In the General Election campaign of 1945, Nye Bevan laid out his views on why the Labour Party (and by inference, the working classes) should win the election. “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.” The Labour Party won the election with a landslide, and Bevan went on to create the National Health Service.
Ken Loach, filmmaker, is in the process of making a film about this era. “It’s about the spirit of 1945, 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.” His film will not be just a soliloquy on the past, and how bad things are today. “It’s to celebrate the possibilities that people had in the 40s and to remember them.”
Ken Loach at WCML
In the film he interviews two of the nurses who met Bevan when he inaugurated the NHS at Trafford General Hospital in the northwest on 5 July 1948. Ironically this hospital has recently been taken over by another local trust, the Central Manchester Foundation Trust, but its Accident and Emergency Service and Intensive Care Unit are now under threat. A campaign has been set up by local people to defend their local hospital services.
Campaign co-ordinator of Save Trafford General Jo Harding says: “We are concerned that local, thriving services such as our A&E and Intensive care units may be downgraded. Local people are telling the Trust that we want to keep our A&E services and we want reassurances that they will stay as local services.”
Ken Loach feels that the key principles of 1945 have been betrayed by successive politicians. “It began in the late 70s with Thatcher at the forefront of attacks on nationalised industries 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 sees the election of George Galloway from the Respect Party last week as an indicator of the public mood. “It shows the massive disrespect there is for the main political parties. The NHS did not happen without a party to promote it.” 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 remit of his 90 minute feature documentary is wide-ranging and he chose to do his research, and some of his filming, at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. The WCML was started by two Communists, Ruth and Eddie Frow, in the 1950s, when they joined together their love of each other and their book collection.
Over the years the Library has grown into a massive collection. The WCML Web site says “The Working Class Movement Library records over 200 years of organising and campaigning by ordinary men and women. Our collection provides a rich insight into working people’s daily lives as well as their thoughts, hopes, fears and the roles they played in the significant events of their time.”
In 1987 it moved to Salford and has been funded by Salford City Council, as well as individual friends, trade unions and groups in the labour movement. It is run by Trustees, who employ 3 members of staff, and there are also many volunteers who provide an essential service in maintaining the collection and organising activities ranging from talks to theatre performances and exhibitions.
Michael Herbert, Trustee, says “The Working Class Movement Library embodies the spirit of 1945. We are about common ownership, collectivity and people working together to keep the Library as a free and accessible resource for all people.”
At the moment they are also under threat as their funding from Salford Council is cut. “We are asking people to join us as friends, to get their trade union or community group to donate to the library so that we can continue to maintain a resource for our community to learn about our history and to encourage them to continue that history.” Ken Loach agrees: “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.”
Spirit of 45 is co-financed by the BFI Film Fund with Film4 and Channel 4; the film will be a collaboration between Fly Film Company and Sixteen Films, It will have a cinema release at the end of the year and will then be shown on Channel 4.
Working Class Movement Library – see http://www.wcml.org.uk/
Save Trafford General – see http://savetraffordgeneral.com/
Bernadette Hyland, Library volunteer
This is a longer version of a post originally on Bernadette’s Lipstick Socialist blog, http://lipsticksocialist.wordpress.com/