Sunday, 22 February 2015

Notes From The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - 'Those Foreigners'

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell was written a hundred years ago and described as 'a classic representation of the impoverished and politically powerless underclass of British society in Edwardian England, ruthlessly exploited by the institutionalized corruption of their employers and the civic and religious authorities'.

In this series of blogs on the notes I made from the book, I am looking at the alarming parallels between attitudes then and attitudes now. In this particular blog, I am looking at the attitude of the ordinary working class man (who we assume is typical of many of his time) towards the foreigner.  Note, their views have been fed to them via the newspapers and right-wing politicians - just as they are today.  In the excerpt below Easton is debating the issue with three of his fellow workmen, Harlow, Sawkins and their foreman Crass:

'Well, I don't  go in for politics much, either, but if what's in this 'ere paper is true, it seems to me as we oughter take some interest in it, when the country is being ruined by foreigners.'  (Easton)
      'If you're goin' to believe all that's in that bloody rag you'll want some salt,' said Harlow.
      The Obscurer was a Tory paper and Harlow was a member of the local Liberal club. Harlow's remark roused Crass.
      'Wot's the use of talkin' like that?' he said, 'you know very well that the country is being ruined by foreigners. Just go to a shop to buy something; look round the place an' you'll see that more than 'arf the damn stuff comes from abroad. They're able to sell their goods 'ere because they don't 'ave to pay no dooty, but they takes care to put 'eavy dooties on our goods to keep 'em out of their countries; and I say it's about time it was stopped...'
      'Yes it's quite true that we gets a lot of stuff from foreign countries,' said Harlow, 'but they buys more from us than we do from them.'
      A bit later in the exchange Sawkins says: 'Wy, even 'ere in Mugsborough...we're overrun with 'em! Nearly all the waiters and cooks at the Grand Hotel where we was working last month is foreigners.' 

On page 43, Owen reflects on his workmates' attitudes.

'... And so the talk continued, principally carried on by Crass and those who agreed with him. None of them really understood the subject....the papers they read were filled with vague and alarming accounts of the quantities of foreign merchandise imported into this country, the enormous number of aliens constantly arriving, and their destitute conditions, how they lived, the crimes they committed, and the injury they did to British trade. These were the seeds which, cunningly sown in their minds, caused it to grow up within them a bitter undiscriminating hatred of foreigners....the country was in a hell of a state, poverty, hunger and misery in a hundred forms had already invaded thousands of homes and stood upon the threshold of thousands more. How came these things to be? It was the bloody foreigner! Therefore, down with the foreigners and all their works. Out with them....the foreigner was the enemy, and the cause of poverty and bad trade.'

Does this all strike you as depressingly familiar?  As the main parties turn their mind to electioneering and populist issues, we will, sadly, be plied with a lot more misinformation on this matter in the coming weeks... 

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