Growing up in the age of austerity

Submitted by Matthew on 28 October, 2015 - 11:28 Author: Kelly Rogers

Putting my finger on exactly when or how I became a socialist is far from easy.

I grew up in a working class family. My dad was a printer, and he worked long weeks at the printing press, for many years rotating between day-shifts, late-shifts and night-shifts. He hated his job.

As I got older, I began to pay more attention and realised quite how exhausting and onerous the work he did was. When he was made redundant I was in my late teens, and was very aware that losing his sense of security and purpose was hugely damaging to his self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

I also grew up in quite a traditional family. My mum was a child-minder for most of my childhood. She worked from home for over a decade so that she could take me and my brothers to school, pick us up, make us our meals, spend time with us in the school holidays. Despite my mum working full weeks, not only looking after her own children, but lots of other children too, my dad was seen as the bread-winner. This was partly down to him being the higher wage-earner, and partly down to us questionably seeing his job as more laborious. The housework fell in its entirety onto my mum, and we all played a part in her exploitation.

But these experiences were not enough, by any means, to politicise me. I didn’t become a socialist and a feminist because I grew up in a fury about the injustices I saw in my own family. It was just the way our family worked, and, as far as I knew, the way that every family worked. This was the way that all work was, for everybody. But every aspect of my political life has been coloured by those experiences.

When I started at Sixth Form College, at the age of 16, I began talking to people about politics proper. I began reading my first political texts, heatedly debating my peers and my family. By the time I arrived in university two years later, in Birmingham, I had been persuaded that not only was I left-wing, but that I had a duty to act upon it.

It was 2010, and the student movement was launching a fight against the hike in tuition fees. I joined a student group called Against Fees and Cuts (later renamed Defend Education) which was to become my political home for the next four years. Within a few weeks of arriving at university I had been to my first national demonstration, occupied the administration building at my university, and been to countless political meetings — on education, on austerity, on Israel/Palestine, on the climate crisis. From early 2011 I began to meet student activists and young socialists from around the country more frequently, and I joined the National Campaign Against Fees Cuts.

With the encouragement of my comrades in Defend Education, I made speeches, I wrote articles, I proposed actions in our weekly meetings, and I gradually took up more and more responsibility. I was elected to the position of Women’s Officer in my students’ union, and sharpened my ideas around liberation, austerity and education.

In 2012 I joined a local group in Birmingham, called Communities Against the Cuts. This group comprised a number of older comrades, from Socialist Resistance — by whom I was very influenced — and other groups. With them I organised campaigns against cuts to library services, the Bedroom Tax, and closures of walk-in centres, among others. I began to see myself as an activist in a broader sense, rather than just a student activist, and I learned lots more from people cutting across a number of generations.

In my fourth year at university I was suspended from university twice following protests for free education and better pay and working conditions for university staff. The second of these suspensions lasted nine months, and I began working full-time. By this point, I had been talking extensively with people, including members of the UCU branch and organised socialists about trade unions and workplace organisation. I became a trade union rep at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where I was working as a bartender. I began recruiting and agitating around the issues of a living wage, sick-pay, and decent contracts. Over 10 months we recruited the majority of the department to the union, won sick pay, a 10 per cent pay rise, and a guarantee that pay would be at least at the living wage from 2016. It was very exciting to see my workmates who were, frankly, baffled when I told them about my political exploits as a student, enthused by bread-and-butter politics in the workplace.

Putting my finger on exactly when or how I became a socialist is far from easy. It has been the result of innumerable people, from different political organisations and perspectives, from different generations and walks of life, taking the time to discuss, debate, share and organise with me. It has been the result of growing up in the age of austerity; of relaxed conversations at the pub, heated and inspirational meetings, and big public blow-ups. Whether I’m organising around work, around education, around austerity and cuts, around the closure of domestic violence centres or cuts to libraries, I’m doing so with with the knowledge that young people in this country have it harder than our parents did, but that we should be striving for more than they were too. My parents worked very hard, for very little, just like millions of other working class people in this country. We all deserve better, and should struggle for more. With that in mind, I am looking forward to many more years of organising alongside current and new comrades, encountering new ideas and perspectives.

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