Steer for the deep waters only

Robert Day's thoughts on his photography, his writing and his business

The Dignity of Labour

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(Note: this post is not about any current issues affecting the UK Labour Party. Now read on.)

Yesterday, as is my wont, I walked down the road from the office to get a sandwich for lunch. I work on a modern business park, adjacent to Warwick University (which isn’t in Warwick, but on the Warwick side of Coventry. Seeing as there wasn’t a Coventry University when Warwick was set up, it does make you imagine some sort of marketing input to the naming process. But I digress). The business park was built some ten to fifteen years ago, with units in a variety of sizes to suit different tenants. Obviously, from time to time units come empty, awaiting new tenants; and one quite large office unit, No.1 The Oaks, came empty earlier this year.

Given the number of IT companies and other enterprises active in the digital economy, I fairly reasonably imagined that some other company would take the building on in due course. So I was surprised, when I walked down the road yesterday, to hear a crash from the Oaks site, and to see a rampaging excavator demolishing the building. Today, I’m working from home. I expect the site will have been levelled by the time I go in to the office tomorrrow. According to the Internet, the site is being cleared to make way for student accommodation. Obviously, this pays more than commercial properties these days. Interestingly, the picture I grabbed from the business park’s website is named “bottom_barclays”. Barclays Bank has a large office complex on the business park, but they have consolidated a number of their staff to another site in Northampton this year and made others redundant. As the building is well away from the main Barclays site, I can quite imagine how it might get the nickname “bottom office” (though “lower office” might have been a bit more genteel).

bottom_barclays

The Oaks (picture from http://www.westwoodbusinesspark.co.uk)

Now, that’s hardly a great piece of architecture. But I’ve touched on these sort of issues before, in my post The Sacred Workplace. People designed that building; people built it; and people worked in it. It probably wasn’t really there long enough to have gathered any sort of workplace community about itself; people in future are unlikely to be starting websites looking for former colleagues who worked at No.1 The Oaks. But it filled the working lives of a diverse group of people for a number of years, and that deserves some sort of recognition, otherwise we begin to get a sort of social amnesia about our pasts.

I was mulling these things over when I had an e-mail this lunchtime about an online petition. I normally don’t do these things, because there are so many of them and you can easily end up with campaign fatigue if you’re not careful. But this one struck home a little bit with me. Not too far from where I live, there used to be a place called Snibston Discovery Park. It included a numbher of exhibits about Leicestershire’s industrial past, and was based around the old Snibston Colliery. The UK coal industry has disappeared; yet it was the basis for our industrial development and played a massive part in our social and economic history. But after the 2008 economic crisis, Snibston Discovery Park became one of the early victims of austerity, as the local county council closed it down in some degree of haste, using the excuse of poor visitor numbers in recent years.

But mining communities have a great sense of identity, even when there’s no more mining going on: and so this petition has appeared:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-snibston-colliery?

Leicestershire seems very fond of rubbishing projects that might promote growth and inward income streams, whether they be attractions or improvements to transport or amenities. Things that cater to the educational needs of people, to their intellectual or artistic development, are left to the voluntary sector or only done where the accountants say they can turn in a clear balance sheet profit on that one location, rather than contributing to the overall wealth of the community. Their attitude often seems to be “We’re fed up of telling people there’s no demand for this sort of thing.” Attracting visitors to an attraction or a service is a matter of promoting it properly; and as austerity has dragged on, more and more people are finding a need to explore their own localities rather than going miles afield for their leisure. This trend is going to continue for some time to come, or so all the pointers suggest.

Celebrating our industrial heritage is an important part of maintaining the dignity of labour – something that modern capitalism seems determined to ignore, preferring us to be nothing more than simply units of consumption or production with no role other than the economic. But our lives are in no small part shaped by our work experiences; when you have self-respect because of your job, you are a better person because of it. Instead, many people attach no importance to their jobs and so have to find validation elsewhere. Sometimes, that’s not positive validation. The bottom strata of the so-called “gig economy” has provided many examples of this in recent years.

The fightback for dignity in work has to take place on a number of different fronts.

This is one of them.

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Written by robertday154

September 18, 2018 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. “Celebrating our industrial heritage is an important part of maintaining the dignity of labour – something that modern capitalism seems determined to ignore, preferring us to be nothing more than simply units of consumption or production with no role other than the economic.”

    That’s a sublime conclusion, Robert, truly sublime.

    Another solid piece.

    Cliff Burns

    September 19, 2018 at 11:38 pm


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