JANUARY can be a melancholy month. It always has been for me. Childhood Christmases and Hogmanay retain a magical glow – and not because I was showered with presents.

I loved the constant stream of family and friends who would come and go over the festive season.

I especially loved the traditional Scottish New Year, with its first footing and other rituals that solidified family, friendship and community bonds.

But that midwinter surge of optimism was all too fleeting. For the adults, it was never more than a temporary respite from the drudgery and despair of everyday life.

I was transfixed by a photograph in The Herald last week of workers at the Weir’s engineering factory in Cathcart taken in 1973. They had walked out in an effort to increase their holidays from their paltry three-week entitlement. Back then, most factories shut down for the Glasgow Fair fortnight in July, which meant there were only five other days of leave each year, taken mostly around New Year.

My dad worked in Weir’s at that time. And he was a shop steward. I vaguely remember the walkout – and how my mum was up the pole worrying about how she was going to pay the bills. Despite my dad working “two nights and a Sunday double time” – as the Matt McGinn song goes – and my mum often working as a machinist, we weren’t exactly rolling in it.

These were the best times of my childhood, with a main wage earner in the family, but we were still the last folk I knew to get a phone, a fridge or fitted carpets. And the phone and the fridge only arrived courtesy of the Joseph Rowntree Fund – because my wee brother was ill.

At that time, whole streets of tenements around us in the Gorbals were being razed to the ground. Gaping holes in the bulldozed walls exposed the remains of what had once been bustling family homes, strips of wallpaper flapping in the wind.

But we still had relatives within a stone’s throw. Pieces were still being thrown oot windaes. And it was a great adventure to get on a Corporation bus to Castlemilk or Drumchapel to visit those who’d been scattered to the outskirts of the city.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but these days were the death throes of the old ways at Hogmanay, which had been forged by proximity and common experience. Old ways which bred solidarity like native woodland breeds wild flowers. I didn’t know any middle-class or wealthy people. When I heard of someone living in a “bote hoose” I imagined a barge on a canal. All the people I knew were in the same boat, more or less.

It’s credit to my parents that, despite what must’ve been a grind for them – and later, after my dad’s death, brutal misery for my mum – I still look back with fondness. The grit, stoicism, humour, music and determination to have a good time is what made me.

And, despite living now in a very different place, I have kept that strong affinity to the people who have been banished to the fringes – geographically, socially and economically – by a society that worships wealth and glamour. Deliberate social engineering has turned “us” into “them”.

People are rendered “scroungers” and “junkies”. Women bringing up the future on their own are placed in 21st-century stocks and stoned with benefit caps, sanctions and rape clauses.

“Regeneration”, council house sales, privatisation, the goading of workers, the decimation of trade union power, the reinvention of language such as replacing “social security” with “welfare benefits” – all of this has combined to widen the distance between those who’ve stayed in work and moved into the middle class and those who’ve been left behind.

Nowadays, it can take a film like I, Daniel Blake, shown on BBC2 at the weekend, to blast away the complacency of comfortable people who have built a cocoon around themselves. The story of a 59-year-old widower denied Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) following a heart attack may be fictionalised drama, but it’s real life. This weekend, the Mirror newspaper carried a report about a 48-year-old man from Leeds who died by suicide days before Christmas after receiving a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions informing a him that his £70-a-week ESA had been stopped.

Kevin Dooley, father of two teenage daughters, had suffered from obstructive pulmonary disease for several years but had been deemed fit to work after a grilling by outsourcing firm Maximus.

Thank goodness for people like 82-year-old film director Ken Loach and Glaswegian writer Paul Laverty, who wrote the screenplay of I, Daniel Blake and other powerful films that have, over the years, brought to life the struggles for justice of ordinary people.

Far more effectively than statistics, reports, speeches or even protests, their works have helped provoke empathy in people who’ve been conditioned into shutting down their receptors, roused solidarity among distant strangers and reconnected marginalised people with a sense of their own power.

And it doesn’t always take realistic depictions of misery to build connections. I had the pleasure of going to see the fantastic and inexhaustible Elaine C Smith in panto in Aladdin at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow. There’s nothing like laughing in unison to break down barriers.

One guy who has most definitely escaped the poverty of his childhood is Billy Connolly. I watched his moving two-part documentary

Made In Scotland over the festive season and, as always, was struck by his humility and humanity. Despite his harsh upbringing, he still looks back on his early life with gratitude. He doesn’t see himself as special because he has escaped, but mourns the waste of all the other talent that never saw the light of day because of poverty and constricted lives.

In Scotland, we can expect too much of our heroes. I see some folk sniping about his knighthood, his Florida home, his avoidance of the referendum. But Billy put Glasgow working-class lives and humour on the world stage, warts and all, and gave them dignity. He made us proud. I think that’s enough.

There is something about a childhood forged in daily struggle that can never be excised. It is here where the threads of solidarity lie waiting to be picked up. I’m looking towards 2019 with some trepidation. But I’ll also be looking for those threads wherever I am.

If we can build the cohesion of the best of the past and merge it with the struggles of those who’ve been cast aside by a cruel world, we can find the power to change everything.