Friday, 23 July 2010

Lamenting The Decline Of Working Men's Clubs As Trimdon Labour Club Closes Its Doors

Trimdon Labour Club has poured its last pint.  The club where Tony Blair repeatedly turned up when he wanted to connect with traditional working class voters closed yesterday.  It is a shame that Mr Blair couldn't put his hand in his pocket to help the venue that helped him so many times.

The closure of Trimdon Labour Club is just the latest chapter in the sad decline of British working mens' clubs.  In the 1970s, there were over 4,000 working men's clubs.  Now, there are little more than 2,000.  The decline of working mens' clubs creates a shell in the community of towns and villages across the country.  

The Working Men's Clubs organisation is one of the most important organisations in the country. It provides an important glue to help hold our towns and villages together. They provide great community facilities, an excellent social setting, great banter and excellent value drinks. Importantly, for a darts enthusiast such as myself, at the same time as other pubs are ripping their dartboards and pool tables out, the CIU constitution ensures that each club must have a board and a pool table. Ever since my Dad took me to some of the Working Men's Clubs around the Consett and Stanley area for a pint or two, I have been a massive fan of the Working Men's Club movement.

The sad truth is, unless the decline is arrested, working men's clubs will become an increasing rarity.  In an age where politicians talk about cooperatives and community involvement, the working men's clubs, the living breathing embodiments of such ideas, are in steep decline.

There are many factors that have caused the decline of the movement.  Some of these factors are irreversible and societal.  Some are connected with the tragic deindustrialisation of the the 1960s, 70s and 80s that hollowed out too much working class life.  But others can be changed. 

Clubs are suffering because they cannot afford to pay the extortionate fees of BSkyB, so are losing the football and cricket watching crowds to the pub chains.
The smoking ban was introduced completely ignoring the views of the working men's club movement.  As the new General Secretary says the 'no compromise' approach adopted by last Government has left elderly and infirm CIU members standing outside in the cold. Surely we can reach a compromise where working men's clubs are enabled to have 'smoking rooms' if their members desire?

I'm proud of my CIU membership. The decline of working men's clubs is another example of how, all too often, working class communities have been ignored and marginalised.  Hopefully, the working men's club movement can play a reinvigorated role in reinvigorated communities in coming years.

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