As I write, I have the peculiar sensation of floating in a bubble in the sky, and everyone else is floating too. We are all looking out from our individual bubbles – at the world and at each other. There are millions of bubbles. Sometimes, we can see individuals falling through the sky. Some of these people are faraway; others are near. Sometimes, it seems that many people are falling, and there are bubbles bursting everywhere, although most remain floating.
Dreams and images can be powerful things – more powerful, sometimes, than reality itself. Yet, what we think we see is not always really there.
Lies can hide reality from us. In 1984 and 1985, during the year-long miner’s strike, BBC news carried nightly reports about miners allegedly breaking the strike and returning to work. The numbers reported were often large and depressing for miners, their families and supporters. Yet, these numbers were entirely false. The figures came from the National Coal Board and a breakaway union backed by Margaret Thatcher. The figures included – managers, others who were never on strike, with huge, fictitious numbers thrown in for dramatic effect.
I remember, as a young activist, collecting money for miner’s families, in buckets in the centre of Dundee. The buckets were always quickly filled, becoming heavy with coins, and mixed in with the coins were fivers and tenners, often from pensioners who had very little but wanted to give all that they could to stop the miners from being starved back to work. You could literally feel the weight of the truth.
In the 1990s, another great challenge faced the working class in these islands: the poll tax. Having defeated the miners, Thatcher thought she could defeat all of the working class – by shifting a large part of the tax burden away from the rich and on to the stretched budgets of workers and pensioners. Thatcher reckoned foolishly. We were bruised and damaged by the miner’s strike, but we were not defeated. Socialists built and led an army of 18 million non-payers, and we defended the homes of anyone threatened by warrant sales. We won. The poll tax was abolished. Thatcher fell. The truth was made by us, not by her.
Since the 1990s, there have been many struggles where powerful governments have lied to us. And every time, we have kept ourselves strong by telling each other the truth.
The virus itself is not a lie. The challenge it presents to us is real. The need for self-isolation and social distancing flow from medical facts. Yet, there is a difference between such truths of the pandemic, and the lies we are told by government – lies about delays in testing, NHS cuts, and about ‘help’ allegedly available to all who are made unemployed. Hundreds of thousands of families are encountering ‘Welfare Reform’ for the first time. Long delays, inadequate levels of benefits, rapidly increasing debts: few expect it to be as bad as it is, the result of a decade of cuts. Yet, the system they encounter is temporarily improved – evictions paused for a while, dreaded face-to-face assessments by private companies put on hold, for a while.
The frontline in this crisis is not in the Cobra meetings of the British Government. It is in our hospitals and homes; in our hearts and minds; and in our capacity, as we have always done, to struggle and support one another. What does the future hold, somewhere beyond the pictures of rainbows painted by children? It holds whatever we make of it, and that means the possibility of a much better world.
Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay hopeful.