Friday, February 15, 2013

Progressive Music Classics: The Unacceptable Face of Freedom by Test Dept.

By Marc McDonald

(Ed. note: Here's another installment of Marc's ongoing series. For the full series, check out his site. Our last one was a couple of weeks ago, "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Shriekback. -- MJWS)


Margaret Thatcher's declaration of war against labor unions in the 1980s kicked off a vicious attack on working-class people that ripped the nation's social fabric. British society never really recovered from the ravages of Thatcherism.

Like Ronald Reagan, Thatcher used the power of the state to force a radical, extreme form of bare-knuckled "Chicago School" economics on the nation. In both countries, the Top One Percent made out like bandits, but the middle class was ravaged.

Since the 1980s, Britain has come to resemble the U.S. in many ways. Like the U.S., Britain has seen the decline of its middle class. Britain has also experienced increasingly mediocre, under-funded social services and declining standards in public schools. Like the U.S. since 1980, Britain has become more and more a deeply undemocratic society that is increasingly ruled by an oligarchy and by multi-national corporations.

One of the sectors of British society that really felt the full force of Thatcherism early on was the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Thatcher sent in the police to brutally attack union members. The mainstream media in the Anglo-American world applauded (apparently forgetting that one of the first groups that Hitler targeted when he came to power was trade unions).

If the sound of the anger and fury of Thatcher's attack on working-class people could be put to music, it might well sound like The Unacceptable Face of Freedom by British band Test Dept.

Test Dept. was one of a wave of U.K. bands that mobilized to fight Thatcherism in any way they could. The band performed benefits for coal miners in Wales. Part of this effort resulted in the stirring 1985 album Shoulder to Shoulder, which Test Dept. recorded in collaboration with a choir made up of striking miners. 

The Unacceptable Face of Freedom, recorded the following year, does a good job of capturing the transformation of British society in a prophetic manner. Like Reagan in the U.S., Thatcher worked hard to try to convince the U.K. public that society should no longer serve ordinary people and that Britain was now going to be a greedy, soulless society where the motto was "Screw everyone else, I've got mine."

An eerie passage in "Fuckhead," the opening track of Unacceptable Face, sums this up nicely, when a crazed voice shouts out, "It's mine! It's mine! It's mine!" Thatcher and her goons couldn't have said it better.

The ironic aspect of the legacy of Reagan and Thatcher was that, over the long term, the two leaders unwittingly sowed the seeds for capitalism's demise as I noted in this 2012 piece. The two leaders, in embracing the radical and extremist agenda of the Chicago School, never seemed to grasp that when the middle class dies, it will eventually take capitalism down with it.

Under Reagan and Thatcher, the union members of PATCO and the NUM took it on the chin. They were like the canaries in the coal mine. In the decades since, the middle class as a whole in both nations has been increasingly decimated.

(Cross-posted at BeggarsCanBeChoosers.)

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