Protesters opposed to mandatory COVID-19 vaccines gather at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne on Wednesday, September 22 (Image: AAP/Luis Ascui)

No one does nostalgic masochism quite like the left. And since Trump, Brexit and Morrison sailed to shock victories on the tailwinds of parochial rage, progressives have been wistfully lashing themselves for alienating their once-solid supporters: blue-collar blokes.

Last week’s Melbourne tradie protests provided a visceral distillation of this problem, as burly construction workers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with far-right internet trolls to bash down the door of the very union they were once proud members of. As Jeff Sparrow wrote in Overland: “The racist right… were backed by at least some blue-collar workers who in happier times would be associated with the union vanguard.”

Some on the left have argued these were relatively small, unrepresentative groups. One cannot reason with horse medicine-ingesting zealots in a pandemic, so they should simply be condemned. Others insist that, while some may be radicalised beyond reach, the broader currents of discontent in the construction industry are related to material conditions and must be sympathised with, or else scolding progressives could invite more rightward defections.