So my Comparative Welfare States class is naturally somewhat Europe focused. This is to be expected because, frankly, Europe has both the widest variety of, and also the most comprehensive welfare states.
Of course, a somewhat different way of looking at things is that the US, for example, which has a fairly minimal welfare state, just has a different philosophy: that a flexible labour market acts as its own source of welfare: easy employment is the security net for those who falter.
Anyway, in Europe the vast majority of comprehensive social reform came around the 1960s, pushed along by the various Social Democratic parties. And this is more or less the case from Sweden to France to the UK and to Italy.
Social Democrat parties are traditionally moderate-left leaning, their original constituencies and strong supporters being industrial working men, who were breadwinners for families which relied on them. And the system was more or less built to support them.
Today though, it’s a complicated world. The family structure has changed, with more women going to work, and the jobs market has changed too. In Europe and the US fewer and fewer jobs are industrial, more and more are service oriented.
So the traditional structure of setting up a social support system for an industrial worker who might expect to work in the same company for his entire working life… has changed. For one, service jobs are harder to regulate, since a lot of them are either very education requiring, like waiters. People like waiters also don’t work regular hours, and many won’t have a full time contract, and instead will be part time, or on-call.
And in most of Europe, just like in the US, part time work doesn’t really grant you any benefits. People like this, who are inconsistently employed, are called the Working Poor.
This is part of why a lot of the older former industrial workers have shifted their support towards more conservative parties. Although they traditionally supported Social Democrats, who pushed to create their welfare system, the changing nature of these countries’ economies has made them much more conservative.
After all, that’s what conservative means. They want to preserve the old system. Though that’s not entirely true: they want the world to go back to how it was in the 1960s, when they had it made. And this is part of why they’re also typically against immigration, because all change is threatening to their part of the social order.
In a way, you could correlate this kind of thing to America. It’s typically pointed out that there are a lot of poor white people who nevertheless vote against their economic interests by voting Republican, since Democrats are usually seen as supporting poor people and Republicans are typically seen as supporting rich people and their businesses.
In Europe, it’s a resistance against change, against the growing insecurities of the changing world. In America, is it the same?
This is, to me, a non-rhetorical question. I see a lot of people like to answer that it’s a problem of lack of education and easy brainwashing or that “Republicans are just dumb”, but Europeans aren’t too badly educated and many of them still support conservative parties which aren’t necessarily working in their economic interest but are perceived to be.