When I left school in 1980 I was a young man in a society which provided me with a number of rights, freedoms and privileges. Ironically, before Thatcher had her sensible shoes fully under the table, I was intrinsically better off than I am now with regards to individual freedoms. I don’t have rose tinted spectacles so I well remember the many disadvantages, toxic attitudes and reactionary agendas as well. I also remember that as a white, heterosexual male I was protected from much of the wicked bigotry terrorising others. We should not be conned into believing that we have to sacrifice one set of rights for progress elsewhere. However, I sat atop a seemingly granite rock of protection which, though far from perfect, was frighteningly different from the rotting dung heap which surrounds me today.
I fell out of bed in the morning and washed my face in the water that we all owned and didn’t pay separate rates for, turned the heating on with the gas which was mine and sat in the glow of our light. Ignoring my usual hangover, I went to work by way of the relatively cheap, regular transport service and started my day. I worked in an office in North John Street whilst my Dad worked for state owned British Steel and various Uncles and peers had ‘jobs for life’ within the British industrial base. Friends from school had gone onto University where they received a free education and living allowance from the state. We recognised that a society is improved and energised through further education and saw it as a natural and civilised course of action to take.
If I was unwell, I went to see my GP. He knew me, spent time talking to me and prescribed medication on a clinically appropriate and not budgetary efficient basis. My grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, 60 unfiltered Capstan a day for 50 years tends to do that, and was treated with dignity and respect in a clean, well -supplied Broadgreen Hospital by staff that had the time and patience to look after him. They would look the other way when I smuggled his ciggys in (horse/stable/bolted) and his sons would tuck a half bottle of rum under his pillow. Understandably, the average health worker would shit thunder & lightning now but we knew he was dying and wanted him to be comfortable on the journey and common sense was still cool. He recuperated in his clean, well maintained council flat that he knew was his until the end and diverted his mind tending his council allotment.
I worked for an insurance company doing a menial, junior desk job. It was one of those large organisations where people had been sitting in the same chair, doing the same stuff for 20 years. The passage of time was marked by planning Xmas do’s and, being honest, everybody was pissed after 1pm. However, I sat at my desk feeling secure, protected and part of an organisation that would unite and fight for me because I was unionised. The union didn’t negotiate, make sacrifices or look to compromise. It told the bosses how it was and protected the great majority. Nobody could sell me to an agency, slash my pay & conditions, victimise me or make efficiency savings with me. If the management attacked one of us they attacked all of us. I had been there a month when one of the bosses tried to sack a member of staff. The Shop Steward, a manger herself, had everybody out in 5 minutes and we stayed out until they apologised and learned who was really in charge. The company made its profits, the workers were properly paid and we all went home on a Friday night. No hedge funds, billions being hidden in offshore accounts, outside contractors offering ‘staff downsizing solutions’ or bullying.
In the 30 years since then we have allowed the capitalist establishment to gouge, hammer, drill, dynamite and laser that rock and its’ our own fault. They sold off the council housing and huge numbers of people got mortgages and thought that they had been invited into the petit bourgeoisie club. Spurred on by ignorant greed, they told us we could all be little stockbrokers and legions of people bought shares in state companies and rejoiced in their privatisation. State assets paid for by millions of lives, in the fight against fascism, were casually tossed over to the private elite for the sake of a grand or so. People upgraded the car, had a nice holiday or put a few quid away for ‘a rainy day’. Well look out of the window because its’ pissing down now. Effectively, it was the equivalent of selling the Taj Mahal for £20 quid so that you can go down the pub tonight. Not even yours to sell but the jewel owned by generations to come.
They used the press, their right wing press owned by their own, to demonise the unions and convince the masses that we were days away from Gulags, men in pointy hats with red stars on them and lynched nobility. Millions fought but the unions were destroyed and the industrial base went with them. Now they are privatising the NHS, using private companies to persecute the disabled and charging you a small fortune for your prescription. They are about to sell sick notes to another private company who will doubtless receive bonuses based on the number of poor souls that they turn down. Agencies flourish in a culture which makes the worker a disposable asset. The workers are a tool of production to be exploited at the cheapest rate when profitable or a ‘workshy thief’ when he/she is not making them money.
That is the descent that we have made over the last 30 years and it is a journey which makes me ashamed to look into the faces of my children. We are at the crossroads as surely as we have ever been. One way lays redemption, fairness and progress to a humane, civilised society. That is the Socialist way. Alternatively, there is a dark hell in which your kids are conscripted to fight imperialist oil wars, free speech is a vague memory, the chasm between the wealthy elite and the rest of us is wider than the universe and we are disposable drones working minimum wage until we drop at our stations. November 30th is about pensions but it is about all of this as well. Start the fight back now.