Thursday, September 8, 2011


Today, the term ‘redneck’ is associated with unbridled American nationalistic fervour, guns, pick-up trucks and behaviour generally recognised as typical of ‘white trash’.

The term redneck originated as a reference to the red necks acquired by dirt poor farmers as they toiled outside.
Following the green [as in agricultural rather than environmentalist] revolution, former farmers moved to cities in search of labouring jobs. They began to wear red scarves as a sign of their solidarity, working through the union movement to achieve better pay and conditions.
Identifying as a redneck was not, originally, part of a pro Republican or pro capitalist movement at all.

In his highly readable book Rainbow Pie, A Redneck Memoir, Joe Bageant talked about “the often-heartbreaking post-war journey of 22 million rural Americans into the cities, where they became the foundation of a permanent white underclass”. Over time, their allegiance shifted from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

Bageant [1946-2011] was an eloquent, class-conscious autodidact who argued that “with the 'corporatisation' of the United States, Middle-America has become so politically disillusioned that it is now voting against its own economic self-interest.”

His memoir begins with a description of what was, for generations, an almost self-sufficient farming life-style in small but cohesive communities. These people were so independent that they lived, for the most part, with little need for cash or a fancy education.
His parents and grandparents had lived a simple life, believing in the Bible and the virtue of hard work and independence.

From the Great Depression of the 1930s, through WW II and the Korean War, growing corporations progressively ate up and consolidated small farm holdings. Able to afford and make full use of expensive farming equipment, chemical based increases in crop yields and widely established distribution networks, these companies changed the nature of agriculture and left these 'simple' [white] people looking for alternative ways and places to live, creating a new white underclass.

Bageant’s writing is intelligent and convincing, and comes from a decidedly class-based interpretation of the world. Far from racist or expressing any kind of superiority, he refers to the way the gross exploitation of African Americans gave corporations a lever to pit blacks against whites, and keep both groups suppressed.

His father had had brief flirtations with several organisations, including the Klan. These organisations, in parallel with today’s ‘service’ groups like Rotary or the Freemasons, offered opportunities to ‘network’ with people who had similar aspirations or problems, and might be able to work together or exchange useful information.
He was not remotely interested in oppressing African-Americans, or wearing a pillow-case over his head, and his association with the Klan ended as soon as he worked out what they were really on about. It was not in the nature of these proudly independent people to be told what to think or do.

It would seem that these displaced American rednecks once had a great deal of faith in America.

If they have become right wing and now voice strong patriotic sentiments, it may be that they have been disappointed by the [Democrats]/ government’s failure to provide the services or assistance which would have allowed them to become independent again, to make their own way in the world and to once again live the American dream. 
That dream is not just about the idea that anyone who tries hard can get rich, or that materialism is inherently good, but about being able to accept responsibility for oneself through honest work.

My guess is that the faith they once had in America has become a hope that America will once again become a country to which they'll feel they can truly belong. Or they believe it is theirs and they must take it back.
Already disenfranchised, the handing out of favours and social support to so many other groups - especially newcomers - is part of the reason they've not had the leg up they were counting on. Ongoing and never-ending reliance on government is not on their agenda, but what they do see is that government increasingly abandons them, because government is increasingly controlled by/seen to be favouring big business. And big business is what screwed them in the first place.

And so they cling to their belief in the bible and the constitution, and seek the minimisation of government – a return to the days when they were almost self-sufficient, had little to do with government, and lived in small, caring, viable communities.
Britain, in contrast, is a small remnant of Empire, and empire is a concept totally dependent on the notion of class divisions. Class is not new to Britons so much as a fact of life.

The post World War II reconstruction era in Britain became a time when there was no choice but to resort to a little socialism. Where slums and hovels had been destroyed in wartime, or people displaced, there simply was no way to reconstruct the poor conditions which had existed before 1939.
The establishment of new housing estates - distant from the locations where communities once had lived, marked the beginning of the end of the British sense community, and a process of separation which occurred once again along class lines. Families which had once shared buildings and streets found themselves scattered geographically by the need to take housing where it was available.

The nationalisation of health was not optional; without healthy males – now depleted in number as a result of the war – re-construction was a big ask, and there was simply no time to wait for private enterprise to rebuild the health system which had existed before the war, let alone one adequate to the task of enabling national reconstruction.

Enoch Powell’s calls for repatriation of “non-Britons” to their original corners of the old empire were not successful, but they reflected a British unwillingness to share with colonials the little they had. Forget that the Empire was originally built on theft, or that colonies had come to their aid during the six years they struggled to protect their own homeland.

If it is human nature to resist change, it is also human nature to resent having something taken away by others. As times and technology changed and whole regions in Briton suffered enormous unemployment growth, the need for structural adjustment was becoming urgent. The great cotton mills and shipyards which had once employed cities full of people, generation after generation, shut down.

Some years later, the long strikes by coal miners, and the riots which broke out when Thatcher announced her poll tax, established a pattern for future expressions of frustration as disenfranchisement and disenchantment grew. The turn of the century has brought with it the need for even more structural adjustment, and the outbreak of rioting in 2011 is the sort of unrest that will continue as more changes are effected or worse yet neglected.
Unfortunately, this change is unlikely to spread benefits amongst those already living as strangers in their own land.

The rise and rise of the National Front, of tribalistic football hooliganism, is a form of patriotism that does not embrace ideals in the way America’s rednecks do. It’s more likely just the cohesive force of a common desire to keep what little there is, for themselves.

And so what of Australia? Some suburbs, more than others, carry the disparaging title “Centrelink City”. These are the suburbs or country towns of transgenerational unemployment and disenfranchisement. 

While state and federal governments bicker over the appointment of [Christian] school chaplains, or insist on teaching non-negotiable values and beliefs [such as the political correctness which is beginning to stifle freedom of speech], the underclass is becoming increasingly alienated from the workplace. Education is focused on “good community values” at the expense of practical skills that will open up work opportunities, and open up the door to welcome the underclass back into mainstream Australia.

The phrase “structural adjustment” is simply not heard enough, but it is a pressing economic, political and social issue. We ignore the need for this radical type of change at our own peril.
Manufacturing industries which have already been heavily subsidised in the past to help people remain employed, are breaking down and shutting down. Footwear, clothing and even service industries are shifting offshore.
Australian fruit growers have long competed with countries like the United States or the Philippines. Perhaps the lifting the long term ban on New Zealand apples is yet another wake up call we will ignore. We don't need to work harder but we do need to work different.

It is in our Centrelink Cities that people are more severely hit by and more keenly aware of the failure of government. The phrase “structural adjustment” might not cross their minds, but they are all too well aware of its meaning. 
It is in Centrelink Cities that one is most likely to see those horrible bumper stickers which feature a map of Australia and the legend F*** off we’re full.

Small wonder that the asylum seeker issue is a favourite political football.
Small wonder foreign commentators have taken to interpreting asylum seeker policy as the rise of the racist redneck.
I think Joe Bageant was on to something. 
Nothing pushes people to the right more effectively than political disillusionment. 
If the government will not give us anything meaningful, then we don’t need government. In fact, let’s reclaim our country from the government and remind them the country is ours, nobody else’s.

All governments are faulty or self-serving or puppets in one way or another, and they probably both score the same in terms of incompetence whether left or right. The difference between left and right, however, is in the volume of incompetence we get.

My prediction, and probably that of many others, is that at the next election there will not only be a dramatic landslide in favour of the Liberal Party – ALL of their many shortcomings not withstanding – but it will be a very, very long time before the Greens or Independents will again have much of a presence in parliament at all.


  1. Trying to cheer us up? As anywhere, education is the key to a successful Australia, and good education basics do not need to cost a lot of money. Your prediction has been filed in my memory to come to the fore on election day, but I not game to bet against your prediction.

  2. Hi Andrew,
    LOL, don't they say a pessimist is just an optimist with information?
    But you are right, this post is very doomy gloomy. No matter what the outcome, I shall probably continue to fill my destiny - I whinge therefore I am and all that.
    Promise to write something positive soon.