Growing amnesia and introspection killing solidarity and community

In the new era of Brexit and Trump and fake news, long accepted ideas of solidarity are now highly contested territory particularly in the post-industrial Valleys of South Wales.

 

Stories of Solidarity by former Labour MP Hywel Francis is a collection of writings, lectures and speeches from over five decades which explore a proud and diverse legacy of solidarity in Wales from the dual perspective of a historian and political activist whose key source has been the received personal and collective memory of the working class people. The volume is published this week by Y Lolfa.

 

The collection describes and celebrates the struggles of the working class of the South Wales Valleys and asks if their solidarity and collective memory will survive and re-invent itself. The author reminds us of the proud heritage of his community and working together for the common good of the people found in the South Wales Valleys. The events covered in Stories of Solidarity include the Forgotten Anthracite Strike of 1925; the support of the LGBT community during the miners strikes of the Thatcher years; the sense of internationalism with miners joining the International Brigades and to fight for the republic against Franco in the late 1930s; welcoming Basque refugees; Aneurin Bevan and the NHS.

 

“The book …reminds us of the diverse roots of solidarity and compassion which gave birth to the NHS in 1948,” says Hywel Francis. “As Aneurin Bevan, the Secretary of State for Health and Housing, said in introducing the National Health Service Bill in 1946, it would ‘lift the shadow from millions of homes’ and that ‘The essence of a satisfactory health service is that rich and poor are treated alike, that poverty is not a disability, that wealth is not an advantage.”

 

“What makes the book unique is that it re-asserts the organic relationship between the historic experiences of solidarity with both the most important collective social institution of the twentieth century, the NHS, and the enduring popular support it enjoys today. Implicitly it argues that the 2016 EU Referendum – as with the 1979 Devolution Referendum – may not be the apocalyptic turning point commentators have predicted.”

 

The Foreword is written by Lord Alf Dubs, a survivor of the Kindertransport of 1939 and was a fellow member of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights when Hywel Francis was MP for Aberavon and was chair of the committee.

 

“[Lord Alf Dubs] is a living testimony of the highest form of solidarity,” says Hywel, echoing a statement by Lord Dubs’ himself in the last paragraph of the Foreword:

 

“I will end on a very personal note. As a Jewish child leaving Prague on the Kindertransport in 1939 I know something about solidarity and compassion. Against the odds people reach out and help. This is why I believe this book is about now and the future.”

 

With Brexit updates constantly in the news and newspapers such as the Independent headlining stories such as ‘Hate crimes surge by 42% in England and Wales since Brexit result’ (reported 06/07/16), Hywel believes that people are forgetting their histories:

 

“There appears to be a growing amnesia, an introspection, a corrosive parochialist, almost nativist anti-immigrant ‘victim’ culture in communities with no immigrants to speak of but which only a handful of generations ago were shaped by immigrants from Bilbao to Bethesda and Bardi.”

 

In Stories of Solidarity he seeks to ask the questions ‘have we lost that world?’ and ‘can we, in the words of that hymn of the Wobblies “bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old”?’ (from ‘Solidarity Forever’ by Ralph Chaplin and used as a union anthem).