Walk away from the smart new shops of Liverpool One, past the Urban Splash apartments in the Tea Factory and up Hardman Street, and you’ll find a decaying edifice that was once the Merseyside Trade Union and Unemployed Resource Centre.
The centre, in the neo-classical surroundings of the city’s former school for the blind, has been long closed. The Flying Picket bar is not so much a symbol of Scouse resistance as an unloved relic of a period many now find slightly embarrassing.
This Liverpool – a city captured in Mike Jones’ painting, Unemployment on Merseyside – isn’t the happy, confident face of the European capital of culture.
Much of it was angry, resentful and confrontational. But there was also a quality that’s worth rediscovering as we head into more difficult times. It used to be called solidarity.
Forget the top bankers who are suffering the gentlest of defenestrations as they pay the price of their risk-taking.
Recession hits the poorest hardest. It’s those on middle to low incomes, or those on no income who are still trying to enter the labour market, whose futures are least secure.
The government is right to offer money to help unemployed people retrain (although it could give more thought to the kind of retraining its £100m will buy over three years).
It’s even more right to bring forward capital projects that require civil engineering and construction skills.
And the Conservatives are correct to highlight the plight of small businesses, although more intelligent lending by the banks will do more to help small firms than a VAT holiday here or a penny off national insurance there.
What even the most benevolent governments can’t offer, though, is solidarity.
It’s nonsensical for a well-paid MP to tell someone who’s just lost their livelihood that ‘we’re on your side’.
That support must come from people who can be friends and neighbours to those facing difficulties, who may be going through similar troubles themselves, and who understand that self-esteem means more than qualifications.
Maybe now is the time to reinvent the unemployed resource centres, but in a new way that combines solidarity with practical help.
Instead of marching for jobs and demanding the right to work, the resource centres of the 21st century should be a channel for start-up funding for new enterprises, and help unemployed people use their skills to forge their own future.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine