On the ‘hardworking majority’

Last week I was reading up on the government’s new Public Order Bill. That’s a new set of powers for policing and preventing protest, to add to a growing list. The Metropolitan Police waited all of two days before abusing these powers while detaining anti-monarchy demonstrators during the coronation.

One section jumped out at me in the factsheet about the bill:

“Over recent years, guerrilla tactics used by a small minority of protesters have caused a disproportionate impact on the hardworking majority seeking to go about their everyday lives, cost millions in taxpayers’ money and put lives at risk. This has included halting public transport networks, disrupting fuel supplies and preventing hundreds of hard-working people from getting to their jobs.”

Twice in that paragraph the government uses the phrase ‘hardworking’ to describe those being disrupted. I find this rather interesting.

First, there’s the implication that all protestors are by contrast not hardworking. Wasters, they are. Shirkers. Jobless hippies. This is a recurring theme in discussions of activism. I’ve heard people shout ‘get a job’ at protestors on several occasions. And yet I know protestors who book their time off work and give up their holidays to activism. I know people who will be working into the evening or through the weekend to make up the time. If you’ve been to an XR event, chances are you came across XR doctors, or scientists, or teachers. There are multiple sub-groups along professional lines.

The talk of wasters doesn’t reflect modern protest movements, but what it does is drive a wedge between activists and those that are disrupted. It makes it about us and them, flattering the ‘hardworking majority’ just trying to go about their business, and de-legitimising the protestors.

I think it’s a telling form of de-legitimisation, because it links people’s social value to their job. Apparently we don’t need to listen to people who don’t work? Consider the school strikers – jobless all of them. Are they to be ignored because of that? The press photos from Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain are full of older activists, people who are retired and who are willing to make sacrifices that we shouldn’t ask of the young. Are working people more important that retirees? What about those who are disabled? Asylum seekers who are forbidden to work? The unemployed? Are these people unimportant?

In a growth economy, yes they are. Perhaps the government’s actual concerns are betrayed here. Protests are “preventing hundreds of hard-working people from getting to their jobs.” It’s people getting to work that the government highlights here, not people getting home from work afterwards. Disruption to paid work is the outrage. Heaven forbid we interrupt the economy while calling for a liveable planet.

What’s more, the same politicians calling everyone hardworking in this context decry our lack of productivity in others, and complain that the British workforce is lazy. So they might not actually stand by the idea of a hardworking majority if you asked them about it. It’s just a useful device for sorting out good people and bad people, and placing protestors on the wrong side of the moral equation.

Appropriately then, the word ‘hardworking’ is doing a lot of work in the government’s factsheet about its repressive new policing powers. But we should probe this framing for deeper reasons than protecting the right to protest, however important that may be. Good work is important, but human value is not measured by our economic contribution.


  1. DIVIDE AND RULE is their default because it works. Hope you can open some eyes but hope gets harder where humanity is concerned!

  2. I notice your idea of hardworking people at XR events are “doctors, or scientists, or teachers. There are multiple sub-groups along professional lines.” not roofers and care workers. Not saying there aren’t any but telling those are the groups you choose. XR et al are being successfully painted as upper middle class hobby groups who are commuting class war on the working classes who can’t afford eco sacrifices and this just playing into it.

    1. And now they have descended into the utterly unserious playground of calling everyone they don’t like ‘fascist’.

      XR don’t deserve to get a hearing anymore.

      1. In your words ‘they’ are calling ‘everyone they don’t like’ fascists, but that’s not what’s in the video. I see a guy saying “you all look like very nice people and I’m sure you are. But I’d like to draw your attention to the characteristics of fascism.” So he actually calls them very nice people, not fascists.

        If he did, I wouldn’t approve. I don’t think it’s useful to go around calling people fascist.

        If we’re going to get queasy about calling people fascist though, we ought to advise politicians not to do things that make them look like fascists – you know, like quashing protest rights, demonising foreigners, or the literally fascist policy of exporting refugees to Africa.

        1. This isn’t a one off. XR have been calling the Tories fascist a lot right now. Yet somehow the demands to stop newspapers being published, censor people and indoctinate children in one worldview that XR support aren’t a road to fascism.

          Now XR was supposedly a body aimed at promoting action in climate change but it is making points about wider politics. If you want to merge into the middle class university educated radical left go ahead but you can’t claim to be a broad based environmental group.

          Becoming a caricature of every trendy lefty is just a high road to irrelevance. If you support XR I can reliably guess you like BLM, support Palestine, hate ‘TERFS’, love Novara Media, supported Momentum for a while, hate capitalism, and voted Labour in the last 2 general elections.

    2. So let me get this straight: in your mind doctors, scientists and teachers are all by definition ‘upper middle class’?

      And you think doctors, scientists and teachers are conducting a class war?

      1. In my mind, as in reality, they are all graduates who will in their lifetimes earn far above average wages.

        It says a lot that when thinking of hard working people you don’t think of working class ones who earn far less and so are harder hit by prices rising to pay for net zero policies or who often have jobs that require them to move around cities all day so aren’t impacted by road blocking protests just at commuting time.

        The wedge between the protestors and disrupted is not the word ‘hardworking’. It’s a class divide. It’s comfortable middle class protestors putting their concerns ahead of working class people’s interests. That your mental image of hardworking people only covers graduates mostly working in the public sector is very telling as I say.

        1. Read the piece again. I challenge the idea that XR protestors are ‘jobless hippies’ who should ‘get a job’ by naming some examples of jobs that XR protestors have. Other jobs are available. If you came to an XR Luton event when it was most active a couple of years ago, you’d have found its most dynamic members were a decorator, a cleaner and a retired car salesman.

          I don’t think it’s ‘telling’ in the slightest, but your incandescent rage at all things XR is noted, and most importantly it’s great to see you leaping so passionately to the defence of the working classes. There’s a first time for everything.

          1. Interesting that you project ‘incandescent rage’ on me. I don’t think what I wrote qualifies for that. I’m not the one who is clearly moving towards approving terrorist actions.

            I genuinely thought XR were shaping up into a sensible pressure group after the Hallamites left but the recent spasm of calling democratic politicians ‘fascists’ shows that the same old problems remain.

            1. Okay, I take back my assumption of rage and I won’t attempt to name your particular brand of hostility.

              But hostility it certainly is, and I do understand why XR gets strong reactions. I have a rather complicated relationship with it myself.

              One of the characteristics of XR has always been that it’s a broad action group that allows people to take their own actions and use the name. That means it doesn’t speak with one voice. There is very rarely an official XR position.

              This is both a strength and a weakness. It means you can easily rally people and tap into its energy – or you could when it was going well. But because it’s low on control, all sorts of daft things are done under an XR banner.

              I’ve had weekends with XR where I’ve seen extraordinary things, and then spectacular gaffes the next day. I stepped back from front line stuff with them when I realised I couldn’t trust the fringes of the movement to respect the overall strategy.

              XR has learned from this. Some proposed actions are too radical and now get hived off to preserve the unity of the broader group, hence Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil.

              So whether it is perceived as or not, XR has a diversity of opinions and strategies within it. The video you’ve highlighted there is not ‘XR calling everyone they disagree with fascists. It’s that particular guy, addressing certain Conservative politicians, and calling them ‘very nice people’ who need reminding of the characteristics of fascism.

              If we want to be accurate about whether or not people are fascists, we also need to be accurate about whether or not people are actually being called fascists.

              1. This offical XR Twitter account is directly calling the Home Secretary as fascist.

                Here they are calling the whole government fascist.

                Please don’t pretend they aren’t calling democratically elected politicians fascists.

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