There’s another reason why the appeal to “hard-working families” is an empty abstraction. Most people don’t see hard work as a virtue. They identify as working class because they have to work, not because they want to. Two recurring conversations within my family and among the people I spoke to for my book The People are what they’d do if they won the lottery, and how they can afford to spend less time at work and more with those they love. This is a sensible attitude. Hard work causes stress, poor health and early death. And hard work has never solved poverty. We work longer hours now than we’ve done for 50 years, yet the gap between the rich and poor has never been wider. The real history of the working class is of avoiding working for “them” any more than is necessary. That desire shaped collective campaigns throughout the last century, such as the TUC’s demand for holidays with pay – a fight finally won in the late 1930s. It was an aspiration that also galvanised workers in ways we don’t often hear about. (…) The real gains of the postwar years were delivered by ordinary people themselves. It was they who mobilised to improve working conditions and, importantly, to reduce the amount of time they spent at work. The workplace militancy of the decade after 1968 was provoked by workers’ frustration that, despite technological innovations, low pay made them reliant on overtime in order to afford a holiday or a car.
Selina Todd in The working classes don’t want to be ‘hard-working families” (Guardian)