Stuck for something to occupy you whilst stuck inside on these dark winter nights? Our own Samantha Naik (BAME Officer and Membership Vice Chair) has kindly authored a few book reviews to help you pick a good read.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell (1914)
In the early twentieth century, a group of painters and decorators and their families in a small town are exploited by their employers, and suffer from ill health, low life-expectancy, insecure housing, humiliation, and poverty. Some act with generosity and kindness; others go along with the Conservative and ‘Liberal’ (of that era) masters, believing they are their betters, and that socialism is evil; a few socialists persevere knowing that one day they will win.
This book has inspired many activists. It shows us what it was like to live in poverty, with no welfare state, and it is the answer to the elitist fiction of Ayn Rand; the workers are skilled and talented, yet cannot make a living. It surprised me that the issues of a century ago are similar to those that trouble us today: approximately 20% of working people in 2021 are poor (and this statistic is set to rise during the COVID19 recession) and may be in insecure employment, rents are exploitatively high, homelessness is a risk, and poverty causes ill-health. Back then too, the Conservatives demonised poor people while cutting benefits. The mystery of ‘why do poor people vote Tory’ was very much in evidence in the early 1900s, too. Tressell skilfully told this story, with characters, good and bad, that will live on in your mind long after you close the book. An inspiring read.