The People You Meet: No. 3 – ‘Just a Housewife’
She came to the doorstep and eyed me with mixed suspicion and anger—anger because I had interrupted her housework and suspicion because she knew I had something to sell. Before the war five or six men called every day selling everything from toothbrushes to vacuum cleaners, cash down or on the never-never; now they are re-appearing.
“Good morning,” I ventured, and received a hard get-to-the-point look. Quickly I gabbled that I represented the S.P.G.B., that I had called to acquaint her with the organisation and ultimately to sell her a copy of the STANDARD.
“Politics!” she snapped, “they’re the old man’s business, and he’s out.” He wasn’t. He was in the garden chopping wood. Household tasks were far more important.
“But surely you are concerned with the problems of war, poverty and unemployment?”
That struck a chord. She wiped her hands on her pinafore and showed some interest. “Things are better to-day than they ever were,” she claimed. “You’re young. You don’t remember.” And then she told this story.
In short, she was brought up in one of those grim industrial areas that cluster around Manchester. The eldest of several kids she cared for the rest while her mother was at the mill. “It was cheaper for them to employ women,” she explained. Her father just languished till he joined the Army and was killed in 1914. “I was lucky,” she said. “My chap came back and we were married in 1919.” For a few years luck was with them and they managed to keep a home together and produce four children. Eventually, early in 1931, he fell out of work. The dole, the Means Test, the bun house—and then they decided to try their luck in the south. It was just the same down here. They sold more and more of their furniture and wares. “I had a breakdown—the old man grew sullen and miserable and young Johnnie went into a sanatorium for nearly three years.” But as time went on work grew more plentiful till in 1939 he started at K——s. “And he’s been there ever since.”
“I don’t know much about politics,” she reaffirmed “but it seems to me that Labour has done better after this war than the others did after the last one.”
I pointed out that the favourable conditions of the labour market since the war was not due to the good work of a Labour Government but due to the existence of ready markets; that already it was becoming difficult for the capitalist, in face of American competition, to sell his goods: that unemployment figures were steadily rising; that a slump is almost inevitable.
It didn’t sink in. Living from day to day had set her thinking the same way. Women! It is not enough to leave these matters to the old man. Politically, he is as ignorant as you are.
Your experiences are as vivid as his. When you see the shops full and your purses empty, when, in spite of your efforts, you see your kids suffer from undernourishment, when your sons are called off to war, ask yourself the reason why. Examine the world in which you live. Who knows, you may even set the old man on the right road.