Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole is a bleak novel set in in industrial England in the years between the First and Second World Wars.
The technological expertise that had made wholesale slaughter possible in 1914 is being directed toward making wholesale poverty possible in 1934.
Harry Hardman, 14, is through with school. Scorning his parents’ advice, Harry apprentices himself at the Marlowe manufacturing plant for seven years.
Harry sees badge #2510 as his ticket to training and a high-paying job as an engineer.
He learns there’s no training, no ticket to upward mobility.
When he finishes his apprenticeship, he learns one more thing: There’s no job.
With a wife and child to support, Harry does what he has to.
He joins the line of the unemployed.
Love on the Dole lacks the rounded character development we expect in today’s novels, and the dialect takes a bit of getting used to, but those deficiencies only add to Greenwood’s picture of how the deck is stacked against ordinary men in the age of increasingly intelligent machines.
Here’s a passage in which 14-year-old Harry consults the Marxist labor organizer when he first senses Marlowe’s has no intention of training him for a career:
‘You’re part of a graft, Harry,’ [Larry Meath] said: ‘All Marlowe’s want is cheap labour; and the apprentice racket is one of their ways of getting it. Nobody’ll teach you anything simply because there’s so little to be learnt. You’ll pick up all you require by asking questions and watching others work. You see, all this machinery’s being more simplified year after year until all it wants is experienced machine feeders and watchers. Some of the new plant doesn’t even need that. Look in the brass-finishing shop when you’re that way. Ask the foreman to show you that screw-making machine. That can work twenty-four hours a day without anybody going near it. Your apprenticeship’s a swindle, Harry. The men they turn out think they’re engineers same as they do at all the other places, but they’re only machine minders. Don’t you remember the women during the war?’
‘What women?’ Harry asked, troubled by what Larry had said.
‘The women who took the places of the engineers who’d all served their time. The women picked up straightaway what Marlowe’s and the others say it takes seven year’s apprenticeship to learn,’ a wry smile: ‘Still, if you want to be what everybody calls an “engineer”, you’ve no choice but to serve your seven years. I hear that they’re considering refusing to bind themselves in contracting to provide seven years’ employment. There is a rumour about that there aren’t to be any more apprentices. You see, Harry, if they don’t bind themselves, as they have to do in the indentures, they can clear the shop of all surplus labour when times are bad. And things are shaping that way, now,” a grin: ‘You’ve no need to worry, though. You’ve seven years’ employment certain.’
What is most striking about Love on the Dole is now much it feels like 2017 America. If Harry lived in Pennsylvania today, he would be a Trump supporter.
Love on the Dole will let you experience the pain and anger that fuels them.
It may well also foretell what’s ahead in America in the next 20 years.
Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood
©Walter Greenwood, 1933; published by Johnathan Cape
My copy: Penguin Books Ltd., 1976; paperback, 254 pp.
© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni