Industrial Pride – we just know that ‘making stuff’ locally makes us feel good.

Industrial Pride

we just know that 'making stuff' locally makes us feel good.

I was gutted about #Brexit. I thought about it a lot.​

And wrote this just after…..

Brexit – Proudly made in Post-Industrial Britain!

I’m British and a new Australian, an emigrant and an immigrant. I grew up on the border of England and South Wales (old South Wales!). My Welsh heritage is from Merthyr Tydfil, my father grew up there and I have fond memories of visiting there. In those years it changed, from the grey mounds of slag heaps and working coal mines, to the greener, cleaner, but poorer, valley that it is today. I had the privilege of knowing what industrial pride looks like, as well as learning about the horrors of the conditions from which it birthed, and the heartbreak of watching it traded away as we are slaves to the free market and the plague like thirst for constant business and profit growth. I look at my children and can’t fathom putting them down a mine, yet it once was normal. Too many of us, now fortunate enough to be the educated ‘latte sipping’ classes have no understanding that the prosperity on which our lives are founded, is thanks to generations of sheer hard and dangerous work, and visionary leadership decades ago as the post world war economies and institutions, designed for peace and opportunity for all were forged.

I’m only 3 generations from paying debts to the workhouse. Yes, the Dickensian working poor wasn’t fiction.

I am blessed to have had parents and family that encouraged me to follow my interests. I love textiles and have had 20 years working as a Textile Technologist and Supply Chain Manager. This has lead me to meet, work in and do business with a wonderful variety of factories and businesses, in the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia. One of the most awesome things about being in factories is when the nuggets of creativity, technical brilliance and community all come together to produce a great product. It’s no different to the synergistic sum of parts when an orchestra plays or a choir of many voices sing together in perfect harmony, enabled by a master conductor. However, I also know, that many of the factories I have had the pleasure of visiting, developing products with, and being a customer of, are no longer. Not because their people or products weren’t brilliant, not that they didn’t constantly strive to be agile and supply ever changing markets, but just that they happened to be in a part of the world where costly safety and employment standards were applied, and in some cases, were saddled with debt they hadn’t created while a myopic board of investors and shareholders bled the place dry for quick returns.

I have been very sad that Britain voted to leave the EU, but as I look at the voting patterns and now the reactions, very selfish reactions, of some of the average metropolitan professionals, I see that they have no idea whatsoever that they, especially those in the London business world, live on the back of the profits from trading away an industrial, agricultural and innovative ecosystem. A system that over the last 150+ years delivered the physical products, coal, steel, wool, cotton, food that were the commodities grown, mined and made in the regions of the British Isles, many of which have now voted to leave the EU. They’ve been forgotten. I wonder how many city dwellers have ever been to a town with the industrial graveyards that were once a source of pride? Or to the areas where manufacturing is finding its niche and surviving against the odds, what does it actually take to make the shoes on your feet, the fabric on your chair, the metals and composites in your car, the ebola proof suits, the components of the satellites you use 100s of times a day or the advanced sensor systems in your fancy sustainably built climate managed glass sided offices? Where did it come from, who made it, who made the equipment that was used to make it, who made sure it was first quality?

There is no doubt, industrial evolution is essential, and we know the transition from fossil fuels is a classic example of needing leaders to be seizing vision and ingenuity, rather than recalcitrance because it’s easy to make profits from old ways. But we need to be smart, everything we touch and use involves a product that is grown, mined, or a combination of both. Let’s just treat all these things like gems and gold, and make them last, and let’s treat our capability to make things for ourselves as a source of pride. I wondered in recent months if Mr Javid have ever been anywhere near heavy industry before he was called to Port Talbot? To understand what comes together to make heavy industry work is nothing short of a world of wonder. So many moving parts, so much expertise, so many critical links in the chain; and for our agricultural and industrial ecosystems, critical mass.

Here in Australia there are these thought bubbles about priority industry capabilities in order to maintain the defence industry, but yet again, there are so many necessary contributing sub industries, specialist technologies, maintenance skills etc required, that also cross over in to the car industry, mining, agriculture, food processing, public transport and so on. This year, after an incredibly long process of finding a way through, the Australian Government decided to plan the next decades of submarine manufacture and maintenance, in collaboration with a French company, and local manufacturing capability. As I watched our very competent defence minister talk about it, for once, you could see genuine pride and excitement, that something really good could happen by committing to local industry, just a shame those moments of clarity are so rare in a mire of ‘Value for Money’ lowest common denominator mediocrity that is usually the best description for government policy of any kind in practice.

If I look at my LinkedIn network, and the lists of people it suggests I may know there are an awful lot of people who are consultants and advisors (me too, I do some of that.) how many of the thousands out there in our cities and financial hubs, are charged out at astronomical rates by big firms, to advise on restructures, IT roll outs, Mergers and Acquisitions, efficiency programs and more, which all too often involve redundancies, plant shut downs and short term results to keep the stock market happy. How many have ever been at the coal face? Actually grown or made anything? Risked $Ms planting seeds, or bringing in new technology? Or how many have looked at a cracking team in a factory and had to tell them all they no longer have a living? The local red tape and costs have become too much, it’s just simpler and cheaper to go to China.

I know there has been a hideous focus on immigration as an issue in the UK, however, when people feel valued, remembered and have opportunity they are much less likely to have a problem sharing their prosperity with others.

When people feel like they live on a different and severely disadvantaged planet to those who make the decisions that control their quality of life, and that quality continues to decline for decades, they will eventually, in a very calm and British way, decide that the elites and experts are no use to them. So they have nothing to lose by rolling the dice on a new way, they voted for what they wanted to believe was possible, (it may not feel calm, but compared to the Middle East, or Venezuela, it is).

To all those UK city dwellers, experts, the endless rich people who preached ‘remain’ who are currently think very little of those who voted to leave, I challenge you to spend a week in South Wales or Sunderland, live week to week with zero hours contracts, and no hope of ever saving enough money to buy a home, you might put that tax payer subsidised/fully funded higher education of yours to real use (any UK graduate over about 37 has their degree for no fees!), and hold these ironically out of touch Etonians et al. to serious account to deliver what they’ve promised. The most heartbreaking part about it all, is that the power to re-construct the British Economy is likely to be in the hands of those most wedded to the economic theories and practices that have brought so many parts of the country such devastation. Now is the time for the builders and reformers, yes the people who know how to set up and run or make something – where are they? Certainly none of the Westminster Leadership seems to have an idea from either side. (I think if they looked to Scotland there’s a couple of fabulous women they need to bring in as immigrants to London!)

To those who voted for leave, I hope you are ready to work and put your hearts and minds to contributing to the kind of Britain you voted for the opportunity to create, if you leave it to the bureaucrats who never leave their shiny offices you’ll get worse with a different logo on it, and you won’t be able to blame the EU.

Me - I've just started working with 6 different Australian textile processing factories and a cotton grower - I'm looking forward to continuing to develop products my customers have told me they 'can't wait' for.

MERIEL CHAMBERLING

Founder, Full Circle Fibres

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