Diarmuid Breatnach

I no longer watch television at home. It was not a case of rejecting that form of mass media, as some assume, but the result of a tiresome tussle with the huge US-based UPC monopoly, out of which, not surprisingly, I came off worst – they control the aerial in my block of flats and I am not permitted to put up my own dish to receive through a competitor.

Anyway, I used to darn socks sometimes while watching TV, especially during advertisements. Radio would have been ideal but I have long ago lost the habit of listening to that medium. When I lost my struggle with UPC, I stopped watching TV; I could have watched it on my laptop but I find it unsatisfying to watch on a small screen. And when I stopped watching TV, I also ceased darning. The pile of socks with holes in them grew, to be mended “some day”, until eventually I had to buy new ones.

I am aware that for many in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAour society here today, darning would be considered a quaint or even archaic activity, associated with oil lamps and making your own butter, perhaps. Or cooking on a range and the absence of indoor plumbing. For others, darning might signify poverty or meaness. To me, it is about using and reusing what can be used, and about mending what can reasonably be mended to use again. Clothes, like all other items we use, are produced by human labour and it seems wrong to me to waste that labour unnecessarily – a kind of negation of the labour in the first place and, following that, a negation of the activity that might follow when the workers have produced enough of the items.

Of course, in our time and in this place, it is likely that the socks that I buy have been made in some sweat-shop in a more undeveloped country where, if they think about it at all, the sweated workers hope that we’ll go throwing away our socks as soon as the first hole appears, or even sooner if possible, so that they can continue to sweat producing replacements and being paid their meagre wages in order to pay for food, shelter and medicines. So that they can continue sweating and raise their children who, in turn, will become sweated wage slaves producing articles of clothing, undercutting the wages of those who might produce the same articles here, but who rightfully demand more humane working conditions, annual holidays, health insurance and the level of wages necessary to maintain an average standard of living. My darning my socks does not help, even in the tiniest way, the workers in those foreign sweated shops, nor the unemployed clothing workers in the country in which I live.


So why do it? I am not well-off by standards in this country but any amount I save by darning will make little difference. True, I was raised in a different time and I have imbibed some of the culture of that time (and also rejected much of it). But it is neither meaness, habit nor a perception of helping workers that causes me to think I should darn my socks, but a respect for labour. I am aware that practically all items we use were created by labour. I am aware that the power to create that material wealth has been, for centuries, appropriated by a parasitic class that many call capitalists. Before them, that labour power was expropriated by the feudal lords and their monarchs and before them, by the huge slave empires of Rome and Greece and of others outside Europe.

Darning wool & scissors

I aspire to a society where that labour power will no longer be expropriated and where the workers shall decide how that power is to be used, for the benefit of all. “The labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7, King James Bible) but s/he is worthy of much more than that s/he is worthy to control all of her/his labour power and of the distribution of the wealth it produces. And so labour must be valued – not just some day in the future, I believe, but now. The new society takes form within the old, although it must destroy the old from which it was born and will, for a time also, carry some of the taints of the old. But it begins now, in the present – in my case, with me.

So the other day, although I still have undamaged pairs, I began to darn old pairs of socks. It was surprisingly restful. But after darning a pair, I fretted at the time spent on this, time spent away from other work, piling up. I darned one of another pair and put its companion and darning away materials away.  I will return to darning socks, a few at a time, on other days. Or, at least, I hope to.


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