Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 15 October 2008

Book review

75th anniversary of Walter Greenwood's Love on the Dole

Reviewed by Dave Gorton

In 1966, a quarter of the population tuned in to watch Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home, a groundbreaking work which brought the issues of homelessness and unemployment into living rooms across Britain. A generation earlier the novel Love on the Dole had played much the same role.

On its release the Manchester Guardian said: "We passionately desire this novel to be read; it is the real thing. Mr Greenwood is a Salford man; while still at school he (like Harry in his book) worked in a pawnbroker's shop; he has been on the dole. He knows and he can tell."

The book follows Harry Hardcastle as he moves from adolescence into adulthood in the depression of the 1930s, exploited at every turn by the factory bosses, the state and its henchmen and a few parasites always willing to feather their own nests at the expense of their fellow workers.

Dire poverty haunted Salford, the novel's setting, where Greenwood also grew up. The first chapter ends with: "The identical houses of yesterday remain, still valuable in the estate market even though the cost of their building has been paid for over and over again by successive tenants [...] Places where men and women are born, live, love and die and pay preposterous rents for the privilege of calling the grimy houses 'home' ."

At 14, Harry signs on at Marlowe's factory (in real life Metropolitan Vickers 5 or Metrovick as it was known locally) receiving an apprentice's wage of "Ten bob a week! Ten bob every Saturday!", far higher than shop work or office work at the time. The catch was that you were tied in to a seven-year apprenticeship that you would have to buy your way out of and few could afford that. But that was of little consequence to most who were more concerned at retaining employment at the end of seven years than quitting it beforehand.

With unemployment in Britain reaching a record of just under three million by the beginning of 1933, Marlowe's was able to take on boys at fourteen knowing that they could be thrown out when they reached a man's wage at twenty one. "The day was Monday. The Saturday previous, Harry's apprenticeship [...] had come to an end. They were now fully qualified engineers. They also were qualified to draw the dole."

Love on the Dole is mostly a story about the privations and despair of unemployment and the effects on the loves and lives of working-class people. Greenwood said he "tried to show what life means to a young man living under the shadow of the dole, the tragedy of a lost generation who are denied consummation, in decency, of the natural hopes and desires of youth."

But Greenwood didn't pose solutions; his characters weren't labour movement activists and, except for Larry Meath, a self-professed Marxist, no one sees an answer to the poverty they are forced to exist under. But the enemies are obvious - the government, the bosses, the police; in short, capitalism. In fact it would be accurate to call it an anti-capitalist novel.

Available from Socialist Books
7.99 plus 10% p+p

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 15 October 2008:

Sack the bankers not the workers

"Give us what the bankers got"

News in brief

Socialist Party editorial

Government bailouts: major measures to prop up capitalism

Socialist Party Marxist analysis

Recession in Britain: Anger and bitterness towards the financiers

Repossessions grow as banking crisis hits

Socialism 2008

Capitalism in crisis: Why you should come to Socialism 2008

Socialist Party campaigns

Political protest in Liverpool will not be silenced!

Mandelson - New minister for the rich

Planning Bill: Local views sidelined for big business

Socialist Party women

Defend and extend abortion rights


Opposition grows to Kirklees schools plans

Bangor: Organising to fight university tuition fees

Nottingham Trent University attempts to de-recognise the lecturers' union

Staff and students unite over pensions

International socialist news and analysis

Austria: Far right makes big gains - left vote squeezed

Afghanistan - war without end?

Socialist Party review

75th anniversary of Walter Greenwood's Love on the Dole

Socialist Party workplace news and analysis

London bus workers strike for a living wage

Local government Scotland: Reject the pay offer!

Unity in Unite unravelling

Unison right-wing insecurity begins to show

Successful outcome for Suzanne Muna

Standing for president of Usdaw


Home   |   The Socialist 15 October 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleCapitalism and human progress

triangleJob figures mask casualisation

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments


The Socialist

The Socialist's 2017 quiz



The Socialist Inbox



Comment: Socialism and truth about Zane


Labour Party

Blairite horror and Labour's divisions graphically exposed



Dramatic retelling of Grunwick strike


Working class

Left comic's take on politics will have you in tears



The Socialist inbox


The Socialist

The Socialist Inbox



TV review: Abortion on Trial - hard-hitting look at impact of 1967 act


Vietnam war

Comprehensive account of bloody conflict



The Socialist inbox



Obituary: Paul Randall, 1959-2017



Welsh update of Chekhov an engrossing tale of 1980s class conflict



The Socialist inbox



The Socialist inbox

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle14 Dec Stop the rotten redevelopment plan, demand residents

triangle13 Dec Six months on - still no justice for Grenfell

triangle13 Dec Movement growing against fracking giant Ineos

triangle13 Dec Totnes MP uses coffin controversy to distract from brutal NHS cuts

triangle13 Dec Trump's incendiary Jerusalem statement reignites Israeli-Palestinian...

triangle13 Dec Labour 'purge' furore really just democracy

EU parliament, Strasbourg

triangle13 Dec Brexit deal no solution to Tory rifts

More ...

triangle18 Dec Leeds Socialist Party: Religion and Socialism

triangle19 Dec Bristol North Socialist Party: Christmas social

triangle21 Dec Wakefield Socialist Party: Socialists and the National Question

triangle6 Jan Socialist Party national women's meeting

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



December 2017

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017





















Platform setting: = No platform choice