This is the address especially written for the North East Peoples Assembly by the writer of Billy Elliot, Cooking with Elvis and The Pitmen Painters, Lee Hall. The speech was read out on stage at the Northern Stage in Newcastle Upon Tyne during the evening entertainment event by Wallsend-born actor Joe Caffrey.
I am Joe Caffrey. I am not Lee Hall. But Lee Hall has written this for me to read out because he can’t be here but still wanted to stick his oar in. Typical. So here goes:
I – that’s Lee not me – grew up at a time when you could go to the dentist and have your teeth done, go to university, watch the football on the telly – all for nowt.
Now I pay for prescriptions, I have a son with an inordinate debt before he’s even done a days work, and have a Sky box, an internet service contract and Netflix account – and pay more in the typical month than I used to pay on entertainment for the whole year.
I grew up at a time when I would look out of my bedroom window and see a forest of cranes on the river.
I was there when they sailed the last one to China.
I grew up at a time when I’d go and watch blokes running out of work in Swan Hunters – thousands and thousands of them. All in a union.
Now there are none.
I drank in a pub where those people went to gather and talk.
It is gone.
I used to go round the corner to the library to borrow books. That’s gone.
I used to go to another library in Heaton to see me Mam who worked there part time. That’s gone.
At school, once a year, the kids were taken up to Carrshields where the Local Education Authority kept an outward bounds centre and we’d go hill walking, mountaineering and pot holing. It’s now two luxury ‘conversions’.
After school I used to go to a Drama Centre where there were directors and playwrights who were paid to make plays with kids like me and Joe. Gone.
I used to go and buy cheap secondhand books from the shop in the Handyside Arcade. That went. Then I used to buy books from the one on Westgate Road. And when that went I used to down to the shop on the Side. Gone. Now I buy them from the internet, from a site owned by Amazon. Who doesn’t pay UK taxes.
We used to have one phone in our house. Now we all have a phone in our pocket, and the old phone still in the hall. Collectively we pay in one month what we used to pay in a year.
We don’t say anything more significant.
I used to go to watch the football where they’d wear a strip that “belonged to everyone”. Now it belongs to Wonga.
We have been sold a lie. The market did not make things cheaper. Life got more expensive. In the meantime we did not suddenly earn more, we just got ourselves further and further into debt.
This did not happen to everyone of course. The people who deal in debt (bankers), and the people who profit from us getting in to it (Apple and Google and Amazon, add your own name here) all got much, much, much richer.
Look at the graphs – things are changing exponentially.
At least in dark days of Victorian England the Industrialists who ripped off the working class put up the odd museum or financed a public park or two to mitigate their exploitation. I don’t see Amazon or Google funding libraries. They are too busy making sure everything is funneled through a tax free loophole in Sark.
What was held in common has been taken away and privatized. The phone system, the railways, the airwaves: we have a hundred channels of shit that now we have to pay through the nose for.
The places where people assembled – pubs, clubs, churches, workplaces, local shops, day care centers, etc etc are all vanishing.
Most shopping precincts are privately owned. You try filming a documentary there and see what happens. A burly bloke on a zero-hour contract and minimum wage comes up to you and threatens to phone the police and take away your camera.
We have sleepwalked through a wholesale redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. Our collective lives have been depleted : what was ours has been taken away then rented back to us. And when the market couldn’t manage it on it’s own account governments stepped in and did it on our behalf. Literally giving them OUR money.
It’s really simple: we have all been robbed and we did nothing about it. We continue to act like a nation of zombies = perhaps because we are in disbelief that this could have actually happened underneath our noses.
Obviously it started with Thatcher but PFI schemes really came into their own under Labour. The political parties are all the same: mouth pieces for the same thinking as those out to nakedly exploit us.
Just a few months ago our own Labour administration closed down libraries, pools and daycare centers, and yet at the very same time committed to spend £413m in private sector building; to make more offices and do up shop fronts. What were they thinking? Have you been round town and seen the signs of offices to rent?
The whole episode was a farcical disgrace: the cooked up figures, the deliberate attempts at misinformation. It was a travesty of the political process. The cynicism and the complete intellectual bankruptcy of what remains of the local Labour Party couldn’t have been more clearly exposed. But yet they got away with it. Still peddling the same idea – cut things which enrich people’s lives and pour public money into the hands of business.
It’s ludicrous. It’s robbery.
The market is not the answer. The market was never the answer.
If we were unsure about it – it conveniently blew up in our faces : yet we did nothing.
The commercial and financial elite weren’t so slow. No, via their political cronies (left and right) they used the opportunity to ramp the gears up and really shaft us. And still we did nothing.
It doesn’t make sense.
But maybe we have entered this age of Zombie Capitalism because we don’t assemble together – we don’t regularly go to union meetings or the pub or the church or the chapel – the most usual place to bump into someone is in the aisles of a supermarket – not the best place to ferment resistance.
Maybe we are supine to these rampaging forces because our common life, our civic life, the bit that we are enriched with for free, the bit through which we can enrich the lives of others, has been snatched away.
That is why this forum is important.
In order to fight back we need to start talking to each other. Just like we used to. Just like everybody used to. All those people who demanded a living wage, an education, the NHS,, a safe place to work, theaters.
We are slipping quickly into a world that is going to resemble
Dickensian London rather than anything we knew in the Twentieth Century. It’s not the end of civilization. There’ll still be schools, there’ll still be hospitals, there will still be football, but there will be a mass of misery, injustice and exploitation for the majority and a gilded elite that will live in another world.
That is why the People’s Assembly is important. It is a place where we must conspire to demand something better. To make sure the redistribution starts going the other way.
All of us are suffering – whether we’ve realized it or not. We’ve all been sold a lemon – we just don’t know what to do about it. Well, the first thing is to join up with everybody else who’s been sold the lemon and start knocking on some fruit sellers doors.
That’s why I believe in the People’s Assembly. It is a very real opportunity. But it’s a very easy opportunity to blow.
Yes, it’s an enormous task, but we’ve to start somewhere.
So I send my support and say to you: Be brave. Get organised.
Every single one of you can make a difference.