A Visit To Lancashire

 Very tired, I strolled out of London Road Station, Manchester. Its tall grim buildings lent small contrast to the litter-ridden streets. It was cold, and grime hung to every wall. Not yet 7 a.m., and already the streets were cluttered with people—or are these workers people? Early bent with age, the sickening look of lifelong servitude clouds their faces; old macs, lifeless trousers, and a quick walk; working automatons, fed and kept to make a profit for their bosses.

 At that early hour cars were still asleep and their wealthy owners turned weary heads around soft pillows. Crowded buses filled the roads and as if to pack them tight, bicycles long past their age of safety cut everywhere between them.

 Later, as my train pulled out of Victoria Station, I realised how little changed was Manchester. There seemed to be small concern about the slump which was gnawing at its guts: 100,000 on short time, 30,000 dismissed.

 My next stop was Rochdale, and here the sight was more depressing. I saw groups of men standing on street corners, hands in pockets, wondering “What next? Perhaps we will soon be hearing the old Tory cry: ‘these men are lazy, they do not want to work, unemployment will do them good.’ ” A local lavatory attendant a little later expressed this view: “They have had their way long enough, now let the bosses have their turn. Most of them don’t want to work, that’s why they were sacked first.” I was reminded of what Mr. H. Kershaw, Assistant Secretary of the Weavers’ Association, said a fortnight ago at a meeting in Stockport: “We don’t want something for nothing, we want the right to work.” It is the old story returning, the story of the years between the wars.

 I saw an old woman turn down a narrow unwelcoming street carrying a parcel. I looked along the road and about thirty yards to the left I saw three balls hanging on the wall arched against all weathers. The old woman turned in the door. I looked over the curtained window, was not satisfied and walked in. Six tired unhappy females were parting with chattels. On the walls were notices: “No females’ clothes accepted.” “Medals not wanted,” “Watches not accepted unless in working order.” Behind the counter was the “philanthropist,” his hard lines betraying all that was worst in capitalism.

 I made an excuse and walked out, and nearly pushed some bread and jam into a little girl’s face. “You’re enjoying yourself’ I said. She ignored me. “Your lunch?” I asked. “Yes.” “Why eat it in the street?” “ Dad’s eating his and there ain’t enough, so Mum sent me and Bill out” She turned and ran away.

 I went back into the high street and surveyed the crowds. How many of them remember that just two years ago they were being told that never again would there be unemployment, prosperity was assured for at least another ten years? And now, out of the 18 big mills in Stockport, 11 are closed and the rest are working two or three days a week. In the small town of Heywood, 1266 are unemployed. The News Chronicle editorial (10th May) says (referring to Oldham) that out of 38,000 workers 6,000 are unemployed, thousands more are only partly employed and the fully employed comprise mere hundreds. The Manchester Evening Chronicle (14th May) states that hundreds of thousands of shirts are being unloaded on Lancashire retailers at below cost There have been crowded meetings of workers all over the county, demanding that the Government take action and asserting that they will not allow the industry to return to the state it was in the ’30s. In Bolton the average number of operatives stopped during the last eight weeks has been 42 per cent. Mr. E. Mella, president of the Oldham Operative Spinners Association, opening a conference at Blackpool on May Day, said that the two weeks holiday with pay had come at an unfortunate time and the per cent. of total earnings which was granted for holiday money would under present conditions be of no use because many workers have been out of work for several weeks, and even if the agreement gave them 20 per cent they would still have no money. Also at this conference of the United Textile Factory Workers Association the secretary said: “We have not seen the worst of the slump; unless something is done to clear the high-priced goods, our industry is faced with a complete shut down for several weeks in the summer.”

 My next move was to visit a local furniture saleroom, as I wanted to compare prices with London. I considered that owing to the complicated and unique position that second-hand goods hold, their prices would vary very strongly with the law of supply and demand, having no ordinary cost basis behind them to stop them selling below their cost price—they are therefore much more at the mercy of market conditions than new goods. I was proved correct: goods were being sold for a song, the auctioneer was hard pressed to get 5s. for small lots. The audience gasped at some of the ridiculous prices, but with no money they could not buy.

 I made trips to Royton and Oldham, but conditions were much the same, the slump was on everyone’s lips.

 Now I looked at some of the statements being made by our textile experts and economists. Space unfortunately only permits me to quote a few of their recent utterances.

 George Hosty, President of the Federation of Master Cotton Spinners Association (the Chronicle, 10/5/52) thinks reduction in costs is the solution.

 Mr. A. Knowles, Secretary of Oldham Operative Spinning Association (Oldham Evening Chronicle, 13/5/52) said: “I am satisfied that textile goods are as cheap as they ever will be. I think it is time the public started to buy.”

 Liverpool Daily Post (14/5/52) editorial states that in just over a year the price of wool has been halved and instead of retail demand picking up, the commodity has plunged the textile industry into suffering through lack of orders.

 Mr. A. Knowles again (Oldham Evening Chronicle, 13/5/52) says that 25 per cent purchase tax cuts are chicken feed.

 Manchester Evening News (13/5/52) says that traders consider Butler’s purchase tax cuts would unsettle the market and start further price landslides. The editorial of the same edition says that any concession, however small, must be welcome.

 In the face of these contradictions, it is obvious that these people have no idea what the slump is all about, and it is doubtful if they would be interested anyway. They will try the old cures while the depression grows even if its tentacles strangle the whole of the capitalist world.

S. Roseneil

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