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Working class wisdom reaches establishment

A unique theatre and film project, led by Brunel University London’s Professor Michael Wayne, gave voice to working class people’s experiences in Salford and Manchester.

In doing so, and through performances and screenings, it challenged the widespread assumption that class is no longer relevant to today’s society.

As part of the project, working class volunteers of all ages were introduced to Friedrich Engel’s book, The Conditions of the Working Class in England. Prof Wayne’s theory was that despite the supposed death of class, Engel’s analysis would still ring true - that class shapes the everyday lives of working people.

Moreover Prof Wayne proposed that the domination of a professional middle class in media, politics and popular culture meant fewer opportunities for working class people to be the authors of their own narratives and culture.

The significance of the documentary was that, unlike most in this genre, it did not speak on behalf of working people - instead the volunteers told their own stories.

As the project progressed, participants were seen to strengthen their identity, grow in political consciousness and unlock their creativity.

The production was a metaphor for what can be achieved by collective, collaborative work by the working class. Performances and screenings stimulated debate and challenged working class and middle class audiences to think differently. The film was shown in museums, cafes, bookshops, theatres, community centres, independent cinemas and universities across the UK.

The reach of the project extended into the heart of the political establishment. The film was screened in the House of Commons, by the Irish and UK TUC trade unions and at international workers’ rights conventions.

The project touched the lives of its 15 volunteers and through them made class issues real, interesting and relevant to wider audiences. It showed how greater visibility for working class people would benefit them and society as a whole.