Saturday, 16 October 2010

Faith, Hope and (maybe) some Clarity

Some days you start to think Ireland may finally be over Dark Age superstitions.
And other days you read garbage like in what is, supposedly, the shiny modern end of the Irish media.
And Irish people complain because the world jokes about their intellect!
Of course, the biggest joke is that if Chilean Catholicism’s favourite son, Pinochet, had still been alive and in charge he’d have demonstrated his ‘faith’ by shutting the mine, engineering a media blackout (not that the current media frenzy in reality amounts to objective journalism), leaving it for God to sort out & opening another bottle of shampoo with whichever cardinal he was collaborating with to move local money out of the country and into a Swiss bank account.
Then again, Ireland doesn’t have a mining industry, so what would this pillock know about mining communities and their legendary ability to pull together against adversity and injustice? As a far more on the ball Liverpool fan put it the other day, for instance, can you imagine Thatcher’s rage knowing the only news stories in town on her 85th birthday involved miners and Scousers?
Because the UK also had a mining industry – once, before Thatcher – and UK mining communities also know all about the tragedy of underground disasters, the bravery of work colleagues and solidarity of families, friends and neighbours. Especially in the face of government neglect, or government spin merchants trying to steer the media away from the mismanagement of nationalised industries, a total disinterest in safety measures or the destruction of whole communities.
And I also suspect that, if only anyone in the media can see past the spin, there’ll be more stories like , which gives a far better picture of the true relationship between mineworkers and ‘management experts’, and a far warmer picture of the true nature of workplace solidarity. Very similar, in fact, to many of the tales I heard from those in the mining and steelworking community where I grew up.
And interestingly, I can also recall a far more positive image of a mines safety engineer, and how his faith shaped his work, his relationships with the local community and in particular his determination to do his best for other miners.
This engineer was a man called Jack Smith – an almost cartoonish stereotype of a miner. Face streaked with coal dust, rode everywhere on an old Raleigh bike and wore a donkey jacket every day of the week except Sunday, when he wore his Salvation Army uniform and played in the band with my Dad and Granddad.
You’d never have guessed from Jack’s broad Derbyshire accent, modest dress and house, or the lack of a car, that he had a B.Sc. and was one of the key safety advisors in the local mine. He got his degree the hard way, mostly through night school, only studied because it was the best way he knew how to look after his fellow miners, never left the same street as his former shiftmates. He was the man who persuaded my Dad (who’d left grammar school at 15 because his teacher said kids from council estates didn’t go to uni) and also me (same story but 16 in my case) that being ‘educated’ didn’t mean being middle class, didn’t mean walking away from your community. In fact, if you were determined enough, it could mean you could contribute more to it.
Jack had some disappointment later in his life. Joyce, his daughter, threw away a good education to marry some drunken waster of a Scouse actor. A total chancer whose family, even after this loser supposedly divorced her, managed to keep Jack’s daughter, and later his grand-daughter, away from Jack’s positive influence.
Thankfully, Jack was long gone by the time his grand-daughter, another bright girl, had married a similar chancer (this time a former public schoolboy) who went into politics. In fact, if Jack ever knew how Tony and Cherie Blair went on to betray absolutely every value he held dear, even Jack might have lost his faith.
That’s right. Despite Cherie Booth/Blair’s famous commitment to Catholicism, her real intellect and drive came from a side of the family and a tradition that has been edited out of history. A Derbyshire miner, a Salvationist, a pillar of his community and lifelong Labour supporter of the sort Thatcher crippled when she shut the mines, and New Labour finally killed off.
Jack would have understood the solidarity and faith of the Chilean miners, would have been first down the mine to help them out if necessary, but (it is far more likely) would have fought tooth and nail to ensure they were never exposed in the first place to such criminal working conditions and destruction of community. Crimes which the Chilean government, burying all analysis of the true nature of mining community solidarity with all those fairy tales about religious faith, is trying hard to ensure we never hear about.

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