Where is John Steinbeck when you need him?

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The battle of Salinas, California is about to be repeated in our epoch of unrest, and this time there is no Steinbeck to highlight the plight of the dispossessed working classes. Already in the UK we have seen discontentment and lack of work spill out into the streets, only needing an ignoramus spark like the shooting of Mark Duggan this August in Tottenham to tip anger into mass unrest. While in most individuals involved in the riots their misplaced anger was ill defined, it is clear that with this wednesdays public sector union backed strikes, the country will see the biggest organised revolt of our times.

Who then is to stand up for the working classes this time. Will Billy Bragg come out of retirement to re-unite a cause? Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, captured the anguish of the dust bowl generation in Americas midwest transients journeys to the land of California in the 30s. In the book, the Okie’s reached the state boarder with California at Needles, where on crossing the bridge across the Colorado river from Arizona after a long trek down the mother road of amerrica, route 66, they found the first signs that they were heeded into a new hell from which they had traveled so earnestly in search of food, waterer and shelter.

The State of California, had for the first time in US history started to vet US citizens as they crossed over. Internal migration had become the biggest issue of the day in California. Surprising then as now, as California’s agriculture relies on seasonal imergrational workers to harvest its bounty. So here are parallels with the UK in modern times, the mass wave of Eastern European migrant workers that arrived in the UK and found work on our farms and building sites has prompted a new call for restrictions and vetting of immigrants as we hit hard times.

a photograph of the author John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck - Image AP Photo

Since the decline of manufacturing in the UK, there has been internal migration, with a population shifting from areas of low unemployment to find work and a new life. Now however as we face what could be a defining European lead UK felt double dip recession, those internal European economic migrants are having to start justifying their way within the UK, as comunites start to question where there jobs are going to come from it is again the migrants facing the wrath.

So where then do we go from here, Steinbeck opened the eyes of the world to the plight of the disposed in the US, and the eyes of the world are again open to the issues we face today, but unlike in Steinbeck, we have no champion to speak for the jobless, hungry and angry youth. Perhaps the answer lies in communities accepting the need to heal thyself through charities and communal labour. Why not a national series of Infrastructure projects to create jobs and give the restless an outlet for the frustration though work. We could use the communists mantra “Workers of the world unite”. We have a potential paymaster with China, as they look to invest trillions of Yuan in the UK and Europe to prop up the world economy.

Before you start to judge this post, as a manifestation of communist leanings, much like Steinbeck was wrongly berated for his thoughts on humanities struggles, ask yourself where we can inject the growth that our capitalist economies relay on for their stability. We have no capital of our own for such projects, and as the worlds economies are becoming tightly integrated the problems of contagion need a global sticking plaster.

“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” — John Steinbeck

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Matthew has been writing about the Arts and culture for Interesting Everything since 2012. Having graduated an Arts History major from Berkeley in the late 60's he now spends his retirement writing about 18th century painters, surfing with his partner, and occasionally posting the odd article on Interesting Everything. He lives in oceanside, california.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Steinbeck was a good story teller and I love the way he conveyed the pain of the lives of his characters, I only how real life does not again get this tough. I will be supporting the trade union strikes in the UK tommorow from Vancouver, Canada!

  2. Well, your grammar is less than captivating. I hope that you weren’t expecting readers to cry out your name in the place of Steinbeck’s because let me assure you, we won’t.

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