Having lived in Southampton it is especially meaningful on many levels, I used walk past the White Star office where the relatives of the crewmen and passengers waited for the names of the survivors to posted on the walls, this was a mere minutes walk away from the old London & South Western Hotel where many of the passengers would have stayed before embarking, the pubs still used today probably saw passengers lodging or drinking before the ship sailed. Southampton was, and is still in many ways, a maritime town, its fate locked into the Docks – over the past 100 years it has seen some of the finest Ocean Liners visit, some of the biggest Cruise Ships, and was the home of the Empire Flying Boats operated by Imperial Airways – literally a lifeline to the Empire.
More than its history it’s people were beholden to the Ocean Liner trade, so when the Titanic sank it was not only a national tragedy (though other Ocean Liners had sunk) it was a tragedy for Southampton, estimates suggest that over 50% of town was affected in some way by the sinking of the Titanic, and during my last weeks in Southampton I visited the Titanic Museum, a small personal museum full of interest and well worth a visit.
I have been close to tear only twice going around a Museum, recently whilst looking at the Berlin Wall, and once at the Titanic Museum, the reason for the latter was quite simple, the sheer desperation of the conditions of the people working in the Port, the real tragedy of the Titanic was not that is sunk and claimed 1,500 lives, but the misery – and the hope – the tragedy left behind.
The Seamen weren’t paid a lot, but because of the terms and conditions the survivors were only paid up the point that the Titanic sank, after that weren’t paid anything – having to get back home as soon as possible – all of them would then embark on the next Ship out of Southampton, they had to survive – no counselling, no pay for the time they had not working, it was ‘getting the next boat’. If the fact that the survivors had to keep working or starve, those who died left families without money, with little, if any, benefit – grieving, penniless and homeless the tragedy multiplied. It was because of this sense of horror at the carnage left behind that a massive fund-raising drive took place, a public acknowledgement of the need for social care.
The problem is that we are letting history repeat itself.
David Cameron amongst his many policy initiatives went on record in the House of Commons to say that he was going to scrap some of the Health and Safety Legislation, part of which was introduced as a result of the Titanic disaster, that employments would be amended as to give employers the right to hire and fire as they saw fit, rather like the Shipping Lines, with little right of a person dismissed to appeal, and if they could appeal then they would face punitive charges if they lost, making dismissal cases too expensive to fight.
Already in this budget the Welfare State – that would have stepped in 1912 to ensure the destitution that followed would not happen – is being dismantled to create the Big Society, the Big Society that let people starve on the streets, that ensured you had to work, whether traumatized or not, these were the glory days of Empire and Cameron is trying to recreate the myth.
We are forgetting why the National Health Service exists, why the Social Security networks needs to be retained, we are forgetting what we are left behind and as George Satanyana said
those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it
I am afraid this Government, and society, has failed to learn from the suffering from a 100 years ago.