Around the end of the 1990s I first heard a new phrase in a particularly memorable meeting. You will have heard it. In the circumstances it seemed very calculated, sinister wording. The occasion was a visit to Sheffield of the Financial Services Authority (FSA ) and the phrase was ‘going forward’. This impressive roadshow of […]

Around the end of the 1990s I first heard a new phrase in a particularly memorable meeting. You will have heard it. In the circumstances it seemed very calculated, sinister wording. The occasion was a visit to Sheffield of the Financial Services Authority (FSA ) and the phrase was ‘going forward’.

This impressive roadshow of Oxbridge educated ‘top people’ ventured outside London to influence credit unions. At that time there were hundreds of small credit unions run by local committees, but an unstoppable movement had swept across from America insisting that these neighbourhood organisations weren’t sustainable. They had to merge, to grow and to be regulated under the FSA along with banks and other financial corporations.

It felt sinister that they kept saying ‘going forward’ like a mantra, like some catchy pop lyric they couldn’t get out of their heads. It was that era when accountants were taking over everything, including the health service. It forecast a new future, implying that anyone resisting would by definition be ‘going backwards’. It had the same meaninglessly unarguable force of concepts like ‘progress’ or ‘improvement’. Who could stand up for non-progress or non-improvement? It felt like a kind of code for that which will happen, regardless of public opinion. People who’ve been to the same conferences, the same schools, are being tipped off. Don’t argue with this one. We’re going forward – like it or not.

A quick look around the internet revealed this phrase in some intriguing places locally. As Sheffield City Council ‘transitioned’ its ICT services away from the public sector to the Capita corporation, the Director of Corporate Resources talked of ‘the transformation of our services going forward’. The Sheffield Forgemasters CEO, keen to be in the nuclear manufacturing industry, said that having worked with government advisers and private equity their business was going forward.

Then I came across a report for the Sheffield Leadership Summit 2010: ‘Sheffield Going Forward: Another Great Ten Years?’ This used ‘scenario modelling’ from the strictly establishment consultancy Oxford Economics to show how the city would fit in with the new coalition government’s priorities – items like 25-30% cuts, national security, the ‘Big Society’ and business as the driver for economic growth. “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation … All that is solid melts into air”. Oops! This last quote is capitalism described in The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Sound familiar? They were writing in an earlier age of ‘Free Trade’ where no doubt the top people were lapping it up, singing the 19th century equivalent of ‘We Are The Champions’. Fortunes were made and lost, people were overworked and the world slid into the Great Depression, the rise of fascism and total world war… going forward.

Why do we have to follow the same path again? Onwards into obesity? Ever-increasing wealth for the rich despite poverty in the developing world? Unhealthy high-tech lifestyles cramped over computers or production lines? Traffic and pollution growing exponentially? Crises and cuts of basic services like health and education – things that for one golden post-war moment made life feel secure?

Can’t we talk about ‘going backwards’? To organic farming that kept us going for thousands of years without draining nitrates into our rivers or depending on fossil fuels? Slow food, cooked and eaten over decent meal breaks with friends, beats fast-food greaseburgers. If going forward means a minimum wage, maximum exploitation drudge job with bullying management, I want to go back.

If you want to join me, come to Sheffield Social Centre’s Really Free School on 15th October to learn and share basic, real-world skills and ideas. Or join Friends of the Earth’s campaign against the government’s planning law rip-up. Or Sheffield Save Our NHS. I could go on and on. There are plenty of people resisting the going forward lie. Check out Alt-Sheff every week for actions and talks. Don’t believe the hype.

sheffieldsocialcentre.org.uk
sheffieldfoe.co.uk
sheffieldsaveournhs.co.uk
alt-sheff.org.uk

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