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“Love on the Dole” (1933) By Walter Greenwood. Lessons for the Labour Party

There are many echoes of the 1930’s reverberating around this straightened decade so I decided top read two classics from this era and I was dumbfounded by the themes which echo across the century. 

Walter Greenwood’s “Love on the Dole” is recommended to be read in conjunction with Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier”, which is a journalistic report of everyday life in the depressed industrial Lancashire slums. What comes across in Greenwood’s tome is that the aspirations of young people then and now tally up. The wish for independence, a steady income and the respect that comes from it, to better oneself so that you have a more enriched life than your parents. The degradation that comes from an empty and poverty stricken daily existence is clear, and those 24 ish young people around now will empathise with the plight of Harry Hardcastle. Dispensed with by factory owners who would rather pay virtual slave wages to under 15’s, he is desperate for the respect of his girlfriend and the hours of grinding boredom and self loathing, rowing with his parents and assorted issues with his peers leads him to make poor decisions borne of zero control over his life. 

Then there is Larry. An eloquent and self educated Marxist he is regarded as a bit of an odd ball, “up on himself” by the slum inhabitants he grew up with, he struggles with his health and the infuriating inertia of his peers who just don’t seem to get it until it is too late about the motives of the factory owners. Getting drunk and other things seem to be their priority as they sleepwalk on to the dole heap. He is the beau of Harry’s sister who seems to be at the mercy of others. 

The character of the pawnbroker resonated with me, as the explosion of Wonga, Heroin, sorry Cash Converters, pay day loan sharks and the return to our high street of the aforementioned and dreaded brokers where we are told by constituents that they only give you 20% of the value if you are lucky, and they know darn well you won’t redeem it, shows Tory naked Capitalist Britain at it’s depressing and inevitable worst. 

Like the 1930’s we in this decade are in a Depression. If it looks like a duck and quacks like one, then the probability it is a duck; unless it’s midnight in Essex and you’ve been at the wine when domestic moggy becomes a lion that is! 

The economy is flatlined, we have stagflation, commodities hoarding and a massive tranch of money (£1,3 trillion according to the Guardian) which remains in the hands of a super wealthy few who are refusing to invest taking their cue from a paralysed and incompetent Government who are in denial that austerity is killing our country. 

Then there is the scapegoating. The Blairite rump represented by the odious Liam Byrne, David Miliband and the “Party within a Party” that is (anti) Progress have their blaming of the vulnerable, the sick and the disabled amplified by the Tories who have reverted to the Nasty Party default setting that we all know and hate. The Tory Bankers, aided and abetted by New Labour (intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich) wrecked the economy. Blair’s inexplicable deference to the City, and rich individuals meant that we singularly failed to regulate the Finance Sector. This section of the economy is by and large populated in the Boardroom by money obsessed, greedy and selfish bastards who would fleece their own Granny if there were a bonus in it. History shows it. Why on earth would these people be any different? If we asked them nicely would they change? Bears, woods. Pope, Catholic. 

The 0.5% of benefits claimed that are fraudulent didn’t wreck the economy. The Rhetoric of Byrne and Cameron means that abuse in the street suffered by the disabled in inexorably on the rise. I can testify to this having been harangued as a “scrounger” on two separate occasions, and being labelled a “cheat” because I have a remarkable 20% of my vision remaining. I can take it from Druggie Dave as our PM is a Tory bastard, but I cannot bear to hear a senior Labour Cabinet Minister trot out the poisonous drivel that Byrne deals in. 

Decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off, and say, “Why should I vote Labour when they let this happen?” 

 In January 2012 Byrne told the Guardian, Beveridge would scarcely believe that housing benefit alone is costing the country over £20bn a year. That is simply too high.” But he failed to address why he thought it was too high and crucially what Labour would do about it if returned to office. It smacked of headline grabbing, and attempt to chase the Daily Mail agenda of out doing the Tories by being tough on benefit claimants.  

But then our Liam knows all about scrounging. Even the fees office baulked at his attempt to claim £400 a month for food whilst he was living in a hotel and charging the taxpayer for room service.  

We have to learn from history just where scapegoating ends. The blame lies with the predatory capitalism of the fat cats, the wrecked Banks, a dysfunctional finance system which allows Vodaphone to dodge £6 billion in tax, but which sees the state employ a French company, ATOS to do it’s dirty work of harassing the sick and the dying to recoup 1/120th of cash that is deliberately stolen from working people and their public services via tax evasion. 

We have to avoid the mistakes of history by making sure this is a One Term Tory Government, that Ed Miliband is empowered by the Labour Party to pursue and Socialist programme to include a one of 20% asset and Land Tax which would raise £800 billion, enable us to axe VAT, cut taxes across the board and pump money into our ailing economy. We should pledge to build two million new homes, nationalise the Banks with 1/3 of the Boards coming from the workforce, take back the utilities and produce a carbon free energy system within ten years. 

Capitalism re floated itself, and re booted through war. We need to take a hard look at history and learn from it right here and right now.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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