The industrial revolution began in the late 18th century which kick started the gradual economic expansion in the UK and its eventual dominance of the manufacturing markets. Industrial decline started long before the Thatcherite era but during the 70s and 80s there was a marked decline in the importance of manufacturing and the economy of the United Kingdom shifted toward services. The truth is that access to fossil fuels and a high demand for good quality good drove the British manufacturing industries forward when they at their peak.
The UK, in terms of manufacturing, has now moved away from heavy industry and the production of good quality necessities such as ships and steel. Now the UK concentrates mostly on services and certain highly specialist goods such as electronics and chemicals – but even now we are being out competed by China who can produce lower quality goods quicker and cheaper. Why is this?
The truth of the matter is that we no longer operate in Capitalist terms any longer: we live in a global Corporatist market. Corporations operating on a global scale care not about national boundaries and cultural interests – in some people’s eyes this would be called the new Utopia. The only interests served are those of shareholders and capital accruement in certain places. Thus the UK will have to sink or swim when it comes to the issue of heavy industry in today’s age.
Steel will always be needed in our world, as will ships and vehicles. Yet the need for manufacturing in this country goes deeper than mere need for material goods because it ties in with localist politics. We now have a great sense of dissatisfaction when it comes to work because the current trends dehumanise the worker and do not value work as a necessity for the human being. There is a great inability with regards to the young of today in that they are unable to work with their hands and they do not champion nor value the concept of good, rewarding labour as a spiritual pursuit. People should be given the opportunity of a good day’s pay for a good day’s work and as part of this we need a greater proportion of our workforce to be involved in producing material goods – not unnecessary tat. Yet the spiritual component of work is what we should value the most.
As much as we need heavy industry in our country we should not forget that work ethic that came with it, and light industry for that matter. Work ethic is almost non-existent in our country these days because people have no reason to be committed to work. Their leisure time has become meaningless and empty and their work-lives stressful and unrewarding. We must give people back reason to work and reason to invest something in their work. Through this we would also give them back value to their leisure time because by giving spiritual fulfilment through work they will seek spiritual fulfilment through leisure also. What are people given right now? Massive consumerist shopping centres as a means of leisure and they are encouraged away from green spaces and physical exercise. However, I realise now that it is not just simply heavy industry that the UK lost but all means of production. We no longer really produce our own clothes, our own furniture, our own cars etc. We no longer have a sense of pride to produce our own and use our own – simply, because it is cheaper to export the manufacturing to other countries such as China, Vietnam and the EU. But why do we put up with substandard goods? It’s because it’s too easy to.
Factory farming is the greatest example of this. We go to the supermarket completely oblivious to the processes which have taken place, not necessarily with the animal’s welfare paramount, and we buy nicely packaged meat in a sterilised environment. This is why most people pledge to turn vegetarian the moment they witness footage from slaughterhouses. We are too far removed from the environment in which material goods are made and as such we tend to care less where they come from – just as long as we get them. We have been made into consumerists. By bringing industry back into the country we could potentially reunite people with the material product in the sense that they would treat it with newfound respect rather discarding it. I am not asking for reverence of material goods – they are inanimate, thus it would be pointless. However, we should strive with our hearts to ensure that we can reconnect with the toil of the hand, with the physical labour of creation. Labour is not easy, and nor should it be, but we must come to see that work makes the spirit free and gives credence to the fulfilment of leisure. Without one we cannot have the other and as such toil begets rest as rest must beget toil.
This concept must filter down into our society further than just at the employment level. You must toil toward goals for without goals there is no direction. Toil towards physical optimisation, towards mental attunement and towards spiritual fulfilment. I do not look back towards the 20th century with a reverence for the abundance of heavy industry but I do look forwards with the knowledge of the benefits of hard work and good quality products. We have many issues in society today and I hope never to suggest panaceas, every problem has its own solution, but as such we must make the most of the benefits that heavy industry could bring back to the UK: re-established community spirit, better economic performance, a larger consumer base, a happier populace, a sense of societal potential etc. We have, indeed, chucked the baby out with the bathwater but all is not lost. The world cries out for a more localised economy based on free market principles, the world calls out for greater variety and access to goods, the world calls out for a change of mind not a change of structure, the world calls out for the truth, the world calls out to be made whole. China, India and the US are currently dominating the world market in terms of heavy industry but we should not seek to compete with them on a global scale but instead on a local scale. Protect the domestic market and make the domestic market a free one, keep the labour of the UK in the UK and provide the UK with its own goods – only sell surplus to foreign markets.
The consumer can change the world by buying more locally but currently the playing field is skewed so that government regulation stifles self-perpetuating competition within domestic markets and stifles innovation. Instead, true Capitalism must make its return.
Image credit: flickr.com/61508583@N02