"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Monday, 30 April 2012

What sort of strike are we talking about, then?

The previous generation of my maternal family came from the 'Essex side' of the Thames Estuary, more or less at the 'end' of the East End of London. In fact if mentioned in news reports nowadays the area is often referred to as as the East End.

When undertaking family history research I have always hoped that I would come across some female ancestors who took part in the Bryant & May match girls' strike of 1888. This is not as daft as it sounds, as a surface to air missile flies Bow to my maternal great-grandparents home is only about eight miles and my g.grandfather was a trade unionist in the docks whilst my grandmother was an active trade unionist too.

The Bryant & May strike was of course famous in our part of the world when I was growing up in the 1950s. There was even a musical about it in the 1960s.

The match factory was an awful place to work, not only because of the bad pay and long hours and usual bad factory conditions but working with phosphorous caused a terrible condition called phossy jaw The story of the strike is so interesting in itself that it deserves a blog of its own! I am currently reading by Louise RawStriking a Light: The Truth About the Match Girls Strike and the Women Behind it: The Truth About the Match Girls Strike and the Women Behind It However there is a very interesting article here: http://www.unionhistory.info/matchworkers/matchworkers.php

Back to the 21st century, and the old Bryant and May Match factory building was redeveloped into a 'gated community' called the Bow Quarter in 1988. In the past few days residents have received notification that their rooftops may be the location for surface to air missiles 'as part of Britain's air defenses[sic] for the Olympics'

One wonder what pacifists like Annie Besant who led the Matchgirls' strike in 1888 would have made of this? Pacifists living not many miles away aren't too keen, it has to be said.

Some definitions of the word strike:
strike (strk)
v. struck (strk), struck or strick·en (strkn), strik·ing, strikes
4. To make a military attack on; assault.
a. To produce by friction or a blow: struck fire from the flints.
b. To produce flame, light, or a spark from by friction: strike a match.
26. To undertake a strike against (an employer).
For even more definitions please go to http://www.thefreedictionary.com/strike

The photograph shows Match Workers at the Bryant and May Factory, London, 1888
courtesy of http://www.unionhistory.info/matchworkers/matchworkers.php

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A few days of contrasts - Saturday and Sunday

We like to go to church but don't overdo it. This week we went to church on both Saturday and Sunday because we were guests at both a wedding and a christening. Lovely celebrations and lovely to get together on both occasions with friends and family.

Neither churches were our local church and it is always great to see different ministers in action and hear different points of view. I am also a sucker for a bit of singing - its a shame I can't hold a tune so a big gathering is great because I can warble away to my heart's content knowing my voice is drowned out by much better ones in concert.

The christening took place during the morning children's service. Absolutely brilliant to see a church with so many children attending and no shushing! They went off to play so we could all concentrate on the sermon, which was all about Love. The minister was young enough to be our son, but the message was straight from our hippy days in the 1960s, John Lennon would have been proud.
The wedding sermon had also contained a lot about love and relationships.

After all the angst of job hunting and nastiness about the unemployed of Friday, I was able to return to the battle on my friend's behalf on Monday morning with love in my heart and hope in my mind. It is now Tuesday and a bit more job hunting for him this morning and I am getting a bit more frayed but we have to keep on keeping on.

A few days of contrasts - part two Friday Evening

It has been remarked that Elizannie and Other Half on occasion scrub up quite well. In fact those who only know us from marches and demos or from Somerset when our default clothing is mostly sandals and shorts in the case of Other Half and floppy hats, sandals and rather wifty wafty odds and ends in the case of Elizannie have been known to completely ignore us until 're-introduced' if also attending the same 'posh do' as us.Something similar happened on Friday evening when we were invited to a lovely evening party. For once I actually felt I had the right outfit on and Other Half even remembered to wear shoes and not trainers. Good going. And really interesting company, some of whom we already knew so there weren't too many of those looks when someone realised that we were not only trade unionists who vote Labour [well one of us does, the SWP member keeps quiet as that usually causes mild hysteria] but both of us were professionals who really should have known better.

Anyway our new friends realised that despite being born in close proximity to the Thames Estuary [me] and Arsenal Football ground [Other Half] we really were both educated and could discuss quite entertainingly a range of subjects. The subject turned to Workhouses. Which was really bad luck because it is one of those subjects on which I am a real anorak [did I tell you that I used to be a lecturer?]We were having a discussion about unemployment at the time - not a good subject after the day I had had [read my previous blog!] and I was desperately trying not to be controversial. Honestly. The lovely lady I had been talking to was very active in her local church, had moved to our area from the South West many years ago, had her own business and I am sure works very hard in both her business and her charitable activites. BUT. There is always a but, isn't there? But, she had been saying how wonderful the local Conservative MP is. Fine, and I had been very non-committal. I was behaving honestly.

And then someone suggested bringing back the workhouse. Remember I was tired, and had been working all day sending CVs out for my unemployed friend. Please remember too that his 'crisis loan' had been refused. So I pointed out that workhouses had a bit of a history and I gently explained it. I explained about the 1834 Act that instituted workhouses on the Parish Union basis* and explained how if a pauper did not come from a particular parish s/he would be given a loaf of bread and sent on to the next Workhouse [usually around 12 -16 miles away, which was judged to be a day's walk], given a bed for one night and the process was repeated until the pauper reached his/her home parish which was then statutorily obliged to house that pauper.

General cries of 'That's what we should do now' from the little group of business people who were making up the group by now. Ah, says I, knowing that one or two had had to close down parts of their business in the past ten years ago, affected by the large global employer who made Other Half redundant. After all, if you lost your source of income and had to walk back to your 'home parish', where would that be? Looks of consternation. It could actually happen, when we used to meet up ten years ago I know that they all felt secure - nowadays especially in the 'Prosperous South East' there are not any businesses which feel secure or jobs which feel that safe, believe me. Plus we are all 10 years older with many of us hovering around the State Pension Age, and we all feel secure that the Coalition Government will look after us in our Old Age, don't we?

So food for thought for my new friends I hope. We are all in this together but some are further in than others and the spectre of the workhouses is not too far away from any of us. The workhouses were unforgiving institutions but in a way the beginning of the welfare state - they were instituted to prevent paupers dying of starvation and this was judged the cheapest way to feed them. With a government determined to cut welfare budgets please do not suggest that they return, even in jest.

*For more information and history of the workhouse do please visit Peter Higginbottom's wonderful site from which the photograph above is taken of Williton, Somerset workhouse. A place dear to my heart for very different reasons.

A few days of contrasts - Friday

Before I even start a grumble/excuse. blogger has redesigned itself. And no doubt once I have got to grips with it, I will fully appreciate all its new features. Its just that inbetween time when I will make a terrible hash of things this blog will be a bit dreadful. So as the wonderful actress says on TV's Miranda 'Bear With'..

The past few days have been in turns hectic, interesting,infuriating, fun,full of contrasts and occasionally monumentally frustrating. So as Other Half shouted at one point 'I hope you are blogging about this', indeed I am!

Friday found me once again sending out CVs with my friend who is job-seeking. As I mentioned in my last blog, he has been made redundant for the third time in just over six months. I know from other friends who are in the same position [here in the 'prosperous South East'] it is necessary if one is lucky enough to have access to a computer to spend a lot of time each day on the JobCentre web site put up by Direct Gov. Quite a frustrating site really, but then these sort of sites always are and after one has spent a few hours reading through the jobs on offer and following up links etc the 'translations' begin to flow easily and reading between the lines becomes easy. As always what is not said is more important that what is written down.

'Please ring in the first place for details' - actually means once we have spoken to you we will ask you to send a CV, could have been said on the site but we wanted you to waste the cost of a 'phone call.

'Do not send speculative CVs but only apply for specific vacancies, CVs will not be held on file' - means we want you to look at our web site everyday and save us the bother of filing your CV in case a job suitable comes up tomorrow. That way we can save our important time as you obviously have nothing else to do.

'Owner/Driver for deliveries, must be flexible, mileage paid' - although you are out of work, we want you to arrive with a reliable vehicle, thereby paying tax, insurance and all running expenses and you will receive a small amount per mile which will just about cover the cost of the petrol. No set hours or area, we will not be flexible with you unless of course there isn't any work in which case you won't get paid of course.

'Minimum wage paid'- only apply if you don't have to pay fares or travel any distance. [The prosperous South East has very expensive train and bus fares. The job centre will help with public transport fares for interviews but if there is no public transport access will not help with petrol]

'Hourly rate between £AAAph and £DDDph, shift workers required' - the low wage is for the day rates, the top rates for weekend nights. Guess which vacancies are left?

'Although this is a manual job, some computer skills would be an advantage' - we only want to pay manual labour rates for what is a largely IT job.

And so on. We often hear that 'the unemployed' will not apply for jobs because they get more 'on the dole'. Looking at the rates offered it can be seen that whilst often job seekers are barely existing on their allowances plus any extra benefits [and in the case of my friend, he is not entitled to any extra as he has lost his house and is living with his parents. They are State Pensioners but even that does not allow him to claim anything extra as they do not claim Pension credits] to take a job at some of the low rates offered would mean a cut in income when travelling expenses are taken into account. Where we live in the South East a lot of jobs are across the Thames so two trips over and under a day are necessary, at a cost of £3 a day, without the petrol if one has a car.

There is also a new type of 'casual' work - employment agencies ringing up about 10am with an offer of a days work. This reminds me of stories of my G.Grandfather standing with crowds of others at the Dock Gates in the 1920s, waiting to see if there was a days work for any of them. And of course the companies who use this method are not paying National Insurance or providing facilities for these labourers, and although they may employ the same people several times a month, would you like this type of job insecurity? My friend applied for a 'Crisis Loan' of £70 from the Job Centre' as he is still waiting to see if he is going to get the four weeks money that his last employers owe him and he will not be getting any payment from the Job Seekers Allowance for another few days. He was told he could be allowed £6.08p. Not even enough to pay the bus fare and back into the nearest big town to go around all the shops and hand his CV in [this is his last resort ploy].

Still we are all in it together and no doubt he is looking forward - whilst he waits for replies from all the CVs we have sent off - to sitting on the sofa, watching Jeremy Kyle whilst swigging lager and scratching his genitals. Like all the rest of the lazy population of unemployed who could find a job if they wanted.

My stories of my few days of contrasts will continue once I have swallowed some headache pills. Temper always does that to me.

The photograph above shows Welsh Hunger Marchers in the 1930s. I may have used this before. My father marched with them - he was a Labour politician in the 1950s and 1960s. He thought those days had gone, I am terrified that they are coming again.

Monday, 16 April 2012

When will enough be enough?

This is an ordinary Monday morning story, about an ordinary chap in these austerity times. Bit boring really - but we must not ignore the wretchedness that is being caused by 'the system'.

Had a chilly, but good, Easter break. And it is always good to be welcomed home, but not when it is because because a good friend is in despair yet again because he desperately needs to use one's computer skills in the jobsearch market.

This friend of mine has been going through all sorts of problems due to the recession - like all too many others sadly. He lost his own business a couple of years ago, getting out just in time before the debts began to rise to the extent that he would have ended up owing money to lots of people. So he sold up everything he could, paid all his debts, moved back in with his parents [pensioners] and hunkered down for the duration - taking any jobs that he could.

Sadly not an unusual story in this day and age. Of course all luxuries had to go in his big economy drive - 'luxuries' which included a means of transport other than a cycle and an internet connection and computer. After all job centres and libraries provide internet facilities, don't they? And not many other people would need to use them, would they?

At first he managed to get a job, below his capabilities and earning power, but a job for which he was very grateful. And he worked hard and gained promotion. All too soon this firm got into money problems and went into liquidation so the hunt was on for another job. And this story has been repeated over and again, with the length of time working becoming less and the wages offered also getting less. Temporary and Contract work is becoming more common and all the government agencies who should be helping unemployed workers to find work relying more and more on 'have you looked in the paper/ do you know someone who can let you use their computer' as forms of advice.

[When I asked if he would be able to take some IT courses through the Job Centre, he told me that one has to be unemployed for six months to qualify. Although his unemployment record notches up to more than six months, fortunately he has managed to not 'achieve' this all in one go]

His latest employment has again gone into administration, owing him and all his colleagues four weeks money and refusing to release his P45 for another four weeks on the premise that the business may be taken over by a buyer. The Job Centre say he cannot claim anything for four weeks [presumably because he is living with his parents, his wife having left after the business failed]

So there we were this morning, updating his CV, perusing the job vacancies, drinking coffee, swearing and commiserating. Probably not an unusual sight in lots of houses in the UK.

An everyday story for today.

The picture above is of the Penguin edition of Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists If you want to see the parallel's between 1908 when the book was written and today do read it, or go to: