Wednesday, 27 April 2011

For the people

I hadn’t visited the People’s History Museum in Manchester for almost 20 years. Whilst I’ve been away it has expanded from its original home in an old pump house that used to supply the city with drinking water to include a modern building alongside.

Its displays trace the struggle for democracy so that all men and women had a vote. It puts to shame a society in which only a minority bother to exercise their right to determine who represents them in national and local government. It also charts the struggle for workers rights from the formation of illegal groups of workers to the establishment of trade unions. These struggles cost people their livelihoods and sometimes their lives. So much that is taken for granted was only obtained at great cost.

The large, colourful banners of the unions, carried in processions and rallies, proclaim their pride in their work and a commitment to unity. They believed that their battles against injustice could only be won by standing together. Their view of the world was communal not individualistic. Not my rights, but our rights.

Among the cartoons displayed from several generations are those which challenge the rich and powerful for not paying their fair share (or any) tax whilst the poor pay the cost – nothing changes.

A kind of motto of the People’s Museum is ‘there have always been ideas worth fighting for’ and its displays illustrate that. Going round them is an exciting and moving experience. It’s also disturbing as I wonder if in this age in England many are so materially comfortable and the rest are so dispirited that the struggle for justice fails to engage us.

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