Means Of Production
Wheels turned slowly in the great
factory that was her mind.
Machines stood still.
Doors once open were closed
Windows through which the sun had shone and bird song filtered in
Workshops were airless
and the means of producing lucid thoughts had rusted along with the engines and looms.
Quite simply there were no more parts and
In truth the factory should have long since closed.
The sign was still there
but the cluttered space was empty of all but memories
and even those held no guarantee of truth.
She sighed and tried to recall who had put the mug of tea in her hand
But it was all too much.
listening to the music of the machines that still whirred in her brain
was the only comfort
and even that was fleeting
Where were the fabrics?
Where were the needle girls?
Where was she?
her son breezed in
"Day dreaming again?"
These reps who came to see her were so patronising...
Still, she'd string them along
and then politely say
No thank you
Hi, I'm money. I'm a means of production. Also, I don't exist. No, really, I'm completely imaginary. Like a unicorn. You can pick up a toy one sure, but it doesn't make you believe unicorns are real. Likewise, pick up a coin. Go on, have a good look. That's how I get represented, but it doesn't make me less imaginary. My physical avatar is worthless. You can't eat it or wear it, yet it rules everything. Cash is king, or so they say. These days, 'they,' is a word that encompasses everyone. I'm a fantasy that the whole world's bought into.
Like I said, I'm a means of production, even though I'm not real. You want a nice necklace? Go over to that lady who's in the jewellery shop. Invoke my name, hand over the worthless metal that represents me, and walk away with your product. Or, put some plastic in a machine and type a passcode. A number next to your name decreases, and a number next to the jewellery shop's name gets bigger. In the digital age, I'm even more ridiculous. Less physical, but somehow more palpable. I'm everywhere, all the time.
Yet, I serve a purpose. Take the idea of me away and then everything goes south. That lady at the jewellery shop won't be there when you go for your necklace. She can't get her slice of the money fiction, so she's at home. Or she would be if anyone had bothered to build that home. Like I said, means of production.
Everyone seems to love me. Can't work out why. A guy can go to bed with a shed load of me, his fiction told through stocks and shares. Next morning he gets up and boom! The stocks have crashed. That means some numbers have changed. It also means that his share of me has disappeared. He had loads of imaginary stuff and he could have anything. Now he has no imaginary stuff, and he doesn't get to keep his house any more.
It gets even sillier, you know. I'm there to help production, but I can torch it just as easily. For instance, people sit around in China, making steel. They're doing the same thing in Wales. But the people in China, they don't want as much of me for their steel as the people in Wales do. British steel doesn't get used, because other people are spending me on the Chinese stuff instead. So the Welsh workers, they lose their jobs. Thousands end up struggling, just because no one can agree how much of me to give up for steel. That's capitalism for you.
Capitalism, it'd make me laugh if it wasn't so depressing. Those folk worship me. They've got priests and everything. They call them economists. They work out why a number's good on one day, and then the same number's bad on another. They go on about the virtues of their system, sweeping the truth under the rug. When someone's winning at the game of capitalism, someone else is losing. Or more likely, lots of people. And it must be a game they're playing because, yes you guessed it, I'm make believe. A whole society, millions and millions of people, their system based on fantasy.
I'm the lifeblood of that system. All of the arteries of that way of life are made for me to flow through. Or clog up. Don't get me wrong, it could be beautiful. Money, a fake idea, bringing happiness to all. Give me to a chemist, he makes medicine. Give me to a farmer, he grows crops. But then you've got the clots. If I'm the lifeblood of the system, you don't want me to get clots. That's exactly what happens though.
I get stuck in the bank accounts of a select few. I build up there, starving the rest of the body, which is most of the general populace in this analogy. I damage the rich members of the fantasy too. They never get enough of me. Doesn't matter how rich they are, they always want more. They get depressed and angry because they don't know what to do with themselves. Other than make more money, which only makes them more angry and depressed. Round and round ad infinitum.
I really am like a god. I mean different things to different people. And some of them don't imagine themselves being benevolent with me. I'm not just talking about the drug dealers, the gangs, the smugglers and the like. There are those who like to sneak me to places like Panama, where others might not notice me. They love their factories, where I persuade people to produce things for them. But they hate giving me away, so they keep most of me. Their workers only get a tiny fraction of the dream, for breaking their backs for their masters. The rich blame the system. It's not their fault people are suffering. The thing is, they built it to be like that in the first place.
It could be different. The many could be valued more, a whole lot more. Their lives could be crushed less by the whims of the few. But those few are uncaring people, too attached to languishing in their jealous comforts. If the majority must struggle, suffer and die to prop them up, they can live with that. They already got what they wanted by using me, their means of production. Why should they bother to lift a finger to change things?
For them, the ends will always justify the means.
Looking out from my daughters’ bedroom window I can see the imposing Stadium of Light, home to Sunderland Football Club. An ornamental miners lamp stands guard giving a nod towards the industry that once thrived on this former colliery site. Flanked by an Aquatic Centre and a Hilton Hotel, the dirt and grime of days gone by are now replaced by a shiny new beacon of hope. Hope that Sunderland can rise from the ashes and new investments in the football club and its surroundings can carve a bright economical future back in to this once thriving, industrial city.
The truth is the heart of the city was ripped out decades ago when our mines and our shipyards were closed. The means of production that this city built its reputation upon were strangled, the life squeezed out of them until production was stopped. Once famed for its ships exported around the world, the banks of the River Wear are now lined with university buildings and accommodation. The riverside is pretty, with the odd arty sculpture thrown in here and there but where is the work? Those families, and there were many, steeped in a rich history of industrial employment, lost everything. The city lost it’s soul.
A few weeks after the birth of our first daughter Honor, now 4, my husband Paul received confirmation that he had successfully completed his application to become a steel-worker at SSI, Redcar. Brilliant! A job for life! A good, honest steady income, nearly double what he was used to. Over the next four years Paul settled in to his new career and honestly loved his job. His pride was clear to see. Every time we ventured South from Sunderland along the A19 Paul would point out towards the blast furnace and smoke plumes, “that’s where daddy works.”
D-Shift. Paul, Tony, Billy, Eddie, Zach, John, Scott among others. They called themselves brothers, looked out for one another in an often all too dangerous environment. We enjoyed time together as couples and I’d never seen Paul happier than when he was in their company. What a great set of lads. The last time we all got together was at Zach’s wedding. 12th September 2015. All was good, everyone happy, the food and drink flowing. Eddie chatted about his holiday home in Spain. Tony was eagerly awaiting the birth of two grandchildren. Billy was enjoying newly married life himself. Scott couldn't make it that day as his wife was due to give birth at any given time. Men with bright futures, happy, proud and positive. It really was a great day.
Two weeks later we celebrated Honor’s 4th birthday, inviting the family round for tea. There had been rumblings in the news about the possibility of a production pause at SSI. However, Paul maintained that this would be a temporary measure until the price of steel picked up again and production could restart. Looking back Paul didn’t want to fear the worst. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than losing his job and did not want to let that thought enter his head. It didn’t matter. Each day more news broke about the state of the finances at SSI and it soon became apparent that there were going to be job losses. Maybe we could have coped with job losses. Coping with the loss of a 170 year old industry was a different story.
Paul went to work as normal the following Thursday as directed by management. He returned the following day and when I spoke to him during our lunch breaks he, unbelievably, continued to remain upbeat and refused to acknowledge that his job was at risk. I, on the other hand, expected the worst and my fears were well founded when Paul called me at 5pm. Choking back tears I heard Paul say the words, “game over.”
That was it. Lockers had to be cleared and the site vacated. There was to be no notice period. The men were sent home, unlikely to ever work together again. Utter shock and disbelief at the speed with which Paul lost his job caused us great confusion. Who would help us? Where do we turn? Honestly, it was traumatic and chaotic. There was no formal, written explanation until the following week and that's when it began to sink in that Paul would not be returning to Teeside as a steel-worker.
We looked to the government to help. There was no way that Teeside could lose this industry forever, Paul was certain the government would step in and give time for a buyer to be sought. How wrong could he be? The government did not want to know. The Redcar MP, Anna Turley, did her best but when only a handful of MP’s turn up to a steel debate in Parliament it shows how important the industry is to them. Perhaps we should have realised that this government would not care about the damage it would do to the north east given its predecessors disregard when industrial closures have occurred here before. The least the government could have done was to provide some time. No way! The government wanted the industry destroying as quickly as possible. Once the decision to shut off the coke ovens was made, the death knell for steel-making on Teeside was sounded. Once cooled the coke ovens would collapse in on themselves, rendering it impossible to produce steel.
The site of Redcar Steelworks is now desolate, quiet, devoid of all production. The odd stray cat may lurk and birds sit on the roofs where once they would have been scared away by the noise of machinery and men working. Redcar, just as Sunderland, has now lost it’s soul, it’s heartbeat. The area will be devastated by the closure of the plant. The knock-on effect for surrounding businesses and suppliers cannot be underestimated. 1200 men cut adrift and expected to just go and “find a job.” Men who have never known anything other than making steel, just like there fathers and grandfathers before them, expected to go out and just “find a job.”
Some men have lost more than just their jobs. Their pride and self-confidence has been shattered.. Some move on quickly and find the best way forward is not thinking about what has happened – nothing will change that. Others hanker after the good old days where the banter was good, the job hot and dirty and the money a bonus. Paul would go back and work there in a heartbeat. He loved the place.
My husband had to sign on for the first time in his life. Walking in to the job centre he felt ashamed. He was there through no fault of his own. The government promised financial help, training to get the ex-steelworker's back into employment as soon as possible. Paul explored various avenues for training but nothing came to fruition. It was akin to trying to find a needle in a haystack. There was no system, no figurehead to contact. It was a mess. After a few weeks of attempting to access courses Paul gave up. Nobody knew where this so called £80m was or what it could be used for. Through a friends husband Paul obtained employment after eight weeks of unemployment. He now works in Sunderland for half the money he was earning in Redcar. However it's a job and God knows he needed a job. He’s one of the lucky ones. From D-shift there are only three or four who are actually working again. The statistics that show up in the press are meaningless nonsense from, where I am sitting anyway.
The sense of loss that Paul feels is still enormous. He's still raw with emotion that he has lost the best job he ever had. Yes the financial impact has been difficult to absorb but the emotional impact can not be measured. The workers had no time to come to terms with what was happening, no time for goodbyes or one last supper in the cabin. Their security was pulled from under them in days. Who is to blame for this?
The company, SSI, ran itself in to the ground financially and kept it quiet. It even withheld their employees pension payments to try and recoup some of its financial losses! The government knew about its failings but did not step in when it should have. Once the business was liquidated the employees lost all rights to their company redundancies and notice pay. The government did provide statutory redundancies to all employees – this amounted to less than one month's pay. Some men had worked there thirty years and should have been entitled to a handsome sum – they will never receive that now. As soon as the liquidators came in Mr Win, SSI owner fled to his home country of Thailand. He has never answered any questions about the failings of his company but, according to press reports, has a rather high standard of living in Asia.
In simple terms the government could have helped. It didn't. It spouted some rubbish about EU constraints that prevented it from doing so. Funny how governments in other EU countries have stepped in and supported their steel industries in times of need. To wine and dine the Chinese president during the weeks after the closure was, how can I say it, a kick in the teeth. The Chinese have contributed massively to the downturn in fortunes of the steel industry. They produce so much cheap, rubbish steel the market is awash with it and we cannot compete with its prices. However, Mr Cameron is happy doing business with a president whose country has ran our steel industry into the ground. The priorities of our government do not lie with it’s own people, it's own traditions. Money is all that matters. Money for the rich. Not money for honest, hardworking men – they are dispensable.
I'm a proud northerner. I live in the shadows of a city that was built on hard-work, pride and passion. That's all gone and what happened here has now happened to my husband and to another region in the North East. Families have now been unemployed for generations due to industries been left to die. It might sound controversial or even stupid, but Northern men were bred for hard-work. They were bred to do the dirty, grimy jobs. To work long hours and spend their hard earned money having a few pints in the colliery taverns on a Friday night. They had generations before them to look up to and respect. They earned an honest living and contributed to society, to the city, to the country. Their exports traveled across the world. The pride of our city is all but gone.
How do we guide young people, who decades ago would have followed in the family footsteps, in to new gainful employment? Call centres? Leisure industry? Yes, Sunderland has regenerated in certain areas but are these the types of jobs our young men want and need? Where is the hands on work, the production and manufacturing? The means of production has gone and with it the means to a future for so many. For some alcohol and drugs fill vacant days, vacant lives that once upon a time would have had a purpose.
Redcar will suffer the same as Sunderland and all the other places in the North East that have lost their industries. Their young people will suffer – they will have no direction, no hope. What is going to replace the steelworks? The enormous, now derelict site. Is it earmarked for fracking? Was this the government’s plan all along? Only time will tell. The day the coke ovens extinguished was the day Teeside’s rich industrial vein fatally bled. Steel making is no more. It is extinct.
We are Northern. We are proud. We are forgotten.