Why I Fight: overwork, sickness and the tragedy of capitalism

This article is part of an international series on why young people have decided to join the fight against capitalism.

Last year, on 2 July, I had to make one of the most important decisions of my life. I told the professionals at the NHS to turn off the life support for my mother’s body.

My mother moved here in 2012, like millions of Poles looking for a better life, welcomed by the British capitalists keen on saving on the wages. One of her main motivations was to be able to support my studies back in Poland. Three months into my literature course at Cracow, I decided to make a serious break in my life and moved to England to live with my mother, thereby joining the ranks of the British working class.

I will always remember West Yorkshire for its bright workers who, although their accent was completely incomprehensible to me, were welcoming and tolerant while at the same time showing true English spirit and wit. Nevertheless, I decided to leave my co-workers at the factory for university in London. My mother had taken additional hours to be able to support me. About that time, she was also diagnosed with hypertension.

Moving to London was terrible. With its criminal rents and my problems in getting a single penny from the even more criminal Student Finance England, the move plunged me into the depths of clinical depression, that I’ve now successfully fought and beaten. But the path to the place I am now was very thorny.

My mother’s husband had a sudden heart attack in December 2015. Then another one in February 2016. He was no longer able to work much, so the factory offered him half-day shifts. I had personally filled in the claim for disability allowance for him, and seeing those forms again while watching ‘I, Daniel Blake’ made me cry. His claim was rejected. Someone had to make up for the missing wages, so my mother took all the overtime that was offered. On top of the hypertension she now had an unspecified foot swelling condition.

After finishing my first year of studies I started working as an assembly mechanic at a local workshop in west London. I had some interesting discussions with workers of Indian descent from Southall. I was a member of the Unite trade union by then and we were thinking about establishing a union branch. Then, at the end of June I got a call from my mother’s husband.

“She’s in hospital” he said in a breaking voice. “Not conscious. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what they’re saying,” he said, desperate. I was on my way back to West Yorkshire the same night. I saw one of the NHS doctors at around 1am.

“Please tell me the truth, however hard it may be.” were my words.

“Even if she recovers consciousness, the bleeding was too extensive. She won’t be able to move. Brain haemorrhage.”

The heroes at Pinderfields Hospital provided me with a room to sleep in. Later I had to translate the news for my Polish family: “No recovery. You need to make a decision.”

The rest of this personal story shall remain undisclosed. But afterwards I started thinking about what happened. Most importantly why it happened. I came to the realisation that my story is not just an individual story – it’s a story of countless working class people. Who knows how many other people have had to go through such an unnecessary tragedy at a young age?

Finding a culprit wasn’t too difficult. My mother had worked herself to death. Soon afterwards I started working at the same factory where she did. Due to my English proficiency I was made the Health and Safety Officer – translating the instructions into Polish and conducting some training. After two months, more than 20% of the staff were members of Unite.

After coming back to London, I went to a Marxist Society meeting at my university. We discussed reform and revolution, capitalism and socialism. I decided to join, to learn more and to get involved in the fight for socialist revolution.

Why do I fight? Because I don’t want a single person have a similar tragedy happen to them. Because I will not accept a sick system that makes you sacrifice your life for no real reason. Because I believe that everyone deserves care and understanding without having to pay for it.

My campaign against capitalism is quite personal. What’s yours?

by Peter Kwasiborski, SOAS Marxists