Socialism in our lunchtime


We are in the eye of a perfect storm. The shockwave is yet to crash against our lives, but be advised that which you thought was immutable. That which you thought was self-evident I being found out in front of your disbelieving eyes.


When I was teenager my first job in Glasgow was in a railway factory maintaining the rolling stock of the then nationalised British Rail.


The official name of the factory was British Rail Engineering Springburn Works.


To everyone inside and to the local people it was “the Caley”.


Thos was short for the Caledonian Railway Company.


It had been established in the 1860s when Britain was the global superpower and exporting free trade economics across the planet at the point of a bayonet. Those bayonets were often wielded by Scottish men. Back home as Britain became the workshop of the world it was in factories like “the Caley” that the iron horses of the global empire were shod.


The myth in the Caley of my days in the 1970s was that when the factory was nationalised in 1948 the Caley had employed its first catholic.


The poor man was nicknamed “Tim” by the entire factory. He was a labourer with a sweeping brush. In 1948 Glasgow this dealt with any equality issues for the mere Irish.


This was classic blue-collar male dominated British industrial landscape. This particular glen had a local flavour. There was an ongoing reality of anti-Irish racism and the folk memory of a different view. The alternative vision of class solidarity of Red Clyde side was like the mad aunt in the attic.


There were men still vital enough to tell me that they had stood as lads at street corner meetings and listened to the great John McLean.


This was pre-Blair and pre-new labour socialism was not a dirty word.


It was also the Cold War. So the refrain of “get back to Russia” was the usual riposte if, as a gawky teenager, you asked your elders why it had to be like this?


Why did people have to live out a purgatory is damp ridden high flats when others lived in luxury?

When I wasn’t being told to “get back” to Russia (somewhere I have no connection to) I was being told to “get back to Ireland!”


Happily I can attest that these words blink to life on a computer screen in sean Dun na nGall.

During those lunchtime “debates” in the “Caley” in 1975 I once stated-thinking it was a killer polemical blow faced with the chorus of older heads about my utopian nonsense about a planned society.


“Nationalise the banks!” I said. “We’ve nationalised the railways, why not the banks?”


This was derided as so much nonsense from a spotty teenager who didn’t know what he was talking about.


More than that this teenager was a taig with an annoying grasp of history. He always seemed to have an answer. In the end my elders played the boy and not the ball. They couldn’t invalidate arguments, so they invalidated me. I was either too young or too “communistic”.


I have recalled this week how my belief in nationalising banks was one of the more preposterous ideas that I advocated to these poor, limited industrial foot soldiers of the declining British economy.


Now the masters of the universe in Wall Street are begging to be nationalised.


It is truly a bizarre sight. Of course these powerful apparatchiks of capitalism still want to retain their dachas in the Hamptons.


They still want the lifestyle of opulence they just don’t believe in the free market anymore.


Within the week we have seen the creation of, in effect, an  Icelandic soviet. The global money markets, were they an individual, would be, by this time, detained under the mental health act for their own protection.


Funnily enough there are no reports of any chaos on Cuba.


Did someone mention planned society?


I would guess that most, if not all, of my lunchtime debaters may have passed away.


However the lippy young taig from the stores who was always for reading at lunch break when he wasn’t debating told them a truth that is today more than thirty years later (nothing in historical terms) being evidenced for the whole world to see.


The internal contradictions of capitalism make the entire global system inherently unstable.


My elders in the Caley were wrong.


There is a better way.





Discover Phil’s dramatic play Rebellion