The road to Wigan pier
Nearly 80 years since it was written this book has been the introduction to a new chapter for me. I have decided to attempt 52 books in a year and where better to start than with a classic.
When the first paragraph of that classic ends with the line “In spite of his trying man has not yet succeeded in doing his dirt everywhere” I am enthused as this still rings true today. “Even in the filthy heart of civilisation you find fields where the grass is green instead of grey ; perhaps if you looked for them you might find streams with live fish in them instead of salmon tins ”
That sums up so many of us looking for a brighter future, not just for themselves but for all. A future where flowers blossom on bomb sites.
There is a sense of history reading a book based on a coal industry that lost its last pit to closure prior to Christmas. Of course our desire to burn fossil fuels has left the earth in a somewhat torturous state but that hasn’t been the reason the coal industry was defeated. There was a concerted effort put in place to break a group of organised workers. In our efforts to dumb these people down a new ideology blossomed. One where money became king and the hunt for it overcame all else.
This book is in many ways Orwell’s homage to the coal miners. Their horrific work conditions are explained in great detail, the necessity for coal in every facet of people’s life is highlighted but not only that the fact that we tend to ignore the means of production as we sit at home writing or reading. That is all the more obvious these days as we watch TV on screens that have been manufactured and transported half way across the world. Or as we type on devices built by factory workers in conditions similar to coal miners in the 30’s or, in the case of garment workers making our clothes, quite possibly worse.
Whilst it was written almost 80 years ago it speaks of an age that could be transferred into the 21st Century. The industrial world could be in China or Russia where manufacturing is still very much alive. It could relate to the previously mentioned garment industry in Bangladesh or Burma or India. From an Irish perspective The road to Wigan pier also speaks of poverty and a housing crisis which most definitely fits into today’s front pages alongside a dissection of unemployment rates that don’t fully give a picture of what’s going on due to the amount of underemployment. The working class didn’t turn revolutionary when things took a turn for the worse as they had electricity and access to newspapers which assisted them in keeping their tempers to make the best out of what they have, much like smart phones and Internet has done nowadays.
Orwell states simply that he had reduced everything to the “theory that the oppressed are always right and the oppressors are always wrong”. He recognised that this was mistaken but the roots of it remain especially when it came to class issues, things may have changed for many working class people on the past 80 years but difference still exist for many in society and your birthplace does still have a huge bearing on your life’s trajectory. However the reality for many is that there are two economic classes, the rich and the poor. Post economic crisis (well post for some in society) one part of discourse is trying to ensure everyone is getting enough to eat. Orwell says that socialism provided a way out. We are waiting to see if that is the case.
He also states that “under capitalism any invention which does not promise fairly immediate profits is neglected”, interesting and when you look at the recent closure of Clery’s department store you can see the truth in that statement. What Orwell would say abuut a shop that splits into two companies, one for trading and one for the property aspect would be very interesting. Especially when the property arm makes 6 million in profit and the trading arm loses 4 million. The companies are sold and a few hours later the trading arm is sold for £1 and shut down by close of business with all the staff made redundant and the state left making any payouts to them. Meanwhile the building sits idle waiting for the right time. All completely legal and admired in some quarters.
This has been our road to Wigan Pier and in an election year in Ireland it will be interesting to see where we go next. Will it be the time as Orwell Stated 8 decades ago that “it is desperately necessary for left-wingers of all complexions to drop their differences and hang together” when he was trying to get Socialism into mainstream language and away from doctrine. We live in interesting times