19 May 2009

In Defence of The Working Class - John Wheatley

Today is the 160th birthday of Red Clydesider and affordable housing pioneer John Wheatley. For those unfamiliar with his fantastic life story here it is in summary:

Born into absolute poverty in rural Ireland in 1869, his family moved to Scotland a few years after his birth, regarding scraping a living in the Lanarkshire coalfields and being treated as third class immigrants, as a step up. John Wheatley received only an elementary eduction and by the age of 12 he was working down the mines. Aged 23, and still living with his family of 13 in a two roomed house, he moved to Glasgow to become a publican and eventually a campaigning journalist and publisher, educating himself along the way. He joined the infant Independent Labour Party in 1907 and in it developed his own unique brand of Catholic socialism which saw him take on not just the establishment of his day but also a local catholic hierarchy inclined to advise Irish immigrants to keep a low profile and wait for the afterlife.

Elected to Glasgow City Council, Wheatley was a tireless campaigner against injustice , the appalling housing conditions in his adopted city in particular. An opponent of World War 1 , Wheatley was the leading light in the 1915 Glasgow rent strike, started by the impoverished and doubly exploited wives of on duty servicemen, - a strike so solid and successful it forced Lloyd George to come to Glasgow and cut a deal in which rents were controlled and wages guaranteed.

Wheatley was not done. Elected MP for Glasgow Shettleston in 1922, he became UK Housing Minister in the first ever Labour Government two years later. A minority administration, it did not last long. But long enough for Wheatley to near single handedly pioneer the 1924 Housing Act through Westminster. And the Act was so good it was the basis upon which almost 500,000 council houses were built across the UK over the next 15 years. And good quality homes for rent, "workers cottages", with gardens and front and back doors, with local shops and facilities that built communities: Knightswood, Carantyne, Bellahouston, Lochfield, Gallowhill - places where my own parents were born and brought up. Good places.

And every city and town across the UK has its Wheatley homes - so fine that sadly they were amongst the first to go under Tory right to buy policy in the 1980s....... Land that is lost now.

But Wheatley delivered - and he never sold out. Spurned by Labour leader Ramsey MacDonald because of his opposition to Labour's move to the centre, Wheatley never regained office and died suddenly in 1930. His funeral was one of the largest Glasgow had ever seen. In a deeply divided city, Catholics, Protestants, Rangers and Celtic supporters, even Tories turned out in their tens of thousand to pay respects to a man who had not only offered hope but had delivered homes.

John Wheatley, for his people, in his time - Martin Luther King. And his promised land was for everyone, not just the chosen few. So let's all celebrate his birthday today.

7 comments:

naldo Tuesday, May 19, 2009  

Excellent stuff, Alan.

I'm glad you made that stark contrast between Wheatley and his successors who've been running Scottish Labour since the inter-war period.

They've been around too long, they've been intoxicated by power and they don't seem to care about the nepotism and corruptiuon which sustain them.

Let's hope exposure of the decades old behaviour of the Westminster establishment in the last coupla weeks will nudge a few more people into realising that political power needs to be brought much closer to all the people of these islands.

And that means breaking up the UK.

Aye We Can ! Tuesday, May 19, 2009  

Thanks Naldo, - Today, Wheatley would be with us. A lifelong Scottish Home Ruler, in an age where the British Empire at the peak of its power. He supported Ireland's Independence - for sure he'd be with us - the ideal candidate for Springburn!

Forward Tuesday, May 19, 2009  

A well written and evocative tribute, although slightly spoiled by your inability to resist a cheap dig at Michael Martin.

And in response to the first two comments, the idea that Wheatley could ever be in the same party as Winnie Ewing is patent nonsense.

He was a socialist who supported home rule because he believed it was the best way to change Scotland. Not a Nationalist.

The bit you get right is that he was also the leader of the best generation that the Scottish left has ever produced.

So, tonight we should all raise a glass to John Wheatley.

Aye We Can ! Tuesday, May 19, 2009  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aye We Can ! Tuesday, May 19, 2009  

Forward - I said with "the cause", meaning Independence, not necessarily the SNP. In my humble opinion Wheatley would be in an "Independent Labour Party" - a sort of SSP with brains.

And my dig at the Speaker was some topical invective journalist John would I think approve of. You should read some of his columns - he dinnae take prisoners!

Aye We Can ! Tuesday, May 19, 2009  

Forward,

On refection, I have taken my dig at the speaker and his apologists out - footnotes in history now

naldo Tuesday, May 19, 2009  

Forward, i'm most certainly not a member or even suppoter of the SNP. I like to think i'm a socialist and, quite recently, a proponent of Sottish independence.

I've always considered nationalism to be a bad thing becuase it's been expresssed in ethnic, religious or parental terms and none of us can be held responsible for where, when and to whom we were born.

I'm in favour of Scottish independence because i think it would be good for the people who live near me.

I don't give a fig for the SNP and from the little i know of him, i suspect that neither would have John Wheatley.

But it's way past time to think outside the party political box.

Independence is far far bigger than the SNP. It's a matter of democracy.

And if you can't see how useless and effete Michael Martin has become, then your political faculties need sharpening.

How did you feel about the House of Lords when you first thought about it? How will you feel about it when MM is enobled?

C'mon, get a grip.

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