Thursday, June 23, 2022

Scotland, the Bereaved (1959)

 From the No. 6 — 1959 issue of the Western Socialist

“Baith faither and wee Willie oot o' a job . . . It’s worse than a death in the hoose.”

This piece of ungrammatic but nevertheless heartrending conversation happened to catch my ear one night while travelling in one of Glasgow’s tram cars, that ancient mode of transport which most of the city’s workers are obliged to use despite the “cheap” family automobiles now on sale. Although at first glance the wee Glasgow housewife’s remark may have seemed a peculiarly dramatised one it is undoubtedly true that a household that finds its two bread-winners unemployed is a pretty cheerless place.

The television and probably the furniture has been procured on the “never never” system and, with nothing but a few pounds coming in from the unemployment benefit and national assistance, the house in all probability will not only be a sad one but pretty soon — an empty one. The agonising round of cap-in-hand job-hunting commences and soon men who had a passionate pride in their skill
as shipwrights, carpenters and electricians find themselves thankful for the chance of a couple of days’ work as labourers in casual employment on a building site, as part-time workers in bar rooms and cinemas.

And with the edge of poverty and insecurity sharpening day by day, the home that was a haven of sociability becomes a place where frayed nerves lead daily to bickering and squabbling. Soon the nagging thought, that perhaps it is due to some failing on his part as a worker that he can’t find a job, drives the breadwinner, bit by bit, to lose confidence in himself and gradually his self respect is destroyed. So desperate is the plight of the unemployed worker that not only is his physical condition denuded of virility by denial of the barest necessities of life, but his moral fibre is destroyed by conditions which degrade him to the extent of losing his self respect. He becomes in fact a mere shadow of a man, a shell whose substance has been torn from him by the monster that is present-day society.

It is at this point, that the most objectionable of social disease, unemployment, throws up to the surface its cancerous, parasitic growth — the Labour leader — that detestable embodiment of all that is unscrupulous, insincere and unprincipled. The emotion-filled speeches fill the air as workers are coaxed, implored and railroaded into giving their support to this or that great man. Later when the worker has been wooed and won and the political honeymoon is over, the disenchantment occurs. The great men turn out to have feet of clay, "right up to the elbows.” It is then that phrases such as "sold up the river” and "stabbed in the back” become the every day parlance of embittered working men.

The history of working class politics in the west coast of Scotland serves as an object lesson as to how much faith workers should place in the promises of silvery tongued "rebels.” The old days of the "Red” Clyde are past but if the working class can learn from the disastrous mistakes of their fathers then some of the blood which has been spilled by the old misguided fire-eaters of yesteryear will not have been spilled in vain. If the problems of unemployment, insecurity and poverty are to be solved it is obvious that a knowledge of how these problems arise is necessary. Instead of calling on the "assistance” of the political witchdoctors to solve these problems, we must seek the cure on our own behalf. We must wave aside the "nationalisation balms” and the "state control incantations” as these "remedies,” these political prescriptions have proved not only inadequate but injurious when applied to the body politic.

Whether you, as a worker, are engaged in a shipyard, a mine or a factory you cannot ignore the threat of unemployment. This threat hangs like a cloud over the heads of all workers whether they produce tankers, coal or papier mache dolls. If there is no longer any profit to be realised from your particular product, the owner of that industry will dispense with your mental and physical energies. You will in fact be unemployed although, in Britain, there is a tendency in the press to call it "redundant” rather than unemployed. However a garbage heap by any other name would still stink.

All commodities today are produced for profit — no profit. . . . no production. . . . no work. It is an undeniable fact, difficult as it may be to realise, that goods are not produced for use; coal is not mined in order that your house may be warm, clothing is not tailored to be worn nor are houses built to be lived in.

Recently miners in Scotland have become unemployed because, as officials of the National Coal Board assure us, there is too much coal; but go into any house in Scotland and ask if there is too much coal and you will receive dark looks from the inhabitants who will in all likelihood be huddled around a pathetic fire which could well do with some of this surplus coal that is piling up. It is because we live in a society where production is carried on for profit that we have to endure such insane situations as thousands of people homeless, or ill housed, and an army of building tradesmen out of work.

The Glasgow housewife, with whose comment I started this article, will probably never read this but hundreds who have the same fear of the insecurity of modern society will and it is to them that I say, let us, the working class, the only people of any consequence, get to the cause of this insecurity and by our understanding change society from Capitalism to Socialism where the good things of life will not be produced for profit but for use. For then, and only then, fellow workers, will such a plight as can be described as " . . . worse than a death in the hoose” be a part of man’s prehistoric past.

Dick Donnelly 
Glasgow Kelvingrove Branch

No comments: