Builders of the Future
By London Clay
There have been better days, I suppose, than Friday, the 8th of May. But there ye go. Ye win some, ye lose some. Ye roll wae the punches, or something or other. You try and be upbeat, and realise, mibby you’re only down because your hopes were in the wrong place.
I was guilty of hoping for too much I’d say, when the writing was on the wall. The writing, was actually all over Cricklewood, UKIP everywhere daubed in black marker pen, in crude letters on every bus shelter and billboard on the most cosmopolitan Broadway in the world.
It didn’t make that much difference in Cricklewood, but everywhere in England and Wales the people spoke, and they spoke in a language the left did not understand, they spoke in a language that split the Labour vote, and everywhere allowed the decrepit Tories an encore, yet another last, demonic dance, in flames of labour movement history.
I long ago turned off the histrionics when encountering UKIP voters, the histrionics that Labour has been particularly guilty of, Labour, our beloved, stale party of plutocrats. We’re out most days or nights, our cosmopolitan London railway civils gang, laying troughing for the plutocrats, their fibre optic cables, their rails for their trains. We don’t really use them ourselves, and in point of fact, our existence is almost wholly separate from theirs.
Though they swarm around us everywhere in this London, their suits and their bicycles and their mystery jobs, and on shortcuts home to our boxrooms and council flats and mortgaged single-ends, through their leafy streets we see the posters in the bay windows of their Victorian four-bedroom semis: Vote Labour; Vote Conservative; read the Guardian, read the Mail, drive a Jeep, or take the train, pay for private tuition, for pilates, for personal trainers, nutritionists, clarinet lessons, au pairs. Left plutocrats, right plutocrats; like Steve Coogan and the Mansion Tax their politics is itself a lifestyle choice.
And elsewhere, not so visible, there’s the Green voters, the broad left, and they’re enough of them here, the folk like me, the graduate types in working class jobs or working class salaries, the boxroom crew, the folk who talk about cosmopolitanism, or multiculturalism even, like it’s a reason to live in London, like work, or opportunity, this is what marks them out. They are the folk who, even if they don’t have the choice that the plutocrats do, well they’ve been reared on believing they do.
And elsewhere still, you can see the housing estates still come out for Labour, for the ghost of Labour past, the throngs of folk, young and old, a 7pm rush on the polling booths, mostly in London, you have to say, the folk who are less white on the whole. But then still the bulk of the voting, working class, here and across England, and Wales. The bulk though, that as the years go by, looks more and more the rump.
I turned off the histrionics a long time ago, the outrage you’re told to feel when you meet a UKIP voter, I turned it off when I realised I’d to work with them, live with them, join with them and recruit them. I think I saw it then, the writing on the wall in its crude letters, though I didn’t want to believe it at the time, the ghostly hand, in the midnight darkness of the trades hall.
The gang was disinclined to vote Labour. And Michael King says he voted UKIP, his soft Connemara accent, The immigration, it’s fúcked. I’m gettin the same (hourly) rate I got, fifteen years ago, and you know, I’m only workin three days now.
And Cedric the Jamaican chimes in Truss, he don vote in na bladclart Babylan, but dem Eas Europeans, dem ffuckin it all up, for like his Irish brother, he is a plasterer to trade, reduced again in his middle age to pick and shovel.
And behind it all, the spectre whose same ghostly hand is doing all the writing, the spectre of Capital itself, it looms over us all, on this year, the busiest on the Project, this biggest building site in Great Europe.
Our wages stable now, Capital cannot find enough of us to build and refurbish the great new stations it requires to facilitate its City and her plutocrats of left and right.
So Capital in its freedom of movement relies again on the freedom of movement of labour, and once again to the Continent goes its gnarled and knuckled digits and from thence it plucks new gangs of toilers, Magyars, Slovaks, Romanians, new souls to sleep and dream in London boxrooms of better worlds.
And Paddy and Jamaican know as well as Jock how well it’s all going back in Hungary, how cozy those boxrooms may have grown on our brothers by such time as they’ve slapped the last tile on Tottenham Court Road, how this time next year, when they’re all out of work, wages will plummet again, and the tormented mind of every power-giddy gaffer will make gleeful threats anew, the army of surplus labour at his beck and call.
His cruel and wrinkled hand, it waves its finger softly at me, I protest: It’s the law that hammers our wages, the law that says we can’t strike without a ballot, without a month’s notice, the law that let’s them employ us like this, contracts they can terminate, not people they can sack… It’s the law, it stops us organising, and so the finger waves softly, in the grim glower of the Jamaican’s eye, the man too scared to join the union.
In Erwägung unserer Schwäche machtet, etc… Knowing we are weak you make new laws, says Brecht, Laws to keep us weak and make you strong. Knowing our fear, intimately, with the studied contempt of centuries, understanding we your serfs and our hatred of the plutocracy, better than Labour, we become the victims of Tory chicanery, of this ancient party of governance and experience.
We English and Welsh toilers, we vote in our millions for UKIP, the only party that speaks to our hearts, itself an establishment plot, as if UKIP is not as wedded to the low wage economy, as if UKIP will not just replace European labour with Commonwealth labour, as if UKIP will reform labour law, and not reinforce it.
And we split so the Labour vote, a masterstroke of Tory strategy, a victory for them all the more complete in that we do not care, anymore, for we decided, continues Brecht, henceforth to fear our poor lives more than death, we were incapable of going on in the old way.
And Miliband, less perfectly contemptible in his ignorance of his electorate only perhaps than Gordon Brown, Miliband vanishes a cloud of nothing, but complains for the last that Labour has fallen victim: to Nationalism. It is all he has to say, all we need to hear.
Diane Abbott says fair enough, things are bad for Labour in Scotland, but Gordon, he could save it for us, like he did the Referendum… So we overturn Brown’s old seat, with a 35% swing, this hero of the Labour soft left, we humiliate him forever, we rub his sagging face in the mud. They tell us Wullie Bain’s seat is the safest Labour seat in Scotland. We turn it into the biggest swing, we break all records, as if the limits of our spite, our vengeance, were bound only by the extent of our democracy.
This is what we think of the City of London and her plutocracy, her gravy train, and they make it easier to hate them so, for their only answer is to call us Nationalists, xenophobes, the same language on both sides the border, whatever the difference in politics. For we are fighting for our immediate class interests, and they for theirs.
In Scotland, we look to the immediate source of their sustenance and our misery: oil, the oil that props up their City and Pound, parasitic finance capital and its bleeding of the North. We launch an historic fight to control it. In England again, we look to the immediate source of their sustenance and our misery: the unelectable, the unaccountable European Union, the architecture of the low wage economy.
We vote on either side the border for very different parties, for in our rudderlessness, without our own leaders, we are the formless, surface clay in the hands of the right, we vote UKIP in our millions, we let the Tories in. Labour, party of left plutocrats, incapable of understanding us, their class enemy, Labour can understand this only as Nationalism, and in all constituent parts of the UK, turns in response to its identitarian right.
And yet this was the moment of our quiet, but terrible, working class radicalism. This was in England the milder form of what happened in Scotland, the less enthusiastic form, for the great visionaries of our movement were, in England, elsewhere. Not fanning its flames, not directing its fire, but gone the same distant way as the Labour leadership, squeaking at us the same curses bellowed by Miliband and Brown: Nationalists; xenophobes.
Mene, Mene, Teqel, Upharsin. They couldn’t see the writing on the wall, we couldn’t even understand the language it was written in, nor that the wall was no mouldy edifice of some ancient labour club, but the rheumy, cold stone of Belshazzar’s Palace itself.
For the great visionaries of our movement, the socialists, the proselytisers, if not already part of the plutocracy themselves, then they were there, waiting on its left wing. They hang around with Green voters, and avoid UKIP voters. They steer clear of the workers, the workers, with their terrible politics and terrible vengeance, their backwardness that marches arm in arm with their thunderous, relentless, unconscious drive to transform the world for the better. The toilers, the folk without a choice nor the illusion of one, the only secure foundation upon which a free nation can be built.
They weep then, the visionaries, the socialists, they wail in their ignorance, cast out in the cold from labour hall and Palace alike, they beat their breasts and grind their teeth, trying to understand why the Tories got in: blame the Scots, blame the English, blame everyone but yourselves, who deserted your people.
But they can, and will, dispense with their histrionics, the left. You can, you will, emerge from your ghettos, the safe spaces you carve for yourselves away from a class that is alien to you, that you have grown to hate, and that hates you back.
You will come forth, and you will change. What is behind, you will leave behind you. I have every faith in that, you pioneers, you navigators, you builders of the future.
Because if you don’t, you know you will hold us back, drag us back, smother us, kill us. You know your ghettos are more pervasively reactionary a social force even than those less sophisticated ghettos of the right.
But no, these questions are not even worth considering. An iron certainty you will turn your cowering subculture, into an aggressive counterculture, an infrastructure for a labour movement reborn. A movement not of grey discussion circles on campuses or upstairs in pubs or content in toothless public sector trade unions.
But a movement, rather, of boxing clubs and football clubs, of community centres, of organisations of the unemployed, of adhoc libraries, food banks and cafés and club nights. A movement that brands the new class identity with the name of socialism, that takes those folk, those Green voters, those UKIP voters, those Labour voters, that forges them anew, a mighty weapon, with the stark, sure creed of a knife.
For the working class are your people, and you are their conscience. We are flesh and blood, together, and our flesh and blood tears iron from concrete from clay. Our terrible, our gruesome power for change, our capacity to act as one, it was everywhere visible in this election, only used against us this time by our ancient nemesis with a cunning of ages. Next time, next time we will see.
70 years ago today, my ould man threw his uniform into the sea at Durban, and looked out on the Indian Ocean of peacetime thick with ships, a war survived, a future to be built, a Welfare State to be forged on the vengeful, suspicious hopes of those thousands of servicemen and women returned to Britain and battle trained.
My colleague Sacha alongside me, the Romanian railway chippy, we send a video, by way of apology, to a meeting neither of us are able to attend, an humble gathering last night to commemorate that great victory against Fascism.
70 years ago today, Sacha’s grandfather, the Georgian Red Army man a chippy with a gun, gazed out over the serene ruins of Berlin still smoking. He gazed out and wondered on the accident that was his life, that brought him here this bright May morning in dark clouds of mortal smoke, through thousands of miles of blood and shit and snotters and bits of women and men and weans and dogs.
Barely a bird left alive to whistle, so a sparrow came and stood a while beside him, and as he looked back before him, he saw not ruins, but foundations. By his side a gun, his hand reached not for grenade nor bayonet, but for his hammer, for wire and nips.
We are still here, us folk, still our parents and grandparents, just with different faces, all their histories, all their wisdom, all their experience combined in ours. The Internet, the Great Library of Alexandria at the fingertips of every child with a half decent phone, shines a Morning Star of enlightenment unstoppable in its implications. We have fought through worse, we have built from less, there have been worse days than Friday, the 8th of May, and there will be better.
There will come a day when we will drop our standard over the ruined Reichstags of the past, of Belshazzar’s Palace, of Berlins and Babylons and Londons. Our power, our thunderous, our clamorous power, is everywhere to be seen.