On April 12 1912, the Titanic sank. The "unsinkable sinking" and God's wrath on men getting above their station are held as reasons for the lingering fascination behind this event, but I feel the exposure of the values and the class system that prevented social mobility of Victorian/Edwardian Britain a much more important factor. If there was a message from any God, it must have been the disgust of the vilification and condemnation of a "subspecies" of the poor. The disgusting statistics of Third Class dead and stories of people being kept away from the lifeboats exposed the truth of "our betters." I feel what happened in 1912 serves as a warning as massive inequality seems to be the order of Tory Britain in 2012.
The Edwardian golden sunlit afternoon was one of extreme iniquity, and one of corporate control of national politics. Corporations with the help of nation states competed for resources and markets, the British Empire was rivaled by Germany and the US, and some were predicting war between the three great powers.
The poor died on the streets.
Some people think the Titanic signaled the beginning of the end of the class system in the UK. The anniversary of the beginning of World War 1 in two years time shows that this did not happen as young men died at the front in their thousand, while an elite gave the orders from Chateaux or Stately homes and did so for profits and dividends.
The war did not benefit the huge majority of families who lost their young men.
The Titanic and World War 1 were deeply politicizing. Victorian philanthropy was seen to be lacking. "Our betters" were revealed as people who thought of their working classes as expendable.
The Titanic disaster exposed the lack of empathy the upper classes suffered from. The Great War was the murderous conclusion of sacrifices for the Dollar, Mark or Pound.
After the Great War, prejudice and inequality continued. Women were asked to give up their places of work for returning soldiers. Women had until the war and irrespective of class, been seen as second class citizens. They were expected to become wives and mothers and working opportunities were as limited as much of their lives. Although women "won" the vote, Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes' fight for equality is still to be won.
People fought back. The newborn Labour party began to increase momentum. The compromise and capitulation of Liberalism that drove working conditions down, was destroyed and in a thirty year period, our welfare state - a state that ensured the weakest and poorest of society were given a chance, was born. The new society meant that wealth was more evenly re-distributed. It was imperfect, but working class people were given access to a better life. The new 'welfare state' led to a society in which businesses burgeoned. The birth of a society that redistributed a larger proportion of its wealth led to the boom years of the sixties and the never before or again experienced equalities of the seventies.
We had socialised housing, socialised medicine, socialised education , postal services, telecoms, energy, travel and water. We took these for granted, at least those of us who lived in that more equitable Britain.
Of course, protections of the weakest and laws against exploitation and socialised utilities meant untapped profits for rich corporations.
The reversal of these reforms started with Thatcher.
The "common sense" Tories told the baby-boomers that British Rail, Gas and Telecom would be much more efficient if they were run by the private sector. Those same baby-boomers who bought shares from Sid, now ask why our utilities are so expensive. Those same Tories are now directors, shareholders, in power, and determined to drain increasing profits from privatised utilities into offshore accounts, trust funds and Cameron's dinner guest's companies. This robbery of the working class was given the label, "reforms." They were, and are, reforms only for the moneyed.
New Labour for the most part, put the brakes on the Tory reinvention of rigid class demarcation, but did nothing to reverse the attacks on workers' pensions, the NHS and pay and conditions. The new power given to the Tories by the Liberals is rapidly creating a society in which "deserving poor and undeserving poor" is becoming accepted language. The term "underclass" was introduced into the UK political language by the proto-type neo-liberals of Thatcher's Government and the destruction of council housing meant that the "sink estate," ghettoised the poor.
Attacks on Health and Education are squeezing profits from working people and the poor. Attacks on pensions and pensionable age are meaning that people in the future are going to be dying of old age at their work.
These attacks take time to seep into society - slow enough for people not to notice what they have lost straight away. In ten years time, what extra bills from your GP will you accept as normal? The health insurance bill will be like any other bill in England, now the Tory and Liberal Democrat Government have managed to privatise the NHS.
Oil and energy profits are rising in "democracies" that have been subverted by rich lobbyists. Poor people still die in foreign lands for oil profiteers - forced by the economics of the billionaires to fight each other rather than embrace and share.
What will be the new neo-Edwardian Titanic? What will be the wakeup call? Our old, unable to afford to pay for the millionaires dividends from the energy companies, dying in freezing houses, or on the streets, homeless after a lifetime of service to our economy? Our women and families forced into deepening poverty? Our disabled forced to work for their welfare payments in supermarkets of fast food outlets? Or as England sees the dying days of universally free health service, will patients lined up on trolleys in order of who has the best insurance be the new third class trapped below the waterline?
(Pictures by Gwen Penner)