Revaluing labour: reflections on the St Helens Workers Memorial

I came across this article online, written by Peter Critchley a St Helens born academic and philosopher I think it reflects the values of The Workers Memorial and I reproduce part of the article:-

And on that theme, I shall return to Vera Page Park.

 Statue made of old tools will make future generations aware of St Helens’ industrial heritage

 A stunning statue that pays tribute to the town’s workers who lost their lives through the decades “will make future generations aware of our proud and industrial heritage”, a ceremony was told.

Now this is very much the kind of thing I had in mind for my park.

The 1.8m structure depicting an industrial worker holding a child was officially revealed at Vera Page Park, near to the Steve Prescott Bridge, at a ceremony. Having a statue as a memorial was the idea of the St Helens Workers’ Memorial charity. It is situated at the former Lyons Yard, which is an area of regenerated former industrial land that was the centre of a range of heavy industries. The structure is constructed from donated tools and was created by Dorset-based Slovakian artist and blacksmith Martin Galbavy.

 The words of John Riley at the unveiling are worth quoting, and pondering, at length:

 “Social support can reduce the effect of such a loss and having a public memorial shows such support to affected families.

“This monument is about inclusion, it’s to the forgotten, the unsung, those people who have lost their lives because of their job. Those by their toil have made our lives better.”

“Many of the tools are generated from this area, some just from father to son, tradesman to apprentice giving the statue its industrial pedigree.”

“This is a public memorial, this is your memorial. The statue forms part of an international network, it puts St Helens on the global map.

“It demonstrates a forward looking community that takes pride in its industrial heritage and looking positively to the future.

“The creation of a new cultural icon will help create civic pride in the town and help us to respect and understand people of a different era and how their contributions over a hundred years gave us our lives as we know them now.

“The memorial will make future generations aware of our proud and industrial

heritage and the dangers in the workplace and the need for safety.

“We will provide education and help us learn from our mistakes and not to repeat them.

“We are where we are today because of yesterday.”

 This memorial brings back to life certain things that modern society stands in danger of losing. It evokes social support and solidarity and it looks to re-solidify society around practices and character traits forged in hard work, responsibility, and the regard and care of others. It celebrates the extraordinary capacities of supposedly ‘ordinary’ people. It recognises the contributions of the forgotten and the overlooked, the people whose activities were unsung but without which there would have been no society worthy of the name – it celebrates people who saw themselves as just doing their job, and thought nothing of further recognition, reward, and fame. They thought nothing of being ‘liked’ and being ‘popular,’ things that have been inflated out of all sense of proportion in this age of convulsive self-importance. Many lost their lives or had their lives impaired or curtailed because of the jobs they did. I lost both my grandfathers at an early age to industrial disease, one a coal miner, the other a bricklayer. My father now has a chronic lung condition, grace of breathing in the rubbish in old houses he was renovating, knocking down, and rebuilding. These are the true heroes of society, the people whose hard labour day in day out made the lives of those who followed better. There are others, too (both my grannies and my mother shouldered a whole lot of work and responsibility – work comes in many forms). 

 Many of the tools that have gone into the making of this structure have been made in this area, passed on from father to son, tradesman to apprentice, to give the statue its industrial pedigree. This is a public memorial, a memorial to all that has made the people of St Helens good and resilient, all those qualities that those succumbing to the corruptions of a selfish, individualistic, idiotic (privatistic) ‘culture’ lack. The memorial is not simply a remembrance of times and people past, a recognition of those things that are irrevocable, but is something that looks forward to a future we earn for ourselves by way of reclaiming the virtues of work and community in a new setting, reconfiguring that proud industrial heritage for the new world we need, a world we shall shape by our own skill and imagination.

With respect to the park, my idea was to link this heritage to the idea of a Green industrial revolution, creating an interest in renewables, seeking to recover our manufacturing and engineering skills as part of a local industrial strategy that is in tune with the Age of Ecology. With respect to philosophy, I also saw the idea of a Green Enlightenment as the soft culture counterpart to the hard culture of technology, industry, and engineering. I still think it is a super idea which inspires us hope for the future and encourages a proactive approach on the part of people towards their local place. The creation of a new cultural icon integrating the industrial technology of both past and future also serves to foster civic pride and identity, helping us to identify with and draw upon all those who have gone before us, those whose effort, skill, and hard work not only gave us, in material terms, what we have now, but who most of all gave in their lives examples for us to follow in our own lives. The

memorial not only generates pride with respect to the past, it inspires effort on our part to recover that industrial heritage for a new age. That’s the challenge before us.

 I like the accent on learning, and on improvement, and the sense of humanity as a familial pact between past, present, and future. Here’s your binding ethic causing people to act and make sacrifices in the present so that others may get the benefit in the future.

 “We will provide education and help us learn from our mistakes and not to repeat them.

“We are where we are today because of yesterday.”

 If things go well, then we will have a new industrialisation, one that is in tune with the patterns of nature, and in tune with human health and happiness at the same time. 

 The statue is a memorial to the work ethic, to social solidarity, and to community resilience. These can be reclaimed at any time and applied in new contexts to rebuild society anew. The town I born and bred in, like every strong and vibrant town, was built on qualities of grit and determination, hard graft and solidarity, skill and application, it had ambition and a work ethic to back it up, too (I live in a small terraced house, parallel roads the same, where I had two best friends from school – one became the youngest person to reach consultancy status, the other an optician – all three of us doctors, not privileged backgrounds, the local state comprehensive school, but aspirational and hard working). And, for emphasis … hard work. Like Bob Paisley, the old manager of my beloved Liverpool football club once said, all the talent in the world counts for nothing if there’s no sweat on your shirt. I like for people to sweat, because there’s no substitute for hard work. And I want to see this hard work rewarded by something more than poverty, ill-health, and an early grave. I want the end of a something for nothing society. I have heard rich people say that very thing in their determination to end the Welfare State. They have things the wrong way round. I want the hard workers to be rewarded, and the expropriators, exploiters, and parasites going without. Or encouraged to co-operate rather than free-ride.

 We can do all of this again, only this time with proper reward and recognition. These are the character traits that any viable civilization needs to develop in its members. In St Helens, these were forged in mining, glass, rail and cable manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. Work was hard, often long, underpaid, and dangerous. I don’t underestimate that work often still is. I am certainly going to avoid the snare which pits older workers against newer workers, as though people have it easy now. That’s rot, usually spoken by the kind of people whose counterparts in the past loathed the older workers whose work ethic they extol now they are dead and safely buried.

There was a reason why past workers were so ill-rewarded. I strongly affirm working class solidarity in the present, and also between all workers past, present and future. I come from a building background. It’s flipping hard graft, I can tell you, and my dad’s poor broken body survives to this day to tell the tale. I didn’t do too much and got out early. I went from the building sites to university. I had it easy in reading, writing, and research, right? Wrong. Sat in front of a computer hours a day for years has also earned me a chronic illness. I also had the misfortune to work in offices, on databases and phone systems, and my nervous system broke down. Work can be seriously bad for your health. Which makes the point that there is no virtue in hard work as such. Work has to be good work and not mere useless toil to make money for others; it has to be work that is good for body and soul. And we need to ensure that we produce goods that are truly good and services that truly serve. Any work ethic we value has to be one that is appropriate to some such end.

We can celebrate a memorial that remembers the sacrifices past workers made to their families and communities, having their lives cut short by disaster or accident, or by the effects of illness or chronic injury as a result of working down the mines or in manufacturing sites. I’ll certainly join in celebrating these grafters, not least because both my grandfathers are counted in their ranks. But if they made St Helens an industrial powerhouse, let’s remember that the workers were not truly rewarded in this expansion of power – they were brutally and ruthlessly exploited. Both my grandfathers had incomes and a standard of living far less than what we have today. When reclaiming these virtues from the past, we need to ensure that we reclaim them on the basis of social and environmental justice – ensuring just rewards, and ensuring that in mind, body and soul, people are at one with themselves, with their community, and with nature, including their own nature.

 It is on those terms that I celebrate the unveiling of this special statue in Vera Page Park, St Helens, on International Workers’ Memorial Day. In remembrance, I sincerely hope people will come to revalue the virtues and character traits that made this town, and other towns, great, and seek to reclaim them so as to embrace the future with hope: there are chains still to be shed and a world still to win.

The full article can be found here:-