The Tides of Wigan Pier

In 1937 George Orwell published The Road To Wigan Pier, a book all about poverty and destitution in Northern England during the 1930’s. Undeniably, times were hard and the picture Orwell painted was bleak and depressing… And I’ve been thinking… the situation we’re in today is awfully similar, but oh so very different at the same time.

Much of what Orwell was talking about was to do with industry and mining and manufacturing. There is very little manufacturing or industry today and Thatcher saw to it that the mines were all done in so there’s none of that to count on. In general, I suppose, since Wigan Pier we’ve gone from strength to strength in terms of social and working conditions. There is a code of working practices, fair employment procedure, good quality housing, the welfare system, good education, the NHS… So surely that means the very problems Orwell described are a thing of the past? Not quite. The problems are different but at the same time very similar.

In the 1930’s there was huge unemployment due to the great depression, worldwide, as today. In South Wales it rose as high as twenty five percent and this was a time when the valleys were a smog infested hell hole of heavy industry. It was the industrial areas (such as South Wales, Manchester, Glasgow and Tyneside) that were hit worst of all- Even though Britain was still the world’s beating heart of manufacturing at that time and there should have been a place for all those unemployed. Alas, all the government of the day did was to introduce spending cuts in the hope that it would ease the problem. It didn’t work then and it isn’t working now.

Today it is far easier to find employment than at any other time in history, especially thanks to technology and that ‘wonderful’ thing known as the social welfare system. Back in the thirties, to get work you had to go out and find it. You had to go to the factories and the mines and the workshops and hope that they’d take you on. There wasn’t even such thing as a CV and I don’t even think job interviews were very common back then. You couldn’t move from one town to another very easily either. Now, today, we not only have CV’s and job interviews but you can supposedly go and work on the other side of the country if you want to. Movement to where is there is work is easier than ever. We have technology, whole websites dedicated to finding that perfect job whether it be archaeologist, botanist, care worker, death dealer… Whatever you want to do you can do it. And there is now also the job centre which is full of friendly people who can help you find that perfect job…
Or that’s the theory at least.

I know from personal experience how bad the current situation is, especially regarding looking for work. Those websites I mentioned just now aren’t the best place to look for work at all. They are, as a matter of fact, useless. All of the general ones hardly have any jobs that are worthwhile on them- They’re all dead end ‘generic pointless job for the sake of a job’ jobs. Almost every single job on those sites, no matter what category you look under, are for things like recruitment consultants and ‘media sales executives.’ They aren’t exactly life fulfilling careers and most people don’t want those jobs. I’m sorry if you are one of those people who is a recruitment consultant, but those jobs are the modern equivalent of the ancient ‘dung shoveller.’ Did anyone else notice there was shortage of recruitment consultants? Didn’t think so… But those websites suggest there is.

And the specialised websites are plain evil. The jobs I’m actually qualified for (mostly ones that don’t actually involve working with the general public as that would inevitably result in death) don’t appear on the general websites so if I needed a job I would have to go there. But the problem is that ninety nine percent of the jobs on those websites are either sales jobs which are nothing to do with the actual specialisation of the site, or they are senior management jobs. Recently I had a look at one website specialising in journalism jobs. All of them were jobs for editors. High end, big salary and for people who are already in a similar position. There is hardly any room for a newcomer to enter these fields, not even with the right mettle to go to the top. Even just emailing the companies responsible usually results in no reply or a half arsed answer saying ‘Sorry… We’ve got no ‘entry level’ jobs at the moment,’ which I’ve learnt is CEO speak for ‘fuck off.’ Most places aren’t even offering work experience either, which makes entry into these career paths all the harder.

Let us imagine a fresh faced journalism graduate as an example. We’ll call him Gary. Gary got a 2:1 for his degree and he wants to go into journalism, understandably. He goes to the journalism website and discovers that all the jobs are senior editor jobs. Not to be downhearted, Gary emails a few newspapers and magazines only to be told to get lost. He emails back asking if they’ve got work experience and gets a flat ‘no.’ So Gary the graduate heads off to his local job centre in the hope they can help him out… This again, is something I know from experience. The whole point of a job centre is to help people find work… That’s why it’s called a ‘job centre.’ In the job centre Gary the Graduate becomes another statistic like everybody else, and he fails to get a job in journalism because they don’t help one drop.

Recently we’ve had a spate of reports that claim unemployment is falling and for all I know it might be, but I know for a fact that the situations I described above haven’t changed. And youth unemployment is still at a record high and rising. So what could be going on? At the start of chapter five of Wigan Pier Orwell offers a distinct possibility. He mentions that the unemployment statistics only represent those who are registered as unemployed and that there is a far greater proportion of unemployed who aren’t registered. So, according to Orwell at least, the sources are unreliable. That twenty five percent I mentioned above? Tip of the iceberg. Who knows… the unemployment stats in 1930’s South Wales could have been thirty percent… Thirty five percent… It could even have been far higher and been sixty percent. We just don’t know. I think here we have the answer- It’s not that unemployment is actually falling, it’s that the number of people on the dole are falling. The youth unemployment figures certainly suggest that it’s not falling. Could it be that people are just walking off the dole? Finding a better way? It’s possible and certainly plausible as all the evidence seems to point towards it. It’s not exactly falling anywhere else in the world so why should Britain be any different? Could it be because of our incredibly poor welfare system?

Of course, not everyone is unemployed and the same was true in the 1930’s. So what about them? What about those who are employed? What are modern working conditions like compared to the 1930’s? As I mentioned at the beginning, Thatcher saw to it that the mines were finished and since then most of Britain’s industry has gone the way of the dodo. Even then, working practices were safer in the eighties than in the thirties, especially in the more dangerous jobs. Let us not forget that much of the lower skilled work in the 30’s, particularly in industry, was soul crushingly repetitive as well. People would be made to stand for hours and hours in front of a machine just doing the same thing over and over again… Take Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. At the beginning of the book Mr Bucket works in a toothpaste factory and his job is soul crushingly repetitive. He is a broken man, and all because his job is to screw the lids on toothpaste tubes day after day after day. That is the sort of thing real people had to do. They had to take jobs that were that dull and that repetitive.

Britain may not have an industry any more, but these sort of soul crushing jobs are still with us. I mentioned earlier about the modern equivalent of the dung shoveller, the recruitment consultant. (again… apologies if you are a recruitment consultant.) I can’t think of a job that would be more soul destroying than that- advising other people on who to employ. In fact, any job helping other people to find work would be pretty soul destroying when you think about it as over time it becomes increasingly clear about how shit your life is. I bet you can’t find one single child who grows up saying ‘I WANT TO BE A RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT!’ Maybe that explains why the job centres are so terrible. The staff have lost their souls! I’m sure if you looked you could find other examples of modern soul destroying jobs.

Surely, however, the actual working conditions themselvers haveimproved. There are better employment practices, limits to the amount of hours someone can work in a day, a minimum wage. It’s even illegal to employ people if your place of work is unsuitable for human habitation, or in other words on a toxic waste ground where you will die in five minutes. There are even laws governing discrimination, which is no bad thing. But these codes aren’t always adhered to, as we have seen recently with one work scheme which was effectively slave labour. They were only getting paid expenses + benefits. Quite rightly there was outrage about this. If you look at say, shop workers (especially those that work in the supermarkets) they get trodden all over by both their employers and their customers. Some shops force people to work long hours, sometimes for weeks on end without a day off, and for what really amounts to nothing more than a pittance just to feed themselves. The customers, it seems, go out of their way to be rude, obnoxious and (metaphorically) throw as many pots of mustard at the staff as possible. It is like, from their point of view, that the shop workers aren’t even people. That they are substandard, unworthy and deserve to be spat upon for being the underclass of society because they’ve failed at life. When actually you’ll find that a lot of people who work in shops, particularly younger ones, are only there just to earn a bit of cash to tide them over, like students, or they’re there because they have no other choice as nobody else will employ them.

This is very much like the options back in Orwell’s world of the 1930’s, particularly those for the poor and less educated. Their only option was to do whatever the local industry was, say coal mining. If the mine was already overstaffed then you were screwed. Again, like the shop workers of modern times, the people who worked in these industries were looked down upon and treated with derision by those who thought themselves socially. Even with Orwell, there are times in the book when you can almost see the snobbish upper middle class attitude in his words, almost as if he’s pointing to an ugly stain on the carpet. Certainly, the government of the day treated them this way. They really had very little sympathy for the plight of the ordinary working man. Like today it was a coalition of public school toffs who couldn’t really give a flying monkeys about the ordinary people.  Certainly, looking at the efforts that were undertaken to ease the depression it looks minimal, very similar to today in fact- mainly massive spending cuts that didn’t work, although I’ve yet to find evidence that they made so many u-turns they got dizzy. The government certainly didn’t listen then and they aren’t listening now.

As for the working conditions in the 30’s, I’ve already mentioned there was the soul crushing repetitiveness, but it was also much more dangerous. The mines were stuffy, cramped and life expectancy was short. If you lived long enough to retire you’d be left with crippling health problems owing to all the dust you’d inhaled over the years. There was no health and safety procedure or even compensation so if you were injured it was game over. It was the same story in the factories. It was noisy, it was hard and again, it was dangerous, especially in the textile mills where a minor slip up could loose you your hand in the machinery.

As if the dangerous conditions weren’t enough, you also had to contend with the callousness of the employers. As with the government, they tended to look down upon the lower classes with disdain and effectively treat them as being inferior. There are two examples I can find of this. The first comes courtesy of J.B Priestley and his 1945 play, An Inspector Calls. Here we are presented with young working class girl Eva Smith, who suffers such hardships at the hands of the snobbish Birling family, particularly the pompous and arrogant businessman Arthur Birling, that she ends up drinking bleach and killing herself. Although set in 1912, attitudes were very much the same when it came to the 1930’s, particularly the attitude of high ranking employers such as Arthur Birling. Priestley didn’t make this up. This snobbishness actually existed and employers really did treat their employees with as much shit as Eva gets in the play. My second example comes from Orwell himself, in the first chapter of Wigan Pier. Here he describes the work of the newspaper canvassers and the almost slave like working conditions they have to endure. He talks about how they were assigned individual streets and had to acquire a minimum of 20 newspaper orders a day or be dismissed out of hand without any consideration. This was alongside very low pay, long hours and conditions that today we would deem to be unacceptable. Orwell goes on to mention how most newspaper canvassers only lasted a couple of months at the most.

In a way, their plight was not to dissimilar to the shop workers of today. It is interesting to note that despite fair employment practices shop workers can still be dismissed on the whim of their employers. They don’t even have to give a valid reason, all they need to do is say they are overstaffed, cull the workers they don’t want and then give them a few weeks notice whilst they squeeze every last bit of life out of their discarded workforce, before presumably replacing them a few weeks later with a new army of workers who will be dismissed in time and the cycle begins all over again. The employers don’t really give a fig about their workers or their lives as long as they can just filter through another batch of workers as cheaply as possibly. They are the modern equivalent of Arthur Birling, uncaring and only interested in making enough money as possible. This even extends to people who don’t directly work for them, like the farmers and the supermarkets. Recently there has been a big thing about milk production and how farmers aren’t being paid enough because the supermarkets want to sell the milk as cheaply as possible in order to maximise profit. The supermarkets don’t really care about the farmers needing to make a living. To them the farmers aren’t even worth considering… All they want is money and the farmers aren’t included in their masterplan, hence the current price of milk.

And the actual work of newspaper canvassers? Yes… There is a modern equivalent. Those local newspapers that get shoved through the door and contain all those leaflets for local takeaways… That is the modern equivalent, or rather the kids who deliver them are the modern equivalent. This is another of those areas I know about from experience as once upon a time I did exactly that job… This job requires that once a week (or more) the employee wanders a pre-aranged set of streets (usually a housing estate or similar) and drops the papers through the door. All well and good, perfectly acceptable you might think. But here’s the rub… Those leaflets don’t come inside the papers. Oh no… The employee has to put them all in by themselves, on the same night as the papers are delivered, and then deliver the papers. Remember, most of the people doing this are kids under the age of sixteen so they also presumably have school work on top of that. They don’t do it all on the same night? They get both the sack and detention for not doing their homework. As most of them presumably finish school at about half past three in the afternoon, sometimes later, that means they’ve either only got a few hours to do the job in hand or risk walking the streets late at night… And the leaflets can sometimes number in the twenties, especially nearer Christmas. Alongside these they have to deliver on average about two hundred newspapers. Putting twenty leaflets (which all arrive in separate bundles btw) in two hundred plus newspapers takes a heck of a lot of time… I’ve done it and it’s a pain in the arse, where the only equivalent is to wander around like a pack donkey. Delivering those two hundred papers takes just as much time. By the time you’re done it’s late at night and you’ve not got a lot of time left for homework. And the pay for doing all of this? About 3p per newspaper… For all those hours… It’s diddly squat. These are kids under sixteen, for the most part, and they’re made to work like dogs for very little money, just like the canvassers.  The people who run this ‘child exploitation scheme’ don’t give a monkey’s. All they’re interested in is foisting their junk onto other people. What makes it worse is that for an adult the job seems relatively cushy. But to a thirteen year old it can be a nightmare and its debilitating. If you want to know what happened to me I got tired of the exploitation and i ran as far from those people as i could get. Granted, its nowhere near as bad as the 1930’s but compared to the supposed standard of modern working practices its positively evil. (Aren’t there even laws preventing that sort of thing?) I wonder how high their worker turnaround is?

So far I’ve discussed unemployment, working conditions and working practices… But what about the thing that Orwell seems most passionate about? The class system. After all, the entire second half of Wigan Pier is one massive essay on socialism. How does the class system of the 1930’s compare to our situation today?

Back in the 30’s it was easy to distinguish class, particularly if you used living conditions to distinguish between them. The working classes lived in cramped, grimy, back to back terraces with an outdoor loo, often shared. Many people had to share a bed and child mortality was high. The middle classes lived outside of the cities in far more comfort than the working classes. They often commuted by train, wore high end suits and did reasonably well for themselves. The upper classes, meanwhile, lived in either townhouses or huge mansions and looked down upon everyone below them, considering them inferior.

I’m not going to deny that these class boundaries still exist. They do. We’ve still got rich toffs lording it over us at the top and there are still the working classes at the bottom.  It’s just that it’s not as easy to distinguish between them anymore. You can’t use living conditions as a bench mark because most people have similar living conditions and the type of house you have is not only dependent on what you earn but also how many people live there, a far cry from the 30’s when people had to share a bed. Today, everybody gets the same chances at an education. You can receive a decent quality, free education right up until the age of eighteen and beyond that there are funding options in place if you want a university education. Even with jobs, its really hard to ascertain class. Anybody can go for any job they want these days, in theory. Because of this, social mobility is easier now than at any other time in history. Unlike in the 30’s you aren’t destined to stay in the class you were born into until the day you die. It’s very difficult to discern class boundaries but as we know, they still DO exist. Simply compare your average denizen of a council flat to, say, David Cameron. They are clearly not of the same class but unless you’re looking at extremes of the spectrum (as above) it becomes very difficult to discern between people on economic grounds.

Even Orwell’s socialist ideals and the politics of his day are a thing of the past. In Wigan Pier he waxed lyrical about how socialism could combat fascism. But thanks to the second world war Fascism is no longer as much of a threat. After the fall of the the Soviet Union we no longer have extreme left wing politics to worry about either. Even Socialism, the once proudly beating heart of the Labour party, is dead. (Mind you… I don’t even think that Ramsay Macdonald, the first Labour prime minister, can be called a true socialist. There are even some people who regard him as a traitor to the labour party on the account of his shacking up with the Conservatives.) Ever since Blair (maybe earlier) socialism and the Labour party have been mortal enemies. Blair certainly wasn’t a socialist. ‘New Labour’ was all about moving the Labour away from the left and more towards central ground. And i can’t think of anything they actually did that would benefit the poorest in society. Could you perhaps call Ed Miliband a socialist? He claims to be one but I’m not so sure as he doesn’t seem to have any ideas of his own… He just opposes everything the government does. (Interestingly enough, the Milibands were the first siblings to sit in cabinet since 1938.) Without any concrete policies from him it’s difficult to ascertain if he is or isn’t a socialist.

Either way, our political and social landscape has changed a great deal since the 1930’s and with it has changed the class structure of society. The boundaries have become blurred and now it is difficult to discern class based on the simple formula of economics alone. Today it is far more complex and intricate than it was back in the depression.

Nevertheless, it still seems our society is divided, but in a very different way to that which has come before. This ‘new’ structure has actually been with us all along but it is only recently that it seems to have evolved as a social entity. It’s odd, because unlike the traditional class structure (working, middle, upper) this one is destined to alter over time and how it will transmogrify in the future is a matter of some debate. What I’m talking about is age, and not age as we know it, but age as a social structure. It sounds bizarre and mad, and I don’t think it came about overnight at all, far from it, but this new social structure appears to have all the hallmarks of the earlier class system- an inherent snobbishness from the ‘higher’ ranks and an inability to change your structural position.

I don’t really want to talk about this as being a ‘generational’ thing as I find things like that are a bit misleading. The whole idea of actual named generations is a recent phenomenon (late 19th century) and are misleading as babies are born year after year and progression up the age scale is linear. Besides, the only people who seem to think that generations are actually a special thing happen to be those classed as Baby Boomers. It’s really difficult to discern where one generation begins and another ends. Take the baby boom for instance. Some sources place its end in 1961 whilst others say 1965. And at what point was the last baby boomer born? Who was it? The whole concept is utterly mad and generic so I won’t explain this in terms of generations if you don’t mind.

As I said earlier, i don’t think this new class system is something that came about overnight. It happened gradually and I think it began with ‘the cult of youth’ which started God knows when, whenever being young was suddenly the in thing. The elderly were once respected and looked up to, treated with dignity and decorum as the voice of reason and experience, but there came a point where someone shouted ‘shove off Gramps’ and decided that to go anywhere in life you had to be young. The biggest example I can think of is Tony Blair. When Tony Blair became leader of the Labour party his major selling point was his youthfulness, same with Cameron when he became leader of the Conservatives.  The time Blair came to power was also around the same time as the near infamous cull of BBC Radio 1 DJ’s to make the station more ‘youth orientated.’ The head of station sacked a whole raft of DJ’s, both popular and less popular, because of their age. It wasn’t about how good they were. It was all to do with the snobbishness of the management over how old they were and because they wanted to make the station ‘youth orientated.’ (IMHO Radio 1 should be a place not just for youth but everyone, showcasing the best music and presenters, no matter how old they are.) Recently we’ve seen this again with Countryfile suddenly changing tack and becoming ‘trendier,’ where they sacked most of the presenters in a very similar way. The highest profile victim of this was presenter Miriam O’Reilley, who successfully sued the BBC on the grounds of ageism.

And how many reports do you read on a daily basis of old people being neglected, never visited by relatives and left to scrounge for what little food they have. Many of them are living in poverty and they’re hardly treated with the respect or dignity that used to come with age. No longer are they the wise old mentor like Alfred the butler. They’re someone to poke fun at, to laugh at because they’re old. According to the unwritten laws of our ‘new’ societal structure based upon age the elders, the long retired and those who have worked hard all of their life are to be cast on the scrap heap. This is nothing new (Orwell mentions the elderly briefly in the first chapter of Wigan Pier and describes how the family with which they lodge ‘can’t wait for them to die.’) But then again I don’t think the abuse and neglect of the elderly was as widespread in the 30’s and certainly it wasn’t done, as today, in favour of people who aren’t as old as them.

But that is only one side of the story. In recent years our ‘new societal structure’ has developed its other wing, another boot if you like. The tables have turned and its almost as if the opposite effect is happening. Now it’s not just the elderly who don’t matter, but the young as well. It’s as if all that stuff in the early nineties about the ‘young being the future’ was just hot air. In recent years a trend seems to have developed, particularly amongst middle aged journalists and reporters, that the young aren’t worthy of living in the same society as them. Just a quick Google search revealed hundreds and hundreds of articles on how the youth of today are lazy, narcissistic, work shy, self centred. Name an insult and you can guarantee it’s been levelled at the young. I even found one article with a lot of comments about how the young were to blame for discrimination against old people. All of this has seemingly come about in the last few years. I can’t find many other examples in history anyway. Young people are increasingly demonised or pushed to one side and I don’t think it’s all to do with chavs or their sort. Those types have been around since the dawn of man and in about twenty years time we’ll face the problem of a new type of ‘chav’ that is more horrible than the current type. In the seventies it was the punks, the sixties the mods & rockers, the fifties the teddy boys and the greasers… They were even around in Victorian times as street urchins and pickpockets.

I’ll give you a couple of examples on this. The first is television, more specifically children’s television. In 2006 ITV dispensed with its children’s programming department and a year later it ditched children’s programming on its main channel completely. All that was left was the CITV channel, which you’ll notice is never advertised… It just exists. Likewise with Saturday morning kids programming from the BBC. That was shoved over to BBC 2 to make room for a cookery show where celebrities moan about how they don’t like pancakes and then get forced to eat them. Then there was the programmes they used to do for older kids, like Grange Hill and Byker Grove. It was announced some years ago that they were going to stop making those sort of things. And those schools programmes they used to do, the ones that were really lame but oh so good at the same time, especially when you were ill. They don’t exist anymore. children’s TV has taken a massive cut back in recent years. There are now digital channels., but most of those only show poor quality american imports. Kids TV that is actually being made in Britain is mostly limited to an animated blue spider and a sock puppet. And where are these channels located on your cable or satellite services? Beyond the porn, right at the back, out of the way where nobody bothers to look and nobody can notice what the hell is going on, unless you’re looking for them. I remember when I was a kid the kids channels were just beyond the main channel set. They were in a decent position where you could actually find what you wanted, easily. Then they moved them all as though they didn’t matter.

But that’s kids TV… At least it exists and its not like the kids are being ignored. They’ve at least got the sock puppet. What about young adults? Need I remind you that only a few years ago, after hundreds and hundreds of years of free university education they introduced extortionate tuition fees and then jacked up the cost so high that nobody can now go to university without incurring a debt bigger than the GDP of a small third world nation? Recent. As though it was fine for everyone before that to be freely educated but for the modern young it isn’t.

And then you have the employment situation. I’ve seen stuff on the news about people claiming that ‘young people today aren’t ready for work.’ Yeah? I bet the people who are saying this stuff weren’t ready for work when they started out either and neither were their first employers. You can’t be ready for work unless you actually work. What we are seeing is a generalised assumption based upon a demonisation. And you can tie this in with the specialist job websites as well, catering mainly to older people who are already qualified and don’t need training. As I said earlier, they have no jobs that could actually get a young person into work. It’s like the people in positions of power don’t want the young to work.

I think I’m going a bit off topic here but I’m sure you can see my point. As with the elderly, the young are now being discriminated against in favour of the more or less middle aged, thus creating a tiered social structure with the middle aged at the top sneering down upon the old and the young like they don’t give a shit. The middle aged seem to have become the modern equivalent of the landed gentry of Orwell’s day, sneering down upon those they deem to be beneath them. If you aren’t middle aged you aren’t worth dealing with. I’m not saying that the conditions the young or the old live in are the same as those of the depression era working classes. No. This is a far different system of ‘class.’ This system is not the same as the economic class system. It is different but it has the same traits to it. There is the snobbishness, the arrogance and the overwhelming sense that our ‘superiors’ deem us unworthy. Those at the top lord it over those below and they don’t care who they hurt in the process. Other than the young suddenly uniting with the pensioners and starting a revolution against the middle aged there is nothing much we can do about it.

I think the reasoning why this happened is clear when we look at the timescale of what happened, particularly in reference to the life of the middle aged. When this began back in the nineties people of a reasonably young age gained positions of authority and with that authority they were able to cast a shadow over the elderly and claim they were superior because they were ‘young.’ But then, as the years went by, entropy took its toll and those people started to realise that they were ageing. They weren’t young any more and they started to panic. They were in a similar position to where everybody else was when they started out and they didn’t want the same thing to happen to them so, along with continuing to neglect the elderly, they turned on the new young… They cut kid’s TV, gave them massive debts and made it harder for them to get a job, they demonised the young and the old with the sole intention of keeping their superior position in society, perhaps in an effort to stave off their ever approaching demise. This is only a theory of course, but it would certainly explain how it now seems that the middle aged occupy the same spot as the landed gentry of old. How this plays out when they all eventually reach retirement will be very interesting to observe. It may even prove this theory to be correct. Or could it be that this has always been present in society and it has only recently come to the fore. It is difficult to say but would certainly warrant further investigation.

But, just as I’m sure it was in Orwell’s day, things are not always black and white. After all, there are pensioners who live happy lives and aren’t neglected and are living out their final days safe in the knowledge they’ve done a good job, with respect Just as there are young people who do manage to get jobs (sometimes even on the specialist jobs sites) and aren’t discriminated against by middle aged employers. There are even middle aged people who don’t demonise the young and the old, who don’t cling onto power in an effort to stave off death. There are shops who treat their workers with respect and dignity and not like slaves. Heck… I bet there’s even a few local papers around that aren’t practising child exploitation. In the thirties not all employers were demons like Arthur Birling. Some people did respect the working classes and some weren’t snobbish. There were companies that had safe and fair working practices. Some of the working classes even had comfortable homes that perhaps we could cope with today. There are two sides to every story… Even in The Road to Wigan Pier. Yes, life was tough for some and a lot of people did experience the hardships Orwell described, but there were those that didn’t, just as there are those who haven’t experienced the modern conditions I describe above. Nevertheless they exist, and existence is enough.

What we’ve seen overall, however, is that while the society we live in today during the current recession is similar to the society of the 1930’s, particularly in many of the broad strokes and in certain other areas, the problems we face are fundamentally different in their nature. As with each coming and going of the tides, the shingles left behind may look similar but still they are always different.

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