A Crusade

5th October 2020

84 years ago a group of men set off on a Crusade.

Not to fight for the Holy Land. To fight for their starving families

200 shipbuilders set out from a small town on the River Tyne in the North East of England called Jarrow.

1200 years earlier in Jarrow, the Venerable Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the British People.
By the 30s, one of the crusaders described it as "...a filthy, dirty, falling down, consumptive area."

The men wanted only to put their hard won skills to work in return for a wage they could live off. But there was no work.

My own Grandad was from a shipbuilding family on the other side of the river. He joined the army at 15 a year earlier. It was guaranteed work. And it was safer than the ship yards. And there was no work.

The 'means testing' for long term unemployment assistance meant an assessment of household assets. If you were a family of three, and you owned four chairs, you got nothing till you'd sold one. If you had four teacups, the same. If you had pictures on the wall, they had to go. Literally anything not essential that was saleable had to be sold before you got any help after your 26 weeks of dole were up. And there was no work.

The Jarrow Crusaders set off to walk the 291 miles to London. They carried a petition for the House of Commons.
They spent 22 days walking. Supporters housed them and fed them along the way. Bootmakers in Leicester volunteered to work through the night to repair their shredded boots.
They made it to London on 31st October, through torrential rain.

The petition of 11,000 Jarrow signatures was presented to Parliament.
Their MP Ellen Wilkinson spoke passionately in their support. She called Jarrow a "town that was murdered."

The government was unmoved and uninterested.
The Prime Minister refused to meet with them.
The Conservative Party dismissed them.
The Labour Party dismissed them.
They were sent home by train.

They had failed.


...they had won the support of people. They were a part of the change in attitudes that led to the NHS, that led to unemployment benefits, that led to disability benefits, that led to our lives being so much easier than they could ever have imagined.

I’d like to thank every one of those men.
Those men who lived four miles from where I grew up.
Those men who took action, who made a fuss, who stood up and said ‘no more’.

They did not fail.