The death of Con Shiels, who was the last survivor of those who participated in the Jarrow March marks the final passing of a group who came to represent the horrors of inter-war unemployment.
The Jarrow Crusade of 1936 was a march by unemployed men from Jarrow in the North East to London. The group were protesting against their condition of worklessness, poverty and hunger. Dissent in the form of long distance marching was frequent during the 1930s. Most were organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain, and Jarrow – famously led by the Jarrow MP Ellen Wilkinson – was the only one endorsed by the Labour party.
While the Jarrow Crusade didn’t create any jobs, the event has come to symbolise the plight of many in the period before the outbreak of World War II. When in the areas of Britain that relied on heavy industry for work, unemployment and hunger were rife.
After World War II Jarrow remained a powerful symbol of the hardship of the 1930s. After Labour’s 1945 victory and the establishment of the welfare state, the Party turned to memories of the 1930s to remind people of what it was like before. The poster at the top of this post was produced by Labour for the 1950 election campaign. Despite the event taking place fourteen years previously even in 1950 it held resaonance. The famous banner appeared under the single word ‘remember?’. The message was clear, if voters didn’t want to return to the 1930s they should vote Labour.
Ed Lambert, who works at the People’s History Museum, recently walked the route of the Jarrow March; you can read his account here. Ed is also giving a talk about his experience of completing the walk which you can see on Sunday 17th March at 2pm at the People’s History Museum. The talk is free but booking is advised.