Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The conscious carer

People who find themselves looking after a member of their family don't necessarily come to regard themselves as carers, certainly not automatically. They are just looking after a member of their family who needs care. What could be more natural than that ?

But there are implications of being in this situation which become increasingly obvious, over time. They vary, of course, from case to case. It may be that changes have to be made to the carers' work pattern, even to the extent of having to give up employment completely and, consequently, live on a very small income. There may be implications for the carers' own health, or for their life-style and so on. Overwhelmingly, these are adverse changes brought about by becoming, sometimes in an involuntary way, a family carer.

The realisation that one is in a particular situation frequently leads to looking for help and support, advice and information, and so to contact with other carers. This may be through a carers' charity of some kind, which provides much of what carers need in the short term and strengthens their self-identification as one of a number of people in similar circumstances. 

Some carers may never get to this stage and continue to remain isolated. Others may remain at this stage and never develop beyond it. Some may be happy that they found the carer charities, but develop some sense of unease. After all, valuable though the service they give may be, they are not run by carers for carers. Their role is limited and circumscribed by the fact that they are charities. They obtain their funding, probably, partly from government sources. Their campaigning role is limited by virtue of the fact that they are charities.

Carer-led groups are the inevitable consequence of this reality and there are a number of them now in existence. However, my experience is that only a minority of their members are activists and also that they tend to be dominated by rather egocentric personalities. Perhaps this is inevitable, to some degree.

Those of us who want to see carer-led organisations become larger, with a more extensive activist base, and democratically controlled are up against a serious problem.

All movements are likely to find themselves dominated by some kind of elite caucus, if they allow it to happen. Political parties are notorious for this. However, it is possible to achieve more accountable forms of organisation. If carers want to develop a movement which can represent them and negotiate on their behalf, like a trade union, then they should consider democratic practice to be an essential part of what they stand for.

In the present circumstances it is inevitable that a small minority of activists will seek to represent carers to the government and its agencies, usually in competition with each other. However, in my view, that is no way to raise the awareness of carers to the reality of their situation. I suggest that that rather than dissipate our very limited energy on making representations to those who are determined not to hear us, we would be better advised to seek to contact and communicate with the large number of carers who are presently beyond our reach. Consciousness raising should surely be our priority.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

With a Labour Party like this who needs the Tories ?

That's what Gordon Brown is hoping you will think.

James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is the new New Labour attack dog. At a time of rising unemployment he is getting his teeth firmly into the work shy. He has blatantly stolen the Tories policy on workfare, which they, of course, had stolen from the Americans. Is there no limit to the excesses of right-wing populism ? I mean do we really give a damn if a few poor people get away with cheating the system ?

After all, the very rich do it all the time. Far more of them get away with it and on a much greater scale. I hope you sleep easy at night Purnell, as some benefit claimants lay awake worrying about how to get through the coming winter, with inflated fuel and food prices. Don't forget to submit your John Lewis order in plenty of time.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Charity as political control ?

How many charities for carers are there ? I don't just mean the large national ones, but the local ones and specialist ones too. How much funding do they receive ? How much from public sources and how much from other sources ? Does anyone know ? Obviously they are supposed to provide support for carers in their caring role, but they work within an agenda ultimately determined by government. 
The relationship between carers and government is, to a large extent, mediated by carers' charities. Supposing one day, like tomorrow, carers collectively decided that we would like to present our own unmediated views to government and we would like to have some funding to facilitate this ? Who should we ask ?

Of course, carers have their own carer-led organisations. Several of them. They are, however, dependent upon a relatively small group of activists. There is, inevitably, in carer-led groups, a great deal of emphasis placed upon the immediate alleviation of the day to day stress of caring and upon information and advice giving. Those carer groups which place a greater emphasis on campaigning, like Carer Watch, don't have the human and financial resources to do what is necessary to combat the insidious propaganda emanating from government sources. Carer charities are too inclined to keep on the good side of government to be entirely reliable.

It is my view that much work needs to be done on consciousness raising among carers. We need more carer activists and greater awareness of the issues around caring that we most need to concentrate on. This all requires resources. What independent, no strings attached, resources could we access ?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

A journey through education 2

I joined the union, USDAW, the Labour Party and the Labour League of Youth. I attended classes run by the Workers' Educational Association and the National Council of Labour Colleges. I became involved in an organisation called the Socialist Fellowship which, among other things, opposed the Korean war, as I did myself. That's why I joined it in the first place. It seemed to me that the the entanglement of our Labour Government with American foreign policy would eventually destroy it. That , I believe, is what happened. We couldn't afford both warmongering and the Welfare State. I sold copies of Socialist Outlook, the paper of the Socialist Fellowship, at Labour Party meetings. I was alight with the flame of socialism. It burns just a little lower these days. This organisation was, it emerged, a Trotskyist entryist group which was proscribed by the Labour Party, after a while, and then disbanded itself. My brief, rather unconscious, flirtation with Trotskyism was over at the age of 15. However, whilst deploring their sectarianism, I continue to admire their consistent internationalism.
Who the hell would want to learn about being a grocer when there were much more exiting things to learn about ? 
However, the year I spent with the International Tea Company's stores was certainly a learning experience. I learnt about about obsequiousness and to know my place in the scheme of things. One day the shop's delivery van broke down and I had to get the old delivery bike out and cycle to that part of town where the driveways were long and the houses were large. Exhausted I rang the door bell of a formidable house. A person appeared and stared at me in utter disbelief. It seemed that I had transgressed in some way. 'The tradesmen's entrance', she spat, 'is around the back'. I was still a boy, but increasingly angry with it. 
I wanted to leave this demeaning job. Surprisingly my mother and father went along with my decision. Perhaps it was the stock-taking incident. Staff were required to remain behind once a year, after working hours, for several consecutive days, checking the stock. Apprentices without additional pay. On the third day, at about 10 pm, my father banged on the door, entirely without warning, and demanded my liberation. He explained , in his rough working class way, that as I was under the age of 16, it was actually illegal to keep me working for so long. The manager said that she had thought that I was enjoying myself. I sarcastically wished her  a good morning, as I walked through the door. She exacted her revenge the following day.
Unbelievably, the International Tea Company's Stores didn't want to let me go. Apparently, it was a bad precedent to allow apprenticeships to be broken, but for me it was a battle I couldn't afford to lose. If I had stayed I could have got my National Service deferred for a couple of years, but I didn't appreciate that at the time.
I got another job, working in the printing department of the urban district council next door to my own. I had no problem leaving them. They sacked me. I was collating the papers for a council meeting when the union branch secretary arrived for a chat. I got involved in a political discussion with him and made a mess of the whole thing. My next job was in an office in the East End of London, as a general lackey. It's amazing how easy it was to get a job in the early fifties. I enjoyed that job, particularly walking out of the office and just looking around the East End. Very different from south London. Then came National Service.
My view is that conscription is a form of slavery. Nobody asked us at the age of 18 if we wanted to spend the next two years of our life in the Suez Canal Zone, defending the interests of a country in which we were certainly not stakeholders. My generation had spent our early years in the Great Depression, much of our childhood in the years of bloody war and post-war austerity and now a key part of our youth was to be stolen from us.

I never cared much for the officer caste. I only ever met one that I liked and he was gently drunk for most of the time, which is probably why I liked him. He had served as a major and company commander during the war. Now, in reduced circumstances, he was a captain and regimental officer in the company in which I reluctantly served. I saw him a lot, as I worked in the office of which he was notionally in charge. He had other odd jobs. He was the treasurer of the officers mess, which greatly facilitated his predilection for a more than occasional alcoholic beverage.
More importantly for me, he also served as the battalion education officer. This bizarre fact was an indication of the importance given by the army to educational activity for conscripts. Actually the ramshackle education centre was run by a handful of sergeants in the education corps. An officer had to be seen to be in charge, even if he was pissed for most of the time. My captain friend, whom I familiarly called Sir, said to me one day that they were short on numbers on a course for the Army Certificate of Education- Third Class, so, '.... just trot along and make up the numbers, there's a good chap.' It had never occurred to me to join any group at the education centre. I thought that they were all about killing people, which has never interested me. However, orders is orders, so trot along I did and ended up with my first ever educational qualification. An achievement, however unpremeditated, but I have never ever bothered to put Army Certificate of Education-Third Class after my name. That's modesty, even if I do say so myself.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

A journey through education 1

My family were not educated folk. Good folk, but not educated. My mother, perhaps the major influence on me, was a former domestic servant. The mother of five sons, I was the fourth, I knew throughout my childhood, with absolute certainty, that she ached for a daughter. My father, a manual worker and 'ganger' on the local council, gloried in his sons.
When I first encountered the pain of school, war was already raging. It was an Anglican Elementary School, the Head, who dominated everything, was much more fundamentalist than one might have expected at such a school, He was also a Tory. I know because he told us so, incessantly. He worshipped God and Winston Churchill. Much of every school morning was taken up with his religious and political rantings. The other teachers, standing at the back of the hall, didn't dare to remind him that it was well past time for lessons to begin. His was the only lesson which required to be taught. We were 'gutter snipes' he despised us, walking along with our heads down. True Britishers would walk with their heads held high. Our parents were inferior beings. We shouldn't imagine that we were tougher than children at better schools. Not only did they have much superior intelligence than us, they could thrash us at boxing too. We should be grateful that Winston Churchill was our leader under God. Then yet another of the inescapable hymns. God was English, let there be no doubt about that.
It was a time of conflict, inside and outside of school. I fancy that wartime education for the working class was even more inferior than it had been previously. Many regular teachers were away at the war and our class rooms were dominated by some strange substitutes, their fear of us making them get their retaliation in first. We waged our own war against each other in the 'playground.' Then came the V1 and the V2. What marvellous entertainment.
I have no recollection of ever taking the 11+, although I do recall a period of evacuation with my mother and baby brother to a place, I believe, called Draycott in Derbyshire. I managed to evade all schooling during this period, a time of unhappiness among strangers. We returned to the London area after some weeks, my mother greatly preferring air raids to isolation. I can recall the Head singling me out for abuse during assembly, for 'running wild' during my period of evacuation. Why he required such a public setting to vent his spleen, rather than a quiet word in his study asking why I hadn't attended school during my period of evacuation, was, I fancy, more to do with his personal psychology than mine. For children in wartime Britain there was little understanding or caring of the trauma they were inevitably enduring. Collecting shrapnel, which was technically illegal, was our recreation.
I was at an elementary school and could remain there until leaving age, as one of my older brothers had done, or so I imagined.. No doubt some of my age peers left for better places at the age of eleven, but I have no recollection of that. Those of us deemed dull, merely continued beyond the war years. The glorious Labour victory of 1945 was greeted by cries of betrayal by the Head at his assembly orgies of self indulgence. Our parents were ingrates for not rewarding the preternatural Churchill with the election victory he had so richly earned, by winning the war for us. What scum we were, and even the redeeming virtue of being British could not alter the reality of our class. Out of this, and other things, was born my enduring attachment to socialism. Not so much a conviction as a visceral sense of knowing that I was a socialist and always would be.
Quite unexpectedly, with only 18 months of my sentence as a child still to serve, my elementary school was unnaturally transmogrified into a primary school. I and my fellow laggards were well above primary school age, so we were despatched to the nearest secondary modern for the remainder of our porridge. It was quite a short time to be at that sad apology for a school. Little of moment happened there, apart from the usual bashings in the playground, before I was cast onto the labour market at the age of 15. One teacher made a big impression on me though. A Welsh English language teacher archetypically called Mr.Evans. His passion for the language rubbed off on me a little, I think.

The Youth Employment Officer said that he would have little trouble in placing me. There was a vacancy for an errand boy with W H Smith. My father thought otherwise. He wanted all his sons to enjoy the apprenticeship he had never had, the very peak of working class aspiration. Difficult in my case, with not obvious aptitude. However, I was found a place as an apprentice grocer, with the International Tea Company's Stores, for five years. One of life's great examples of miscasting. I actually lasted for only one. 

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Shutting down

We don't see too many people these days. It's just the two of us, for most of the time. That's the way our family is, two children each from previous marriages, two of them seriously ill, none of them available for regular visits. The extended family is now the scattered family for many people. The notion of family care, lost forever for so many of us.

Depression is a normal state of being in a home where degenerative illness dominates. It is such a change from the way we were. We both used to be activists. Mature students, a teacher and an adult educator, Labour Party enthusiasts, ( who could be enthusiastic about the Labour Party these days ) and trained counsellors. Our lives were very busy and very full.

Perhaps we ought to know better how to manage this situation. We have the training, we have the skills, but it has been so overwhelming and so relatively rapid, just one thing after another until disempowerment seems to be the norm. It isn't as though we haven't fought back, we have both always been fighters, endlessly trying different ways to obtain some purchase on the situation, some degree of control over our own lives.

For me, the amazing thing has been the obduracy of 'the system'. The democratic collectivism which I have always entirely supported, the welfare caring state which Labour people so painstakingly constructed, absent when we ourselves needed it, destroyed by the betrayal of New Labour.

Of course, there is much which is subjective about all of this. Not everyone will experience the reality that we have in our situation. My partner in her sixties with early onset degenerative illness and me in my seventies with the infirmities of old age taking hold, have found that we are in a category which is seen as being beyond redemption. It is to be tolerated and managed, not reformed. We can't get 'them' to take us seriously somehow. It has been a revelation.

I guess the dawning realisation that you are no longer fun to be around, is difficult for all infirm ageing people to accept. We have tried getting out and about and still do, believe me, the struggle isn't over yet. Perhaps writing about it is , in itself, a way of exerting some small degree of control over an impossible reality. I have, it is true, been shutting down for some time now, but I'm still here you know.

Been there, done that

Not many people know that I am entitled to join the Suez Veterans' Association. Moreover, there is a campaign medal to be collected, if ever I am in the mood. I was reminded of this recently when someone contacted me seeking information about their grandfather. He turned out to be my old company sergeant major. How could I ever forget him ? 
I once had this vision of going on a peace march with old comrades from the SVA, all of us wearing our campaign medals. So I thought I'd just make an enquiry . " Keep the Flag Flying " declared my respondent from the SVA, at the end of his email. From the contents I didn't get the impression that it was the red flag he had in mind. Marching with a bunch of ex-service British nationalists certainly wasn't what I had had in mind.

I was  once standing outside Woolworths in Derry. Several indigenous, Saturday afternoon, husbands were standing alongside me. My Englishness did not prevent me from feeling at ease amongst them. Although the times were strained, I had made more friends in that city than I had ever made anywhere else I had ever lived. A British army patrol approached, two armed men on either side of the road. One of them began to aggressively interrogate the patient waiter standing beside me. The anger I felt would not, could not, have been helpfully expressed,  I just stared in an embarrassed way, but I was not noticed by the representative of the British Empire.
A man standing outside Woolworths, presumably just waiting for his partner, presumably a local man, doing nothing ostensibly harmful, being questioned by a stranger in uniform, holding a gun. What is your name, where do you live, do you enjoy being humiliated by me, am I making you angry, will you now go and join the provos, if you are not a member already ? They liked to ask people for their first name in particular, imagining that they'd divine their religion and thus their political affiliation from this information.

I don't condone everything the IRA ever did, I never could, but I have some insight into their motivation. Should I condone the occupation of the Suez Canal Zone, or Shock and Awe and the invasion and occupation of Iraq ? Terror is always wrong, whoever commits it, and however it is committed.

What the Romans, and the Normans, did for us, was to kill and terrorise a great many people. Does this justify the the British Empire ? I think not.

Imperialism is never justified. We should surely seek legitimacy in foreign affairs, as in home affairs. The international rule of law requires the development of an international system of democratic control.

Dugsie, L/Cpl retired

The delusion of empire continues

£ 3.2 bn giant carrier deals signed.
The Ministry of Defence has signed contracts worth £3.2 bn. to build the UKs biggest ever aircraft carriers.

Whilst people struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life. How very sick.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Tory councils told; 'Say no to Labour'

This lead story in today's Guardian informs us that Tory local authorities have been told by the Conservative local government spokesperson, the undesirable Eric Pickles, not to cooperate with the 'Labour' government when they don't consider it to be in the interests of their local communities to do so. Of course, the Tories are off on another of their 'small central government-local democracy' propaganda jaunts again. We all know that they, as much as Blue Labour, are responsible for reducing the control that working class people have over their own lives.
Apart from the constitutional problem, as between local and national government, this does raise a more general issue of political legitimacy. Gordon Brown was effectively elected Prime Minister by the Parliamentary Labour Party alone. Labour Party members in the country were denied a vote by the careerists of the PLP, as were all other members of the body politic. As long as he commands a majority in the Commons, Brown is, apparently, entitled to remain as head of government until the final due date for the next general election.
Of course, the present government did not have an overall majority of the electorate vote for it at the last general election. Far from it. 
The constitutional situation in this country is far from satisfactory, in my view. We need a written constitution, with a bill of rights. We also need electoral reform. I favour the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies. I also support fixed term parliaments, with a constituency procedure to recall members and a limitation on MP's term of service to ten years and a wage fixed at the national average for full-time employment.
There is also an important issue around democratic control at work. The democratic process should surely extend beyond a narrow definition of politics, to all aspects of citizens lives. We are not slaves.