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Title: When I Remember...
Author: John Robert Clynes (1869-1949)
Date of first publication: 1940
Place and date of edition used as base for this ebook: London: Macmillan, 1940 (First Edition) [Macmillan War Pamphlets 6]
Date first posted: 28 February 2008
Date last updated: 28 February 2008
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #90

3d net






When I look back, as through a telescope, down the vista of the years since I was a small boy running barefoot over dangerous oily floors, keeping pace with spinning machinery in an Oldham cotton mill, I realise with a shock that, since that time, England has been changed as though at the sweep of a wizard's wand.

But there was no wizard, just as there has been no Dictator. The almost incredible industrial reforms have been brought about instead largely by the courage, patience and sincerity of a band of self-educated visionaries in red ties and baggy trousers. I remember that particularly when I read Hitler's claims and promises and abuse. He has presented himself to the workers as the real Socialist who gets things done, and he never ceases to pour scorn on the old Social-Democratic Party, on what he calls "goody-goody meetings, where people talk about the brotherhood of the people". He has had the help of rubber truncheons, incendiarism and murder, and he has succeeded in sweeping away the whole trade union system, the whole machinery of collective bargaining. Trade union leaders have been shot or driven into exile; the workers' funds, their newspapers and printing presses have been confiscated; the Co-operative movement has been wiped out. Long hours, low wages and unlimited deductions from wages, Gestapo agents in every factory, workers moved here or there at the will of the dictator, this even in peacetime was the result of Hitler's revolution.

We have had a revolution, too, and I think it is time we spoke of it aloud for Dictators to hear. I have lived through it and been a part of it. When I was born in 1869 only a few visionaries talked of working men being admitted to Parliament. I have lived to see a foundry hand become Foreign Secretary, the son of a Keighley weaver created Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a miner Secretary for War.

The strange world into which I was born was dark and lurid; in the background stood the stately homes of England in all their peace and beauty; in the foreground were belching factories, slag-surrounded mines and grim mills, in which millions of bent-backed, ant-like figures ran to and fro, dutifully making the money by which the stately homes were financed, earning for themselves only coarse bread and the uncertain right to exist in squalor. In an inconspicuous corner where Oldham stands, amidst a great fever of mill work, surrounded by poverty and disease, malnutrition and ignorance, a small boy, sullenly eager to escape from the brutal slavery of school to the merciless thraldom of the mill, was very anxious to quiet the rumblings of an empty belly by contributing to the home exchequer the few shillings a week that a "little piecer" could earn. Myself!

A Little Piecer

I was a small, spindly, white-faced boy, and I had none of childhood's dreams. When I thought of anything beyond hunger, fatigue and the winter cold that pricked the very bones of my fingers and toes, my mind revolved with ambition around my next step in life. When I achieved the manly age of ten I could—if I were lucky—obtain half-time employment in one of the great cotton mills, whose chimneys darkened the sky.

At last my tenth birthday came, and I managed to obtain half-time work at the Dowry Mill as a "little piecer". My hours were from six in the morning each day to noon; then a brief time off for dinner; then on to school for the afternoons; I was to receive half-a-crown a week in return. As conditions were then I was counted lucky. But by that time my brother and sisters were becoming a serious drain on our combined resources. My father and I earned less than thirty shillings a week between us; and our total wages were not very much on which to pay rent, buy clothes and feed the family. Our food was bread, with butter when we could afford it, and lard or dripping when we could not; stews composed of vegetables and unwanted cuts of meat; peas and beans which filled us well and did not cost very much; and tea when we were lucky. Nothing else.

I worked at the spinning-frames, in my bare feet, since leather on those oil-soaked floors would have been treacherous. Often I fell, rolling instinctively and in terror from beneath the gliding jennies, well aware that horrible mutilation or death would result if the advancing monsters overtook and gripped me. Sometimes splinters as keen as daggers drove through my naked feet, leaving aching wounds. Running in and out, straining my eyes in the gas-lit gloom to watch for broken threads, my ten-year-old legs soon felt like lead and my head spun faster than the machinery. As my aching fingers pieced up the broken ends of cotton I thought how lucky I was to have been born in a humane era when children could not be employed for more than ten working hours a day, and how much more dreadful must have been the conditions of child labour when my father was a boy. Heaven knows I was right!

At last the age of twelve came! I was free from the thraldom of school, where I had learnt nothing except a fear of birching and a hatred of formal education, and I was able to go forth a grown man into the world of work, able to earn ten shillings a week now, a full-time piecer. How often I had envied other lads a year or two older than myself—sunken-eyed waifs—who had already graduated into brave industry. At least they had finished with school; at least they were being paid real money each Saturday, and their parents left them a penny or two of it each week with which they could buy things really for themselves.

That was my childhood, and my prospects? I could dream daringly of surpassing my father's income some day, if I kept earnestly at my job, my father who earned twenty-four shillings a week as a labourer for the Oldham Corporation. And my scanty leisure—I remember no golden summers, no triumphs at games and sports, no bird-nesting, no tramps through dark woods or over shadow-racing hills. There was no wireless: no bicycles: newspapers only existed for educated people: there were no cheap books. I remember accumulating two weeks' pocket money to spend sixpence on a dog-eared dictionary and working through it in the evening after work from A to Zymotic. Candles cost me threepence or more each week. The dictionary was followed by an eightpenny copy of Cobbett's Grammar—but at that point I felt the need of some guide. An ex-schoolmaster held classes two nights a week, and when the fivepence I could contribute from the wages at the mill proved insufficient, I began to earn another threepence by reading the weekly newspaper to three blind old men in a stuffy, dusty Oldham cottage. Such, and the classes, was my secondary education.

And Now To-day

Now I want to take my eyes away from that "little piecer" and consider how to-day Britain brings up her children. She has a system which makes it possible to look after them before they are born and to continue looking after them until they are launched on the adventurous seas of active working-life, physically and mentally equipped to win happiness for themselves and carve out a useful citizenship for the State.

This is not easily secured, nor is it done without exception all over the country to the full extent. But it can be done and it is done. The opportunities are there. The powers are there. The key to their full use lies with the local authorities. The driving force behind those local authorities rests with the people themselves.

That is a point of extreme importance. The system of education and child welfare has probably no superior in the world. True, its administration to a large extent is permissive and not compulsory on the local authorities (apart from the basic education organisation itself) but the complete use of the whole system depends on the fathers and mothers of the children and on the influence they bring to bear in local administration. In that sense it is a wholly democratic and not a dictated affair.

Maternity Welfare

Let me sketch in broad outline what can and what does in many parts of the country happen to the British child. First there are ante-natal clinics. Wide powers are given to local authorities under the maternity and child welfare legislation for the supervising of nursing and expectant mothers and for looking after the welfare of children up to the age of five.

Admittedly there are not as many ante-natal clinics as there should be, but a wonderful work is done in those that have been established. We have realised in this country to what an extent a child's future may be determined before it is born, how much of the physical and mental quality of our coming citizens depends on how we deal with the expectant mother. So the expectant mother is able to go to the ante-natal clinic for advice and medical attention, and how much this has meant has been shown not only by statistics but in an easily observable increase in health and happiness.

Take infant mortality, i.e., deaths of children under one year per thousand births. Just before the Great War the rate for England and Wales was 108 per thousand. The last available official figures showed a reduction to 58 per thousand. It is still unfortunately true that, while this remarkable decline has taken place all over the country, there is an illuminating difference between the rates in poor and overcrowded districts and those in more prosperous and widely-spaced neighbourhoods.

But this is not always the case, and the exceptions show how much can be done where the least might be expected. Take Bermondsey, a London Borough where the people are mostly very poor and where there are many unemployed or casually employed. Within twelve years, Labour rule there nearly halved the infant death rate, and I remember Mary Sutherland, the Chief Woman Officer of the Labour Party, writing: "It is safer to be born in poverty-stricken Bermondsey to-day than in many well-to-do areas, thanks to the bold housing policy of the Council, and to the whole-hearted way in which the Maternity and Child Welfare Act has been carried out."

The attack has been made. We have shown the way. And the results are a great justification.

At the ante-natal clinics the expectant mother can be provided with free milk. [1] If, after all this precautionary care, she takes the wise advice given there, the expectant mother will have her baby in a maternity hospital, where she and the infant will receive treatment equal to that purchased by the highest fees of those more fortunately placed. There is still a shortage of such hospital accommodation in a number of areas, but before the outbreak of war continual progress was being made, and that must and will be extended in happier days. Side by side with this, there is a system of home service, and last year more than 3,000 women health visitors in England alone paid between them nearly 8,000,000 visits.

So the baby is born, and the mother, tended and nourished, can continue to go to a clinic or a child welfare centre still obtaining advice, medical attention, milk, and in many cases, food.

The Nursery School

At the age of two there comes a change for the baby. In the enlightened areas there is a Nursery School—a bright, airy, well-designed place, run by specially qualified and understanding women. In other districts there are nursery classes in the elementary schools. Gently the toddlers are led along, "picking up", rather than being "taught", invaluable things like personal hygiene and the budding ideas of service and friendly help. Quickly they begin to take a pride in their individual washing materials (labelled with a picture of a bird, a flower or an animal), in their own toothbrushes (and in the necessity for using them), in helping to serve meals and to "clear up" as soon as they are able to do so.

They eat their hot dinner, go to rest in their cribs, get the first glimmerings of "education" and then they are taken home—there to teach their fathers and mothers and older sisters or brothers what they have learned. There are thousands of small households to which these little children have brought instruction. Regard the young child, if you like, as the human counterpart of the pebble tossed into the pool. The circle of the ripples widens and widens. So it is with the spreading communal and comradely influence of these Nursery School children.

In the best Nursery Schools the children have three meals a day. In some of them, children who come in with rickets are cured within eighteen months.

Here is another and a very vital problem—that of nutrition. It is not much good trying to teach an ill-nourished child. The maternity and child welfare legislation gives power to local authorities to provide food free or at cheap rates to necessitous mothers and young children. That this power is not used nearly to the extent that it should be is not the fault of our system, but is due to many local authorities lagging behind. I said in a recent article that by peaceful means we have secured reforms in working-class life beyond the dreams of our fathers. I added: "Much yet remains to be done and by means of a wholesome discontent more will be obtained."

A wholesome discontent. I would like to emphasise that. An orderly expressed discontent under our democratic method can reap the complete harvest. That is where the complete cutaway from dictatorship methods comes. What we have won, what we are going to win, are things not tossed to the people by Dictators but things gained and cherished by the people because justice accompanies freedom.

Ante-natal treatment, child welfare centres, home service, the provision of food and milk, nursery schools, Maternity Hospitals—all these things are helping towards healthy babies and happy mothers, but there is room for advancement, and the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations—which is the Labour Party's Advisory Committee on women's questions—pointed the way to a tremendously necessary national benefit when in a Labour Party pamphlet entitled Children's Charter it said: "It is, of course, important that the welfare centres should be used as fully and freely as possible by poor mothers, but it is equally important to emphasise that they provide a service which all children need and which can better be met collectively than by parents individually."

A Chance to Learn

Britain has now got the baby not only born but also, where there is a nursery school, or nursery classes (the country should be speckled by them), brought to the age of five—healthy, happy and with at all events some basis on which real education can be founded.

The primary school and the subsequent stages follow and every boy and girl is assured of full education for the nine years following the nursery school age of five. Those who by their natural gifts are able to take advantage of added opportunities can go farther. Free places with maintenance grants in secondary schools are increasing in number and should still further increase. For those who can fight through there are university opportunities.

In that remarkable book, The Silent Social Revolution, [2] the author shows how a people "with a very practical genius" has built up in a matter of forty years a public educational system "which, if progress continues at the same pace in the years to come, should soon be able to challenge comparison with that of any other country in the world."

He says: "A visitor to one of our elementary schools to-day will observe the economy and efficiency of its discipline, will note its atmosphere of orderliness and precision, and will carry away an indelible impression of the good manners and politeness with which all schools now seek to welcome their guests. Lest he should take these things for granted, it is as well that he should be reminded before he leaves that it is barely fifty years ago that the attendance officer who wished to penetrate one of those slums from which some of the children may still come had to take a police officer with him. It is well, too, that he should be reminded that the streets of London were swarming with waifs and strays who had never attended school, and who slept together in gangs in such places as the Adelphi Arches, on barges, on the steps of London Bridge, in empty boxes on barges—covered with tarpaulins or old sacks."

A Worthy Beginning

I would like to quote again from this valuable and revealing book a passage which seems to me singularly appropriate at the moment: "Nothing is more exasperating to those to whom social reform is religion in action than the readiness with which the English neglect, forget or minimise their achievements. The visitor from Central Europe will tell with enthusiasm of the decline of illiteracy in his country since the war. The Englishman scarcely knows the meaning of the word, still less does he trouble to enquire whether illiteracy still exists in England.

"It is in fact probably true to say that surprisingly few Englishmen, even among those who are engaged in the service of education, would feel equipped to give at short notice a reasoned and convincing statement of the case for public education. Again, although most people will readily assent to the dictum that educational expenditure is long-range expenditure, few are qualified to prove its truth by showing what the long-range expenditure incurred by past generations has achieved."

His conclusion is as follows: "In the creation of an educated democracy complacent satisfaction with the degree of progress so far achieved can find no place. The millennium is still a long way off. So long as there is one child who has failed to obtain the precise educational treatment his individuality requires; so long as a single child goes hungry, has nowhere to play, fails to receive the medical attention he needs; so long as the nation fails to train and provide scope for every atom of outstanding ability it can find; so long as there are administrators or teachers who feel no sense of mission, who cannot administer or who cannot teach, the system will remain incomplete.

"But (the italics are mine) when the social historian of the future comes to write of the development of public education in England in the first sixty years of its existence as a compulsory force, he may feel that, considering how much had to be accomplished, the task was worthily begun."

Those words I think we can all take to heart. They are words which Dictators and their servants and sycophants can also take to heart.

The bare date outline of our education enactments during the last sixty-odd years is as follows: 1833, the first Government grant for education, which amounted to £20,000 for school buildings; 1880, compulsory education for children from five to eleven years; 1891, free education in all elementary schools and the age extended to twelve; 1906, the School Meals Act which gave permission to local authorities to feed necessitous children on attendance days; 1914, another School Meals Act which extended the scope of feeding to week-ends and holidays; 1918, an Education Act which gave power to set up Nursery Schools and Open-Air Schools; 1921, another Act relating to the same matters and giving local authorities further powers and the opportunity of receiving State grants for the purposes of these two types of school.

The last report of the Board of Education showed that local educational authorities in England and Wales spent about £96½ million pounds in 1937-8 which included £16 3s. 2d. per child for elementary education alone. It told how steady progress was being made with reorganisation of the elementary school system on the lines of the Hadow Report on the education of the adolescent. It told, too, how practically all authorities now make more or less complete provision in the medical services for treatment of defects covered by the regulations. The treatment of minor ailments, it was stated, dental treatment, and treatment for defective vision are undertaken by nearly all local education authorities, while orthopædic treatment covers nearly ninety per cent. of the public elementary school population. All authorities provide clinics.

This is no occasion to discuss such matters as secondary and still further advanced education, commercial and technical training schemes and the like.

Our educational development has reached a high mark, although there is admittedly much to be done. There is still more to be done in the matters of free feeding and general nutrition. Tremendous strides have been made in curative work. We need faster and greater strides in preventive work. Much has been done there during the last quarter of a century, but much remains.

The Rights of Children

The fundamental thing is that in this country the rights of the children have been recognised.

I will go back for a moment to The Silent Social Revolution. The author says: "Every pass-degree student of history knows that the Duke of Wellington exclaimed that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton; every honours student knows that he never said anything of the kind. He did, however, admit that it was 'a damn near thing'. Similarly the Great War may not have been won in the little asphalt yards of our public elementary schools, or even in the more spacious playgrounds of our local grammar and secondary schools, but it would have been a far nearer thing than Waterloo had not those schools been sending out year by year after 1902 hundreds of thousands of scholars a little better trained, a little more accustomed to leadership, than their prototypes of twenty years before."

In the future someone may point the same lesson in relation to the events through which we are passing to-day.

There are, of course, many other aspects of the successful fight that has been waged on behalf of the children. In my own childhood even toddlers could be employed and I was a child myself when a Workshop Act was passed prohibiting the employment of children under eight years but permitting half-time work for children of from eight to thirteen years.

In my manhood years street trading for all children was forbidden by law, and I was "getting on" when, in 1920, work for all children under fourteen was ruled out.

Much the same sort of progress has taken place in connection with juvenile delinquency. Enormous strides, including the probation system, have been made. More and more Labour men and women have got on the magisterial benches and on to committees concerned with the tribunals and institutions dealing with children.

The present approved schools and remand homes may not be ideal, but they do give delinquent children a greater chance than ever they had before and further progress is still being fought for and achieved.

Then there are such things as the Playing Fields Movement together with the efforts made by enlightened local authorities to provide playing fields for children instead of leaving them to scamper in the streets; there are the cleared slums and the open spaces which have taken their place—all making for the health and the fitness of a young generation who will know how to use the peace that will follow vanquished dictatorship. Their fathers are fighting for that peace. They themselves will be spiritually, mentally and physically prepared to safeguard it.

All this is what Britain has done, and is doing, for its women and children with the object of building up a healthy people fit to play their proper part in the work of the nation.

Those Bad Days

And now what does our country do for its citizens when they are grown-up and go out in the world? It is impossible to answer that question without feeling a glow of pride in our achievements. Looking back again on the changes I have seen in my own lifetime, I am amazed at the tremendous strides that have been made in providing greater comfort, happiness and security for the men and women of Britain. I am not complacent; I am not satisfied. There are many reforms yet to be made; much progress still to be registered, but it would be ungenerous and unreal not to recognise all that has been done.

When I was born, the social and economic conditions in this country were appalling. There was no Health Insurance; no Unemployment Insurance; no Workmen's Compensation. An accident at work would send the breadwinner home to bed and there would be no help for his family in its hour of need, except the wicked old Poor Law System, the Bumbledoms so graphically described by Charles Dickens. My own father in his late working life was disabled by an accident. But there was then no compensation. For a few weeks he received charity gifts from the employer. The experience made me an ardent advocate of compensation, and my first speech in the House of Commons thirty-four years ago was on this subject.

In those bad days prolonged sickness or unemployment meant that the family had to sell its household goods, to live in bare rooms, in hunger and in rags, and even to send little children out to work at seven or eight years of age to bring in something, at least, to keep the home going at all.

Even when I came of age the conditions were still appalling. London dockers were on an average getting somewhere in the neighbourhood of ten shillings a week, sweating was widespread, slums were festering sores in the State.

Starving Crowds

"Unemployment brought a terrible train of consequences," says R. H. Gretton, in A Modern History of the English People, 1880-1922, "in that it finally submerged workmen who could never recover from a fortnight's failure of work, and were thrust down into pauperism beyond remedy". There was still no provision for the unemployed; no State help for the sick; the Poor Law, feared and hated by the poor, and intermittent charitable efforts remained the only means of succouring men, women and children out of work or ill through no fault of their own.

As late as 1903, Mr. Justin McCarthy was writing: "The workhouses have no space left in which to pack the starving crowds who are craving every day and night at their doors for food and shelter. All the charitable institutions have exhausted their means in trying to raise supplies of food for the famishing residents of the garrets and cellars of London's lanes and alleys."

That year there were daily processions of unemployed in the streets of London carrying collecting boxes and singing, "The Starving Poor of Old England". That year Jack London, the famous American novelist, told the tragic story of the great queues outside London's casual wards, of the numbers turned away or compelled to walk the streets all night without home or food.

What We Have Done

I do not write this because of any ghoulish desire to look back over the past, but because I am afraid that many of our younger people, now enjoying the things for which we fought, do not sufficiently appreciate all that has been done to make this old country of ours a better and brighter Britain. Let me tell them of some other things.


Take Unemployment. Altogether about 15-3/4 millions in Great Britain are now insured against being out of work. Over four-fifths of the workers in Great Britain earning £250 a year or less benefit by this scheme.

Thus, in the year ending March 31, 1936 when unemployment was declining, there were over 4 million claims for benefit—many of them for short periods, others for long periods. Under the general scheme (there is a special scheme for agricultural workers) benefit is paid for 26 weeks in any insurance year, but persons with exceptionally good insurance records can be granted benefits up to 52 weeks in an insurance year. At the outbreak of war the scales of benefit were: Adult 17s. (since raised to 20s.), wife 10s., child 3s. (since raised to 4s. for the first two children).

Some people have tried to throw discredit on this great social experiment by calling payments made under it "doles". But this is entirely unfair and improper. Unemployment insurance pay is a legal right for which the workman, together with his employer and the State, has paid in equal shares.

It is one of the privileges and rights of our free country that men and women who cannot get work through no fault of their own shall have the opportunity to draw quite legally—and in a dignified way—the wherewithal to live.

In my younger days we used to fight for "Work or Maintenance". We have still, unhappily, many unemployed—we have not got for them the full maintenance we should like, but we are far away from those days when there was no provision at all for those without work.

But this is not all. When Statutory Unemployment Benefit is exhausted, there is the vast machinery of Unemployment Assistance which continues to operate and to provide further benefits as long as the recipients remain within the field of employment.

We have complaints to make against the administration of Unemployment Assistance; we have opposed the Means Test; we think that payments should be more generous, but none of us would deny that there have been tremendous improvements.

And beyond this there is still the machinery of Public Assistance to come to the aid of the residue of hard cases outside of Unemployment Assistance.

One thing is certain. No man or woman in this England of ours need starve. If a person is destitute, if there is not money coming in to provide the basic needs of life, it is the duty of the Authorities to come to his assistance in one form or the other. And this assistance is not alone concerned with money or food; it also embraces medical service to supply medicines and surgical aid to those in need. The old conception of the Poor Law is being broken down and in its place is being built up the conception of a broad, humane system of social service through which all our poorer neighbours will be treated as self-respecting citizens.

A Sense of Security

Just as we may tend to under-estimate the advantages of Unemployment Insurance and Public Assistance, so we may do the same with National Health Insurance.

Up to 1912 practically nothing had been done by the State to help the many men and women—young and old—suffering from ill-health, who had lost their wages and had not the necessary money for medical attention, medicines and surgical appliances. Many men and women have, in the past, left their homes too ill to work and come to early graves because they could not afford to take time off, or secure necessary medical attention. Many, for the same reasons, developed chronic sickness or incapacity.

I remember this country rocking with political controversy when State Health Insurance was introduced by Mr. Lloyd George. Society women organised a great campaign against "stamp-licking" and lots of people thought it scandalous that employers should help to pay towards a scheme of Health Insurance.

All that has died down. Everybody now realises the value of Health Insurance, even if it be far from perfect. But does everybody really appreciate what an integral part it is of the free institutions which we are called upon to defend? So many people take all these things for granted without thinking for a moment of what they would lose, of what we all should lose, if dictatorship triumphed.

Over 18,000,000 people in England and Wales and Scotland are covered by National Health Insurance. Over £33,000,000 annually is paid out in sickness, disablement, medical and other benefits. Benefit not only covers sickness pay but also medical treatment, medicines and drugs and, varying in amount according to the approved society, optical, dental, surgical aid and convalescence. There is also maternity benefit. Figures vary from year to year, but, in a normal twelve months, Health Insurance benefit is paid to 8,000,000 people.

Workmen's Compensation covers roughly speaking anyone under a contract of service—that is virtually the whole working population. For death due to a fatal accident at work, compensation is paid in lump sums ranging from £200 to £600. In the case of accidents, weekly payments are made. The fight to establish for the British workman the right to compensation for death and injury sustained at work has been long and sustained. Even now there are many anomalies which the Trade Unionists would like to amend. But no one out of Bedlam would deny the progress which has been made since the first Workmen's Compensation Act was introduced nearly fifty years ago.

Now there is at least some sense of security for all those who are injured at work in the great industries of this country—in cotton, wool, engineering, docks, mines, railways, shipping and other miscellaneous trades.

As the years go on, industrial diseases which add to the toll of incapacity or death are embodied in the schedules. The total liability of employers is estimated to be about £12 to £13 million annually.

For the veterans of industry there are Old Age Pensions. Over 3,000,000 people over the age of sixty-five at present draw these pensions of 10s. per week, and under new Government proposals this is to be supplemented for about 275,000 pensioners who at present receive aid from Local Authorities. In addition another 310,000 women between 60 and 65 are to receive pensions.

This question is still a matter of political controversy and I shall not comment upon it here. We can argue as we like as to whether the amount paid is large enough, but our conclusions will not upset the undeniable fact that much has been done to give greater comfort and support to the older people in their declining years. That I want to give them more does not in the least detract from what has already been done. And don't forget how, in some parts of the country, enlightened local authorities have provided housing and special amenities for the old folk and so greatly brightened their lives.


I could go on to tell how under successive Governments—of all parties—the housing conditions of the people have steadily improved. There are still slums, but they become fewer. There is still overcrowding, but it is decreasing.

In many of the great centres of population there has been amazing progress in the last few years. In the fresh air, away from the smoke of the cities, fine new estates have arisen, well-planned and soundly built. Roads have improved. Sanitation and other efficient municipal services have in most districts lifted up the standard of life of our people to a most significant extent.

To these improvements I gladly bear testimony. Compared with when I was a boy the condition of the young people is immeasurably better. They are better-fed, better-clothed, better-educated. When I was young, the whole of working-class life was drab, dull and depressing: to-day there is colour and variety that many of we older men never knew.

There is more opportunity for leisure; in the old days all work and no play made Jack a very dull boy. Hours of labour are shorter, conditions of employment better, wages higher. And much of this improved standard is due to the work of the Trade Union and Labour Movement which has banded men and women together in democratic organisations in order to make life more tolerable for all. But, of course, it is not the work of the Trade Union and Labour Movement only. To pioneers like Robert Owen and Lord Shaftesbury, to countless men and women of goodwill who have never identified themselves with any Party, to progressively minded people in all the political Parties, the workers and the nation owe an incalculable debt.

Only recently there has been a new drive for holidays with pay. There have been initial successes. There will be more. The day will come when every family in this country will have the opportunity to take a real holiday every year.

But if I could only convey to my younger readers the true extent of what has already been done, it would be worth while writing this pamphlet for that alone. It is indeed only in recent years that the great bulk of the population has been able to take any holidays at all. Now they are becoming a good habit. In the old days a hurried visit to the seaside for a few hours, or a charabanc outing, was all that a holiday meant.

Relate that significant change to other remarkable changes and it is possible to have some idea of what this new and developing social England means to all of us. And to the weaving of this fabric of our material life our magnificent social services have made a great contribution.

Any Young Couple

A young couple set out in life. At every stage they come in contact with the advantages which come from living in this country with its advanced sense of public responsibility.

Their new house has most likely been built under a State or municipal housing scheme.

When the first baby is on its way, the mother will, in very many cases, receive advice and treatment at the local clinic. The child may first see light of day in a municipal maternity home, or be brought into the world by a municipal midwife.

The child welfare centre will keep a watchful eye on the new arrival; it will be weighed and examined; milk and special foods will be provided at reduced rates.

At five years, or often before, it will toddle off to a State school; it will be educated, medically examined, and later given the chance to go forward to advanced and higher education.

If the father is out of work or ill, he will claim for unemployment or health insurance; if he is hurt at work, he will make a claim for Workmen's Compensation.

If the couple live on to ripe old age, they will be able to claim from the State, something at least to keep the wolf from the door in their few remaining years.

All these services—costing the citizen and the community many millions a year—add enormously to social values in our country.

They are indeed an addition to real wages. Every improvement on these lines augments the social income and makes life easier and better for the vast mass of the common people.

Looking Back

My memory goes back again to the "little piecer" who was myself; to the boys and girls I knew, wakened at four or five o'clock in the morning, to work twelve or fourteen hours and then to stagger home half-asleep—only to be awakened once again in the early morning until life became one long torture.

I recall once more the earlier days of my Trade Union work when we were struggling to build up for the people of this country a decent standard of living with some sense of status and dignity.

When I remember all that has gone I find it impossible to understand those people who are unready in these days of national emergency to stand up for the privileges and rights we have won for ourselves.

German broadcasters in English may try to score debating points by calling attention to social injustices which we have criticised over and over again, but we can do that much better. They will not deceive the British workers who have far too much common sense to wish to abandon their solid advantages for the tyranny and misery of the Nazi State.

For myself, the path of duty is clear. This civilisation of ours—built on ordered freedom and reason—must be upheld by every just and right means. To surrender one inch to the claims of Hitlerism is to endanger everything—moral and social—which has been built up here. A victory for Hitlerism would mean the destruction of social services, of Trade Unionism, and of the standards of life we have established for our families.

A victory for Hitlerism would level our country down to the basis of a slave State. I will have none of it and I am confident that my fellow-countrymen will resist with all their might and main this menace to their common welfare.

[Footnote 1] Now under the Government's milk scheme all expectant and nursing mothers and children under 5 can obtain milk either free or at half price.

[Footnote 2] G.A.N. Lowndes (Oxford University Press).











Transcriber's note:

The edition used as base for this book contained the following error, which has been corrected:

Page 16: This is no occasion to dicuss => This is no occasion to discuss
Page 17: in 1937-8 which included £16 3s. 2d. => in 1937-8 which included £16 3s. 2d.

[End of When I Remember... by J. R. Clynes]