Unite Community, a Union for the People.

*As part of Unite Community there are quite a few opportunities to take part in training. This was a speech prepared as part of a public speaking course.

My name is Wes Hinckes and I’m a member of Unite Community. We’re part of Unite the Union’s initiative to reach out into communities and extend the benefits of union membership to all those in need.

I would like to speak to you today about the importance of community, belonging and of hope.

Before becoming a member of Unite Community I read a speech by a great trade unionist and I’d like to use his words and vision to illustrate that the union fight, the socialist fight, is a fight that begins in our communities first and foremost, for without them we are all lost.

His words carry a message of hope from a time when socialism in politics meant more than the redistribution of wealth to those in need. They call us from a time of possibility and potential when people could still envisage a world built by us and for us, of people united through a common bond of humanity.

Today our world is ready again for possibility and hope. It is time for people to come together and stand together; the workers with the unemployed, the young with the retired, all of us as one.

Just as the trade union movement came into being from ordinary citizens working within their local communities, it is time now for unionism to return to its natural home, to our communities, and to lend its strength and support to the full realisation of their potential.

I believe that Unite Community can reunite our communities, empowering us as citizens to defend ourselves, educate ourselves, and begin building a society fit for common people.

I believe many figures from the socialist movement would feel the same if they were here today.

Maybe after you hear these words you will feel like I do that the great trade unionist Jimmy Reid would support our efforts.

“Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.”

“Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping.”

“It is easy and tempting to hate such people. However, it is wrong. They are as much products of society, and of a consequence of that society, human alienation, as the poor drop-out. They are losers. They have lost the essential elements of our common humanity. Man is a social being.”

Without belonging, without communities and human relationships, an ‘Empathy Gap’ can form within any of us. A gap where the lives of others can become meaningless to us, of zero value. An empty vacuum where it becomes possible to discount everyone’s equal right to exist and to be heard. A place where it becomes possible to hold the very existence of other people’s lives in contempt.

This isn’t our true nature. It is the economic and political forces that are driving us apart.

“I must ask the politicians who favour these proposals — where and how in your calculations did you quantify the value of a community? Of community life? Of a sense of belonging? Of the feeling of identification? These are rhetorical questions. I know the answer. Such human considerations do not feature in their thought processes.”

As true then as it is today.

I’m not sure how you feel but I find it difficult to hear Jimmy’s words.

Jimmy wrote his speech in 1972, 43 years ago. It feels like nothing has changed.

What happened? Where did we go wrong? Didn’t anyone pay attention?

How do we go from today to where we need to get to? How do we put things right?

I have a radical suggestion. Let’s try listening. Let’s try listening again to this great man and our great socialist thinkers. Let’s put into practice their beliefs. Let’s reconnect as people and communities in order to empower ourselves, defend our rights, fight the injustice of our society, and demand change.

“The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people. I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings. This is a personal tragedy. It’s a social crime. The flowering of each individual’s personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone’s development.”

As trade unionists and socialists we have never needed to stand on the shoulders of giants. Our great men and women have always stood alongside us, shoulder to shoulder, always ready to lend us their support, their words, their knowledge, and their wisdom, even in death.

It is our duty to honor their lives, between us and with each other we can create a world transformed, a world we deserved then and that we deserve now.

I believe in this as Jimmy believed and I ask you to listen to his final words from that day in 1972.

“My conclusion is to re-affirm what I hope and certainly intend to be the spirit permeating this address. It’s an affirmation of faith in humanity. All that is good in man’s heritage involves recognition of our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that man is good by nature. Burns expressed it in a poem that technically was not his best, yet captured the spirit. In “Why should we idly waste our prime…”:

“The golden age, we’ll then revive, each man shall be a brother,
In harmony we all shall live and till the earth together,
In virtue trained, enlightened youth shall move each fellow creature,
And time shall surely prove the truth that man is good by nature.”

It’s my belief that all the factors to make a practical reality of such a world are maturing now. I would like to think that our generation took mankind some way along the road towards this goal. It’s a goal worth fighting for.”

You can find Jimmy Reid’s full speech here — Alienation by Jimmy Reid

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Founder of Socially Enterprising / Commoner / Mostly Unemployed.

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Wes Hinckes

Wes Hinckes

Founder of Socially Enterprising / Commoner / Mostly Unemployed.

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