The Dignity of Labour
Image by ArtTower from Pixabay


“Now then our Colin, what is it tha’s thinking about doing when tha’ leaves school”.

The question came completely out of the blue. It was Saturday morning and Colin was in the cobblers shed with his grandfather. The old man was finishing off a couple of pairs of boots and waiting to see if those men who hadn’t turned up on Friday to collect and pay for their regular repairs would turn up before he closed for the week. Joe was hoping they’d not spent the 7s and 11d they needed to redeem their pit boots on pints of bitter. Colin looked up at his grandad quizzically, he had just turned eleven, Christmas was on the horizon and the prospect of leaving school seemed like a lifetime away.

“I don’t know Grandad, I want to get picked for Maltby, same as Uncle Bill. Maybe I’d like to do summat wi’ writing. Dad took me to Barry Woods last week, it was great, they let me be a runner for t’morning”.

Joe, Colin’s grandad, was aware that Colin’s dad  was pals with Barry Wood, who ran a freelance sports news agency in the nearby market town. He wasn’t sure about Colin working there, as well as it being a press agency it served as an off course betting shop and was patronised by some of the more unsavoury characters of the area. He also knew that Colin was a keen writer and his teachers thought very highly of him and the stories he wrote, so maybe journalism wouldn’t be too bad a choice. Joe resolved to have a word with Charlie about it.

“Well, whatever tha’ does just think on, lots of lads your age’ll be down t’pit in 4 years time and their lives’ll be mapped out for em’. Tha’s got a brain, same as Stephen, you should both be thinking of makin’ summat of yourselves and getting out of’t village. T’worlds changin’; days of following dads and grandads down t’pit are coming to an end. There’s plenty of choice out there now”.

Sure enough, just before 12 the last two customers came and collected their boots, ready for their next shifts. Colin served them and rang the money up in the till.  One of the men bought a new water dudley, spending an unexpected 2 bob and Joe slipped Colin a shiny tanner out of the till.

“Ere’ lad”, he said, “Go and find Stephen and get yourselves over to Aldersley’s for some spice, tha’s been a good help this morning. You mind what I said an’ all, I’ll bet your grandad Wilf’ll be havin’ a word along’t same lines before long too long. All your dads brothers are starting out in’t building game”, Joe paused and smiled to himself, “I reckon they’ll be startin’ family business up, there’s enough of the buggers”.

With that Joe ruffled his grandsons hair and gently pushed him out of the door so he could lock up. Joe had a date with a fishing rod and a pint of maggots to keep. Colin found Stephen, who would later become an accomplished chef, in the back kitchen of Joe’s house. The smell of freshly baked chocolate cake filled the small, warm room. Stephen and his nana were washing the utensils used in the making of the cake, but the mixing bowl was still sticky with mix, waiting for the two boys to lick it clean, which they duly did. Colin showed Steven the sixpence, at the same time nodding in the general direction of the door. “See you later nana, grandad” they shouted in unison and set off for Mr. Aldersley’s tardis like shop of wonders.

1962 became 1963 and Colin got his wish. He was chosen to attend Maltby Grammar School without sitting the 11 plus, although Stephen, Bills son, had  sat it and failed. The world was indeed changing, as Joe had predicted. Colin’s uncles on his dads side were all now working, two of them in partnership as builders, one as an electrician and one as a mining engineer. Three of the four had bought their own houses and although still staunchly Labour men, they were benefitting from the values of aspiration and hard work that their father, another staunch Labour supporter, had instilled in them. Even in the early 60’s politics, in what was thought of as working class areas, was converging as more and more people seized the opportunities being afforded them.

One day, during that summer of 1963, Wilf Cross, Colin’s other grandad, took Colin to town. Colin didn’t know about the money problems his dads gambling was causing and was only too happy to accompany his grandad to the shoe department of the Co-op Emporium, where he got his first real pair of shoes, brown, lace up mudguard gibsons and a leather satchel, ready for his first day at Grammar School. After they’d shopped they visited the cafe on the top floor of the building and, as his grandad Joe had predicted months earlier, the discussion turned to Colin’s future.

“Your dad tells me you’ve been working the odd Saturday morning at Wood’s, he says you like it there”

“Yes grandad”, said Colin, “I think I might fancy getting taken on there when I finish school. Barry went to college to learn journalism, I don’t know whether I’d want to do that though”.

Wilf looked around the cafe and nodded to one or two acquaintances. Being employed as the works manager for the regional Co-operative society he was well known to the staff and well liked by those that knew him. He took a sip of his tea and ate his half of the custard tart they were sharing before returning to the conversation.

“Funny you should say that. There’s every chance that you could be the first person from either the Cross or Penstock families to go to college. You’d have to do well in your GCE’s of course and you’d have to work hard but there’s really no reason, given how clever you are, that you couldn’t do it. Stuart and Mick went to the tech, but they were on day release. It meant they go their apprenticeships though and look at them. They’ve got their own houses and their own yard now”

Colin, normally an outgoing and inquisitive lad, looked down at his plate, took a drink of his pop and tried to make some sense of the things his grandad Wilf had just told him and the warnings his grandad Joe had given him about doing something different with his life than that which many of his school friends were likely to end up doing. It was a lot to take in, he’d been a little boy not too many months before and now the enormity of what his future may hold was fast becoming a reality.  He wanted to speak, but didn’t know what to say, his grandad though, knew exactly the right words;

“Come on son, finish your pop and we’ll go down t’basement and have a look at footballs, I’ve no doubt there’ll be a kick about to be had on Sunday in Sandall Park if t’weather stays like this”.


This somewhat apocryphal little story, complete with colloquialisms, isn’t just about nostalgia. I wanted to highlight what I see as the increasing distance that has appeared between what some call The Labour Party’s “traditional” base and where the party is today. Over the last twenty years or so Labour has actively encouraged and instigated massive societal change within the UK. Not least of these changes has been the importation of millions of people, many from cultures which are alien to our own (culture), that the country will probably never be able to fully support financially, educationally, medically or infrastructure wise without causing huge upheaval to the fabric of society. This policy has alienated a great many people who rightly believe that the tax money they pay should be used to improve the lot of said taxpayer. We see the results of this everywhere and, in many many cases it isn’t a pretty sight. Labour had its own reasons for doing this and it makes no secret, even the section of the party that pretends to abhor Blairism, of its continuing, wholehearted approval of it.

Labour, believe it or not, was once a party that believed, to some extent, in aspiration. It wanted the sons and daughters of its most ardent supporters to do well and to get on. It wanted them to be better educated and to be able to go to University. It wanted better conditions and better jobs for all workers. It wanted better housing and it may well have been the catalyst, although not the main deliverer, of the major house building programmes of the late 50’s and early 60’s.  It wanted better wages so that people could better enjoy the fruits of progress and it wanted better social care so that those truly unable to contribute were not left to fall by the wayside. In short, they offered us something of a social contract and, in the main, it was a very good and noble thing.

Now we live in a country that doesn’t have enough houses to go round. Our welfare system is under enormous pressure, which means the elderly and truly needy rarely get the support and help they deservedly require. Schools are overwhelmed in most urban areas and the NHS groans under the weight of the demands put upon it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t absolve the useless Tories of any blame in this, they are complicit and it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll do something about it now they have a working majority. I won’t be holding my breath.

Corbynism was roundly rejected at the General Election but I don’t think it was just about him. I don’t think it was just about “Brexit” either, I think that, like me, many British people of all creeds and colours, especially those living in large towns and cities, look at their surroundings, know something isn’t right and also know that Labour will do nothing to change it. People feel betrayed and let down and they mainly blame Labour. They have a point. It’s a sad fact that there are millions of people living in Britain who have never and will never work. According to official statistics there are around 1 million people who have a very poor grasp of our language and well in excess of 130,000 who cannot and probably will never speak English. Labour doesn’t care, they allowed this to happen and, instead of looking to the people that made them what they are, they look to immigration to keep them in the positions to which they’ve become accustomed.  That’s the greatest betrayal of all and, in my opinion, that’s why it’s in the position it’s in.

© Colin Cross

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file