Labour is a very important aspect of Samuel Mountford’s life and links directly with his pride. From a very early age we see Mountford take pride in his labour, even though it is not highly paid, and yet he still contributed his wages to the welfare of the family at home. His life is a large cycle of working-class, career-less ‘jobs’ in which he works for unfair wages because of his class, and does this simply to care and provide for those in need of him; this ranges from contributing to his parents’ earnings when he was first able to work, to marrying Dora and providing for their children as they grew older. He always worked to provide for others and in the process ensured that he remained just as socially and financially impoverished as always in the sphere of the working-class.
Karl Marx would argue that the problems suffered by the working-classes are the result of the Bourgeoisie who own the means of production, the industry and the capital. The Bourgeoisie employ hands for labour whilst paying them a minimum wage and taking most of the profits for themselves. Marx was attributed to bringing some of this to light and helped spark the working-class movement in the 19th Century, which demanded fairness in the workplace, fair wages and a fair representation (workers union). Karl Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto (1848): “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (15). Unfortunately, Mountford was born into the Proletariats, and his life henceforth was a series of jobs and labour. He is never able to access the higher wages and he simply earns enough to provide for his family whilst his Bourgeois counterparts thrive off of his labour.
Throughout Mountford’s experience with labour and poverty, he did appear to remain upbeat and always managed to provide despite his class. As evidenced in earlier blogs, his relinquishment of poverty came with older age, as the times changed and welfare systems came in to help the lower classes. The link between labour and leisure was scarce in the Mountford household, however he did find a time in his life where they could afford some small treats:
“As time went on and I was still at work, we at last tried to give ourselves a bit extra in life – once a week a visit to the pictures (sixpence before six o’clock), a packet of cigarettes – what a treat it was” (15)
This was however whilst they only had one small child, who their next door neighbour would look after during this time of leisure. Once they had more children and they had grown up and became more expensive they struggled once again with poverty and worked only to provide. Roberts wrote on working class men in his book The Classic Slum, in which he gives his take on the identity and standing of the men:
“Docilely they accepted a steady decline in living standards and went on wishing for nothing more than to be ‘respectful and respected’ in the eyes of men” (31)
I think that Mountford never challenged his status in society, and that he did in fact docilely accept the steady decline in living standards. However, he does not mention any other men, or any instances of ‘proving’ himself in the eyes of other men, he only considers his family when working for his wages. Mountford dutifully accepted his role as ‘breadwinner’ from an early age and slipped into the role as he got older and went through the motions of relationship, children, and family. His family is his identity, and he must work to maintain his family, so we see a necessary correlation between identity and labour for working class families, particularly for fathers.
Mountford, Samuel, ‘A Memoir’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:244.
Marx, K. The Communist Manifesto. Penguin Classics Edition, 1985.
Roberts, R.G. ‘The Classic Slum’ Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. London: Penguin Books, 1971.