In this piece Aimee reflects on the impact of unemployment and poverty in her community, and on the political importance of union organising and grassroots resistance.
On May 1st 1981, 280 men and women left Liverpool to walk to London.
My father was among them. I remember missing him badly. The People’s March for Jobs was initiated by the Merseyside County Association of Trades Councils. The march was a protest against mass unemployment and poverty. It was supported nationally by Trades Union Councils and a wide range of bodies. Feeder marches joined from Yorkshire and South Wales; the closure of steel works and coal pits and pay cuts had stark implications families and communities. Even now, 40 years later, many of those communities are run down and struggle with poverty.
The March echoed the unemployment demonstrations of the 1930s such as the Jarrow march. My dad had nothing but admiration for the organizing of the TUC stewards throughout the 300-mile march. Along the route people opened their homes and their hearts to the marchers. My dad spoke of the hospitality of strangers, lending their moral support as well as a bed and a meal for the night. He could not talk for long without a tear in his own eye.
The media of the day did their best to ignore the march.
When they could no longer ignore, they denigrated the people and the purpose. The Morning Star was the only paper to report daily and show unconditional support from beginning to end. By marching the issue of unemployment and poverty past millions of homes, shops, and factory windows it was hoped to raise awareness and make changes. The effect of the march, the understanding of its significance, was shown in the tears shed by men and women as the marchers passed by.
The night before the big gathering marchers slept in the County Hall, then the home of the Greater London Council. 150,000 people attended the final rally in Hyde Park, London, and a petition with 250,000 names calling for a change in Government economic policies was handed in.
The march was a plea for dignity and a job.
As a small child I thought my father was literally marching for a job. He came home with a tee shirt, a mug, and a few blisters. There was no change in the economic plan. It is difficult to shift the shame and humiliation of poverty. The rest of my childhood was poor. A couple of years after this, me and my dad were walking through a local town and he handed me a shiny coin, 50p. I had seen the collection bucket, I knew immediately, without words, that the 50p was for the miners strike. I knew women were struggling to feed their families while men stood on the picket line. I knew the plan was to ‘starve them out’. I knew that 50p was not going to make much different when mothers were selling their kids bikes for bread and electricity.
The struggle for bread (food) and roses (life’s joy) is centuries old.
I am glad the capitalist system is dying, it has brought nothing but greed, distress, destruction, and disconnection. I am sadder still it is determined to wipe out the natural world in its pathological drive to profit. Derrick Jensen once said Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a measure of how quickly we are destroying the earth. What is not being measured is the distress, the shame, the poor quality of life for billions of people. My father marched for his family, to raise awareness about the hardship, the suffering, the stress that destroys the fabric of families. It is almost impossible to learn this without experience.
If you have not experienced hardship like this it is easy to remain disconnected from suffering, human and non-human. If you do not spend time in nature it is easier to turn a blind eye when it is destroyed. If you work, watch TV, remain politically inactive, you have little to no frame of reference. If you do not talk to others, do not think about the consequences of actions, cognitive dissonance protects you from overwhelming feelings of rage, grief and anxiety.
Capitalism and industrial civilization rips the heart out of communities.
It divides people based on the acquisition of wealth, places value on things devoid of meaning. I have worked my whole life for a wage and to mend the fractures in my life, my family and community caused by poverty. I spend time every week contributing towards resistance, planting seeds of knowledge and supporting others in their activism.
While I wait for the capitalist economy to collapse, I grow tomatoes, learn to crochet, walk in wild and beautiful places, read, teach, make jam and dream of gathering in a circle of women who can hold a community together.
Aimee Wild is an educator, activist and DGR Guardian in the UK.