You can tell a lot about the political situation in a country by the popularity of certain words, writes rural journalist and anti cuts campaigner John Tyler.
Take the word “austerity” for example – a word barely used or understood by the mass of the British population up until 2009.
Yet with the unfolding economic crisis taking its toll on thousands of families, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary named the word “austerity” as its “Word of the Year” for 2010 because of the number of web searches this word generated.
According to the president and publisher of the dictionary, “austerity had more than 250,000 searches on the dictionary’s free online [website] tool” and the surge in searches “came with more coverage of the debt crisis.”
Although Chancellor Osborne and other ministers within the EU use the word as a neutral to implement their ‘necessary deficit reduction plan” much of the public appears wise to the devastating impact the cuts will have on their lives.
With the Morning Star the only national daily newspaper giving a voice to the victims of the cuts agenda, there is still a problem in communicating the positives of community campaigning, not least in rural Britain – an often-neglected part of the working class that is not being heard.
New research by the Scottish Agricultural College’s Rural Policy Centre, found that the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray and the Orkney Islands are the rural areas that are likely to be some of the hardest hit places in Britain.
The hegemonic media is unable to ignore city dwellers mounting anti cuts campaigns in the big cities with the FT and the Guardian giving some coverage.
But despite rural Britain arguably facing a disproportionate attack of austerity, the unfolding situation is still not considered “news worthy.”
This is a challenge for trade unionists and anti cuts groups alike to improve media communications. However as history shows it is the strength and depth in numbers that forces progressive events into the news agenda.
Recent mobilisations against the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in the so-called “bonfire of the quangos” – a term invented by Sky News in order to undermine the importance of such bodies – have attracted some media coverage and brought rural workers on to the streets of the capital.
Unite who represent many agricultural workers in rural Britain has spearheaded the campaign to protect the vital service which ensures that rural workers have a professional grading structure, improved health and safety and are paid significantly above the national minimum wage.
With the bill on the abolition of the AWB about to go through the commons, Unite is stepping up the pressure on MP’s to vote the bill down.
Unite National Officer for Agricultural workers Cath Speight insists the union “will continue to campaign against the abolition of the AWB, which protects the incomes of over 150,000 agricultural workers.
“Unite will be contacting every MP to make the case for retaining the AWB which survived when all other wages boards were abolished by Thatcher.”
Accusing the government of giving a “green light” to gangmasters and landowners to slash wages and conditions, Ms Speight adds: “This move will only lead to a de-skilling of agricultural workers which will have a knock on effect on Health & Safety.”
Unite executive member Ian Monckton whose job isn’t directly covered by the AWB argues that its abolition will mean thousands like him will have their pay and conditions eroded as part of general depression of wages in favour of higher profits for rural employers.
Agricultural work itself is the most dangerous in terms of deaths and injuries – even eclipsing the construction industry.
Official figures show the rate of fatal injuries in the sector was 8.2 per 100,000 workers, making it the most dangerous industry in which to work in Britain today. With the abolition of the AWB, this is likely to get worse.
Recently a farming company was fined after a man was electrocuted while working on farmland near Ludgershall in Wiltshire.
Salisbury Crown Court heard Edward Pybus, 21, from Northallerton in Yorkshire, was harvesting crops at Chute Farm, Upper Chute when he received the fatal shock on 6 August 2007.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted farm managers Velcourt Ltd as the firm was responsible for both the recruitment of casual farm workers, including Mr Pybus, and for managing health and safety on site.
Of course health and safety although already not good will only get worse if the bill is passed.
Other unions who represent members providing services in remote parts of rural Britain such as job centres, schools, hospitals and post offices have been active in highlighting their plight.
The PCS has said job centre closures on top of a lack of opportunities for the unemployed will leave people in rural areas particularly exposed.
Cuts to services in countryside towns and villages where communities are small and close-knit leaves deep scars that are not easily healed.
Closing a post office or shop in the high street might be a nuisance to people in the city meaning they have to walk a little further for the next one.
In rural communities, it can be one step towards the death knell of that area. However, resistance, if properly directed by the trade union movement locally in conjunction with the local community, in these areas maybe more forthcoming precisely because of the closeness of people in rural communities.
Coordinated strike action involving a multitude of unions and workers across the country and different industries, will need to involve workers in the countryside.
If we are to make the government truly back down by making the country economically and industrially ungovernable, the countryside will be a key organising battleground to rid us of this big business government.