“Food poverty, rising rents and mortgages, low pay and poor terms and conditions are all problems that are going nowhere unless we stand up and do something about them.”
By Ian Lavery MP
At the Wansbeck Constituency Dinner a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of hosting Mick Lynch, the General Secretary of the RMT, as the guest speaker. Mick has been an outstanding spokesperson for the RMT as well as the trade union movement and working classes in general over the past few months.
In his speech Mick reiterated the point that, amidst our current financial crisis and long term malaise that has stuttered on for decades now that, working class communities across the country cannot expect someone to come and save us. The only way to rebalance this country is by organising and mobilising a proper working class movement in and for communities that have been held back too long by successive governments.
In mining communities like those in my constituency community organising was common amongst pitmen with high degrees of solidarity and strong bonds forged amidst the dangers of the mines. Before the Welfare State that we know today was formed, Miners’ Institute would be established by organised workers through grassroots funding to provide amenities from sick funds and leisure facilities to small libraries and communal halls which fostered a strong tradition of working class learning and self-improvement.
This was on top of the long held traditions such as allotment keeping, providing pitmen with not only a hobby to be enjoyed in the fresh open air away from the mine but an extra source of fresh, healthy food to take home to their families on top of their wage.
This communalism and community self help was never more obvious than during the miners’ strike. During this period I was on strike for a full year alongside my father and brothers. Nevertheless, we managed thanks to the extraordinary community effort, in particular from miners’ wife’s like my mother, to put food on the table and create what was essentially an informal alternative welfare state like those that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This effort was bolstered by trade unions not just in this country but across the globe, an extraordinary example of international solidarity and comradeship amongst the working classes.
Despite this, the brutal attacks on the mining industry and our communities throughout the 80’s, that have never stopped to this day, decimated the sense of community and working class solidarity in mining areas that has never been able to fully recover.
But the reality is that help is not coming from above. Our only chance of putting an end to the spiral of decline in working class communities is by organising the working class themselves from the grassroots up. Food poverty, rising rents and mortgages, low pay and poor terms and conditions are all problems that are going nowhere unless we stand up and do something about them.
It has been heartening to see trade unions at the forefront of this movement taking a stand against falling pay and attacks on terms and conditions while the richest few continue to accumulate obscene profits. We have seen over the past few years a remarkable transfer of wealth from the poorest in our society into the pockets of the richest and this will continue until we take a stand and say enough is enough.
To fight the challenges of today we must look back to the lessons of history and the example of those who came before. The working classes have come together to support one another and build historic political and social movements in the past to lift themselves out of poverty and deprivation, and it is now up to us to come together and do it again in the 21st century.