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Message: I care.

The peculiar fusion of public and private, market forces and administrative oversight, the world of hallmarks, benchmarks, and stakeholders that characterizes what I’ve been calling centrism is a direct expression of the sensibilities of the professional-managerial classes. To them alone, it makes a certain sort of sense. But they had become the base of the center-left, and centrism is endlessly presented in the media as the only viable political position.

For most care-givers, however, these people are the enemy. If you are a nurse, for example, you are keenly aware that it’s the administrators upstairs who are your real, immediate class antagonist. The professional-managerials are the ones who are not only soaking up all the money for their inflated salaries, but hire useless flunkies who then justify their existence by creating endless reams of administrative paperwork whose primary effect is to make it more difficult to actually provide care.

This central class divide now runs directly through the middle of most parties on the left. Like the Democrats in the US, Labour incorporates both the teachers and the school administrators, both the nurses and their managers. It makes becoming the spokespeople for the revolt of the caring classes extraordinarily difficult.

I liked this, from David Graeber, which is of course about much more than last year’s depressing election in the UK. —It provides a certain clarity lacking in recent heated disputations, and recalibrates what’s seemed to be ineluctable math: I mean, if we’ve got to have an US and a THEM (and when there’s a fight, we do, yes, we do), then give us an US that everyone wants and a THEM no one wants to be (not so much the people that comprise it as the systems and rules and expectations, the bullshit, that generates and enforces the roles they end up playing; one is attempting, as ever, not to become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal). Care-giver versus administrator! (And not Brahmin Left versus Merchant Right, or PMC against Chapo Dirtbag.) —This a battle we all can join with a sunny heart.

The answer, I think, lies in the emerging structure of class relations in societies like England, which seems to be reproduced, in one form or another, just about everywhere the radical right is on the rise. The decline of factory jobs, and of traditional working-class occupations like mining and shipbuilding, decimated the working class as a political force. What happened is usually framed as a shift from industrial, manufacturing, and farming to “service” work, but this formulation is actually rather deceptive, since service is typically defined so broadly as to obscure what’s really going on. In fact, the percentage of the population engaged in serving biscuits, driving cabs, or trimming hair has changed little since Victorian times.

The real story is the spectacular growth, on the one hand, of clerical, administrative, and supervisory work, and, on the other, of what might broadly be termed “care work”: medical, educational, maintenance, social care, and so forth. While productivity in the manufacturing sector has skyrocketed, productivity in this caring sector has actually decreased across the developed world (largely due to the weight of bureaucratization imposed by the burgeoning numbers of administrators). This decline has put the squeeze on wages: it’s hardly a coincidence that in developed economies across the world, the most dramatic strikes and labor struggles since the 2008 crash have involved teachers, nurses, junior doctors, university workers, nursing home workers, or cleaners.

And if this move seemed odd, a bit redundant, somewhat unnecessary—“service work” does a fine-enough job delineating that US as it is, and of the three classes he’d cleave away (clerical, administrative, supervisory), it’s only ever really the clerical that gets fitted with a pink collar—the need to refine gives us just enough room to make sure the “care” in care-giver’s expansively defined, increasing our US, decreasing THEIR thems.

Whereas the core value of the caring classes is, precisely, care, the core value of the professional-managerials might best be described as proceduralism. The rules and regulations, flow charts, quality reviews, audits and PowerPoints that form the main substance of their working life inevitably color their view of politics or even morality . These are people who tend to genuinely believe in the rules. They may well be the only significant stratum of the population who do so.

But of course I’m going to latch onto this: I’m a professional manager in a decidedly PMC workplace—but a workplace with a mission to give what care we can to folks cataclysmically enmeshed in those rules, those regulations, those procedures, our laws. —I know which side I’m on, y’all. I know where I need to stand.

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