Archive for the ‘Working Conditions’ Category

Megaphone Petition Against Government Plans to Allow the Hiring of Agency Strike Breakers

June 24, 2022

I’ve also received this email from Megaphone urging people to sign their petition about the government’s proposal to undermine the unions by allowing companies to hire agency staff to break the strike. I’ve signed it, as strikes, or the threat of strike action, is the major weapon for unions to protect the rights of their members and workers as a whole.

‘David —

This week has been huge for the trade union movement. The TUC Join a Union website is seeing record traffic, with visits this week up 800%. 

As RMT members stand up for their jobs, pay and our services, they are giving hope and confidence to millions of workers. The last few weeks has clearly shown that if you want a pay rise, a secure job and a decent life, you need to be in a union.

So what has the governments response to this been? To propose laws that would undermine the most powerful tactic working people have: strike action.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, is proposing to change the law to allow companies to replace striking workers, with inexperienced agency workers. 

The government will try to sneak these changes through so people don’t notice, so we must get the word out far and wide. We will not let them undermine our right to strike.

Will you add your name to the petition to stop plans to undermine unions by allowing companies to hire temporary staff during strike action?

Sign the petition

We cannot let this happen.

Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and create genuine safety risks for the public and workers.

Please sign and share the petition now.

In Unity,

Anthony,

Megaphone UK

Email from the Megaphone Urging Support for the Railway Strike

June 21, 2022

I also got this email from the left-wing campaigning organisation the Megaphone urging people to write to their MPs making it plain they support the RMT and the railway strike. As the email points out it’s not just about the train drivers’ pay, but about all the other rail workers and opposing the devastating cuts to public services.

‘David,

It’s the biggest show of industrial power in a generation.

Rail unions are running three days of national strike action to put a stop to devastating cuts to services, staff and conditions proposed by company bosses on million-pound salaries.

When jobs are on the chopping block and livelihoods are at stake, union members stand together to defend each other.

And 50,000 rail workers from mechanics to depot workers, ticket officers and many more need our solidarity tomorrow:

In just a few hours, rail workers across the UK will take to the picket lines for the fight of their lives. Can you write to your MP and show you stand with them?

WRITE TO YOUR MP

We have the resources and the funding to build a world-class rail system in the UK.

But for two years, this government and the Transport Minister have chosen confrontation over negotiation.

They choose to bail out private companies, while workers in safety-critical jobs face the sack.

They choose to condemn rail unions, when train bosses make millions in profits and cut corners on pay.

They even want to ban the right to strike, removing our most powerful bargaining tool when we have no other means to act.

Everyone deserves better pay, jobs and services. And rail workers are standing up for our safety.

A win for rail workers this week is a win for all of us in the UK who believe in our collective power to organise, demonstrate and win a better future.

Defend our rail service and defend people’s jobs — email your MP and ask them to write to the Transport Minister today.

In solidarity with tomorrow’s strikers,

Anthony,

Megaphone UK’

I’ve had absolutely no problem writing to my local MP to say that I do, and I support not only the union’s strike, but the fundamental right to strike, which the Tories have always hated and always tried to curb and ban anyway they can.

Privatisation has been a disaster. The rail network needs to be taken back into public ownership and properly funded and maintained, without the profits being siphoned off into shareholder’s dividends and the bloated salaries of the management.

French Radical Social Catholicism and its Demands for the Improvement of Conditions for the Working Class

May 16, 2022

The chapter I found most interesting in Aidan Nichols’ book, Catholic Thought Since the Enlightenment: A Survey (Pretoria: University of South Africa 1998) was on 19th century Social Catholicism. Social Catholicism is that branch of the church that seeks to tackle with social issues, such as working conditions and justice for the poor, women’s rights, the arms race, the problem of poverty in the global south and so on. It’s governed by the doctrine of subsidiarity, in which it is neither politically left or right. Nevertheless, there are some Social Catholic thinkers whose idea were very left-wing, at least for the 19th century. The chapter mentions two 19th century French writers, whose ideas could be considered socialistic.

One of these was Alban de Villeneuve-Bargemont, who retired from public life following for the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy, taking the opportunity to write a book on Christian political economy. He advocated state intervention, not only to relieve poverty and distress, but wanted it to ensure that workers could conduct their own economic activity aided by credit unions, mutual aid societies and other institutions. This was when the economy was still dominated by cottage industry and many workers were self-employed craftsmen.

Rather more radical was Philippe Benjamin Joseph Buchez, who wrote a forty volume history of the French Revolution, which was later used by the British right-wing anti-capitalist writer, Thomas Carlyle. In his treatise Essai d’un traite complet de philosophie au point de vue du Catholicisme et du progress and his journal l’Europeen, as well as his presidency of the French constitutional assembly during the revolution of 1848, called for the establishment of cooperatives for skilled artisans, the state regulation of working conditions and a minimum wage. (p. 92). The chapter also goes to note that other social Catholics favoured private initiatives and charity to tackle the problems of poverty. Others also went on to recommend a corporative solution to social problems, in which workers and masters would work together in decentralised self-regulating organisations based on the medieval guilds, very much like the corporate state as promoted, but not practised, by Mussolini’s Fascist Italy.

Villeneuve-Bargement’s and Buchez’s ideas ran directly counter to the laissez-faire economic doctrine of the 19th century and clearly anticipated some of the developments in the last and present centuries, such as the establishment of the minimum wage in Britain and America. While people can disagree with their theology, depending on their religious views, it seems to me that their ideas are still relevant today.

And I rather people looked to their Roman Catholic solutions to working class poverty and labour, than Iain Duncan Smith. Smith seems to use his Catholicism and his supposed concern with eliminating poverty as just another pretext to cut benefits and make the poor poorer.

So dump Smith, and return to 19th century French Social Catholic radicalism!

The 19th Century Social Catholic Warning Against Bozo

May 10, 2022

This morning I had the misfortune to hear the Queen’s Speech, actually given in her absence by Prince Charles. This obviously lays out the intentions of Johnson’s wretched government, and how nauseating they were. I’m still very weak with a dodgy stomach from the Covid booster, and this announcement of Bozo’s policies didn’t improve my condition. Johnson has pledged to remove the legislation he claims is restricting industry and so hindering economic growth, will repeal EU-inspired human rights legislation, and pass further law allowing the state to clamp down on ‘disruptive’ protests such as Extinction Rebellion’s.,

We all know where this is going. The removal of more workers’ right so that they can be hired and fired at will, as well as restrictions on planning permission and other laws preventing companies from trashing the environment. Meanwhile, the Tories will take away the right to protest for everybody on the grounds that it’s causing a nuisance.

One of the books I’ve been reading is Aidan Nichol’s Catholic Thought Since The Enlightenment (Pretoria: University of South Africa 1998). This is a short guide to the rich intellectual history of the Roman Catholic Church since the 17th century as it attempted to tackle issues such as the rise of atheism and scepticism, the competing claims of the national churches against the papacy, historical scepticism, the conflict between French Revolutionary attempts to destroy Christianity and particularly the Roman Church, as well as purely metaphysical issues. These latter, which involve complex arguments about ontology, epistemology – the theory of knowledge – and psychology rather go over my head. But I’ve been very interested indeed in the chapter on Social Catholicism. Social Catholicism is that branch of Roman Catholic theology and pastoral care directed at social issues, such as alleviating poverty, questions of political pluralism, protecting the rights of Roman Catholics in non-Catholic societies, and combating the poverty created amongst working people through modern industrial capitalism.

One of the founders of the Social Catholic tradition was Adam Heinrich Muller (1779-1829), a north German convert to the faith. Muller defended the family, respect for the traditional institutions that had developed under Christianity, such as the estates and corporations that focussed loyalties, duties and organised decision-making. Here he was influenced by Burke, the founder of modern Conservatism. From one perspective he’s a conservative. But he gave a speech to the Saxonian diplomatic corps warning against the dangers of liberal economics and absolutist government.

Liberal economics and absolutist government sounds precisely like Johnson’s dream.

I realise that what he was talking about then isn’t going to be the same as the current political situation. He was speaking at a time when democracy largely didn’t exist anywhere in Europe except Switzerland, and was feared by many, Roman Catholic and Protestant, because of the carnage caused by the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. But nevertheless, there’s still a point here for contemporary politics.

Johnson is the type of politician Muller warned us about.

Jewish Left-Wing Song – March of the Jobless Corps/ Arbetslozer Marsh

May 4, 2022

More Jewish music from the left. This comes from the Klezmer group of Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird, one the Oriente Musik YouTube channel. It bitterly attacks the corporate rich and the culpability for mass unemployment in America. It talks about how the factories have been closed down, ‘there’s no manufacturing in the land’, workers are being made made hungry and homeless, living in tents and subsisting on bread and water while lazy CEOs guzzle fine wine. It also attacks useless unions, for taking the dues from the workers but not standing up for them, so all their work goes in making goods for the rich. This is repeated in Yiddish, and the final verse ends with an optimistic look for a new, just land where everyone has work.

The video shows the band marching and dancing through abandoned factories, meeting solitary workers doing carpentry or working at a sewing machine, before people finally come together for a stately traditional Jewish dance.

It’s an excellent riposte to the racist nonsense that Jews are all rich businessmen, somehow responsible for the evils of modern capitalism. This is the real, murderous anti-Semitic conspiracy theory pushed by Hitler and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Unfortunately, the Blairites in the Labour party didn’t get the message. Remember a few years back when Jezza was leading the party, and one of the female MPs appeared on Radio 4 to blithely declare that socialism was anti-Semitic because it attacked capitalism, which was somehow synonymous with Judaism? That was torn to shreds by the Corbynist left, as it should have been by any decent person who knows their history. Because Hitler and the wretched Protocols also claimed that ‘Marxist socialism’ was also controlled by Jews to enslave Aryans. And Corbyn was supported in the party by a strong Jewish contingent, like Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Jewish Voice for Labour, who stood for Jewish working people, who like their gentile comrades were worried about deteriorating working conditions, the destruction of the welfare state, cuts to public services and the privatisation of the NHS. Who wondered how they would pay for the social care their elderly parents and relatives needed, and support their families with the wage freeze.

But there also was in Britain are real ‘Jobless Corps’ – the National Union of the Unemployed, which I think was set up by the Communist Party. As part of their protest, they staged a kind of invasion of the Ritz hotel in London. They went in and ordered a meal. Of course, as working people they weren’t welcome in such an exclusive establishment. They replied by pointing out that plenty of the rich also went down and had their meals in cafes in the working class parts of the capital. They called this ‘slumming it’, but the protesters said they were perfectly welcome there, just as they should be in the Ritz.

We’re supposed to have the lowest unemployment rate for years, but I don’t trust official figures. They’ve been fiddle too often. One of the problems is that they only count people receiving benefit. This obviously doesn’t include the masses who’ve been thrown off thanks to the sanctions system. And it doesn’t count the underemployed, like the poor souls on zero hours contracts, who are effectively unemployed when their employers don’t need ’em.

Perhaps we need a revival of the idea of unemployed workers’ unions, that will attack current neoliberal capitalism and the Thatcherites and Reaganites who are doing their best to prop it up to deprive ordinary people of properly paying work for their own profits.

Oh, You Foolish Zionists! – Yiddish Anti-Zionist Song

May 4, 2022

Here’s another little ditty I found on YouTube that’ll really, really get up the noses of Keir Starmer and the Jewish Labour Movement (formerly Paole Zion – Workers of Zion’ and the other Zionist organisations that have smeared good, decent, anti-racist people as anti-Semites and had them thrown out of the Labour party. So I’ve definitely got to put it up. Jewish critics of Zionism like David Rosenberg, Ilan Pappe and the mighty Tony Greenstein have amply demonstrated that, contrary to what the Zionists would have us all believe, Zionism was actually a minority political movement before the Second World War. Mainstream European Jews wanted to remain in their own countries, working to be accepted as equal fellow citizens with their gentile friends, neighbours and comrades. This was the policy of the Bund, the mass Jewish socialist party of the Russian empire. And this piece of music from the GetChan channel on YouTube goes further supports it.

The piece is trilingual, first in Yiddish, then English and finally Russian. The English lyrics attack the Zionists as Utopians for wanting to take them to Israel where they can ‘die as a nation’. Instead it urges them to go into the factories and see how the workers live. It states that they want to stay in the diaspora where they’ll work for their liberation. I think in the Yiddish and Russian lyrics this is altered to Russia, reflecting the writers’ origins.

The thumbnail to the video is a photograph showing a Jewish workers’ demonstration. There’s placard with the legend ‘May the First 1947’ and ‘the Redemption of Israel, but it also promotes the Brotherhood of nations and solidarity between the workers of the world and Jews and Palestinians.

The song’s short, with a good, jaunty melody which sounds like it’s played on the accordion. It’s therefore excellent for playing at socialist and trade unionist rallies to defy any suggestion that criticism of Israel make you automatically an anti-Semite.

A Small Family Sex Show in Bristol Cancelled Because of Petitions and Death Threats

April 26, 2022

As a Bristolian, I feel I have to add my fourpence worth about this controversy. One of the arenas of the culture war is over sex education in schools and especially sex education, with particular concern about the teaching or promotion of homosexuality and transgenderism. Parents and politicians are concerned about proper age-appropriate teaching of these subjects. The controversy seems to be particularly acute in America, where various, mostly right-leaning journos, activists and media pundits like Michael Walsh have criticised videos posted on TikTok of teachers coming out to young pupils and announcing that they’re gay, non-binary or trans. There have been instances where primary school children have been asked about which gender they identify with, as apart from their biological sex. One teacher proudly announced the ‘gender closet’ in which children can get changed into the clothing of the opposite sex when they want to keep it secret from their parents. There have been very sexually explicit books published for schools about gay and gender issues, containing the kind of imagery that once upon a time only used to be found in hard porn. And schools have also been told that, if a child trans, they should not inform his or her parents. As a result, there have been meetings of outraged parents confronting their local school boards in various towns and cities across the US. The Republican governor of Florida,, Ron de Santis, has just passed his so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ act, which forbids the teaching of anything about sex and sexuality, including heterosexuality, from ages 5 – 9. The Disney corporation and various LGBTQ+ employees have been particularly incensed by it, and have tried to mobilise opposition against the bill. This was in conjunction with a leaked video showing some of its top brass saying that they want half of all their characters to come from ethnic minorities or the gay community. As a result, right-wing Republicans like Walsh are calling for an end to Disney’s autonomy in the state and its tax exemption. I have to say that this shows a somewhat skewed morality. As a massively profitable global enterprise, Disney should pay its fair whack of tax like the rest of us proles. And especially because conditions for its workers in China are so dire that they’ve had to install suicide nets in their factories to stop the wage slaves toiling over their merchandise from killing themselves.

The Tobacco Factory, one of Bristol’s many theatres, put its collective feet firmly into this mire of controversy last week when they announced they were hosting ‘A Small Family Sex Show’ by theatre company ThisEgg. The show was described as woke, Queer and feminist, ,and intended to teach children about sex, using personal experiences, covering sexual orientation, gender identity, boundaries and so on. The show was described as suitable for children of five upwards, and included a section where the performers were free to take their clothes to the extent they felt comfortable. This could be total nudity, or else the removal of bottoms but not underwear, or even just simply staying clothed. The content included teaching children about masturbation, touching as well as other, much more dubious and extreme practices. Quiet-voiced Benjamin Boyce, an American YouTuber who discusses topics like gender identity, went through the description of the show’s contents on their website. This also included various explicit drawings. It was a weird mixture of sex with information about theatre, such as pointing out that the areas to each side of the stage that are hidden from the audience are called the wings. It also promised to teach children about White privilege and supremacy. In the video introducing the show, it’s producers introduce themselves with their pronouns and a description of their race, complexion, hair colour and so on. They seem to have been White, and Boyce wondered why they thought such descriptions were necessary when everyone could see what they were like. But it was the sexual subjects they show intended to teach which naturally attracted Boyce’s astonishment and disapproval. Again and again he wondered aloud how it wasn’t grooming. And others wondered too, on both sides of the Atlantic, with many being very firmly convinced it was.

Karen Davis, a gender critical Black American YouTuber, covered it on her channel. She was concerned that it was aimed at a time when children were only just learning to differentiate between fiction and reality, and that you could not like people while still being civil to them. She was also concerned that it would break down barriers about sex between children and adults, barriers that children naturally have for very good reasons. She was concerned that it was teaching kids not to believe their own eyes and feelings about whether an adult presented a danger, and would so make them vulnerable to predators. Davis has very strong and uncompromising views on the trans issue and she goes further in her opposition than some other gender critical folks. But in this instance her views seem to be very well grounded. She frequently cites the medical and academic literature to support her opinions, which are also informed by her work as a special needs teacher for children. She has also previously worked in centres for people with mental health issues. She knows whereof she speaks. And one of her concerns was about the theatre companies name. ‘Egg’ apparently is trans slang for someone on the verge of being trans, who needs to be ‘hatched’. I wondered if the name wasn’t inspired by a cult BBC show about a group of graduates living in London called This Life, one of whose characters had the monicker ‘Egg’. The show claimed it had the support of one of the organisations charged with protecting children, but a glance at that organisation’s website – it might have been the NSPCC – showed that the show was in conflict with the organisation. This said on their website that one of the signs that a child was being abused or near to a child who was, was sexuality explicit talk.

There have been any number of people on YouTube in Britain and America tearing into the show. Meesh Makeida, a Black British mother, covered it in one of her videos and made it very plain that she definitely would not take her five year old to it. Karen Davis in her video about it compared it to the real, grubby sex shows for adults. Unfortunately, these have been about in my city. The city council voted a few months ago to shut down the, er, ‘gentlemen’s clubs’. And the tone of Park Street in Clifton went up when the strip clubs there closed down in the 1980s.

A large number of Bristol’s citizens also made their opposition to the show very plain. There was a petition against it, which garnered 38,000 signatures. There were also threats of death and violence against the theatre and ThisEgg. This resulted in the show’s cancellation. The producers have claimed that they were forced to pull the show due to the threats, and that these came from a small minority of extremists.

I don’t agree with making death threats, and sincerely hope that those sent did come from a small minority. But the 38,000 signatures on the petition definitely don’t come from a small number of people. I don’t know how many people were actually aware of the show’s existence – I haven’t seen it mentioned on the local news. But offhand I can’t think of anyone who would be happy at such a show being performed in front of children and especially not five year olds.

And grooming is a real and legitimate issue with this play. It appears to be informed by Queer Theory. This, in the view of scholars and critics like James Lindsay, explicitly wishes to break down the barriers between adults and children in matters of sexuality and sexual identity. It’s based on the theories of Foucault, a postmodern philosopher and paedophile. Foucault and other intellectuals tried to get the age of consent reduced to 12 or there about in France in the 1970s, and Foucault himself used to go to North Africa to take advantage of the prostituted boys. One of the issues here is that the gay rights movement in its early stages included many paedophiles and civil rights activists who mistakenly believed that it should be legalised. The gay movement in Britain began making headway when the gay organisations purged the paedophiles from their ranks and made it very plain that gay very definitely did not equal paedo. There are thus fears that the paedophiles are trying to come back in through Queer Theory and the kind of sex education that it produces.

Graham Linehan, the writer of Father Ted, Big Train and the IT Crowd and a very firm opponent of the trans ideology, also discussed the play with American gender critical feminist Kara Dansky. I think Linners believed that ThisEgg were genuine in their concern that children received proper information about sex, just misguided. Dansky, on the other hand, suggested that the company really may have been deliberately grooming children. I hope not. They seemed sincere, but terribly, destructively wrong in my opinion.

When the news that the show was being staged a week ago, some of the commenters on various videos had a dig at Bristol. The city’s terribly ‘woke’, you see, and somehow it’s all the fault of the University. Well, certain parts of the city are very left-wing. People joke about the ‘People’s Republic of Stokes Croft’, for example. Other parts are more moderate or Conservative. And the various initiatives taken by Bristol University, such as lowering admissions for Black and Asian applicants in order to encourage more of them to apply don’t come from a long history of left-wing activism. They seem to be initiated in order to dispel criticism that the university is too elitist and White. But of course, there are left-wing lecturers there, just as there are Tories and others, who keep their political views quiet.

As for theatre in Bristol general, the city has a number of excellent venues. The Hippodrome tends to stage West End musicals like Cats, Return to the Forbidden Planet and even, every so often, the Rocky Horror Show. The Theatre Royal in King Street is one of the oldest in the country, and has produced many of this great nation’s leading thesps. It’s had everything from one man shows by Michael Bentine and John Mortimer, to performances of Into the West, from the film starring Ron Moody as a villain. It also staged more challenging performances about the Vietnam War and its legacy. Another theatre venue, Quaker’s Friars, has staged great plays, one of which was by one of the great 18th century French playwrights, as well as a production of the Hollywood classic Key Largo. And before it decided to put on A Small Family Sex Show, the Tobacco Factory had also put on several excellent plays, including puppet shows for children.

I think it’s excellent that the show has been cancelled, but I’m also acutely aware that children do need proper sex education. There was a time when it was not taught in school, and so children were really ignorant about their bodies, the changes of adolescence and reproduction. We should very definitely not go back there, whatever opposition there is to it by right-wingers like Peter Hitchens.

I’m also not entirely convinced that there’s been this controversy about it just when Bristol is facing a referendum over the elected mayor. At the moment it’s Marvin Rees for Labour. Now the mayor and city council generally have had nothing to do with the show, and no-one has said they have. But I’m afraid that the controversy over the play and the constant statements by the right about it being the product of the ‘woke’ left will lead some people to mistakenly connect it to Labour.

Bristol’s a great city, with great theatre. A Small Family Sex Show isn’t one of them, and shouldn’t have been booked.

Children do need proper sex education, given at suitable ages and using appropriate material. They cannot be left ignorant, but should not be exposed to material that is too explicit either. Especially when there is the danger that real abusers could use to approach children, no matter how well-intentioned the people behind such material are.

Bristol’s Left Certainly Does Care About All Slavery, Not Just Historic Black

April 7, 2022

As a proud Bristolian, I felt I had to post something about this. A day or so ago History Debunked posted a short video arguing that the left in Bristol had no knowledge of the slavery in the city before or after the transatlantic slave trade. Instead, they were solely concerned with historic Black slavery. They were not aware that Anglo-Saxon Bristol exported enslaved children and seemed unconcerned with the conviction a few days previously of two Slovakians for holding smuggled migrants in effective slavery. Such exploitation isn’t called slavery, but ‘people trafficking’. The thumbnail to his video shows the toppling of the statue to Edward Colston by the BLM mob last year.

Now I have put up some of Simon Webb’s material when it has been about fake history presented as factual Black history. But he does have some deeply troubling opinions. He seems to believe the Bell Curve nonsense, that Asians are more intelligent than Whites who in turn are brighter than Blacks. He feels Enoch Powell has been smeared and misrepresented and put up a video about 1968 as the year everyone was talking about repatriation. This is apart from videos attacking what he describes as ‘the disability scam’. He’s also made some mistakes when talking about African history. He’s said before now that when Europeans reached Africa, they found its people in the Bronze Age. Not so: iron working in West Africa began about a thousand years before it emerged in Europe because of the presence of easily worked bloom near the surface. I can only assume he believes they were in the Bronze Age because of the Benin bronzes, the bronze sculptures made as shrines to the king’s lifeforce. I got the distinct impression that all of Africa’s peoples were using iron before European contact, with the possibly exception of one of the Khoi-San hunter-gatherer peoples in South Africa. So, like many YouTubers across the political spectrum, it’s worth checking his content for yourself.

He’s right about Bristol being a centre of the slave trade in the Anglo-Saxon period. In the 11th century the Anglo-Saxon cleric, Bishop Wulfstan, preached a sermon in the city against it that put an end to it. This is established historical fact, and is included with the display of Colston’s statue at the M Shed museum in the City. In the city continued to be a centre of the slave trade into the 12th century, when a part of visiting clergy hoping to raise money for one of the French cathedrals were warned not to have dinner aboard the Irish ships then in dock. These had a habit of luring the unwary aboard and then slipping off to sale them in the Emerald Isle. David Harris Sacks in his book, The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy 1450-1700 (Berkeley: University of California Press 1991) also notes that in the 17th century White children in Bristol were also kidnapped by ‘spirits’ for sale as indentured servants in the Caribbean colonies. I got my copy of the book when I visited the ‘Respectable Trade Exhibition’ then on display at the City Museum about the city’s historic involvement in the slave trade.

As for the contemporary enslavement of Whites, the local news for the city and the surrounding region has called it what it is: slavery. A few years ago a farmer in Gloucestershire was found guilty of enslaving migrant workers, and there have been other instances of this, including cases where the victims have been people with learning difficulties. In all those cases they’ve been rightly described, at least on the news reports, as slavery.

What is now called ‘people trafficking’, at least as it involved forcing migrant European women into prostitution, was referred to as ‘White slavery’ in the late 19th and early 20th century. Looking through the government reports held in the archives of the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, I found one government document from the first years of the 20th on an international police conference held in London about the issue. It was interesting because it contains many parallels to contemporary people smuggling and sex slavery. Many of the young women smuggled into Britain and then forced to work in brothels today are from eastern Europe. Back in 1904 or thereabouts, the parliamentary report noted that the victims were ‘German’ girls – really Slav women from the territories then ruled by Germany and Austria. There were differences with today as well. These women were mostly smuggled to service migrants to the Latin American nations, which were then experiencing an economic boom. Today Britain seems to be the destination of the women trafficked here, rather than further afield. Also it would be incorrect to describe all of today’s enslaved women as White, as many seem to come from outside Europe, such as Asia.

As far as I am aware, the mainstream left haven’t ignored the plight of such enslaved women. I can’t remember the details, but I have the strong impression that many of the female MPs in the Labour party were very much concerned with the sexual exploitation of smuggled women, at least when it became a national issue a few years ago.

Black Lives Matter, it is true, has an exclusive focus on historic Black slavery. This is because the organisation, along with many anti-racists,, believes that the modern poverty, poor educational performance, marginalisation and racism experienced by western Blacks is due to the transatlantic slave trade. Hence the call for reparations. How far this is true is open to question. The Black American Conservative Thomas Sowell has argued that slavery did not result in the breakdown of the Black family. Indeed, according to him, marriage rates among Blacks following emancipation were slightly above those of Whites as families separated by the slavery masters sought to find each other and solemnise their relationships through the formal marriage. Other Black conservatives have cited statistics to argue that, despite segregation and Jim Crow, the years from emancipation to the 1960s were a time of professional and economic expansion for Black America. They were moving into more jobs, establishing businesses and were catching up on Whites in the years spent in school. Of course, this is part of an ideological assault on affirmative action and state aid, which they believe has acted instead to reverse these gains. The point, however, is that BLM are not interested in slavery as an issue in itself, but only as far as it is responsible for the current problems of western Blacks.

Now I doubt that Black Lives Matter and movements like them are aware of the broader history of the slave trade outside of the enslavement of Black Africans. They’re also not concerned when it’s done by Black Africans to other Africans. Barbara Barnaby, the head of the British branch of Black Lives Matter, condemned the new slave markets opened in Libya. But she did so as part of a general attack on the new western imperialism,, and didn’t mention the other slave markets that have opened in Uganda. The impression I have is that BLM is strongly based on Critical Race and Postcolonial Theory, which are solely concerned with White racism and ignore it and as well as other oppressive practices in non-western societies.

Black Lives Matter does enjoy widespread support among parts of the left, although I think its popularity is waning as time wears on. It’s been hit in America by a series of scandals, must notably surrounding the disappearance of donated money to the tune of millions and the use of some of it by its former president to buy herself five upmarket homes. Several of the protests were in fact riots, in which Black-owned businesses were also attacked and looted.

Black Lives Matter, although highly visible now, is only part of the broad left. And while I believe its members and supporters should be far more aware of slavery as an issue, and that it also involved the enslavement of Whites, BLM does not represent the whole of the left.

I believe very strongly that many on the left in Bristol are aware of its history as centre of the slave trade before it moved into transatlantic, Black slavery, and are definitely still active campaigning against contemporary forms of enslavement, such as people trafficking. Even if it is no longer called ‘White slavery’.

Glasgow Council Report Criticises Statues of Livingstone, Peel and Gladstone for Slavery Links

April 5, 2022

GB News and the Heil carried reports a few days ago attacking Glasgow council for a report compiled by a highly respected Scottish historian about the city’s historic involvement in the slave trade and its statues commemorating figures connected with it. The council felt that, unlike Liverpool and Bristol, and the city had not faced up to its history as one of the other major British centres of the slave trade. It compiled a list of seven statues that were particularly questionable because of their subjects’ links to the trade. These included the missionary and abolitionist, David Livingstone, Robert Peel and William Ewart Gladstone. The reports concentrated on the criticism of Livingstone, as the man was a fervent abolitionist and it demonstrates how ridiculousness the iconoclasm by the anti-slavery activists is. According to reports by GB News, the Heil and the Glasgow Herald, it’s partly because Livingstone started work at age 10 in factory weaving and processing slave-produced cotton from the West Indies. They make the point that as a child worker, Livingstone had absolutely no control over what the factory did. I doubt very much that he had much control, as someone who could be called a ‘factory slave’, over his choice of employment either. Later videos from GB News and further down in the articles from the Herald and the Heil is the statement that he also defend the cotton masters, believing that they were paternalistic. He may well have done so, but this hardly discredits him because of his life’s work in Africa.

Livingstone had a genuine, deep hatred, as many British Christians had at the time, of slavery. He travelled to Africa to spread Christianity and to combat slavery as its sources. He was also a doctor, and had worked hard after work to educate himself. One of the guests on the GB News debate about it was a right-wing historian of Africa. He pointed out that Livingstone is still very much loved in Africa, and there are plaques to him in Malawi, Zambia, Tanganyika and three other African countries. I have no doubt this is absolutely true. A few years ago I took out of Bristol’s central library a history of Malawi. The book was even-handed and objective. It did not play down massacres by the British army committed when we annexed the area during fighting with the slaving tribes. It described how, under imperialism, White Malawians tended to look down on the indigenous peoples and the dissatisfaction with imperial rule that resulted from the use of forced labour. But neither did it omit or play down the enslavement of indigenous Africans by the other native peoples. These included the Yao, Marganja, Swahili and Arabs, who preyed on the other tribes for the Arab slave trade, sending their captives to Zanziba, Kilwa and across the Indian ocean. To gain their victims’ trust, they’d settle down with them for a year, working alongside them as friends before finally turning on them. They also set up a series of forts to defend the slave routes. One of these, set up by Zarafi, one of the most infamous slavers, had a palisade on which were impaled 100 severed heads. As for the akapolo slaves used in the local economy, they were made very much aware of their status. They had to work with broken tools, and eat their meals off the floor. The chiefs, meanwhile, seemed to have spent much of their time relaxing and having their hair done.

Livingstone, whatever his faults, hated all this and his settlement became a refuge for runaway slaves. As did many of the other settlements he or his followers founded for this purpose. These settlements have since expanded to form some of Malawi’s towns.

William Ewart Gladstone was the leader of Britain’s Liberal party, serving as prime minister, in the latter half of the 19th century. The scandal here is that Gladstone’s family got its money from slave estates in the West Indies. I know Conservatives who genuine hate slavery, who despise Gladstone because of this. So it isn’t just ‘leftists’ that have issues with the Grand Old Man, as Gladstone’s supporters dubbed him. But Gladstone is immensely important because of the social legislation he enacted. He was an Anglican, who, in the words of one historian, ‘became the voice of the Nonconformist conscience’. He wanted the disestablishment of the Anglican church at a time when Christian Nonconformists were still required to pay it tithes and other duties that left them disadvantaged. He also wanted to give Ireland home rule. Of course this faced immense opposition, and I think it was one reason why he failed to win elections as the century wore on. But it seems to me that if he had been able to enact this policy, then perhaps Ireland’s subsequent history may not have been quite so bloody. One of the surprising facts about Irish history is that there was in the 18th century an alliance between Roman Catholics and Protestant Nonconformists. This was before Roman Catholic emancipation, which legalised it and granted Roman Catholics civil rights. At the same time Protestant Nonconformists were tolerated, but still suffered deep political disabilities. As a result, one of Ulster’s historic Roman Catholic churches was build with donations and subscriptions from Ulster nonconformist Protestants. This surprising fact was included in a BBC Radio 4 series, Mapping the Town, which traced the history of British and UK towns through their maps.

I don’t know much about Robert Peel, except that he introduced free trade as a policy for the Conservatives, or a section of the Conservatives. But what he is primarily known for is founding the metropolitan police force. I’ve got a feeling he might also have been responsible for reducing the 100-odd crimes that carried the death penalty to three. These included murder and treason. It might be because of Peel that we’re no longer hanging people for stealing a loaf of bread or impersonating a Chelsea pensioner. But long before Glasgow council decided he was problematic, there was also a demonstration by masked protesters in London demanding that his statue should be removed. And last year the right were also getting in a tizzy because one of Liverpool’s universities was removing him as the name of one of their halls. The student union replaced him with a Black woman, who was a Communist and teacher. She is, no doubt, perfectly worthy of commemoration, but hardly in Gladstone’s league.

Part of the problem is that iconoclasts want to judge everything by a very strict, modern morality. Slavery and the slave trade was an abomination and was rightly abolished. Good people have been continuing the struggle against global slavery since then. But not everybody, who was connected to the trade, is such a monster that they should be blotted out of history in the same way Stalin’s historians removed all mention of his opponents.

One of the things you are taught, or at least were taught, in history at university level is not to play ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ with historical figures. There is no set outcome to the historical process. If events had been different in the past, then modern society would also be different. If, horribly, Wilberforce and the abolitionists had lost, then slavery would still be unchallenged today. At the same time, you need to use the historical imagination to understand why people in the past behaved as they did, and why good people by the standard of their times were capable of attitudes that are deeply morally repugnant to us.

The great British philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin, was an admirer of the 17th-18th century Italian historian Vico. Vico believed, as Berlin later did, that there were no objective moral values. He noted how they changed over time, and that to properly understand a past epoch, you needed to understand also its art and culture. I don’t think he was a cultural relativist, however. Berlin certainly wasn’t – he believed that while there were no objective moral values, there were certainly those which acted as if they were. He was fiercely anti-Communist, partly because his family were Lithuanian Jews, who had seen their logging business seized by the Bolsheviks and had fled the Russian Revolution. He was a major figure during the Cold War in establishing western contacts with Soviet dissidents like Nadezhda Mandelstam, who wrote moving accounts of her experience of the gulags under Stalin.

I don’t share Berlin’s Conservatism and strongly believe in the existence of objective moral values. But I strongly recommend Berlin’s books. He wrote a series of potted intellectual biographies, including on the early Russian revolutionaries like the 19th century anarchist, Bakunin. Even though he hated what they stood for, his books are notable for his attempts to see things from his subjects’ point of view. So much so that some people, according to Berlin, though he was pro-Communist. They’re fascinating and highly readable, even if you don’t agree that someone like the French utopian socialist Saint-Simon was ‘an enemy of freedom’.

There are statues of slavers and the people connected with the trade that deserve to be torn down. There had been calls for Colston’s statue to be removed since the 1980s. It was highly controversial all those decades ago, though many Bristolians would have defended it because he gave away most of his money to charity. But other historical figures deserve to be still commemorated despite their connections to the ‘abominable trade’ because of their immense work that has benefited both Britain and nations like Malawi. And I believe that some of those, who find figures like Gladstone objectionable, could also benefit from reading Vico and Berlin. In the meantime, it should be noted that Glasgow council has no plans to tear any statues down.

Slavery is a great moral evil. But historic slavery should not considered so grave and unforgivable, that it is used to blot out the memory of figures like Livingstone, Gladstone and Peel, whose work has so helped shape modern Britain for the better.

Black and Muslim YouTubers Discuss Slavery and Racism in Islam

March 30, 2022

I found this fascinating video on Sa Ra Garvey’s YouTube channel. I don’t know anything about Garvey, except that he’s probably a proud man of colour concerned with his people’s improvement and liberation. His name appears to be a reference to the Black activist and Jazz muso Sun Ra and the great Jamaican Black activist Marcus Garvey. Since the issue of slavery and reparations emerged once again in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, many, largely conservative commenters, have also been raising the issue of slavery in Islam. Slavery did not, after all, begin with Europe and the transatlantic slave trade. It has existed in various forms around the world since antiquity, and before White Europeans turned to enslaving Black Africans for the plantations in the New World, Islam had also done so. The first Black slaves imported into Europe were slaves brought into Islamic, Moorish Spain. Stephen Howe in his book Afrocentrism, states that the Arabs enslaved 5 million Black Africans, comparable to the 12 million taken by White Europeans.

In the video Black and Muslim speakers discuss the Islamic enslavement of Black Africans and the resulting legacy of racism in the Arab, Middle Eastern and south Asian worlds. One of the terms used in Arabic for Blacks is ‘abid’, which means ‘slaves’. The video also contains footage from documentaries filming the slave markets that have opened in Libya, selling Black migrants hoping to reach Europe. It also contains comments from enslaved Africans and free Blacks further south in Africa justifiably furious at the enslavement of their fellows. There are also clips from an al-Jazeera documentary on Black Iraqis. They are the descendants of enslaved Africans, and complain about the racism and marginalisation they suffer from and their political aspirations to gain power and improve their lot. One Black American contrasts the attitude of White westerners with that of the Saudis. He states that if you ask a western White about slavery, they’ll respond with remorse. The Saudis never do.

I have a few caveats about the video. Some of the material comes from Memri TV, and the video’s edited by Taqiyya Watch. These are both anti-Islam channels. ‘Taqiyya’ is an Islamic term for lying to defend Islam. It started out, I believe, as a Shi’a strategy to avoid persecution. It initially meant that a Muslim could deny he was a member of the faith in order to avoid being killed. Since then it has been expanded to the production of falsehoods to protect the faith itself. Memri TV seem to be an Israeli outfit specialising in translating material from the Islamic world which Muslims would like to hide. This is often when Middle Eastern politicians present a moderate face to the West, but present themselves as much more hard line to domestic Muslim audiences. However, the important point is that these organisations also have their overt biases against the Islamic world.

Regarding racism, Jonathan A.C. Brown discusses this in his book Slavery & Islam. He notes that the Qur’an actually condemns racism, and during the Middle Ages a series of Muslim scholars wrote books defending Blacks with titles such as The Excellence of the Negroes. He also describes the shock of one 19th century Arab visitor to France, who was shocked at how the standard of beauty was confined to White complexions, excluding the darker skin colours the Arabs preferred. The anti-Black racism is therefore against the letter and spirit of Islam, but persists nonetheless.

I am not trying to be deliberately controversial by posting this video. I find it interesting because it shows that Blacks in America and Africa are concerned about the Arab/Muslim slave trade, its legacy and resurgence. I find it particularly interesting that Afro-Iraqis are challenging racism in their country. That’s something I doubt very many people have heard about, unless they’re studying Islam or Middle Eastern politics at a post-graduate level in academia. The two speakers at the start of the video, a Black man and an Asian Muslim woman, describe how Blacks and Arabs are both minorities and so have allied with each other. But they feel that in this alliance, Blacks are very much the junior partner. They are the minorities’ minority. This is a comment on the politics of intersectional leftism, which seeks to unite a range of disparate groups, such as Blacks and ethnic minorities, gays and feminists in order to challenge conventional society. It shows that, despite right-wing attempts to present such alliances as a monolithic block, there are strains and criticisms within them. As for the re-opening of the slave markets in Libya, this is deeply offensive and troubling to the majority of severely normal Muslims around the world. In 1856, for example, the Muslim ruler of Tunis banned slavery completely within his dominions. That was 164 years ago. It is deeply repulsive and shocking that after all that time, real slavery is returning to the world.