The Free Society has a short piece In Defence of the Cigarette Break:
Isn’t that the truth? It’s not work that most people look forward to in the working week. What sociable people are looking forward to is that hour or two in a pub after work with their friends and girlfriends and boyfriends.
It often seems to me that, as socialists, this Labour government is remarkably antisocial. For me, ‘society’ means my social life, what remains of it. For me ‘society’ is where you go to chew over the day with friends, swap anecdotes, tell jokes, and maybe talk seriously about things, drink a few beers, smoke a few cigarettes, and play a few games of pool. It’s other people who give my life much of its meaning. A life without friends is an empty and rather meaningless life.
The smoking ban pretty much destroyed that social life. And it has destroyed the social lives of millions of other people. It’s what seems to me to be so terrible about the ban. But this government doesn’t care. Nor does the Tory opposition. Nor do the Lib Dems. Sometimes I’ve thought that they’ve done it deliberately, but for the most part I think it’s that, for them, people’s social lives are completely unimportant and trivial and inconsequential.
For socialists, ‘society’ doesn’t mean people sitting in bars drinking and smoking and talking. For socialists, ‘society’ isn’t that idle bunch of people. For them, ‘society’ is busy productive working society. It’s factories and offices and motorways and railroads. For them ‘society’ is above all a society of working people, making and selling goods of one sort or other. That’s what matters. Sitting in the pub afterwards having a drink is just a way of trivially whiling away the remainder of the day.
For socialists, people are primarily workers. Socialist society is the nexus of connections and bonds on a factory floor, and outside to a working community of wives and families. A man is first and foremost a welder or a fitter, and then a husband and a father, and then maybe a church warden or soccer coach, and this is what defines who he is. What he most definitely is not is a pub-goer. Pub-going is to real working life what’s left when you’ve cut up a piece of material to make a suit, or cupped out pieces of pastry to make tarts, or punched out a pattern from sheet steel. It’s so much waste material. It’s what’s left over at the end of the day. It’s scrap material. For socialists, people are defined by their work. It’s what gives their life shape and meaning and purpose and community, and it becomes most apparent when the shipyard goes on strike, and the pickets man the braziers at the gates, and the wives come with hot pasties and sandwiches and thermos flasks of tea, and the real social community emerges.
And it’s what Conservative David Cameron is talking about when he talks about ‘our broken society’. He doesn’t mean our broken social lives. He means our broken working society, with millions unemployed, jobs lost, kids out of school. David Cameron’s vision of ‘society’ is exactly the same as the socialists on the other side of the house. He is just a slightly different breed of socialist. Which is why, whoever gets elected in May, we’ll get more socialism.
But my life has never been defined and shaped by work. It has instead been shaped by countless afternoons in coffee bars, countless evenings in pubs, countless meals in restaurants, countless movies and parties and dances. Those are the things that I remember in my life. That was what made it all so hot and heady and exciting. The dull hours that I spent at work are all but completely forgotten, along with all the people there whom I never really knew.
Perhaps that’s because I’ve carried out a variety of jobs, and never identified with any of them, like a lifelong Glasgow shipworker might identify himself with his work. I’ve always remained rather detached and critical of my work. As a computer programmer, I’d do the job to the best of my ability, but for the most part I was almost always doing something that somebody else had already done much better elsewhere, in some competing product, and I knew it. Real life, for me, lay not in my work, but in what lay outside work. In the girls I’d be dating, the pool games I’d be playing, the friends I’d be talking to, the books I’d be reading. Those were the things that shaped my life. Work was just a way of earning the money to buy the beers and the dinners and the cigarettes and the tickets and the books that I needed in my real life, which lay outside work.
What are all these busy working people doing anyway? Well, they’re making steel and timber and concrete and bricks and tiles, and they’re making the ships and trains and lorries that carry them around. And they’re making chairs and tables and windows and doors and light bulbs and lampshades and central heating boilers and radiators and pipes. And they’re making bottles and glasses and carpets and doorhandles and computer games and music and CDs and cigarettes. And they’re making beer and whisky and salted peanuts and cheese-and-onion crisps. And when you put all these various products together, what does it amount to?
A pub with carpeted concrete floors and brick walls, and timbered and tiled roof, with warm radiators and lights and chairs and tables and juke box and fruit machine, and a bar with glasses and bottles of whisky and beer, and boxes of crisps and peanuts.
In our society, we spend almost all day making everything that is needed to build and maintain and supply a pub, and then we spend all evening sitting in the pub, buying drinks, smoking cigarettes, eating crisps, playing the juke box, and talking and laughing and joking and flirting. Or at least we used to.
So it’s not really that a pub is where people go to while away the remains of the day. It’s not some left-over waste. Far from it. The pub is the very centre and purpose of life itself, and it’s what all the day’s work was directed towards creating and sustaining. And if you kill off the pub, by treating it as trivial and inconsequential, you kill off the sales of beer and whisky and peanuts and crisps, and you kill off the demand for juke boxes and fruit machines and pool tables and dartboards and carpets and glasses and bottles, and you kill off the demand for bricks and timber and tiles and doors and doorhandles and lightbulbs, and you kill off the need for lorries and trains and ships. And businesses will go bust, and people will become unemployed, and the whole economy will tank. At which point the socialists will start noticing that working communities of shipworkers and miners and railway drivers are under threat, and start talking about shattered communities. And all the economic pundits will start noticing that Gross Domestic Product is falling. And David Cameron will start yapping about ‘our broken society’.
They’d have seen it all coming long before if they’d paid attention to what was happening to the pubs. But they pay no attention. Instead they set about destroying pubs and clubs, banning smoking, planning alcohol restrictions, enforcing drink-drive laws, arresting boisterous drunken pub-goers.
They may as well be sawing off their own legs.