Sunday, September 20, 2009

Out of sight, out of mind?

Nick writes:

All I want is an honest admission that our apparently egalitarian society is kept going by the labour of the vulnerable and the voiceless and that it would be no more than decent if the incessant arguments about whether women in the City should receive seven-figure rather than six-figure bonuses were accompanied by a determination to end the suffering of the poor women on whose unreported work so much of our world depends.


Hmm, I wonder how much of Nick's lifestyle is sustained by brown people slaving their butts off for pittance? Oh, I see, those brown people are confined to their own countries, in rice paddies, on coffee plantations, and in food processing plants and similar.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

Well, Nick's made a blog post about the issue, so by Decent terms he doesn't need to protest the issue any more. Other people, as usual, may be required to actually do something before he's convinced they care.

9/20/2009 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

It's a really messy column in general and that's the result of Cohen's undoubted intention - to drone on about how evil the 'liberal middle classes are'. Unfortunately, having to tie the column down with things like facts totally undermines almost every point he's making. witness the guff direct from his head about how all the middle classes want to sack people for getting pregnant.

Write like this and professional women accuse you of wanting them to stop working, which I do not want to do, or of painting them as callous bitches happy to abandon their children to the care of poor strangers, which I do not want to do either.

for a start, Cohen uses some seriously dodgy terms in this piece (bitches, servants, foreigns, illegals).

But isn't the above more or less exactly what Cohen does actually want to do? He goes on about Baroness Scotland in a column about mistreatment of domestic workers but there's zero evidence of any kind of mistreatment on her part - the tie to her is paper-thin. He says:

Without servants, one partner, almost certainly the wife, would have to give up earning to look after the children. As important, without servants there would be no domestic peace.

not only is this unproveable, but it does indeed portray the marriages as callous and careless.

Surely he could have doen a little more in trying to understand why people decide to employ people as 'domestic help'? not everyone enters into it totally willingly. It is just like his columns berating the middle classes for having big mortgages.

yet more 'middle-class liberal-bashing' masqerading as a campaign for social justice. Also see Martin Bright's recent column on Derek Pasquill, which harangues liberal Britain for not supporting him more despite offering no suggestion of how this support might manifest itself. Bright is writing an awful lot in the JC, by the way...

9/20/2009 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

To be fair, Nick does sort of address this:

Stern left-wing writers in the 20th century told their readers that their wealth depended on the exploitation of far-flung colonies. Lectures on how our clothes and trainers come from the sweatshops of the east remain a standard of liberal journalism today. But the line between the rich and the poor worlds does not run between north and south or east and west but through British homes, touching the most intimate aspects of family life – the care of children and the happiness of marriages.

But he implies that the 'stern left-wing writers' were wrong to do so, when they weren't.

For me, the strange paragraph is this one:

Bridget Anderson, of Oxford University and one of the leading authorities on migrant labour, tells me how she became a traitor to the Oxford middle class when she helped a neighbour's au pair join a trade union. Not only did her neighbours refuse to speak to her from that day on, they told everyone else in the street never to let her into their homes for fear of the subversive ideas she would put into their nannies' heads.

I wonder if Bridget Anderson will reply. Would a senior researcher really earn enough to live in a street where every home had a nanny?

9/20/2009 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

It does seem unlikely although I have noticed the term 'nanny' now seems to encompass anything more than a 'baby-sitter'. More grade inflation.

9/20/2009 11:18:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Yeah that 'stern left-wingers' paragraph is also odd. Why the 'stern'? Does he agree with them or not? Exploitation of any workforce is bad but surely geographical distance is not the best way to differentiate?

What's missing from all of this is any sense of economics - why peopel might continue to do this work if they're so exploited; why the affluent middle classes need to keep working while spending so much of the increased income on childcare. It's not only vanity and horridness, no matter how much Cohen might pretend otherwise.

I can't help thinking there's more substance to the Anderson anecdote than Nick is providing. He seems a bit too quick in general to make generalisations based on gossip - strikes me it probably went a bit like his exchange with that mathematician a few months ago.

I also hope the methodology of her research is not quite the same as Cohen's 'pluck the surrounding context from my own head' approach.

The lexicon is odd. as you say Matthew there's surely a difference between nanny and babysitter - there's a difference between housekeeper and cleaner. And there's a difference between all of them and 'servant', surely.

Incidentally - on a note vaguely related to this blog, since Aaro's invented an alliance with Goldacre - the Guardian yesterday had to print a lengthy retraction of a lot of the claims in the previous week's Bad Science column.

9/20/2009 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

Middle Classes = Liberals = The Left

Surely no one really believes this?

9/20/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Speaking as a member of the Oxford middle classes -- indeed, as a member of the Oxford middle classes who went to a dinner party a couple of weeks ago where Bruschetta was served -- I don't consider Bridget Anderson a traitor, and I don't know anyone who would, based on what's reported here. She sounds admirable.

9/20/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

It's all in his head, isn't it? I'm not saying he's wrong about the reality of the situation, but that he's not actually writing about the reality of the situation. It's the Self-Righteous Brothers in column form -

I've got nothing against middle-class leftists. I admire their grasp of world affairs, to say nothing of their many stands on issues of principle. But if I thought that those middle-class leftists were cruelly exploiting some poor little refugee girl - if I thought they were refusing her a decent wage and confining her to her room and beating her - then I would have no hesitation in saying, OI! MIDDLE-CLASS LEFTISTS! NO!

9/20/2009 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

That's the central problem with the piece, I think - he clearly has a few decent ideas and his souce is better than usual, but the links between them are made through a bunch of tedious prejudices which only really exist in his head.

9/20/2009 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Goldacre 'apology' looks pretty minor to me.

Chris Williams

9/20/2009 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

Yes, it's pretty much a subbing error, isn't it?

9/20/2009 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Stern left-wing writers in the 20th century told their readers that their wealth depended on the exploitation of far-flung colonies

This means "George Orwell", in the unlikely event that anybody missed this.

I am sympathetic to Nick's general point, I should say, insofar as I've quite a lot of experiences (including a fair number in Oxford, as it happens) wherein people loud about the difficulties professional-class women have in being treated fairly have been actively hostile when other questions of equality have been raised. (Or, for that matter, where people who have been hugely interested in Third World affairs have used this as a stick to beat domestic trades unionists on the grounds that they're so well off compared to their Third World counterparts. This has never ceased to annoy me, as the speaker is almost always comfortably off themselves.)

9/20/2009 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Ruth and Justin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/20/2009 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I am now interested in which trade union is recruiting au pairs, who are, by definition, foreign teenagers in the country to learn the language and who certainly shouldn't be making a living out of childcare because otherwise they would require a totally different work permit.

9/20/2009 08:13:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Speaking as a member of the Oxford middle classes -- indeed, as a member of the Oxford middle classes who went to a dinner party a couple of weeks ago where Bruschetta was served

No doubt you spent the evening denouncing Israel, the US and the West in general, to the horror of the token Decent who was present.

9/21/2009 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"I am now interested in which trade union is recruiting au pairs, who are, by definition, foreign teenagers in the country to learn the language and who certainly shouldn't be making a living out of childcare because otherwise they would require a totally different work permit."

A google search says that this year they scrapped the 'au pair visa' for a slightly different (more universal) one, which presumably has much the same stipulations (up to 27 age though, so not just teenagers).

However I suppose the au pair could be from an EU country, in which case no visa is required.

9/21/2009 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

It's a bizarre piece. I mean there are some fair points but he takes some perfectly legitimate concerns and turns them into an incoherent rant about the middle classes.
Yes, there is a black economy involving the exploitation of illigal immigrants from which we all may benefit to an extent, however unwittingly. But my guess is that this is just as prevalent, probably more so, in such industries as catering/hospitality, clothing manufacture etc. than nannying/domestic service.
Yes, in extreme cases illegal immigrants are brought into the country and kept in conditions of virtual slavery. But not, I'll wager, in the households of your average middle class family of the kind Cohen imagines.
As for Baroness Scotland, what she did was illegal but do we know the conditions under which her cleaner was employed? If not how can we judge whether she actually got a bad deal.

9/21/2009 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Perhaps we need some sort of agency to place token Decents with people who are thinking of having a dinner party.

9/21/2009 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

After digging around, the main union for childcare workers is UNISON, but I am still not at all sure what benefits an au pair might get from membership, since there is no collective bargaining at all for au pairs.

9/22/2009 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

As for Baroness Scotland, what she did was illegal but do we know the conditions under which her cleaner was employed? If not how can we judge whether she actually got a bad deal.

the cleaner was apparently registered for tax and national insurance; as far as I can see, the only really bad thing about her status is that she's recently been sacked.

9/22/2009 07:18:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I am still not at all sure what benefits an au pair might get from membership, since there is no collective bargaining at all for au pairs.

Possible legal advice and/or representation? Therefore a feeling of job security. Seems possible to me.

9/22/2009 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

And indeed advice as to her employment rights, an area in which one suspects au pairs are not always given everything to which they are entitled.

I never heard of an au pair joining a union and it strikes me as an incredibly difficult area in which to recruit. But on the other hand, there's lots of them, so, given the numbers, somebody's bound to be receptive.

9/22/2009 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger R Singh said...

Self Catering Accommodation Oban Offthemainroad.co.uk provides beautiful holiday place in Scotland, self catering accommodation in Scotland, self catering UK, self catering accommodation Oban, luxury self catering accommodation UK, self catering cottages in Scotland

11/13/2009 11:26:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home