When I heard the man shout that the needy and the poor should take control of the means of production, I knew what my politics were. If I wasn’t poor and needy, who was?
I was standing by the shipyard gates, begging for a job, when the Union leader came out, followed by hundreds of men. He stood on the small wall that surrounded the shipyard works and held on to the metal railings. His message was clear. We should rise up. And then no-one would starve. There would be jobs for the likes of me when socialism came. I cheered the loudest for socialism. It would give me a job.
The strong, hard, muscular, clenched fists punched the air.
When I got the job, I entered the man’s world. Up until then I had been living in a world where my hair would be spat down by my mum and told what to do by her. She told me I was special. She told me I would be a great worker. I was now the man of the house. My wage was more than hers and I could now tell her what I wanted in my sandwiches.
My place was in the union. It was the way to the top. These guys could work a crowd. I remember Jimmy saying, “You have to be in the Union to fight for your class.” I agreed. The bosses wanted to screw us and I wanted the money shared... with me… and my comrades.
All the top union men – the ones who could make the speeches and gather in the crowds, slowly, one by one, became Members of Parliament. Heroes. People loved them. Men loved them. I knew what I had to do. My dad, if he was still here, would love me.
I shouted and ranted about Imperialism and the fat cats getting the cream, while the rest of us were left with sour milk. The scraps from their table. I led everyone out when our wages didn’t rise with the cost of the things we needed. I sat with the bosses, smoking cigars and eating salmon sandwiches through the night while I negotiated my pedestal. I deserved this.
I began my speeches talking about the wee boy who played outside with no shoes, and how he went on to lead the Labour Movement. I told them about my mother and my sisters working their hands to the bone to keep me in clothes and food. If I wasn’t needy, who was?
I became a supervisor. The bosses confided in me, “Billy, the last ship went out at a loss. If this strike goes on another week, the order will go to Lennoxes down the river.” I managed to get the extra quid for the cheering men and the orders came in. The men loved me, the women sent me cakes and Mollie was made pregnant at the fancy do the Owner invited me to at his country house.
“Billy, we’ll back you for Parliament,” the boys said at my wedding. Her da’ was happy because I had prospects.
It was a shoo in. The Docks were for Socialism. I was to sit in the place in London that had been controlled by the millionaires and the Shipyard owners. I was to tell them what the Class needed. And there was no doubt about my credentials as I stood for my maiden speech, “I am here to represent the men who work hard for a living. I am here to represent the poor and needy. And sitting here amongst you rich men, I know which class I belong to.” Amongst them, I was poor and needy.
The wine flowed and the cigars were sucked and I made speech after speech against the bosses until they started to notice how needy I was. A new Saville Row suit if you introduce me to Lord so and so. A weekend at Cliffson house, swimming naked with the women, if you make sure the order goes to help the workers of the North Side. I deserved these things. The wine, the women and the cigars. I helped the people. And if I had these things to give, I would give them out too. ‘Bread and Roses,’ after all, and some of the young roses at Cliffson house were oh so pretty, and they benefitted too. I threw fivers and tenners at them like confetti at times. And The Shipyard owner paid them off if we “went a little too far.”
“William, as an MP, you can sit on the board of The White Star Line.” With this, and my salary, I was able to buy a house in which I felt comfortable entertaining these men of fortune. I never had felt they were better than me. I was one of them. The Shipyard owner and his wife became regular diners in our house. My wife enjoyed a trip or two to Paris and New York, not through my books of course. But she deserved it. We knew what it had been like to be poor. If we weren’t poor and needy, who was?
After years, my working class accent, admittedly exaggerated for the media as time went by, was used on the telly to justify or to excuse what they did. They did it because there was no other way. I just persuaded the people like me (hard workers) that it was in their best interests to give all to the corporations who are working to give them jobs.
The poor and needy are not like they were. They have shoes. They have tellys. They have DVD’s. But they are alien to me living in their ghettoes, taking their drugs and dying young by the silenced river. Why don’t they just get on their bike and find work? I managed to ensure there are huge amounts of minimum wage call centres across the country. They are guaranteed that money. They can’t be ripped off with lower pay.
The Shipyard Owner moved his building to some eastern European country where workers didn’t demand so called “rights.” And he and I played golf on the day they helicoptered the machinery out over the heads of the striking workers. Back in my day, you were lucky to have shoes on your feet. I bet the workers in that country have some poor and needy politician rising through the ranks like I did. I helped them get work. Feed the World.
My wife left me after the scandal. It was stupid really. I deserved her, the young woman who cleaned the rooms in the hotel. It wasn't a hit, just a slap to calm her - and it did. The police said that she had left the money in the room and called them straight away. Bread and Roses. If she’d have said nothing, she would have had lots more bread and roses than that crap cleaning job could ever give her.
I’ll be out in a few months, they say. And when I do get out, I’ll fight again for the poor and needy, because as I sit here in this small room, if I am not poor and needy, who is? The men – the real men – men like me, will listen.