“This is my truth, tell me yours”, Nye Bevan
Last week I met up with Ken Loach at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, where he was researching and filming a new documentary to be released later this year. “It’s about the spirit of 1945”, he told me, ”the election and war victories, and what people thought they were building when they took over the public utilities, including the mines, railways and established the NHS.”
It is hard for any modern generation to remember what it was like in Britain after the Second World War. Whilst the country was wrecked, physically and mentally, by the war, it was also a time when working class people had had enough of the poverty of their existence, and wanted a better world.
Nye Bevan, ex-miner, Welsh, Labour Party hero, explained this anger in his election speech in 1945, “We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers, now we are the builders. We enter this campaign at this general election, not merely to get rid of the Tory majority. We want the complete political extinction of the Tory Party.”
Ken Loach and writer, Jim Allen, previously explored part of this history in their epic BBC TV drama Days of Hope, which told the story of the trade union and labour movement from 1916 to the General Strike of 1926. Eddie Frow, one of the founders of the WCML, used to say, “There is bosses’ history and there is workers’ history”. Ken and Jim definitely, and defiantly, made workers’ history.
The Spirit of 45 aims to recapture the spirit of an era when working class people were winning. The Labour Party won a landslide victory in the General Election, and went on to nationalise public industries such as the mines, railways and also create the National Health Service. As Ken says, “It’s to celebrate the possibilities that people had in the 40s and to remember them.”
He is clear about who is responsible for the destruction of the dreams of 1945, believing that the key principles of that period have been betrayed by successive politicians, “It began in the late 70s with Thatcher at the forefront of attacks on nationalised industries” Ken says, “but carried on under New Labour. It is not politically correct to remember the times when we owned things collectively. Now people are taught to be competitive and not to work together as a team.” He feels that if we are to reclaim the NHS, and other forms of common ownership, a new mass movement is needed. “We need people to come together, to stop the sectarian splits, stop the charismatic leaders and get together in a mass, democratic organisation.”
The Working Class Movement Library is a shining example of that spirit of 1945. Created by two Communists, Ruth and Eddie Frow, in the 1950s, it embodies the values of collectivity, common ownership, and a free and accessible resource that is by and about the working people of this country.As Ken Loach says, “Our history is very important. It’s where our strength comes from and is not reflected in the mass media. This library is a very important institution.”
But like most treasures it needs your support. The funding given by Salford City Council is now being slashed. Those of us who support the library as an invaluable historical resource and archive are calling on our friends and comrades to become Friends of the WCML and to get your trade union branch, community group or family to join. For information on how to become a Friend, please go to our our website;
Get more information about The Spirit of 1945, go to Film Four