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Thread: Trade unionism in Hard Times

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Trade unionism in Hard Times

    Just finished reading chapter 4 from the second volume in which Stephen becomes ostracised from his fellow workers because he refuses to join the union. I think this is what happens. I wondered whether Stephen was refusing to go on strike, but everyone seemed to be working. The union representative was not very sympathetically portrayed. He was portrayed as a wind bag and a bully. Stephen says he cannot bring himself in good conscience to join with the union. Was Dickens hostile to trade unionism then? Did Dickens not think taking collective action to improve terms and conditions was justifiable? Is this Dickens' liberal, middle-class background coming out?
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Slackbridge, the trade union shop steward does not come across very sympathetically when he reappears later in the book. He is bullying and dishonest in his condemnation of Stephen Blackpool, who had refused to join the union. I therefore conclude that Dickens was not in favour of trade unionism. Dickens seems not to approve of workers being summarily sacked without cause. He seems to disapprove of the massive inequality between the factory bosses and the workers, and he seems to sympathise with the workers over their living conditions. Bounderby has a house in the outskirts, and another in town presumably somewhere pleasant. Bounderby enjoys pointing to an expensive painting in his new house that he says do not mean anything to him. All the workers live in smokey, grimy Coketown. If Dickens was not in favour of trade unionism and collective action, how did he think the terms and conditions of the working poor should have been improved? Dickens' portrayal of Slackbridge seems rather similar to portrayals of union leaders up to the 1980s, when Thatcher emasculated them. Even now, union leaders often come across as bogeymen to the middle classes. It is strange that this familiar representation existed in the minds of people so long ago.
    Last edited by kev67; 11-13-2013 at 04:13 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    It was based on Dickens' own observations about the strikes occurring at that time.

    Dickens doesn't believe on social activism in which it's either with us or against us, and the goal is of conquest, like they're going to war. This is told by Stephen's speech in front of Bounderby.

    This is also why he portrayed the French revolutionaries in Tale of Two Cities as monstrous, and how he had a little take that to feminists in Bleak House.

    Dickens is quite a Christian writer, even though his writing is all secular. It's all about love to your fellow men, which is why some criticized him for his solution to ending poverty is for rich people to be nicer to the poor.

    If he's alive today, I think he will mock everyone from all political sides.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ugoki View Post
    It was based on Dickens' own observations about the strikes occurring at that time.

    Dickens doesn't believe on social activism in which it's either with us or against us, and the goal is of conquest, like they're going to war. This is told by Stephen's speech in front of Bounderby.
    I can't remember the speech. I think Stephen's lady friend (or was it wife) made him promise not to go on strike for some reason associated with her sister's death, but that part of the book was omitted, so it does not make sense. To me, Dickens' reaction to Slackbridge seemed similar to a lot of middleclass people's reaction to trade union shop stewards even now. They suspect them of being politically motivated trouble makers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ugoki View Post
    This is also why he portrayed the French revolutionaries in Tale of Two Cities as monstrous, and how he had a little take that to feminists in Bleak House.
    Good point about feminism in Bleak House. Dickens ridicules Mrs Jellyby, when she gives up her West African project for campaigning for votes for women. However, the French revolutionaries were monstrous, it seems to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ugoki View Post
    Dickens is quite a Christian writer, even though his writing is all secular. It's all about love to your fellow men, which is why some criticized him for his solution to ending poverty is for rich people to be nicer to the poor.
    Yes, he does not lay the religion on thick, but Christianity is in the background. It seems like Dickens was brought up a Christian and did not lose his faith. That is the impression I get. Maybe he did not think about it a lot.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    They suspect them of being politically motivated trouble makers.
    Well, they kinda are. Politically motivated especially (dunno how popular Karl Marx was in Dickens' age). Trouble makers? They are causing trouble to the factory production after all.


    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    Good point about feminism in Bleak House. Dickens ridicules Mrs Jellyby, when she gives up her West African project for campaigning for votes for women. However, the French revolutionaries were monstrous, it seems to me.
    There was also that one shot character who, in the wedding of Caddy and Prince, just grumbles about how this is an oppression of the tyrant Man against woman.

    Funny how we have similar people today. Lots of Dickens' characters are like that. Still relevant even to this day.



    Yes, he does not lay the religion on thick, but Christianity is in the background. It seems like Dickens was brought up a Christian and did not lose his faith. That is the impression I get. Maybe he did not think about it a lot.[/QUOTE]

    He doesn't preach. He shows the Christian kindness and humanity by making some of his characters the paragon of said virtue without them bringing up Christianity like Mr. Chadband does.

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