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LETTER | Please, don't look down on the working class

LETTER | Holding his mother’s hands, a young boy strolls past a construction site when he briefly pauses and stops to tilt his head up in surprise - his eyes gleam with a sense of awe - the sight of men in hard hats, working tiresomely, rummaging through slabs of concrete and pieces of rubble as they are enveloped by dust clouds. The scene catches his attention.

Having noticed his reaction, the mother swiftly tightens her grip on his arm making him wince. “Please don’t be like them, dear.” “I want you to grow up to be someone successful,” she says to him, her face filled with disgust.

This narrative - one that shuns the working class - fills the minds of people across the globe. From waste collectors to factory workers, delivery drivers to automobile mechanics - they are ostracised from the social milieu, cast as pariahs and deemed as absolute failures. They continue to experience great emotional anguish - worsened by the woes of rising inflation, the automation of jobs and economic inequality.

Our harsh judgement of them, therefore, amounts to a form of social strangulation as it increases pressure on the working class, giving them very little room to breathe and to aspire to a more enriched livelihood.

Stereotypes that have been used to characterise the working class - labelling them as uneducated; unskilled and unimportant people who have deliberately caused their own difficulties due to poor decision-making - degrade their public image which incites malicious people to spread a widespread campaign of disinformation against them.

Their tarnished profiles are used as convenient examples of "failures" to warn the young that they too could fall prey to the misfortunes of the working class. Rather than trying to empathise with their grievances, we not only anathematise them but also air their dirty laundry in public. This dehumanisation of the working class only makes it that much harder for them to aspire to a better life as their perceived status is at odds with the discriminatory culture.

Financial well-being

l-beingWe are also often ignorant of just how important blue-collar jobs are for society. From the management of sewage waste that gives us access to clean water to repair works on communication towers so that we can use WiFi - these jobs, while unattractive to many, helped our society to thrive and must be shown greater appreciation.

The working class is pivotal to the economy, a fact that has been neglected. Manufacturing jobs and the gig economy ensure that we as a society continue to have our consumer demands met.

There has been a paradigm shift in recent years towards accommodating the needs of the working class, which has significantly empowered them.

The Malaysian government has, for example, supported the revamping of polytechnic institutions that aid students to gain technical knowledge and diagnostic skills necessary to perform vocational jobs at the highest level.

The government has also initiated certificate and diploma programmes and increased efforts to enhance TVET education in the country.

Let us work towards a world that seeks to preserve the financial well-being of the working class and recognises their contributions. A world that says, “Never forget to appreciate them, dear."

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.