George's Dad: Are we becoming a fascist society?
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It was one of those inspirational moments, when you feel that just through a simple conversation you begin to understand the world just that little bit better. Suddenly, the gut wrenching and hopeless feeling that rises up when we look at the world and realise that things aren’t exactly rose-y, disappears. It disappears for a moment, to allow for a much more powerful feeling: hope. It starts with simple action: doing the right thing, at the right time.
With growing sentiment around Europe for right wing politics, and what can, quite frankly, be described as fascist tendencies, the words and action of one man I met on the train rekindled my faith in humanity.
I was sat on the train going to work and whilst talking to a friend, a beautiful conversation kindled between us and the man opposite.
The extent of this conclusion is the main point of my ramblings.
I never got this man’s name, only his son’s: George. George’s Dad, as he will forever be known to me, was incredibly softly spoken, a self-described placid man and a victim of the economic crisis in 2008. He told us that he had been made redundant five years ago from an Aluminium production plant in South Wales, where he was a Production Manager. George’s Dad decided to join an agency as economic hardship continued, he’s been with them for five years now.
What came next, I never expected to hear. George’s Dad divulged a story to us about working in a chemical crate cleaning plant somewhere in England.
(The following words are George’s Dad’s story, they might not be word for word, but everything here is exactly as recalled to me)
It was my first day in this cleaning plant, you know, since joining the agency I’m not really fussy about where I went. Work is work. You know those big crates you get in supermarkets? The ones that hold the fruit and veg? Well this place cleaned, sterilised and sent them back out.
The guy that was training me was 22, not that I’m ageist. After a while he says to me "If you get fed up with any of ‘em just point at them and then point at the door." I thought what does he mean, "them"? Now not being funny, but the majority of people there were Eastern Europeans, or foreigners, maybe immigrants. So I said to this guy, "what do you mean?"
“I’ll show you,” he said. So he walked over to the first guy he saw and kicked him to the ground. He then pointed to the door and said “get out”. The guy kicked, got up and without a word, crawled out.
Now I’m a placid man, but I was completely shocked. Later that day, I went into this young lad's office and said to him "what was that all about?" His response was, “well those foreigners out there are taking your jobs, you and your lads’ jobs; if they weren’t here you wouldn’t have been out of a job.”
You see (he turned around and said to us) that people, foreigners, because they work for agencies, don’t have any rights, they’re utterly disposable and seen like something less than human. The temperatures are boiling in the cleaning stations, the chemicals are toxic, and all they have to protect is a pair of marigolds.
So I said to this 22-year-old lad: "you do that again lad, and I’ll knock you out cold."
I should’ve walked out there and then, but I thought I’d give it a little longer and as long as nothing else happened it was fine. At the end of the week I went to see the big boss, he wanted to know how I was getting along.
“Ah, so how’s it going down there?” he asked me, I told him that it was all fine and just as a side notebefore telling him what had happened with this lad, I said “ yeah, I’ve embarrassed myself a few times, some of the guys have got you know, foreign names, so I’m pretty bad and pronouncing them.” the boss turns to me and says “follow me”. He leads me towards a cupboard. “What’s this?” I said. In the cupboard was a big cardboard sheet with A, B, C. So he turns around and says “take these, stick them on everyone of ‘em A, B, C. Much easier to pronounce now isn’t it?” Then he started laughing.
In that moment I realised, that lad didn’t do that because he wanted to, but because it was cultured into him. I took my jacket off, you know those fluorescent working ones, handed it to this big boss man, and said “thank you very much, but I’m leaving.” “Leaving where? You’ve got another 3 weeks,” he said; you know what I said? “I don’t have another three seconds.” “You’re giving up your job for these people? They’re out there taking our jobs, they’re the reason why you were made redundant.”
I replied “No they’re not; none of “our lads” would bare any of the working conditions these people endure.” And I walked out.
That’s not the only time, it’s happened many times. That’s the point though isn’t it, hard economic times, and it’s labour rights that go out the door. I’ve told the agency, but they don’t care. There’s no one who’s going to fight for these peoples’ rights. They don’t even realise they have any rights. One man gestured to me to be quiet once; that it was ok and to not get worked up, this was after he’d been kicked.
My mouth was ajar. How was it possible for this to be our world? Maybe somewhere in a developing country, but not in England, surely?
George’s Dad went on:
You know, I’m not a man of money. I have no interest in it at all, my wife, you know, she deals with it all. She deals with all the finance, which is perfect. I just spend all my time with my son. I’m a simple man. Give me £40 I’ll spend it, give me nothing and I’ll be fine also.
“What’s your son like”, I ask
Ah, not being funny, the teachers at school have called him a genius.
“Really? How so?”
Well, he’s always been rather talented, at everything. Anything he decides to do he’s good at. He won an art competition at the age of three; he had poetry published at the age of five. He’s been working for Lego as a toy designer since he was seven, and currently he’s taking master English and Maths classes in the local Senior school. You know, he’d never tell anyone. He’s a very shy boy. We always made a point of nevergetting too excited by his achievements, just “good work mate” (he gestures a thumbs up).You know, to make sure he doesn’t get carried away, and keeps grounded.
One day he came downstairs, dressed in what I thought was an All-Blacks rugby uniform. My son, he doesn’t like playing rugby, but he likes watching it. So I said "Oh son, you going to see the rugby?" He turns around and says:
No Dad. I’m going to play Netball.
Netball son? I asked. A little confused.
Yes Dad. The girls were a player short for a game, so I said I would play.
George’s Dad and his son are examples of the good that there is out there; this story may not have facts and names and figures, but sadly it's something that is happening all around us without anyone reporting it.
Even without having a label put on him, or expectation, George acts in a way that is natural: to do the right thing, in the right moment. Much like his father did that day in the production cleaning plant. And that’s exactly what it’s all about. No screaming and shouting, although that’s necessary too sometimes, but just choosing to act in the right way, being careful even in our day to day choices. To intrinsically act in a way that makes the world better for those around us, but also in a way that makes utter sense to our morals. Be it to be that extra member of the Netball team even though you don’t like the sport, or aren’t the stereotypical player. Or be it to be that person that quietly speaks up when something is wrong, and in their own way takes personal responsibility to realise that although we alone cannot make waves, that through our actions and standing up for what we believe in, at least our good minds and action will influence those around us, and most importantly influence a new generation.
UKIP is gaining support in the UK; right wing neo-Nazi political parties have gained support in some European countries too. I don’t believe that the scape-goating horrors which resulted in WWII will occur again, but I do believe that unless we begin to realise that regardless of race, colour, gender or otherwise, we are all human, and we should all work hard to respect and understanding, our communities are at risk of becoming fragmented, possibly beyond repair.