KATE OSBORNE: Ellen Wilkinson's fight for social justice is still relevant to this very day

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Northern Stage theatre to see “Red Ellen”, the new play detailing the remarkable life of Ellen Wilkinson MP”

Kate Osborne with Andy McDonald MP for Middlesbrough.
Kate Osborne with Andy McDonald MP for Middlesbrough.

Ellen, of course, was the famous Labour MP for Jarrow who led the inspirational Jarrow Crusade to London – and the change for a better world.

She led an extraordinary life, being a pioneering trade unionist, war correspondent, and the only female cabinet minister in the 1945 Clement Attlee-led Labour Government.

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For Ellen, the march of unemployed local men to London, which became famously known as the Jarrow Crusade, was the culmination of her life’s work as a highly-active campaigner.

Wilkinson, the only woman who marched, used the Jarrow Crusade to launch a media campaign against mass unemployment. That it became the iconic image of the English depression of the 1930s is due largely to her leadership.

A strong socialist with a burning desire for social justice, Wilkinson criticised the politics of austerity, a phrase we are all only too familiar with and condemned what she saw as the Government’s inability to address the plight of the north.

The petition itself had 11,000 signatures and although Parliament and the Conservative Government at the time did not greet the marchers with great respect or respond positively to their pleas for employment, the crusade’s lasting legacy is still alive to this very day.

The play reminded me of the struggle that this area has faced in the past, and of how, despite being generations apart, the struggles of unemployment in the 1930s are prominent in many people’s lives today.

Today we see economic and social circumstances that would not look out of place in the 1930s which saw so many suffer socially as a result of grinding unemployment, and left to survive on a significantly lower income. When I look at people’s livelihoods now and the withdrawal of vital support and rising food and energy prices, it feels like history is beginning to repeat itself.

Wilkinson, like so many before and after her, remains an inspiration to people fighting for justice.

We still live in a world of deeply widening inequality and great injustices so Wilkinson’s fight all those years ago is, sadly, still relevant to this very day.