Script that would have been video by late film-maker Simon Baker is turned into important guest post by Rotherham teacher Andy Searson on the importance of working-class values and history to the Labour movement, the urgency of the party remembering it and the hope it offers of real change
Andy Searson is a Rotherham teacher and Labour member who has authored a number of guest articles on the SKWAWKBOX about the reality of northern communities and the importance of Labour remembering their central place in the history and heart of the movement.
Andy was due to appear in the next of the seminal Labour Voices videos – a unique series that gives a voice to Labour’s genuine grassroots, created by outstanding Labour film-maker Simon Baker – but the plan was disrupted by Simon’s tragic death last month. Andy has taken the script and turned it into an article, to honour his friend’s memory and to make sure that the voice, history and priorities of his community and others like it are not lost.
Forty Years Of Hurt!
Forty years of hurt! That is what the majority of people in our Labour heartlands have had to endure. For too many of our fellow citizens, the last forty years have brought decimation of their communities, local public services, suffering, hunger, homelessness and poverty. The 2017 Labour manifesto of hope ‘For The Many,’ provided real tangible answers to the everyday struggles faced by millions of our people. The manifesto pledges gave hope that real change, not seen for decades, was possible. But, if we are to really transform the lives of the many, we need to rebuild that sense of mutuality and community. Communities are made of people, not rhetoric. You can define a community by the shared attributes of the people in it and by the strength of the connections among them.
Pride, dignity, solidarity
I believe our future lies in the lessons of our shared history. Here in the Labour heartlands we had municipal pride and dignity – those that went before us transformed shanty towns and slums around the mines into thriving communities with sports clubs and facilities, parks, societies, clubs and welfare institutions. They built homes fit for our local heroes as they returned from defeating the fascists in two World Wars. Homes that seemed like palaces to those working=class families, our families, our great grand-parents, grandparents or parents.
We did this by caring for each-other, through our community spirit, our neighbourly solidarity and collective effort. The pooling of collective funds in mutual societies, Co-operatives and building societies.
Shared history under attack
Our shared history, our shared struggles, from the battles to save our steel industry, our mining communities, our manufacturing and clothing industry – bind us together. Whether you voted leave or remain in the EU referendum, we have that unbreakable bond of our shared history, our shared struggles and our shared hope that our children and their children will have better, more secure living standards than we have had.
From 1979 our communities have been under attack from powerful forces. An economic model that favours the few over the many. A system that has closed our steelworks, our coal mines, our care homes, libraries, sports facilities, robbed us of secure work, introduced zero-hour contracts, low pay, put our elderly relatives social care into the hands of private companies who think 15-minute visits is all they deserve after a lifetime of contributions. A system that shackles our children with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt for having the hope of a university education. A system obsessed with privatisation, outsourcing of services and one that put our hospitals at risk by burdening them with outrageous PFI deals and opening them up to privateers.
“Not the history our grandparents foresaw for us”
As our Industries fell one by one so did our high streets, parks, social clubs, societies and welfare clubs. The land where they had proudly stood has been swallowed up by profiteering private property developers or left derelict. This is not the future that our grandparents foresaw or wished for us. The communities that they built have been brought to their knees by a system that doesn’t work for us, our area, our communities and our families.
To rebuild our communities, we need a new system. We need to reignite that community spirit that I still see all over our towns and villages. We need to look to our families’ histories and how we built our communities using collective efforts – TOGETHERNESS, UNITY, STRENGTH. I believe Labour have that vision. I believe in that vision. Only Labour, under its new leadership, has the policies and a bold plan that will deliver for the millions of ordinary people. It is the key to unlocking stagnant potential and reigniting that ‘can do’ emancipatory spirit of 1945.
“Around here, statistics don’t mean much”
We are constantly told the economy has been fixed and growth is on the up! Some-times I wonder how “growth’ is measured. Because I keep hearing that the economy is growing, that things are on the up. I can’t see much sign of it from where I’m standing. Around here, statistics don’t mean much, when you’re struggling to make ends meet or to survive from one month to the next.
I remember when our communities were thriving. When we had decent jobs, decent pay. People had security in their work. We had money to spend and we spent it on our local high streets. We had proud industries and we had opportunity.
This is not some rose-tinted fantasy, it’s the places that we grew up in.
“It wasn’t just our communities that Thatcherism dismantled”
Yeah, we had our problems, but whether you were born here or not, we were ONE community and we looked out for one another. What happened to change all that? Why did we lose what we had? Was it the just the march of “progress”? Or was it something else?
I lived through the miner’s strike and the steel strikes of the 80s, when the Tory government under Maggie Thatcher set about dismantling the industrial heart of this country. I remember clearly the slogans of those who resisted: Save Our Steel, Coal Not Dole. These weren’t greedy people, all they asked for was the chance of an honest days work – security and self-respect for them and their families. But more than that, they knew what the destruction of those industries would do to towns like ours.
How right they were.
But it wasn’t just our jobs and our communities that Thatcherism dismantled. It went far, far deeper than that. They changed our economy, our politics, our country. Thatcher once said, “there is no such thing as society, just individuals”. For someone who didn’t believe society existed, she did a bloody good job of destroying it. No more “looking out for each other”, now, it was “look after yourself and bugger the rest”.
Because that’s the system we now live under – it’s a system that doesn’t value things like happiness, family or community, only cold, hard numbers. If it can’t be counted or put into a spreadsheet, it’s not part of the equation. And, if you can’t produce a profit, you’re in the dustbin.
Working-class anger overflowing
For nearly 40 years we’ve been living under this system, but only now are we seeing its results, the anger and the hurt overflowing. I understand the anger, I really do. I feel it. Not many people around here have any faith in politics and politicians. And here’s the truth – I’m a Labour man through and through, but I can’t claim it was just the Tories – even the party I love didn’t do enough to stop the decline.
“Things have changed”
But things have changed.
Don’t listen to the snake oil salesman who want to blame everyone and everything but the system. Because when you can’t get a GP appointment or you’re waiting 4 hours in A&E – it’s not because of immigrants – it’s because of the deliberate dismantlement of the NHS. When you can’t get a house – it’s because they’re not building any houses. When you can’t get a decent, secure job with decent pay, it’s because the system relies on insecure, poorly paid work. Immigration or no immigration, inside the EU or outside the EU, you don’t change any of this, until you change the system.
That’s what Labour will do, and that’s why they’ve had everything, but the kitchen sink thrown at them. They’re the only ones that have the ideas and the determination to really change our country for the better.
I know you’ve heard it all before, but if we stop believing that things can change, they never will.
People like Farage, Rees-Mogg and Johnson don’t want to change the way things work, they don’t want to save our communities, they want to light a fire under this country, and they don’t care if it burns to the ground as long as they can pick up the spoils.
I believe in real change, a better future and I’m fighting for it.
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