Like many another who, after long, ill-paid years of apprenticeship, came out of my time hoping for better wages, I found myself out of work, and being only twenty-one, inexperienced, nobody wanted me…. I hadn’t proved myself. For two and a half years I was out of work, on the endless round of going from place to place, cap in hand, begging for work. Day after day, week after week, month after month, the same question, the same answer, just one of two million others. I came to know all the back street workshops of every town in the dreary Northwest; at some I was laughed at, and that hurt me, at others the few men left working would have a whip-round, and hand over a shilling or two to the youth who stood at the door with burning cheeks. That hurt too. Again I was cursed and almost kicked back into the street. That didn’t hurt, but all of it left me with a strong sense of the injustice of it all. There were times when, at nights I would lie abed thinking if there was something wrong with me that made nobody want me. Me, and another two million.
Then, one day the country went ‘off the gold standard’, and we were told we were near bankruptcy, and I was sent before a tribunal. My ‘dole’ was cut from 17 shillings a week to nothing….. because my brother and father were working. My seventeen shillings weekly saved this great nation from bankruptcy ! My father then came out of work too, so, to save being a burden on them, I left home. I got another address and applied for the ‘dole’ again as a single man with nobody to support me. The tribunal saw fit to grant me 12 shillings a week, but my new landlord couldn’t keep me for that ! He allowed me to use his address, and I got my tent and pitched it in a hen run, and lived like that all through the summer of 1932, until the snow came and the water filled the tent at nights, and I was always cold and wet. My parents prevailed upon me to go home again in the winter, though the weary, heart-breaking tramp of my two million companions and myself kept on, day after day, week after week, month after month.
Perhaps I became embittered. I know I rebelled and once I joined the Communist Party. At that time my life was of little account to myself, and I would cheerfully have thrown it away for some forlorn cause.
Yet everything was not bad in the world. My friends – half of them out of work like myself, were the finest pals in the world. Somehow I had kept my bicycle in repair – I’d go hungry for two days for a new tyre – and with these friends I went off on long trips into the countryside. The country people were always very pleasant, perhaps because they did not know that I had sunk to the gutter, and the flowers, the mountains, looked the same to me as to the best man in the world. The curlew, whistling his spring call across the empty moors and the dog that ran out to lick my hand looked on me as equal to other men, and these simple things gave me heart.
Then one day I was sent for at the Labour Exchange and given a letter to take to Ford Motors at Dagenham. I went at once – I borrowed the railway fare to get there quicker. There were crowds there, thousands, when only a few were wanted, and I began to despair at my slender hope. My letter was taken, and I was at once given an examination and passed. To my great surprise I found myself one of the few. The reason? The letter, which was left for me to read. On it were the words ‘Chadwick, Moulder, Good appearance, good type!’ Those six words restored my self confidence !
Since then I have not been out of work.
[Ed: This offer of employment at Fords new factory at Dagenham was taken up on the first week in May, 1933]