The Shop-Floor Gospel by Jane Commane

The Big Clear Up Begins After Glastonbury 2009At the end of the Reading Festival when all of the punters have gone home, the site is a wreckage; a teenage detritus of (un)broken tents, sick-strewn sleeping bags, cans, cardboard, and many other unmentionables. What is left is gathered up by volunteers, some of it is donated to charities (one year, tents were given to refugees in Calais), the rest recycled and landfilled. I think of this as a metaphor for how capitalism leaves places when it’s done. A factory or a pit closes and all that is left is a rusting construction and a community having to rebuild itself from nothing. For it is not only the workers, but all those who relied on their income; suppliers, local shops, local clubs and pubs.

Hope is the wrong kind of four letter word in these circumstances (I won’t list the right kind). Of course, with the demise of the Unions, negotiations to mitigate against such withdrawal, tends to be a one-sided affair, with the government having to foot the bill in welfare provision, or lack thereof. During the late 90s, I worked in the area of what is known as Corporate Social Responsibility (a somewhat oxymoronic term looking back now). ‘Ethical’ companies such as The Body Shop led the way in making businesses more accountable for their social and environmental impacts (it was termed the triple bottom line). Some good work was done in this area, and many companies paid more than a little lip service to such responsibilities. However, when times became tight, whether financially in terms of profits, or politically in terms of government influence, it was always the financial bottom line that over-rode its helpless bedfellows.

Jane Commane Assembly Lines cover imageJane Commane’s poem The Shop-floor Gospel, from her debut collection Assembly Lines, goes inside the uncertainty felt by workers both back in the day (that day being the 1980s I’m presuming) to the present; where either redundancies are in the air of shop floor gossip, or potential closure. ‘Fortune-teller, free agent,/ laughter in grubby canteens;/ Mark my words./ We’re a living museum!/ There’s no future’. This type of thing is happening across many developed countries. The feeling of being left when industries go under, is one the reasons people gave for voting Trump, or Brexit; when there was ‘only the holding out against/ believing in some kind of new/ that pacified the absences/ with retail parks.’ The extent of a ©PLP-24854-webt-044company’s responsibility goes well beyond its shareholders, its directors, even its employers. They should have responsibility for clearing up the mess they left behind, because just like the volunteers at the end of the Reading Festival, people aren’t paid to pick up their own pieces.

Jane Commane was born in Coventry and lives and works in Warwickshire. Her first full-length collection, Assembly Lines, was published by Bloodaxe in February 2018. She is editor at Nine Arches Press, co-editor of Under the Radar magazine, co-organiser of the Leicester Shindig poetry series, and is co-author (with Jo Bell) of How to Be a Poet, a creative writing handbook. In 2017 she was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship.

 

The Shop-floor Gospel

Angry –
he who trudges the grey
dog-eared estate avenues,
a rasp of
I bloody told you so
ready on their lips.

Fortune-teller, free agent,
laughter in grubby canteens;
Mark my words.
We’re a living museum!
There’s no future.
We’re sold, sold out –

Decades blowing a coarse wind
through the resistance,
where no borders were left
to cross, no other line to join,
only the holding out against
believing in some kind of new
that pacified the absences
with retail parks.

You are
the lone no
on the shop-floor –
the habitual reader
of all the wrong news,
the public library ghost,
the vote cast for some
Old School
that’s long since closed.

A vanished oddment
a piss in the wind
the autumn leaves
laughing
at a glib historian’s
reworking
of the lady’s
not for turning.
I bloody told you so.

 

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