Friday, August 11, 2006

A TOUCH OF CLASS...


She may be well known as Veronica in Shameless but MAXINE PEAKE is no poncy actress putting on an accent. Here she writes about how the Working Class Movement Library touches all our lives…

The Working Class Movement Library is a fantastic place with a world famous archive but I worry that even people in Salford don’t know about it. I’ve mentioned it in conversation and a common reply is `What, a Working Class Movement Library…Where’s that ?’ It’s that beautiful black and white imposing building on The Crescent.

The Library contains the history of the struggle of our people and we must never forget that. It’s the history of what made Manchester and Salford the cities they are, built by the toil of the workers. I think people should really be made aware that the Library is there and that they can go and chart their past.

My grandfather was in the Communist Party and he’s still very political – he tells me stories about the struggles and the demonstrations when he was working at Leyland Motors. Maybe I’ve got a slight romanticism about it but people had such a passion then – for their rights, for self education. We should keep alive the notion that we do have power if we use our strength as a unit…But it does seem all too clear we’ve come to the end of an era. People have got very apathetic about politics - which doesn’t surprise me with those who, unfortunately, we’ve got in power.

I look at people like my grandfather who’s fought all his life and now in his later years is living in a society that is probably in a worse state than he ever imagined possible – we may have better technology and easier ways to purchase the so called desired material goods but I believe that the conditions some people are living in have reverted back to Victorian times. There’s been a week of debates recently at the ICA in London about the British working class and its existence. Today, people seem loathe to being given the label, although we’ve developed an underclass that is being viciously ignored.

People just don’t think they’ve got a voice any more. Thatcher would be absolutely delighted with the way we’ve all turned out…this `me culture’. Blair’s taken that on and it’s blossomed. I thought we wouldn’t be stupid enough as a country to let this happen but we have.

The anti war demos gave a glimmer of hope that we might become more politicized, with huge attendances and children skipping school to take part. Hopefully these young people will be the politicians of the future. I remember being their age thinking I would have witnessed some kind of revolution by the time I was 18!

I think the popularity of Paul Abbott’s Shameless is that it has a warmth and a deep rooted humanity against all odds. It’s a portrayal of the working class of today. There’s a sense of hope. No one in Shameless is without hope. The sense of community is very strong and that’s what seems to strike a chord. We’re bombarded with bleak views of the working class and Shameless kicks against that, as it’s based on truth and Paul’s own experiences

There’s fear from the government in this country about that group mentality. In Salford, first the terraced housing went, then the flats went up and now they’re saying `Let’s regenerate again’…I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy to keep the community apart – throughout the years regeneration has been about trying to destroy the heart of the community.

It’s exactly what they’ve done in London – you look at many areas of London that have become flooded with fashionable loft apartments and fiercely overpriced property – the locals are having to move further and further back – they take it all…developers destroy the heart of places…it’s just about money isn’t it ? They don’t care.

I worry about the Working Class Movement Library – that because it is such a beautiful building the developers are going to try to get their hands on it. We must fight for its survival. It should always be there. It’s ridiculous that at some point they were considering closing it down, to turn it, I imagine, into some soulless luxury dwellings.

Between the ages of 19 and 21 I was in the Communist Party and although I’m from Bolton, Salford was the nearest branch and we used to have meetings at the Working Class Movement Library. Then recently Oxfam’s Control Arms campaign got in touch and asked if I would join their petition which is using photographs instead of signatures and anyone can be involved. Oxfam wanted me to choose somewhere locally that meant something to me and it was actually my friend Pawlo who suggested the Library because of my time there. And it brought me back to this incredible place.
Even though the unions and the movements that working people were a part of aren’t what they used to be, we mustn’t forget that struggle. All the literature, pamphlets and banners that the Library contains have to be preserved – it’s part of our history and our future. The more people who are made aware of it, the better…

The Working Class Movement Library, Jubilee House, 51 The Crescent is open Tues, Thurs and Fri 10am-5pm, Wed 10am – 7pm and the third Saturday of each month 10am-5pm.
For further details call 0161 736 3601
Or check out the web site: www.wcml.org.uk

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