Source > KMFlett’s blog
Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol at speed and it was published on 19th December 1843. It sold 5,000 copies before Christmas Day that year- in a decade that was known as the ‘Hungry Forties’. The similarities with modern Food Bank Britain are striking.
In Dickens’s book Scrooge runs a financial business in the heart of the City of London, off Cornhill, and the author takes us to his ‘counting house’ on Christmas Eve.
Scrooge is in one office and across the way is his clerk Bob Cratchit. The office is barely heated, Scrooge being frugal in most things.
Scrooge comes across people collecting for the poor at Xmas and asks them why this was necessary given that Workhouses existed.
The charitable collector tells Scrooge of the Workhouse that ‘many can’t go there, and many would rather die’. To which Scrooge responds ‘if they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.
Scrooge only reluctantly allows Cratchit ‘the whole day’ off on Christmas Day, before retiring to his nearby lodgings, after dining at a City hostelry.
While the Christmas Carol was a best seller it was not universally well received. Liberal economists, these days known as neo-liberals, complained that while it was all very well making sure that the Cratchits got a Christmas dinner, there was a finite supply of turkeys and plum puddings. It sounds like a Tory Brexit Xmas.
‘If they got these items then someone else would not. Surely it should be up to the market to determine how these things work’ was the view of liberal ideologists in the 1840s.
Dickens was telling a Christmas story but he was also making a political point. He was attacking an economic and political system that saw society as defined by rich and poor with the wealthy rightly doing better than others.
If we look at 2022 we can see any number of Scrooges at work. One example is the Chief Executive of the Royal Mail Simon Thompson.
Mr Thompson wants to turn the Royal Mail into a parcels business where it faces any number of competitors and move it away from post-delivery. Yet no one else does that, Royal Mail has a unique advantage in that area and it has a legal service obligation to every UK address to back it up.
Dickens never suggested that Scrooge was bad at business. Scrooge no doubt, before the visitation of the Christmas ghosts, would have argued the frugality was the key to keeping his business going. Keeping heating and staffing costs under tight control being central to it.
Yet Simon Thompson shows no signs of being any good at business but is eager to copy all the worst aspects of Scrooge.
The Communication Workers Union has reported that in some cases managers are refusing to authorise pay for workers who have to take time off because they are unwell. Here we find a direct echo of the Scrooge mentality. He is annoyed that he has to pay Bob Cratchit for a whole day- Christmas Day- when he would not be working.
His response, again familiar from the Royal Mail, is that Cratchit had better make sure he attended work early on Boxing Day, no doubt to catch up with work that should have been done the day before. That also is an echo of Simon Thompson’s frequent, if changing, demands that posties alter their working patterns to suit the demands, and profit requirements of the moment.
The answer to the Scrooges and the Thompsons of this world is to unionise and face down their liberal market schemes.
Dickens in Hard Times, which featured the 1854 Preston Lock Out was aware of trade unions but not a particular advocate of them. However the conclusion to a Christmas Carol does suggest a related form of redemption.
Scrooge of course is visited by three ghosts who make him aware of the error of his ways and how things could be better.
Hence it was that Scrooge not only raised Cratchit’s salary but got coal in to warm his office and then took him for a seasonal drink in a City pub. Perhaps the CWU action of 23rd and 24th December will have a similar impact on Simon Thompson- a reminder of the mess he has made and how it can be sorted out.
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