In a corner of a busy Manchester belling office sat a frail, elderly woman concentrating all her menial energy on the day’s horse racing. She was about 70, with wispy grey hair and a face lined by a life time of wage slavery. Every week she goes to this same office, to play up her meagre pension in a ceaseless struggle to rise above the Plimsoll Line existence laid down by government statisticians.
After a life on the wages treadmill, she is now trying to get some easy money from this betting business which everyone seems to be having a go at. Adjusting her rolled gold framed spectacles, which have a habit of falling askew through worn hinges, she grimly studied all the facts and figures of form, ignoring the hubbub around her, and floor strewn with losing betting tickets, sporting pages of the various dailies cast away in disgust by those who had lost, and the steady drone of the race commentator as he went through race after race ritual . . . “They’re going down” . . . They’re at the post” . . . “They’re under orders”. . . “They’re Off” and the result on which they all hung, especially if there were a photo finish with its added agony of waiting. But she was used to it all now.
Scribbling down her final selections, she handed in the vital stake money, received her ticket and returned to her corner to await the outcome. Her hands trembled slightly as she snapped shut her handbag containing only one more ten shilling note. But she tossed her head defiantly at the thought of yet another week of penury if she failed to find a winner in the next race. She was no coward — and look at those Chinese waiters from the restaurant downstairs, how brave they were — always laughing, even when they lost, and those Negroes from Moss Side—fearless gamblers all. Besides, she felt some fellowship for all these people, who, like herself, were trying desperately to alleviate their poverty.
Long before she started coming into this betting office, she had been tired of ekeing out on her pension. But. still, this so called easy money was proving very hard to get. Especially as her bank was so weak she soon got broke and a gambler without a stake is as helpless as a bricklayer without a trowel. Still, it gave her some interest, and mental activity even at her age and was preferably to spending long hours in her drab back street bed sitter. That really was a vegetable like existence. As she ruminated on. the race was off and the result was a 9 to 2 winner which somewhat eased her grim countenance: she had a whole five shillings on the nose (to win). She was improving at the game. Or was she? From past experiences she well knew there may be some losers lurking round the corner tomorrow . . . ?
The above vignette of real life, culled from our “affluent” society of the Sixties, (what the Manchester Evening News is so fond of headlining as . . . “Booming. Bustling. Manchester”) . . . provides an ironic answer to those who claim that this is the best of all possible worlds. In fact, many workers show what they think of this world by dashing in and out of the nearest betting shop at every available opportunity for a few shillings worth of each way escapism from the dull monotony of their wage and salary slavery. Indeed, recently, a top bookie, William Hill complained about . . . “The loss in man hours to industry through time spent in bet shops”. But as we pointed out in the Socialist Standard in March 1963, Hill is himself a staunch supporter of capitalism, betting shops and all. Gambling is a built in component of capitalism and the hold up last winter in racing in Britain through foot and mouth disease, and the frosty weather, amply demonstrated this when thousands of betting shop personnel were laid off as the betting business slowed down and adjusted itself to dog track trade only. No doubt this millionaire bookie, who complained in 1963 about belling shops being what he described as . . . “a social evil” (but who later paid £850,000 for eighteen of London’s “socially evil” but profitable betting shops) was pleased at the hold up in racing so that the “loss in man hours to industry” will be curtailed?—Or was he?
In the long run, whether the working class gamble or not, their basic position as a subject class will remain unaltered. And even though the grim experience of being dead broke, time and again under a monetary economy, is certainly no joke, the human organism gets used to losing the rent now and again in the valiant and apparently endless attempts to double it.
G. R. Russell