In the early 1800’s the poor and working class lived in fear of almost everything. Hostile environments, hostile bosses who paid with one hand and took back with the other and expected those in their employ to be grateful for the scraps that remained. Those that showed any dissent were at best blacklisted, imprisoned or transported. Any form of mutual support was illegal no doubt most will have heard of the Luddites, or the term ” Throwing a spanner in the works” , the ill educated, backward thinking thugs who did their best to halt the progress of technology, however few have heard of the Peterloo Massacre, where the Army was turned on a public demonstration in Manchester. In an exercise of spin doctoring, before there was even a name for it, the loss of 15 innocent lives to the Cavalry charge was classed as an act of dispersal. This wasn’t publicly changed until 2007, when the commemorating plaque was changed to reflect a massacre. A few years later, the birth of Trade Unions occurred in the little Dorset hamlet of Tolpuddle. The farm labourers formed a Friendly Society to contest the continued reduction in their wages. The oath they took was deemed illegal and six were sentenced to Transportation. The reaction was that 800,000 signed a petition of support which led to their early release.
For the first time the workers voices were heard and on that a proud Trade Union movement developed and gradually pay and conditions improved. By standing in unity, the working class forced these begrudged improvements and legislations to foster and protect those in employment. In time and on the backs of united acts such as the Hunger marches and the Jarrow march (on which my maternal Grandfather took part) demonstrated how socialism could work and this led on to the development of the Welfare State, Health and Safety in the workplace and the modern era of State Education.
Of course a workforce with good health, good education and a fair day’s pay is the antithesis of Conservative idyll and it has been the only agenda item in Tory minds since the bad old days of Winter’s of discontent, power cuts, blockades, Red Robbo and Arthur Scargill. Thatcher set about destroying 100 years of solidarity, using every tool at her disposal to ensure the working class would be put back into Victorian times, where health, wealth and education would again become the remit of the rich. This was done with the help of the Police, the Press and with clever inducements such as large redundancy payments and the “right to buy” the workers themselves. Once the divide set in, and the home owning middle class had something to protect, the united stance was destroyed. Then legislation followed to prevent the outrageous excesses of Trade Unionism. No longer was it necessary to belong and very soon belonging became ridiculed.
So here we are now, afraid of losing what we have with little to defend it. We accede in an attempt to maintain, with no hope of improving and there is no voice for the common man. We fear for our health and watch our pensions and working conditions diminish and pray to whatever you hold dear for good health. This week, we learned of major upheaval at work, this upheaval wasn’t mentioned to the unions and the method to which it was circulated indicated a fait acompli with complete contempt for the established lines of communication and all I hear is “what can we do?” and “we have to accept this”. Well, we may have to accept this but this doesn’t mean we cannot mutually support each other, get a back bone and get the best deal for those who will be thrown into upheaval and inconvenienced. Why not make it difficult? Why not ensure every issue is formally addressed and answered and stand up for ourselves. If we don’t it is just another slippery slope back into slavery.
For those not in the union, who happily accept the negotiated wage rises. For those that argue the Union does nothing for them, the Union is its’ members, if you aren’t happy, stand up and say so because nothing will change if you don’t, the myth will perpetuate and life will just get worse.