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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 March 2017

Fight like Poplar's women councillors to change the lives of family carers

photo Vimeo/Creative Commons

photo Vimeo/Creative Commons   (Click to enlarge)

Sue Powell Gloucestershire Socialist Party

Looking at the history of the Poplar councillors, imprisoned in 1921 for fighting the Tory government's appalling conditions, it struck me that I have only come across two real-life "Minnies".

One was the socialist suffragette Minnie Lansbury, one of the Poplar councillors. The other was my great aunt.

Both were born around the same time to families with migrant backgrounds in London, both lived hard lives and struggled to the end. The comparison ends there. While the councillor fought for political change, my great aunt spent most of her entire adult life as a carer.

When Minnie Lansbury died - probably due to ill-health brought on by appalling prison conditions - her father-in-law George said: "Minnie, in her 32 years, crammed double that number of years' work compared with what many of us are able to accomplish.

"Her glory lies in the fact that with all her gifts and talents one thought dominated her whole being night and day: How shall we help the poor, the weak, the fallen, weary and heavy-laden, to help themselves?"

It is significant that Minnie Lansbury wanted to help people fight against poor conditions and oppression. She rejected the idea of charity. Minnie Lansbury's life was short but exceptional.

My great aunt Minnie won't go down in history: she scarcely featured in my life as she devoted herself to caring for her brain-damaged son. He was severely affected by epilepsy, frequent head injuries and possibly the medication given in those days.

She and her husband went without a holiday for 40 years; few of their relatives visited. My great aunt cared for his needs, washing, lifting and dressing him with the help of her husband, struggling on without complaint.

Even in the heyday of the welfare state, parents of disabled children received little help, understanding or support. The Tories want to drive us back to the days when family care was the norm.

In my Unite Community branch, we have been hearing many stories of people struggling to care for parents with dementia, sick partners, disturbed and violent grandchildren. So many stories like these are untold.

George Lansbury, Minnie's father in law, the leader of Poplar council and later the Labour Party, said: "When a soldier like Minnie passes on, it only means their presence is withdrawn, their life and work remaining an inspiration and a call to us each to close the ranks and continue our march breast forward."

My great aunt was one of millions of kindly, hardworking women who sacrificed their own fulfilment for their loved ones. As socialists, we stand with carers, mothers and grandmothers.

My cheery, lovely aunt Minnie had an abundance of love, but I was too young and inexperienced to ask how she really felt about her life, what she had wanted from it, and how it might have been if more social care was available.

If we want women to be liberated and my great aunt's example to be a thing of the past, we must fight like Minnie Lansbury and her fellow councillors.

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In The Socialist 1 March 2017:


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