“Our history reveals how powerful individuals de-industrialised our city and deprived our people because they saw greater value in exporting and extorting and perceived profit-making as more attractive than poverty-proofing.”
This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 07/10/2019 [Online], Available: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/ewan-gurr-decisions-on-future-must-put-people-before-profit/ [Accessed: 2019, Oct 08]
Exactly ten years ago, I visited India for the first time. I was there on best man duty for a friend but, while there, I decided to take the opportunity to travel and see some of the country. I organised to spend a few days volunteering for the organisation led by Mother Teresa in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta. She died in 1997 but her legacy was clearly still alive and volunteering in the House for the Destitute and Dying was a moving experience, as I cared for terminally ill men who died even in my short time there.
At the end of day one, I walked around Kolkata and observed a lorry carrying along a kind of old rusty freight with ‘Dundee’ emblazoned on the side in faded white letters. I spoke to some of the locals and discovered that it had been exported from the dying embers of our city’s jute industry in the 1970s. The jute industry in Dundee, at its peak, employed 40 per cent of the city’s population – around 70,000 people – and brought industrial resilience to the city as well as financial stability to many families.
When I returned from India, I sought to secure a memento made from jute and ordered a rug for my wife via a fairtrade catalogue, which mentioned its origin was Kolkata. It was then, for the first time, I realised that the jute barons’ decision to export the industry from Dundee, motivated by a stated desire to cut costs, had enslaved a whole race of foreign people to poor pay. This is why fairtrade organisations intervene upon unethical working practices in places like Kolkata to ensure workers are fairly remunerated.
Our history reveals how powerful individuals de-industrialised our city and deprived our people because they saw greater value in exporting and extorting and perceived profit-making as more attractive than poverty-proofing. In doing so, they not only enslaved a race of foreigners but sold off 70,000 of our own citizens to competing for jobs that did not exist. Record levels of unemployment were the inheritance left for us as prosperity vacated the city and poverty moved in like an unwelcome lodger.
Slavery is like the ownership rights over a property, except it relates to people. Kevin Bales, a Professor in Contemporary Slavery, in his book Disposable People, estimates that 27 million people still experience modern day slavery, like many workers in Kolkata. Financially-motivated decisions were made in Dundee that sold off the prospect of prosperity for our citizens in a manner closely related to slavery. They did not sell the individuals personally, but they sold any hope of securing a sustainable future.
Dundee has, for too long, been enslaved by some deeply dubious decisions made behind closed doors. I only hope and pray the decisions made going forward prioritise our people over profit.