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Covid-19 and working-class solidarity

In the second of a series of weekly articles reflecting on the current situation, GFTU general secretary DOUG NICHOLLS, celebrates the passion of solidarity

NOT since VE Day at the end of World War II has the nation — Wales, Scotland and England — been so united in a joyous, determined feeling of solidarity.

The same tears of emotion are being shed each Thursday evening in Glasgow,Cardiff and London and all points in between.

It’s an emotion as poignant as when a loved one passes, a new family member is born, or a daughter or son marries.

But it is a special feeling reserved for the powerful recognition that others, people like ourselves, yet strangers, are sacrificing themselves for us all and that human caring and compassion outstrips greed and selfishness.

It’s a feeling of being part of a working class, a 99 per cent of the population.

Translated into political action, this sense of proud national unity led to the construction of the NHS, the welfare state, nationalised industries and utilities, high trade-union membership, free education for all, the universal franchise, public broadcasting and a post-war culture of togetherness.

When we get outside on our streets on Thursday nights and clap, sing and cry — often with neighbours we’ve not had the time of day for for years — we feel the deep sense of interdependence and common humanity that has bound together any movement for progressive change anywhere in the world.

When Thatcher set about trying to destroy these bonds in 1979 by selling off council housing, demolishing industry, creating mass unemployment and privatising the air we breathe, she based her economics on the idea that the hidden hand of the market and competition would replace society.

Society relies on rights and responsibilities between us and the idea of public support for human needs.

In response to the new anti-social government behaviour various groups that deserved support were attacked, one after another: steelworkers, engineers, health workers, miners, dockers, printers, teachers and public-sector workers.

When you were in the thick of it, fighting their cause with them, particularly in the miners’ strike, you had the privilege of feeling the sensation of socialism through mutual support.

It’s like an extension of love in the home and for family. It is unconditional, it has a sense of invincibility, of preparedness to sacrifice all and is always imbued with laughter, camaraderie.

The attacks on our unity were clever. They were done sequentially like the anti-trade-union laws which were at the heart of the whole onslaught.

The effect was a permanent division: for or against the miners — for or against privatisation — for or against Blair’s warmongering — for or against separatism — for or against the EU.

No one issue really galvanised a sense of national pride or community. That is why the Scottish and Welsh nationalists got footholds and the Brexit debate bitterly polarised us also.

But that’s all gone. We are now learning the power of being one.

Generations of trade unionists and campaigners have been privileged to experience and create this feeling; you enjoy it at the Durham Miners’ Gala and other labour-movement events each year — and now it’s catching on all over.

Imagine if a future Tory MP chortled and sneered in the House of Commons as they once did when nurses’ pay rises were voted down.

Or imagine someone saying, after car plants or vacuum-cleaner factories have been requisitioned to make ventilators, that industry can’t be re-directed from making profits to meeting human needs.

And gone for ever is the mad idea that the country only has a limited piggy bank. Even the Tory Chancellor admits the nation’s coffers are effectively limitless. The vicious politics that people should become starving and destitute in order to bail out the banks has been replaced for good.

Now it’s just you and me, us, supporting each other — ironically by keeping our distance — to overcome through science, social responsibility, medicine and collective effort, a naturally caused virus. It’s “we” not “me” these days.

Imagine how transformative we will be when we really turn this national solidarity against the man-made virus of poverty and the unnatural dominance of the 1 per cent.

The Thursday-evening feeling will soon be felt every minute of the day.

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