"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Is Political Activism Hereditary?

I have always known that I came from a politically active family. My parents met when they both belonged to the Independent Labour Party [LIP] in the 1930s, my sister was 'named' in the local Socialist Sunday School and I took part in my first political act by delivering anti-apartheid leaflets at the age of six in the 1950s!

And of course I knew that the political activism went further back than my parents generation. My Welsh politician father walked to England on the Hunger Marches, his father and grandfather both held Trade Union posts in the collieries in which they worked. My maternal grandparents brought my mother up in the Socialist Sunday School, and my mother's grandfather on her maternal side was a Trade Unionist in the London Docks.

So despite being brought up in a politician's household, there was also the matter of the 'family heirloom'. When I was small there was this one really good piece of jewelery that my mother owned and only wore on very special occasions. It was an old red gold gate bracelet and as I get older I learned the story and even better the fact that when I reached twenty one [a couple of years ago you understand]it would become mine.

The family story went that my Nan had led a strike of munitions workers during the first world war that had been successful and workers had bought her this bracelet in gratitude. She had given the bracelet to my mother when she was twenty-one on the proviso that she passed it on to her daughter at twenty one. But I would rather let my Nan tell the story in her own words in the letter that she sent to me when I was twenty-one:
....It was in the '14 War. Granfer was in the Army and I worked at ......... Reclaiming Shell Factory from six in the morning until six in the evening and our wages were very bad 18 shillings [90 pence] a week and 3 shillings [15 pence] fare out of that. So I organized the 2000 women workers and got them out on strike which I was pleased only lasted two days because it was January and up to our boot tops in snow. Anyway our wages were increased to twenty six shillings [one pound thirty pence] a week....... The members of the Union collected for the Bracelet and presented it to me during our lunch time. I was so surprised I cried my silly eyes out. The Union official was also presented with sliver cigarette case, he too was surprised...

My Nan was eighty one years old when she wrote that letter and a photograph of her and my Granfer taken around the time of their marriage in 1915 is at the head of the page. So this blog is dedicated to her and all the munitions workers in the two world wars who worked long hours for little money. Although the munitions factory in which she worked was not the Silvertown factory, they were not that far apart. She heard the Silvertown explosion and obviously knew about the subsequent terrible loss of seventy three lives. I would like to add that at the time she led the strike she had a small child whom her sister looked after whilst she worked and was finding it difficult to buy food for them both as food prices were soaring due to the war.

The bracelet? Well I held it 'in tenure' until my eldest daughter was twenty one and then it was passed to her along with the story. Other Half says that it has in fact cost him a fortune because he then had to replace it because I loved it so much, but daughter number two was given that when she was twenty one and in turn he has replaced that. Eldest daughter has to pass the bracelet on to her eldest daughter at twenty one and hopefully so it will go on - along with the story.

But the story and the memories are the best of all. And the inheritance of trying to right injustices when they are found.

Independent Labour Party http://www.independentlabour.org.uk/main/history/
Socialist Sunday School http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2001/apr/02/labour.religion
Silvertown Munitions Factory Disaster http://www.newhamstory.com/node/2167

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