Isaac Gordon (b. 1927): Life and Labour, part two

To move further into Isaac Gordon’s life and labour, I will focus on his journey to America and England, adding reference to what he did and did not enjoy. Firstly, Isaac spoke about how he wanted to move to America through the beginning of his memoir, even continuing to reference how he wanted to go back once he had left. Isaac got lucky when looking for work in America, as he had to be given a card by somebody in Jamaica to say that he was able to go and work in America. In Isaac’s case, he knew the person who gave him the card; he said, “My father brother wife brother-in-law was the man who gave me the card.” (10). One does not normally associate travelling with the lower classes, as it was an expensive thing to do at this time. Mike Savage said in his book, “we associate particular places with certain class stereotypes,” and, to me, travelling to America is not a stereotype that I would associate with the lower classes in the 1940’s (2015, 261).

An image from Isaac’s memoir of how he used to carry the crops on the farm in Jamaica.

Developing the story of Isaac’s work in America further, when he got there after his tests to see if he was fit enough, he was not there for as long as he thought he would be. Isaac’s first job was “to cut celery” in “Lake Arbour in Florida for three months.” (12). Isaac said there was “About 20 men on one side and 20 on the other,” (12). This shows that there was many people sent to work in America at this time, in order for the companies to pay them less money. There was a great recession in the 1930/40’s, and many companies were guilty of “over-investment, overproduction, falling profit rates, the emergence of idle production capacity, unemployment, and financial speculation.” (Ivanova, 2013, 300). Because of this, Isaac was not able to stay in the States for too long, the employer “didn’t have anything else for [them] to do” so he said “Right boys back on the rock – Jamaica.” (13). This was not only to do with the frost that killed the celery plants but also because of the great recession that was happening at the time. This upset Isaac as he wanted nothing more than to stay in America, he knew that if he left, he would have to move to England for work.

Image of the Royal Northern Hospital where Isaac was treated after his accident.h

Isaac’s journey to England was much easier than his journey to America as, “At that time you didn’t have to say you had a job to come to.” (19). However, Isaac did not have such an easy time when he began working in England. Isaac says that when he first began to work on the scrap metal yard he fell ill and was off work for “four weeks.”, then he was sent to a different job building instead (23). Isaac was then offered the job back at the scrap metal yard, so he went back “as it was much nearer” to him (24). Isaac regretted this decision immediately, as within an hour of being back at work “the accident happens.” He pulled his “hand straight into the knife”. (24). After Isaac had the accident he was rushed to “the Royal Northern Hospital” and lost one and half fingers, “It was more than six months before them heal up.” (25). Being out of work for this long, as soon as he arrived in England, would have discouraged Isaac and would have had a huge impact on him financially.

However, though this is true, Isaac then received £850 from the company because “the machine didn’t have any guard” (25). With that money, Isaac put it in the bank and “in 1969 [he] bought a house.” even though this could be seen as a good thing, Isaac would “still prefer to have [his] fingers than the house.” (24). The fact that Isaac bought a house in England shows us that at this point he had come to the realisation that he would be staying there for a while. To conclude his chapter about England and the accident, Isaac said that he was offered a job that he did not want as it was “too little money” but he tried it anyway “and [he] has been there till now.” (26). This takes us to Isaac’s present day, the day that he was telling Jud his story.  

Image of Isaac taken from his memoir of him ‘ramming the leaf down’ (27).

Works Cited:

Gordon, Isaac. Going Where the Work is. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 2.327.

Ivanova, N. Maria. “The Great Recession and the State of American Capitalism.” Science & Society 77, no. 3 (2013): 294-314.

Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. London: Penguin, 2015.

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