Last night I went to a Spaniel in the Works production – Nothing Changes, part of the Stroud Theatre Festival. It’s an updated take on Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, re-written by John Bassett and much to my surprise, there were songs in it. I’ve not read the original book, but it’s on the kindle awaiting a day or ten when I have time to do it justice. However, after poking around online for a plot synopsis, it’s evident this hundred year old tale of poverty and inequality didn’t need much re-jjgging to fit in a modern context. As the title says, Nothing Changes.
You’d think after a hundred years, we might have made some headway, but the horrendous social setbacks this country has endured under Tory leadership are in many ways enabled by the same issues that were apparently at play a century ago. Considering the ways in which we do it to ourselves, is not a comfortable business. Without the co-operation of its workers and consumers, big business would not be able to pillage so successfully. We are still far too willing to accept that the affluent somehow earn or deserve their massive bonuses, government handouts, and disproportionate share of the profits. Those of us nearer the bottom than the top will all too readily buy into the idea of a natural order of things that put us here. We know our place…
One of the things the play explores is the way in which creating a profit margin contributes to screwing the masses. Profit is the difference between what a thing costs and what you can sell it for. To achieve profit, you push down the costs as far as you can – that invariably means paying your workers as little as possible and giving them as few benefits as you can get away with. Then on the other side of the equation, you have to get your buyers to pay as far above the actual worth of the product as you can. Meanwhile the difference between cost and price delivers cash to shareholders, who did not contribute a great deal of effort to the process. The money that is invested is given a far higher value than the work, by such a system.
If you reward people for having money, you will inevitably keep the money flowing towards the people who have it. That’s what we do. As the saying goes, if it was hard work that led to wealth, African women would be the most affluent people on the planet.
Is there anything natural, inevitable or unchangeable about what we’ve got? I don’t think so. Neither, evidently, did playwright John Bassett. Change is possible. However, to make changes we have to stop buying into the existing system, and stop assuming that there are no other options. We have to imagine that money itself might not be the thing to prize most highly. The profit orientated exploitation system inherent in capitalism is not the only way. Co-operatives, crowd sourcing, small companies, local projects… there are better, fairer and happier ways of underpinning an economy.
More about Stroud Theatre Festival here – http://www.stroudtheatrefestival.co.uk/performances.html