By Shereen Pandit
Last night I met a group of young people, most of whom had walked around 300 miles from a place called Jarrow in the North of England, to London. They were repeating the march of the 200 workers who trekked those same miles in October 1936.
The original Jarrow marchers came to London to protest massive unemployment in the North of England in the midst of the Great Depression of the Thirties. Indeed all over the UK, all over the world, unemployment was obliging workers to take action. Those first marchers might not have imagined the impact which their action and the actions of the rest of the working class in many parts of the world, would have. They might not have imagined the rights won for working men and women everywhere, in the next decades. Certainly, they could not have foreseen the smashing of those rights soon after. They could not have foreseen that in less than a century their grandchildren would once again have to take to the road to protest against massive unemployment, as though nothing had changed.
And yet, the world has changed immeasurably. The world in which these 21st century Jarrow marchers live is one in which humanity has advanced so far in harnessing the Earth’s resources, that it is fully capable of feeding, clothing and housing every man, woman and child on this planet, with plenty to spare. It is a world in which humankind has advanced so far in science and technology, that people can communicate with one another across thousands of miles in an instant – and in little more, can transport food and all the necessities of life from where there is plenty to where there is none. It is a world in which there should be work for all and leisure for all.
The first Jarrow marchers, seeing all that has become possible in this new world, seeing the abundance which blesses this 21st century society, could be forgiven were they to mistake these outward trappings as signs of real civilization. They’d expect to see, alongside the wonders of television, mobile phones, the internet and travel to the moon – the wonder of a fully co-operative human society. A society in which all people work fairly and honestly for the benefit of all, a society whose primary goal is the welfare and well-being of all of humanity, especially its most vulnerable parts. A truly civilized world.
A world which the first Jarrow marchers might well have believed would render a second march from Jarrow to London overwhelmingly redundant. A world in which there is no need for protestors to camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. A world in which it is ridiculous for working people, overwhelmingly young people, to protest in a dozen different ways in every country where they can, and even those where they cannot.
Yet they would find that all this action is as necessary now as their march was in 1936. It is necessary because cheek by jowl with massive practical advancement has gone increasing regression from real civilization. This regression is characterised by the growing gulf between a few obscenely rich people, and the overwhelming mass of humanity which grows increasingly impoverished. The insatiable greed of these few, their pursuit of ever greater wealth drives them to thieve trillions from the rest of humanity – trillions they could not possibly use. Trillions that they hoard, waste and destroy, just as they destroy the resources of the earth in their determined drive to amass more and more for themselves. Indeed, just as they threaten to destroy the rest of humanity through climate change and wanton wars bringing in their wake an increase in poverty, starvation and disease.
It is this barbarism of these few which has forced the young people I met last night onto the road followed 75 years ago by their grandparents. The young Jarrow marchers came to London to demand an end to unemployment. They came to demand a restoration of their hard-won rights. They came to prevent the destruction of the welfare state. In doing so, they have declared a just war on bankers and politicians who rob whole countries blind while young people the world over, the heirs of the first Jarrow marchers are jobless, often homeless, often starving.
It is this which would give hope to any of those original Jarrow marchers, should they look upon this 21st century world. The greedy who are determined to lay the Earth waste and destroy or enslave the rest of humanity increasingly find themselves faced with the resistance, epitomized by the young people I met last night. In the words of Harvey Andrews:
“But from Jarrow and from Clyde they come
With silent hearts and muffled drum
We want the cake and not the crumb
We’re mad again”.