Stanley Rice (1905-1981): Politics, Protest & Class

As like the world today, politics surrounded everyday life in the 20th century. Politics control social status and living conditions, especially for the average working-class family. The husband was always seen as the breadwinner in every family, supporting the wife and children, with this protective role representing that of working class family. For Rice’s father he was in an out of a job and was more often than not signing on at the Labour Exchange; however this was ‘not by any means unusual in those days for any man who was not a highly skilled craftsman or in a profession’ (2). This shows the vicious cycle of a constant struggle for working-class families to survive and how times were tough. Rice also makes it known that ‘going to the pawnshop was one method used to try and make daily funds available to carry over each day until the end of the week’ (2), which his mother did. The pawnshop was a method used by working-class people to gain access to quick money for essential items, such as food, and pawned items would include anything from clothes to, if any, sentimental artefacts. Throughout his autobiography, Rice strives to make ends meet in any way possible to support his wife Ethel, and the protective role comes from not having much when he was young and seeing his father turn to drink, something that he does not want to be involved in.

Whilst working as an Engine cleaner, Rice was told to join the Union known as the ‘A.S.L.E.F (Associated Society of Locomotive Engine Drivers and Firemen)’ (15). However, he resented this because the title ‘did not include cleaners, and nor could he tell me of anything that had been done especially to benefit the cleaners! I had a stubborn mind about this and always refused’ (15). It is clear that Rice is stubborn, but also because he hates his job maybe he resents anything to do with helping the industry, if it will not help him directly. I also believe that if he joined the Union, this would demonstrate his care for the job, which he had no ambition to carry on with. It is interesting to note that Rice was promoted to ‘Junior Fireman’ (17) but we do not know whether he did then join the Union, but it would have been interesting to know if he did.

During the 1926 General Strike, Rice was advised by Lord Lathom to go on a two week holiday to the Isle of Wight, where there was no strike. At the end he ‘managed to get on a boat to Portsmouth and eventually on a train to Waterloo, manned by what the strikers called ‘blacklegs’. We were stoned when passing level crossings, but no serious damage or injury. I offered my services as Fireman, but the help was not needed’ (22). He is not daunted at the idea of being called a ‘blackleg’, someone who continues working when fellow workers are on strike, as I do not believe he is concerned with a collective working-class approach, but more interested in the individual self.


'Workers of the world unite' General Strike 1926
‘Workers of the world unite’
General Strike 1926

However, with Rice’s fate and good fortune of knowing the right people and working for Lord Lathom, he was able to branch off on his own after accumulating knowledge in the business industry and saving his wages. He says ‘My sister Nancy was then courting my now brother-in-law Jim, and he, brother Bill and myself used to discuss and argue about Politics, especially advantages or disadvantages of ‘Nationalisation of Industry’. I was most strongly anti, Jim and Bill was for it. No doubt the General Strike was the basis of these discussions’ (22). You can see why Rice did not want Nationalisation to occur, because he wanted his own business to flourish, and so if the Government were to control his industry, they would control the running of the organisation, which in turn could cut his profits.

Politics have become more inclusive over time as people are more educated and there are more media outlets for people to access information, for example the internet and social media. Although Rice was not the most political of people, he still provides us with an insight into the hardship working-class people dealt with. He shows how the working-class were powerless and how even going on strike was hardly ever successful. Something that these people showed was how they were all in it together; especially through the War showing a great sense of camaraderie. They were determined to keep on fighting for what they believed in and this helped to get them through daily struggles.

RICE, Stanley, ‘The Memories of a Rolling Stone: Times and incidents remembered’, TS, pp.68 (c. 33,600 words). Brunel University Library, Volume 2:661.

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