The old Drum and Monkey Pub sits on the corner of Bowesfield Lane and Adams Street in Stockton on Tees. Once surrounded by a network of thriving and mainly family owned businesses like iron foundries. At a lunch times the guys working in the immediate locality would congregate here for a quick pint, sandwich, chat, exchange banter, place their £1 coin on the pool table in the hope they could grab a quick game before heading back to the intense heat and dust of the furnace and the toil of hard labour. The body fluid lost during a 5 hour morning shift would constantly need replenishing and the men would be encouraged to drink a pint of bitter shandy at lunch time. This was before any notion of health and safety regulations and we would often be joined by the foundry owner who on a good day would pay for the drinks (especially on a Friday).
Today not much remains of these industries and indeed the men that toiled often on 12 hour shifts 5 days a week. Working in conditions that would not be tolerated today. Not many people retired from this line of work, the dust, sulphuric fumes and everyday hazards of working with moulting metal took their tole with lung infections, cancers, scares, missing fingers and teeth, burns and dirt that seeped into the skin to leave engrained tattoo like marks on your hands. The afterwork showers and expelling of inhaled dust from the chest and nostrils made for gruesome sounds and a dark tar like effluent running through the communal outflow from the shower cubicles. A single foundry struggles to survive today, but is highly automated and relies upon a handful of men to operate it. The surrounding area is now awash with car showrooms, office blocks for white collar workers in insurance, legal, or financial services. Large shopping and retail outlets provide their customary part time work opportunities and modern housing developments have sprung up.
When I worked in a foundry during the 1970s new technologies were promoted as the great advancement of the working class. Quality leisure time would be in abundance as robots took up the hardwork. This was of course before the venture capitalist and edge fund fraudsters got their claws into ordinary peoples lives and ripped communities apart in the 1980s. For those too young to know it Bowesfiled Lane is where then PM Margaret Thatcher came to open a new electric furnace and infamously called working people “moaning mini’s.” 2 years later the electric furnace was closed down, knocked down and 100s of men and women joined the dole queue. Today where once proud people worked is a modern housing estate with pretty maintained lawns, whose literal foundations have been built on the sweat of their fathers and mothers.
Progress is good and there are a lot of really exciting things happening in my home town. The local council against the backdrop of the global free market does its best to protect the local economy, but an economic system that pits worker against worker, enables multinational and faceless industrial owners who no longer see through the lens of community, or indeed national boarders to exploit labour costs.
Long gone is the days when the foundry owner would pop down to the pub with the workers on a Friday afternoon and buy the round. Today that pint you have to buy yourself, the industry you work in, the shoes you are walking in and the money you are spending are all properly supplied by the same faceless and unaccountable bunch of financiers.
One Friday afternoon before the Christmas holiday’s around 1978 we were in the Drum and Monkey and I called the owner of the foundry I was working at a “greedy tosser” because he only bought one round for the guys. He shrugged, laughed and after some piss taking from the rest of the guys bought two more rounds. Accessibility, democracy and worker power in action and its about time for the multinational financing tossers now.