Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Speech, Camden, August 3rd

As Jeremy Corbyn tours the country in his Labour Leadership campaign, he gathers the crowds and often there are overflows and people queuing up to hear him. He has galvanised young and old alike, in his refreshing, no-frills approach. He's not afraid to tell it as it is, he doesn't do kowtowing or personal attacks.  People like him because of it.  People are fed up with slick, corporate, presidential-style politics.  People are sick of the Westminster bubble and the politics of greed and dog-eat-dog. Here is a man who offers an alternative. Here's a man who speaks for the ordinary man and woman on the street, the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, the disabled. Here's a man who isn't afraid to use the AA word - that is, Anti-Austerity.

For people who say he's turning the clock back to the 80s, I'd say to them, better that than what the Tories are doing: turning the clock back 100 years, pre-NHS, pre-Welfare State, to a time when inequality was huge; taking us back to the harsh and bleak time of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (a few of my recent blogs have examined this).  But actually I don't think he is turning the clock back.  It's more a case of these things coming in cycles, of pendulums swinging and the time being ripe for change.  This is a very different era than the early 80s.

We had 30 odd years of consensus politics and a social contract in the post-war decades based on Keynesian economics, and since then we've had 30 odd years of monetarism and market forces running rampant.  It may just be that we're at the end of that 30 year period and Jeremy Corbyn's campaign is the catalyst we need in this country. I like to think so, although I know that all those in whose interest it is to keep the status quo will fight tooth and nail to undermine and denigrate his campaign.

And so to the speech he made on August 3rd 2015 which I have transcribed as best I can from YouTube and where I couldn't hear properly I've replaced it with an ellipsis.  There was an overflow and people queuing around the block to hear him. A banner from the Fire Brigades Union beneath him read ‘Jeremy Corbyn Straight Talking, Honest Politics’. 

“This is a campaign at one level about The Labour Party leadership but on another level it’s about a lot of other things…this is about an alternative …when we lost the election in May, many of us were pretty devastated by that defeat…there was some good stuff in that Labour manifesto….the banking crisis was not caused by firefighters, street cleaners, nurses, teachers, or anybody else in our valuable public services…it was caused by deregulation, it was caused by speculation, it was caused by sheer levels of greed…and whilst taking the banks into public ownership was absolutely the right thing to do the problem was they weren’t kept in public ownership…they were allowed to carry on in their own sweet way.

“So when we got to the 2010 election, we were offering more austerity, more cuts, more punishment of the poorest in this country.  David Cameron claimed we were all in it together. I don’t think so, David Cameron, I don’t think we’re all in this together at all. I think you think everybody else is in it together except you and your party and the people around you.

“We’ve had five years of opposition, we’ve seen what the Coalition has done, the number of jobs that have been lost in the public sector, the wage freeze, the lower wages for those in the private sector, the zero hours contracts, the brutality of much of the benefits system and what it’s doing to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

“So when we came to the 2015 election, surely we should have been able to offer something more than austerity and say that we believe the function of government is to deal with the poorest in our society to ensure that poverty is eliminated and promote an economy that is expanding with jobs, opportunities and work for all…

“We recognise what an achievement it was for the Labour movement when we got the NHS in 1948 before I was born and also in the same year we got the welfare state. But somewhere along the line we’ve lost our way…Benefits Street…abuse of people who are justly, legally and correctly claiming that to which they’re entitled. Somewhere along the line we’ve allowed the cheapness of the media to take over and abuse people on disability benefit, abuse people and passed people as fit for work when they clearly are not. People have committed suicide as a result of that. Can we be bold enough and strong enough as a party and as a Labour movement to say we want to live in a society where we don’t pass by on the other side when somebody is going through a crisis, we don’t pass by on the other side when a family is forced to live on the street because they can no longer afford the flat or house that they’re living in. …we don’t pass by on the other side and let the poorest defend for themselves whilst the richest keep on getting richer and richer at our expense with their investments in property which they use as a cash cow for the future?  Can we be proud of wanting to live in a civilised society where everybody cares for everybody else and everyone cares for each other. Surely that is something worth aspiring to.

“…it’s the twenty first century world where people have had enough of free market economies…we’ve had enough of being told austerity works, knowing full well that it does not. So let’s be practical about the things we want to do…to create an economy where we invest in high skills manufacturing industry…in sustainable development, in green energy jobs, green energy resources, real infrastructure, council housing, and giving people a decent place to live…where we don’t have a housing policy that deliberately drives people out of central London as a whole process of social cleansing, as a combination of high rents and insufficiency of benefits. This can be done.  Our students leave university with massive debits – fifty thousand, sixty thousand, seventy thousand pounds worth of debts. What sort of a start in the world is that for young people who’ve studied hard, worked hard and achieved a great deal at university…my generation had free university education…I personally didn’t take it up…but I had that opportunity, it’s not mine to take away from the next or subsequent generations.  By increasing corporation tax by 4.5 per cent we could achieve free university education for all – a price worth paying.

“I’m inspired by all these people who’ve come together who are put off by personality politics, by the politics of personal abuse, the politics of celebrity and want something stronger. So I’m not indulging in personal abuse of anybody.  I don’t do it, I never have, never will.  There isn’t time, it’s a waste of energy.  It outs people off. I want on September the 12th whatever the result is to be together, to stay together, to keep on being together in order to develop the policies that will bring real social justice, that will help bring peace to the world, that will help being a just and environmentally sustainable world. We can together do it. Let’s be strong. Thank you very much.”

To hear the full speech on YouTube, click on the link below.

Jeremy Corbyn speech, Camden, 3rd August 2015

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Notes From The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Begging, Charity, Scraps and Food Vouchers For the Poor

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell was written a hundred years ago and described as 'a classic representation of the impoverished and politically powerless underclass of British society in Edwardian England, ruthlessly exploited by the institutionalized corruption of their employers and the civic and religious authorities'. This series of blogs is from the notes I made from the book. In this one I'm highlighting the comparisons that can be made of the treatment of the poor and the role of charities offering help to the impoverished in terms of food and vouchers.  

"Nearly every other firm in the town was in much the same flight as Rushton and Co.; none of them had anything to speak of to do, and the workmen no longer troubled to go to the different shops asking for a job.  They knew it was of no use. Most of them just walked about aimlessly or stood talking in group in the streets, principally in the neighbourhood of the Wage Slave Market near the fountain on the Grand Parade. They congregated here in such numbers that one of the residents wrote to the local papers complaining of the 'nuisance', and pointing out that it was calculated to drive the 'better class' visitors out of the town.  After this two or three extra policeman were put on duty near the fountain with instructions to 'move on' any groups of unemployed that formed. They could not stop them from coming there, but they prevented them standing about.

The professions of unemployed continued every day, and the money they begged from the public was divided equally amongst those who took part.  Sometimes it amounted to one and sixpence each, sometimes it was a little more and sometimes a little less.  These men presented a terrible spectacle as they slunk through the dreary streets, through the rain or the snow, with the slush soaking into their broken boots, and, worse still, with the bitterly cold east wind penetrating their rotten clothing and freezing there famished bodies.

The majority of the skilled workers still held aloof from these processions, although there haggard faces bore involuntary testimony to their sufferings. Although privation reigned supreme in their desolate homes, where there was often neither food nor light nor fire, they were too 'proud' to parade their misery before each other or the world.  They secretly sold or pawned their clothing and their furniture and lived in semi starvation on the proceeds, and on credit, but they would not beg.  Many of them even echoed the sentiments of those who had written to the papers, and with a strange lack of class-sympathy blamed those who took part in the processions. They said it was that sort of thing that drove the 'better class' away, injured the town, and caused all the poverty and unemployment.  However, some of them accepted charity in other ways; district visitors distributed tickets for coal and groceries.  Not that that sort of thing made much difference; there was usually a great deal of fuss and advice, many quotations of scripture, and very little groceries.  And even what there was generally went to the least-deserving people, because the only way to obtain any of this sort of 'charity' is by hypocritically pretending to be religious: and the greater the hypocrite, the greater the quantity of coal and groceries. These 'charitable' people went into the wretched homes of the poor and – in effect – said: 'Abandon every particle of self respect: cringe and fawn: come to church: bow down and grovel to us, and in return we'll give you a ticket that you can take to a certain shop and exchange for a shillings worth of groceries.  And, if you're very servile and humble we may give you another one next week.'

They never gave the 'case' the money. The ticket system serve three purposes. It prevents the "case" abusing the "charity" by spending the money on drink.  It advertises the benevolence of the donors: and it enables the grocer – who is usually a member of the church – to get rid of any stale or damaged stock he may have on hand.

When these visiting "ladies" went into a workman's house and found it clean and decently furnished, and the children clean and tidy, they came to the conclusion that those people were not suitable "cases" for assistance. Perhaps the children had had next to nothing to eat, and would have been in rags if the mother had not worked like a slave washing and mending their clothes. But these were not the sort of cases that the visiting ladies assisted; they only gave to those who were in a state of absolute squalor and destitution, and then only on condition that they whined and grovelled. 

In addition to this district visitor business, the well- to– do inhabitants and the local authorities attempted - or rather, pretended – to grapple with the poverty "problem" in many other ways, and the columns of the local papers were filled with letters from all sorts of cranks who suggested various remedies. One individual, whose income was derived from brewery shares, attributed the prevailing distress to the drunken and improvident habits of the lower orders. Another suggested that it was a divine protest against the growth of ritualism and what he called "Fleshly religion", and suggested a day of humiliation and prayer.  A great number of welfare persons thought this such an excellent proposition that they proceeded to put it into practice. They prayed, whilst the unemployed and the little children fasted.
....Meantime, in spite of this and kindred organisations the conditions of the underpaid poverty stricken and unemployed workers remained the same. Although the people who got the grocery and coal orders, the "nourishment", and the cast off clothes and boots, were very glad to have them, yet these things did far more harm than good. They humiliated, degraded and pauperised those who received them, and the existence of the societies prevented the problem being grappled with in a sane and practical manner. The people lacked the necessaries of life: the necessaries of life are produced by work: these people were willing to work, but were prevented from doing so by the idiotic system of society which these "charitable" people are determined to do their best to perpetuate.

If the people who expect to be praised and glorified for being charitable were never to give another farthing it would be far better for the industrious poor, because then the community as a whole would be compelled to deal with the absurd and unnecessary state of affairs that exists today – millions of people living and dying in wretchedness and poverty in an age when science and machinery have made it possible to produce such an abundance of everything that everyone might enjoy plenty and comfort.  If it were not for all this so-called charity the starving unemployed men all over the country would demand to be allowed to work and produce the things they are perishing for want of, instead of being – as they are now – content to wear their masters'  cast off clothing and to eat the crumbs that fall from his table."

The idea of 'change not charity' is what Tressell's protagonist Frank Owen is undoubtedly referring to. The working poor and unemployed of Mugsborough need a change to the system and tackling of the causes of this poverty rather than being given charity which perpetuates poverty and keeps the poor beholden to the charities.

Other blogs in this series:

Notes From The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Employers and Employment

Notes From The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - 'Those Foreigners'

Notes From The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - The Causes of Poverty are not laziness, drunkenness or machinery

Notes From The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Slavery

Notes From The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - The Rotten System, Poverty and the Harsh Treatment of The Unemployed