIF is right to point out the issue of subtle racist digs by BBC reporting at the striking workers.

    Watching BBC news bulletins yesterday, it was very easy to believe claims that the current spate of wildcat strikes is inherently motivated by xenophobia. Constant emphasis was placed on objections to “foreign workers” per se, rather than fear of workers’ wages being undercut, which would seem to be the real issue.

    I sympathise on various levels. First, I reject the claim that ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ is a racist phrase, because frankly its time we discarded the notion that British = white. For people to think its racist is implicitly endorsing the BNP view that only whites can be truly British. After all, Obama has no problems saying he wants to protect American jobs or look out for American interests… why isn’t he accused of racism?

    The BBC’s coverage is an issue too.

    As I said last year at the Fabian event at the Labour Party conference, there’s a whole bunch of right-wing commentators who keep seeing “working class interests” through the prism of immigration. A good example is Rod Liddle, who almost always starts caring for working class interests by finding someone who talks about how his area has changed in the spirit of Enoch Powell.

    That view, that working class people are racist and immigration is their top concern, has permeated the BBC. I wrote last year that people assume minorities don’t have class issues:

    The BBC’s “provocative” White season is a prime example of this silliness. Last week a researcher from Radio 4 called after reading an earlier article when I asked who had failed the white working class. The corporation is simply the latest to fall into this trap. The problem faced by white working classes isn’t that of race but their class, as Chris Bertram and Chris Dillow point out. Does anyone really believe there aren’t Asian working class families who resent Polish workers moving into the area?

    The White season is a tokenistic effort after which the middle class commissioners, pleased that they’ve done their bit for the proles, will go back to their usual habits, as they do with ethnic minorities. Except, there the lives of working class minorities are ignored while shiny happy middle class Asians making music or becoming successful entrepreneurs are lapped up.

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    18 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. MaidMarian — on 3rd February, 2009 at 7:28 pm  

      Yes, sort of. Liddle may be a bit prolier-than-thou but I think that this just reflects the BBC’s dumbing down of politics and news rather than any prejudice as such.

      The BBC (and, being fair, others) seem to regard ‘debate’ as having two people with strongly opposing viewpoints sat there talking to each other in a badly moderated discussion. It is inevitable that this level of coverage generates heat not light.

      The staggering lack of nuance has made it into the liver reports, the refinery protests being a good example. The idea that these people are in fact sub-contractors in particular has been lost.

      I don’t think it is quite fair to say that the BBC are putting words into people’s mouths. That being said, nuance would be nice if for no reason other than to present the public with the stark reality that there are shades of grey - not just viewpoints to be indulged.

      Indeed, white season was a good example of the failure of the BBC to see nuance in political views now that a 1950s era working class barely exists. That series mixed ‘underclass’ with working class to the extent that I expect my grandparents are spinning in their graves.

    2. Bert Rustle — on 3rd February, 2009 at 8:27 pm  

      According to http://isupporttheresistance.blogspot.com/2009/02/wildcat-strikes-and-word-racist.html

      … The British National Party does not just speak in the support of “White” workers but also in support of all those genuine and legal “ethnic” workers who are just as concerned about their futures as their white counterparts.

      No matter why they came here, they are here now and if they are now legally British Citizens, they have equal rights to work and protection also.

      Who then are the real “racists”, if not the globalists who seek destroy the lives and way of life of all British Citizens in their quest to create their One World build on slave labour? …

    3. JM — on 3rd February, 2009 at 9:24 pm  

      “First, I reject the claim that ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ is a racist phrase, because frankly its time we discarded the notion that British = white. For people to think its racist is implicitly endorsing the BNP view that only whites can be truly British.”

      Hmm, well, but it’s definitely xenophobic and anti-immigrant, both types of prejudice which have distinctly racist threads to them, not to mention being vile in their own right.

    4. JM — on 3rd February, 2009 at 9:27 pm  

      And isn’t it a sort of racist dog-whistle?

    5. marvin — on 3rd February, 2009 at 10:17 pm  

      Spot on Sunny! Any more agreement and there must be something seriously wrong :P

      British workers means that; British absolutely does not = white. The BBC’s cultural elitism can’t help but show through by their choice of emphasis on news stories…

    6. douglas clark — on 3rd February, 2009 at 10:41 pm  


      I thought we could have seen all of us as Europeans. Y’know, folk that live in Europe.

      First, I reject the claim that ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ is a racist phrase, because frankly its time we discarded the notion that British = white.

      Yes but, no but.

      It is time we rejected the larger idea that Europe = white.

      It seems to me - anyway - that the concept of people moving around the place, because they can, sometimes earn more in London than Prague, Munich than Paris is to accept what the whole project is supposed to be about. Free access of labour to decent wages for decent output seems OK to me. We have done it on a smaller scale with the drift to the South East, particularily London. And I don’t think that is worth denying.

      For God’s sake, we are turning Spain into a British geriatric ward….

    7. soru — on 4th February, 2009 at 12:44 am  

      Free access of labour to decent wages for decent output seems OK to me.

      Not seen any legitimate trade unionists complain about immigrants coming and working here _at UK wages and conditions_.

      Forget the identity of the people - the point is the terms those people are employed under. If you make those terms the lowest common denominator across the whole EU, wages (and income tax revenues) will drop like a stone.

    8. Bobby Friction — on 4th February, 2009 at 2:41 am  

      Just an observation from someone who works at the BBC. I have in my 6 years working here not met anyone who shares the same ‘class’ background as the White British I grew up with, drink with now or chill with most weeks. Without doubt its workforce in terms of white employees is almost 99% university educated members of the British middleclass. Does that have an impact on its output?…hmmmmmm

    9. Golam Murtaza — on 4th February, 2009 at 6:35 am  

      Are you THE Bobby Friction? (As in Bobby Friction and Nihal). If so, nice one.

    10. The Dude — on 4th February, 2009 at 9:05 am  


      Answer your own question. Yes or no? Most of the black people I’ve met who work for the BBC are now so far removed from the community that they originally came from as to be considered alien. That can NEVER be a good situation. Yet everyone within the BBC is university educated which is ironic given it’s recent history of making bad decisions.

    11. SKye-Vee — on 4th February, 2009 at 11:04 am  

      British jobs we want for British workers, British jobs we do not want to do for Foreign workers.

      Soon the foreigners will leave and we will wonder who is going to drive our buses, pick up our rubbish and look after our neglected granny in the old folks home. It may end up like a mini exodus all over again. They’ll be a parting of the English Channel as they all go back to the mainland to find their homeland.

      The media headlines tend to tar the strikers with a xenophobic brush. They do seem to paint the lower classes as those folks who are poor, uneducated and whose aspirations and job prospects are to appear on the next Jeremy Kyle or Trisha. Which in most cases is not true.

      Although if you look beyond the headlines they are some good articles.

      The workers want an equal chance to apply for jobs. They are not against working migrants. The company should have trained them to do the job so why were they not considered?

    12. Letters From A Tory — on 4th February, 2009 at 11:17 am  

      To be fair, Peter Mandelson has been explicitly talking about the xenophobic motives behind these strikes so I think it’s fair game for other people to use it as well.

    13. Bobby Friction — on 5th February, 2009 at 1:00 am  

      Golam - Yes.x

      The Dude - does it have an impact on its output - Yes.

    14. Sunny — on 5th February, 2009 at 1:27 am  

      Hmm, well, but it’s definitely xenophobic and anti-immigrant, both types of prejudice which have distinctly racist threads to them, not to mention being vile in their own right.

      Hi JM, possibly, though I guess it depends on what you see as the motivation behind the phrase and how its used.

      I don’t doubt that there may be an element of xenophobia attached, but I think the bigger picture is about companies using foreign labour to constantly drive down wages and make life difficult for everyone.

      This is why I mostly support the strikes - I think it should be made more difficult for British companies to undercut labour by wholesale bringing in workers from elsewhere.

    15. ad — on 5th February, 2009 at 7:36 pm  

      It is not entirely reassuring that this has happened so early in the recession.

      I can’t help but think that a lot of people must be very relieved that Italians are usually white.

    16. marvin — on 5th February, 2009 at 7:47 pm  

      I can’t help but think that a lot of people must be very relieved that Italians are usually white.

      The left would have made this a about racism, ironically due to their anti-racist credentials and that the workers had brown skin. I’m rather more colour-blind in this respect. That’s why I fail to see what’s racist about British jobs for British workers. British does not equal white.

    17. Jai — on 5th February, 2009 at 8:31 pm  

      Golam - Yes.x

      Holy crap.

      Kiddan Bobby — very proud of you. Congratulations on your ongoing success. You (and Nihal of course) are doing great work at the Beeb.

      I hope you’ve found our ongoing party on PP to be interesting reading :)

      All the very best.

    18. billericaydicky — on 6th February, 2009 at 1:41 pm  

      The whole anti foreigner thing was talked up by Liddle, Mandelson and the press generally. I have been spending time down along the Thames estuary where the first BNP councillor elected in this country Dereck Beacon has been making himself busy but the BNP message just isn’t getting across.

      Ther have been examples of Polish workers coming out on strike as well and it has to be remembered that we now have a permanent Eastern European presence in this country with families settled here and children in schools.

      These families face exactly the same challenges as those which have been here for generations. Mortgages have to be paid and the groceries bought. Yes many Eastern Europeans have gone home but there are far more who are located here permanently who do not seethemselves as outsiders and are not regarded as such.

      If you look at the BNP website you will see that while Griffin is making an issue out of this there are no claims of BNP speakers at meetings and there have been instances of BNP leaflets being refused. Already comparisons are being made with the dockers and meat porters in 1968 but there are huge differences. First of all only a minority of dockers marched and one of the meat porters leaders was Danny Harmston who had been a bodyguard to Oswald Mosely.

      Interesting result at Tameside yesterday. In a by election the BNP vote remained more or less static while the labour vote grew at the expense of the Lib Dems and the Greens. The churches in the area put out a joint leaflet which was delivered on mass, no that isn’t a pun, urging tactical voting. Tactical voting in first past the post elections is the only way to stop the BNP. We no longer have the luxury of exercising the right to vote for the party of our choice if it means fascists in the council chamber.

      The results are on http://www.hopenothate.org.uk and are interesting.

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