Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Thomas’

Thoughts and Prayers for the Victims of the Racist Shooting in Kentucky

October 30, 2018

There was another racist shooting in Kentucky on Saturday, which got overlooked with attention focused on the mass murder of the congregation at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

In this video from The Young Turks, presenter Francis Maxwell describes what happened, and angrily denounces the anti-Black racism that has led to this story being ignored.

The shooting occurred at a Kroger supermarket in Louisville, Kentucky. The shooter was seen trying to get into the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown. The alleged perp, Gregory Bush, had a history of racism and violence. When he couldn’t get into the church, he walked into the store and shot two Black people, Maurice Stallard and Vicki Jones. Stallard died in front of his 12 year old grandson, while Jones had recently retired from VA hospital. When the cops arrived, Bush surrendered, saying ‘Don’t shoot. Whites don’t kill Whites’.

It’s very obviously a racially motivated killing, but it didn’t make the news in what Maxwell angrily denounces as a failure of the news cycle. It took three days for the story to be noticed by the mainstream news organisations. It was drowned out by stupid conspiracy theories about Justin Bieber, or another Republican politician saying that this time, a White man needs to run for the presidency. And even when the other news media had picked it up, Fox News turned their attention elsewhere, like the migrant caravan from Honduras, which is now still a thousand miles away. And at the same time Trump’s supporters are denying that the right-wing maniac sending bombs to prominent Democrats and the MAGA truck had anything to do with Trump.

He makes the point that racism needs to be confronted, and discussion of it and racially motivated crimes should not be avoided. They aren’t rare. There are all too many of them. Not only is this policy of not mentioning shooting incidents against Blacks dangerous, but it also plays into Trump’s hands and his manipulation of the media. Maxwell here points to another, similar shooting that people also probably haven’t heard about: the shooting of two Black cops by a heavily armed White man they’d confronted. The right-wing American media ignored it, partly because it doesn’t conform to their narrative about a war on cops waged by Blacks.

Maxwell goes on to state that this is why independent media is so important in today’s hyperpolarized political climate. We need to expose these issues, so they can be confronted head on.

It’s a pity that this story was not given the prominence it deserved, and that it has been overshadowed by the synagogue shooting. Every incident of this kind is equally disgusting, regardless of the ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation of the victims. But the concentration of attention on the synagogue shooting to the exclusion of this other atrocity could confirm the anti-Semitism in parts of the American Black community.

Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam hate Jews, because they mistakenly blame them for the slave trade. I’ve dispensed with this pernicious myth several times on this blog, quoting from Hugh Thomas’ exhaustive The Slave Trade, and other works of historical scholarship. These show that Jews comprised only a vanishingly tiny minority of slave traders and owners. But Farrakhan and his ilk also resent Jews because they feel they’re not discriminated against, because they’re White. And they have a point. Despite anti-Semitic prejudice, Jews in America and Britain aren’t discriminated against and are now largely comfortably off. This wasn’t always the case. Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century did suffer enormous poverty, as well as prejudice. They got to their present position in society through extremely hard work and talent. And large sections of the Jewish community supported the Black community’s demand for Civil Rights and social and economic improvement. Jackie Walker over here is proof of that in her person. Her parents, a black American mother and a Russian Jewish father, met on a Civil Rights march.

But the resentment and prejudice against the Jews in parts of the Black American community remains. And I’m afraid that the media’s handling of this story will just confirm this prejudice.

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Hugh Thomas on Jewish Involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade

October 6, 2018

In my last post I put up the descriptions on Amazon of a couple of books of orthodox, respected historical scholarship on Jewish participation in the slave trade to America and the Caribbean. These, by Saul Friedman and Eli Faber, were written to refute the anti-Semitic claims of the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan, that Jews were chiefly responsible for the infamous trade. These books show that Jews formed a vanishingly small percentage of those involved in the slave trade.

Jewish involvement in the slave trade became part of the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour party when it was used to smear Jackie Walker, Momentum’s vice-chair. Walker herself is Jewish and a woman of colour, whose parents met on a Civil Rights demonstration in America. She is far from being an anti-Semite or, indeed, any kind of racist. But she was smeared as such after someone from the badly misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism hacked into a Facebook conversation she had with two others about Jewish involvement in the slave trade. What she said was based very firmly on entirely orthodox, respectable historical research. But because she left out a single word, which she expected the other two in the conversation to understand, her comments were left open to deliberate misrepresentation. They were then leaked to the Jewish Chronicle, which then smeared her. Walker herself has made it clear that while there were some Jews active in the trade, as brokers, financiers and sugar merchants, they did so as junior partners. The real responsibility for the trade lay with the monarchs of Christian Europe. As for Walker herself, her father was a Russian Jew, her partner is Jewish and her daughter attends a Jewish school. There should be no question of her commitment to her faith, her community and to combating racism and prejudice, including anti-Semitism.

Hugh Thomas also discusses the Jewish involvement in the slave trade in his massive, and exhaustively researched The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870 (London: Picador 1997). He writes

For a time, in both Spain and Portugal, the slave trade was dominated by Jewish conversos: for example, Diego Caballero, of Sanlucar de Barrameda, benefactor of the Cathedral of Seville; the Jorge family, also in Seville, Fernao Noronha, a Lisbon monopolist in the early days in the delta of the Niger, and his descendants; and the numerous merchants of Lisbon, who held the asiento for sending slaves to the Spanish empire between 1580 and 1640. The most remarkable of these men was Antonio Fernandes Elvas, asentista from 1614 to 1622, connected by blood with nearly all the major slave dealers of the Spanish-Portuguese empire during the heady days when it was one polity.

Yet these men had formally become Christians. The Inquisition may have argued, and even believed, that many of them secretly practiced Judaism, tried some of them in consequence, and left a few of them to be punished by ‘the secular arm’. Some no doubt were indeed secret Jews, but it would be imprudent to accept the evidence of the Holy Office as to their ‘guilt’. That body, after all, was said to have ‘fabricated Jews as the Mint coined money’, as one inquisitor himself remarked.

Later, Jews of Portuguese origin played a minor part in the slave trade in Amsterdam (Diogo Dias Querido), in Curacao, in Newport (Lopez Rodrigues Laureno). In the late seventeenth century Jewish merchants, such as Moses Joshua Henriques, were prominent in the minor Danish slave trade of Gluckstadt. But more important there is no sign of Jewish merchants in the biggest European slave-trade capitals when the traffic was at its height, during the eighteenth century – that is, in Liverpool, Bristol, Nantes, and Middelburg – and examination of a list of 400 traders known to have sold slaves at one time or another in Charleston, South Carolina, North America’s biggest market, in the 1750s and 1760s suggests just one active Jewish merchant, the unimportant Philip Hart. In Jamaica, the latter’s equivalent ws Alexander Lindo, who later ruined himself providing for the French army in its effort to recapture Saint-Domingue. (p. 297). (My emphasis).

This seems to bear out Friedman’s and Faber’s research, that Jews played only a very small role in the slave trade, as well as Walker’s statement that the overall responsibility lay with the Christian monarchs who initiated and supported the infamous trade.

I really don’t have anywhere near the knowledge of Walker, Friedlander and Faber about this aspect of the slave trade. But I hope this helps people make sense of this issue, and refute the claims of genuine anti-Semites that the Jews were solely responsible, or the dominant force, behind the enslavement of Africans to the Caribbean and Americas. And it is utterly repugnant and disgusting that Walker herself has so vilely been libeled for her informed discussion of an entirely legitimate topic of historical research.

Books on Jews on the Slave Trade

October 6, 2018

Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum and a Jewish woman of colour, was, as I’ve blogged about several times before, smeared as an anti-Semite after some snitch from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism or a similar organization hacked into a private conversation she had been having with two friends on Facebook. This was about the Jewish involvement in the slave trade. Walker, as is abundantly clear from her own commitment to her faith and communities as both a Jew and a woman of colour is certainly not an anti-Semite. She makes it very clear that while there were Jews active in the slave trade, the ultimate responsibility for it lay with their masters, the Christian monarchs of Europe. Her discussion of the subject was based on, and cited research, by mainstream historians and scholars.

Looking for books on the subject on the Net I found these two, available from Amazon.

Saul S. Friedman, Jews and the American Slave Trade (Transaction Publishers 1997).
and Eli Faber, Jews, Slaves and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight (NYU Press 1998).

Both of these books seem to have been written to refute the assertions of the Nation of Islam that Jews were chiefly responsible for the American slave trade.

The Amazon Review of Friedman’s book runs

-Jews and the American Slave Trade is a much needed response to an explosive issue that has been plagued with false charges and pseudo-scholarship. In a calm, logical and precise academic fashion, Dr. Friedman amply proves that Jews did not dominate the slave trade to and in America and, in fact, played a minuscule role even when part of the larger European, West Indian, North American, and South American slave societies. From ancient slavery to colonial mass transport, through each involved European nation to each American colony, Dr. Friedman’s careful analysis is thoroughly documented and interestingly crafted. Jews and the American Slave Trade should be read by students, teachers, and the public at large.- –Dr. David A. Rausch, professor of history, Ashland University -The best antidote for myths and falsification of history is the truth. Prof. Friedman has provided just such an antidote to the calumnies of recent years about the role of Jews in the Atlantic slave trade. It is a scientific work that reveals the bad as well as the good. There is no doubt that this is the best survey of Jewish involvement in the slave trade to the Americas. It ends with a masterful analysis of the antipathy that has developed between Jews and African-Americans in the contemporary United States.- –Howard L. Adelson, professor of medieval history, City University of New York -In this forceful and impassioned response to the Nation of Islam’s Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews (1991), Friedman (Youngstown State Univ.) combines his own extensive primary source research in American archives with the findings of David Brion Davis and hundreds of other distinguished scholars, to document conclusively -that Jews did not dominate the slave trade in the European colonies of South America and the Caribbean or the antebellum South-… Friedman’s essential point remains clear: -when the import and sale of Africans was at its peak Jews owned less than three-one hundredths of a percent, 0.03 percent of all the slaves in America.- All levels.- –E. R. Papenfuse, Choice -Saul Friedman’s book is a trenchant, courageous, and scholarly refutation of that lethal mix of old-fashioned Jew-hatred and modern Holocaust envy which expresses itself in the allegation that Jews controlled the slave trade to and in America.- –Edward Alexander, professor of English, University of Washington, Seattle “

For more information, see: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jews-American-Slave-Trade-Friedman/dp/1560003375

Amazon’s description of Faber’s book states

In the wake of the civil rights movement, a great divide has opened up between African American and Jewish communities. What was historically a harmonious and supportive relationship has suffered from a powerful and oft-repeated legend, that Jews controlled and masterminded the slave trade and owned slaves on a large scale, well in excess of their own proportion in the population.

In this groundbreaking book, likely to stand as the definitive word on the subject, Eli Faber cuts through this cloud of mystification to recapture an important chapter in both Jewish and African diasporic history.

Focusing on the British empire, Faber assesses the extent to which Jews participated in the institution of slavery through investment in slave trading companies, ownership of slave ships, commercial activity as merchants who sold slaves upon their arrival from Africa, and direct ownership of slaves. His unprecedented original research utilizing shipping and tax records, stock-transfer ledgers, censuses, slave registers, and synagogue records reveals, once and for all, the minimal nature of Jews’ involvement in the subjugation of Africans in the Americas.

A crucial corrective, Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade lays to rest one of the most contested historical controversies of our time.

See: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jews-Slaves-Slave-Trade-Perspectives/dp/0814726380/ref=pd_sbs_14_2?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0814726380&pd_rd_r=3d9f47d4-c977-11e8-8b24-ed803f1d8857&pd_rd_w=66JkT&pd_rd_wg=IEMvw&pf_rd_i=desktop-dp-sims&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_p=18edf98b-139a-41ee-bb40-d725dd59d1d3&pf_rd_r=S1B4YJZT7YR2G4RT5W0K&pf_rd_s=desktop-dp-sims&pf_rd_t=40701&psc=1&refRID=S1B4YJZT7YR2G4RT5W0K

I haven’t read either of these books, and so I can’t personally comment on them. However, from what I’ve read about the slave trade, they seem correct. Hugh Thomas in his book, The Slave Trade, makes the point that Jews played only a very minor role in the American slave trade.

And if a tiny minority of slavers were Jews, it is also true that Jews were also part of anti-slavery movements. In February 1869 there was a public meeting against the slave trade and the enslavement of the indigenous Pacific Islanders in Sydney, Australia. The meeting included not only Christian religious leaders like the Anglican bishop of Sydney, the Rev. John Graham of the Congregational Church, and the Revs. J.P. Sunderland, Adam Thomson, and G.H. Morton,m a Presbyterian minister and G. Hurst, a Methodist clergyman, but also the Rev. A.B. Davis, rabbi of the Sydney synagogue.

The claim that Jews were the dominant force in the American slave trade is anti-Semitic, and utterly refuted by real history. These two books might help readers interested in learning the real truth behind the Nation of Islam’s vile claims. And Jackie Walker herself is demonstrably not an anti-Semite, but an impassioned worker for racial equality and an opponent of racial prejudice, who based her comments also on genuine, accepted scholarship.

Vox Political: Letter from Jewish Members and Supporters of Momentum Attacking Smears against Jackie Walker

October 5, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece commenting on a post from Mike over at Vox Political, which reported that Greater Manchester Black and Minority Ethnic Caucus had released a statement supporting Jackie Walker and condemning her dismissal by the steering committee from the post of Vice-Chair of Momentum. I am pleased to say that Mike has put up another piece today, reporting that another group of Mrs Walker’s supporters have also publicly shown their backing for her. A group of Jewish supporters and members of Momentum have had a letter published in the Groaniad, refuting the latest allegations of anti-Semitism against her.

This makes it clear that they believe Mrs Walker was right to reject the definition of anti-Semitism used by the organisers of the Holocaust Memorial Day training event. Despite their assertion that this is the standard definition of anti-Semitism, it is no such thing, as it was scrapped by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency because it also considered criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic.

The letter also queries why her own question why the genocides of other peoples can’t also be included in Holocaust Memorial Day is also anti-Semitic. They state that it has always been a principle of the Zionists that the Holocaust was unique to the Jews, and quote the professor of Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Yehuda Bauer, that the Nazis intended to exterminate only the Jews.

The letter concludes

Jackie’s arguments were made in good faith. They may be right or they may be wrong. What they are not is antisemitic. The decision of Momentum’s steering committee and its chair Jon Lansman to remove Jackie Walker as vice-chair is a betrayal of the trust of thousands of Momentum members. Momentum’s grassroots members overwhelmingly support Jackie.

The letter is signed by a mixture of academics and ordinary people. They include two professors and several doctors. Looking down the names I recognised some as people, who have commented on Mike’s blog giving him their support after he attacked the anti-Semitism smears aimed at Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.

Mike notes in his comments on the letter that David Schneider, whose definition of anti-Semitism he used to dismiss the accusation against Mrs Walker, has stated that individually her statement aren’t anti-Semitic. However, he feels they are taken collectively. Mike remarks that while Mr Schneider deserves credit for his hilariously funny Twitter account, he is only one voice and there are many others, who disagree. Like the signatories of this letter.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/10/05/jackie-walker-ruling-betrays-momentum-members-letters-the-guardian/

Proper Discussion of Jews and the Slave Trade Not Anti-Semitic

Mike’s right. Both the signatories of the letter, and Jackie Walker herself, have an excellent knowledge of the Holocaust and Jewish history, including their participation in the slave trade as one of the European slaving empires’ many junior partners. She has been accused of taking her remarks on Jewish responsibility for the slave trade from Louis Farrakhan, who has been justly attacked for anti-Semitism. Mike has commented that he’s seen no proof she has, and frankly, neither have I. Yesterday Mike put up a piece about Mrs Walker’s own defence and explanation of her remarks on Jewish participation in the slave trade. Mrs Walker cited both respected sources on the slave trade and the history of imperialism. She also made it plain that she when she talked about the participation of some Jews in the slave trade, she was speaking herself as a Jew. This is very far from the attitude of the genuine anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan and White Nazis, who make Jews solely responsible for the slave trade.

Hugh Thomas also mentions two Jewish slavers in his classic The Slave Trade, which examines the transatlantic slave trade from its origins in the late 15th century to its end in the late 19th. He also notes, contra the genuine anti-Semites, that they were the only two in Anglophone North America. My point here is that Mrs Walker has not said anything that other historians of the slave trade have not also said, as is evident from her own statement. And they, like her, are also not afraid of discussing the subject, because the real historical fact is that while some Jews participated in the slave trade, they were not the only or even the main participants. Thus, the genuine historians aren’t afraid to discuss the role some Jews played in the slave trade, as history itself shows the falsity of the claims made by the anti-Semites.

Slave Trade Increasingly Acknowledged in Official History of Other Communities

Over the past couple of decades, there has been a movement to make those peoples and communities that were involved in the slave trade be more open about their involvement, commemorate its victims, and memorialise it as part of their official, public history. Liverpool has a gallery on the slave trade in its Museum. So too has Bristol in the M Shed museum on the city’s harbourside. And back in the 1990s the City Museum and Art Gallery hosted an exhibition, A Respectable Trade, which narrated the history of the City’s involvement in the slave trade. This was staged at the same time as a TV drama of the same and on the same subject, adapted from a book by Philippa Gregory, was also being screened on the Beeb on Sunday evenings. Bristol and Liverpool were two of the three major cities that profited from the trade, the third being London. I’ve also spoken to artists researching the slave trade, who told me that they were also given generous assistance by the museums of many of the smaller towns, which were only in the trade for a few years or so before being forced out by the major profiteers.

And it isn’t only in Britain that towns involved in the trade are confronting their past. Nantes in France was also a major centre of the French slave trade. This town has also put on its own exhibition on its part in the history of the trade, called L’Annees du Memoir. This is a clever pun. If I understand properly, l’annee can means ‘year’, and also ‘link’, referring to those of the chains which bound the slaves. It seems to me that that if Jackie Walker, as a Jew, is discussing the role of her people in the slave trade, then she is being no more biased or hostile against her people, than other people are communities are in confronting, debating and memorialising their involvement in this horrific trade.

The Holocaust and Similar Genocides

As for Yehuda Bauer’s statement that the Jews were the only people Hitler intended to exterminate, this isn’t quite the case. The Nazis also targeted the Gypsies as well, and historians have also shown that before Hitler began the genocide of the Jews, he tried out the technology on the disabled during the infamous Aktion T4 ‘euthanasia’ campaign. There is also a link to previous 20th century genocides. Hitler was persuaded that he could murder the Jews with impunity because of the failure of the Allies to react to defend the Armenians when they were slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks. Furthermore, in 1905 the German Empire had attempted to exterminate an African people, the Herero, when they rose up against German imperial authority in Africa. I’ve read that the German imperial authorities attempted to justify their genocide of this people with the social Darwinism later used to justify the Holocaust and the enforced sterilisation of the disabled. I’ve also seen it claimed that some of the personnel involved were also the same. I can’t comment on whether these claims are right or wrong, as I don’t know much about the genocide. This undoubtedly did happen, but I’ve only ever seen claims about a direct connection to the Holocaust made by the right. It might be true, or it might be rubbish, like the claim by one Conservative that the First World War was also caused by the Germans holding social Darwinism as an official policy, which is rubbish.

And I was taught at school that as well as six million Jews, about five and a half million other people, of various nationalities and political and religious beliefs perished in the concentration camps. These included prisoners from the Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe, who were worked to death as slave labourers. They may not have been targeted for absolute extermination, like the Jews and Gypsies, but they were seen, like those two peoples, as untermenschen, ‘subhumans’, who lives were less than ‘aryans’. You can come across some truly horrific accounts of Nazi massacres of gentile Poles during the occupation of Poland, for example. One BBC programme on this described how a Nazi thug tore a baby from its mother’s arms and, after trying to beat the little mite to death, finally shot it. Whole Polish towns were torn down and their inhabitants forced out in order to prepare that part of Poland for German colonisation, and the Nazis also massacred an entire village, Lidice, in Czechoslovakia. The Holocaust was part of a general programme of mass murder across occupied Europe. This does not detract from the horrific nature of the Holocaust, as they were specifically targeted for extermination in a way that many others weren’t. But that does not mean that the Jews were the only victims. Indeed, it’s in Hitler’s Table Talk where the Fuhrer makes a point about Nazi policy being to stop the Slavs from breeding too much by saying that they should send them contraceptives.

Jackie Walker and Others Smeared as Anti-Semites by Israel Lobby

I’ve stated before that Jackie Walker and the others, who’ve been smeared as anti-Semites, are no such thing. Walker’s only crime, in the eyes of the organisers, was to be a critic of Israel. As were so many of the others. She has been accused through the cynical misrepresentation of an discussion she was having about a complex topic on Facebook with people, who knew exactly what she was talking about, and the context in which they were made. This is the Israel lobby trying to stifle entirely reasonable debate about the nature of genocide and the uniqueness of the Holocaust, to further their own imperialism and persecution of the Palestinians. Free speech, honest debate, and a genuinely open questioning of the past is too precious to allow these bullies to win. I look forward hopefully to seeing more messages of support for Jackie Walker and the other victims of these disgraceful slurs in the future. I hope that Momentum’s steering committee will reconsider their decision, and reinstate her as vice-chair.

A New System of an Old Slavery: George Osborne’s Workfare and 19th Century Negro ‘Apprenticeship’

November 9, 2013

Slave Pic

Illustration of slave in the mask and shackles used by Europeans to imprison them.

Earlier this week I reblogged a piece from The Void, reporting @refuted’s uncovering of George Osborne’s proposals to expand workfare. Under this new scheme, compulsory workfare, directed by the Jobcentre, would include those in part-time work and the disabled. Those already doing voluntary work would also be forced to go on workfare, and work elsewhere, if their supervisors decided that their current unpaid employment was not appropriate. This is all alarming enough, but what is particularly abhorrent is the plan force even those, who receive no benefits at all, into workfare.

I’ve blogged before about the similarity between workfare and slavery. At the moment although workfare is degrading and exploitative, it is not yet actual, literal slavery. Osborne’s proposal to make those without benefits do it tips it over into the real thing.

Cameron Pic

Osborne Pic

Ian Duncan Smith pic

Esther McVey picture

From Top: David Cameron, George Osborne, Ian Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. Their workfare schemes mark the reintroduction of slavery to Britain after 173 years.

Slavery comes in a variety of different forms, some less malign than others. Most people know about Western chattel slavery, but there are other forms, such as serfdom, and various types of bonded, indentured or customary labour. The villeins of medieval Europe were serfs, who were tied to their land. In return for their holdings, they were expected to perform a certain numbers of days’ labour on their masters demein. When so working, they were supervised by the beadle, the lord’s steward, who held a cudgel or whip as a symbol of his authority and his right to beat them. They could not marry without asking the permission of their lord, and were required to pay a fee – the merchet – when they did. As the law considered them subhuman, the legal terminology for their families did not dignify them with the human term. Instead they were called ‘sequelae’ – ‘broods’. When they died, the lord of the manor took their ‘best beast’ – their best cow. These were the conditions that led to the Peasants’ Revolt in England in the 14th century, and similar peasant rebellions in the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. Serfdom in England eventually withered away as customary work was commuted into cash payments. Despite this, the last English serf died in the mid-seventeenth century.

Serfdom Pic

Serfdom continued to survive in the rest of Europe into the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was finally abolished in France during the French Revolution. It survived in parts of Germany until the 1820s, and in Russia until 1865, when they were liberated by Tsar Alexander II.

Bonded Labour in Scots Mining

Although serfdom and slavery did not exist in English law, other forms of servitude certainly did exist in Britain in eighteenth and nineteenth century. The coal miners in Scotland were bonded labourers, not quite slaves, but still considered the property of the mine owners. Needless to say, the British and particularly the Scots aristocracy and business elite viewed with alarm the solidarity these White slaves showed towards their Black counterparts in the West Indies and elsewhere. There was also little racism amongst White miners towards their Black colleagues, as they were all, regardless of their colour, exploited slaves working in dangerous and horrific conditions.

Global Slavery in Late 20th and 21st Centuries

Horrifically, slavery has survived into the 21st century. The book Disposable People, published in the 1990s, describes the various forms of slavery that existed in the closing decade of the 20th century, and which still blights humanity today. Traditional, chattel slavery exists in Mauretania. Bonded labour is used Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, the labourers are low-cast Muslims – the Sheiks – and Christians in the brick industry. Then there is the horrific conditions for the workers and women forced into prostitution in the industrial towns and logging camps in south-east Asia, such as Thailand. It also exists in Brazil, where recent documentaries have shown government organisations and police units raiding and freeing slaves held captive in compounds. In this country, several farmers have been prosecuted for enslaving illegal immigrants to the UK, holding them virtual prisoners in horrific conditions and paying them 20p per week. Migrant workers from Pakistan, India, the Phillipines and Africa are also treated as slaves in the Gulf Arab states. The law in these countries states that foreigners entering the country must have a personal sponsor responsible for them. When these labourers enter the Gulf Arab states to work, their employers immediately seize their passports. They are then housed in appalling workers’ barracks, and forced to work extremely long hours in the blazing heat with little protection or medical care. Many of the personal staff rich Arabs take to serve them when they go to live in the West are also treated as slaves. Again, their employers take their passports and other documents, and force them to work extremely long hours, and are beaten as a punishment for any kind of unsatisfactory behaviour. One of the case histories in the book is of a maid for an Arab woman in London, who was forced to stand at the door, waiting for her mistress’ return when she went out, no matter how long the mistress was absent. On her return, the maid was expected to massage her hands, and struck and abused if this was not done properly.

Enslavement of African Children by Foster Parents

Slavery also exists through the custom of some African peoples of sending their children to be fostered by wealthier relatives. The motive for this is clearly the expectation that the child will have better opportunities through living and growing up in the household of a family member, who is wealthier and better educated. Unfortunately, the opposite is frequently true. African children, who have been sent to stay with their richer relations in Africa and in Europe, have found themselves enslaved and abused by the very people their parents trusted to look after them. The Victoria Climbie case, in which a young African girl sent to live with a relative in London was eventually abused and killed by the woman and her partner was national news, shocking and disgusting the British public. Unfortunately, it is one instance of a wider pattern of abuse amongst some African immigrants.

The book estimated that there were about 20 million slaves around the world. My guess is that this number has massively expanded in the past two decades. The Independent newspaper a week or so ago stated that there were 25 million prostitutes, who were practically enslaved by ruthless recruiters and pimps, across Europe today. Furthermore, while the elites in the Developing World have become, like their counterparts in the West, massively rich, the poor has become much poorer. They are now working longer hours, for less pay, and in worse conditions. In countries like China industry also uses cheap labour from prisoners and the political inmates in forced labour camps. There are 60 million people kept in these political gulags across China. Disposable People stated that there are difficulties estimating the true number of slaves across the world, and freeing them because slavery is frequently disguised under a number of covers, such as long term labour contracts.

Similarity Between Workfare and 19th Century ‘Negro Apprenticeship’

George Osborne’s proposals for the expansion of workfare is, I believe, similarly disguised system of slavery. Especially, and blatantly when the proposed scheme does not allow those placed on it to be given welfare benefit.

I’ve also blogged before now on the close similarity between Cameron, Osborne and IDS’ workfare, and similar schemes used in Nazi Germany to solve unemployment and provide cheap labour for industry. It is also extremely similar to ‘Negro Apprenticeship’, a form of servitude that effectively extended the enslavement of Blacks in some of the British colonies beyond the formal abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1837.

The authorities in Britain and some of the larger Caribbean colonies, which were sparsely populated with abundant uncultivated land, such as Jamaica, feared that the liberation of their slave populations would result in economic and social collapsed. They believed that unless suitable steps were taken, the former slaves would abandon their former masters’ estates and withdraw to occupy the unused land. It was believed that the slaves were idle. The land in Jamaica was extremely fertile, so it would be possible for a man to support himself and his family by only working three days a week. They were therefore afraid that the freed slaves would simply return to subsistence agriculture, which would support only themselves and their families. The commercial economy of these colonies, based on the export of sugar, would therefore collapse, and a prosperous, civilised nation would fall into poverty and barbarism. The authorities attempted to prevent this by instituting a period of ‘apprenticeship’ following the formal abolition of slavery in 1837. Under its provisions, the former slaves would continue to work on their masters’ plantations over a period of four to seven years. During this period the amount of time they spent working for their masters would be gradually reduced, until they were finally free, independent men and women. In practice, however, this staggering did not occur, and they continued effectively work as slaves until 1840.

The Apprenticeship system was greeted with outrage by the slaves themselves, and White and free Coloured abolitionists in the Caribbean and Europe. The government was particularly alarmed when placards denouncing Negro Apprenticeship were put up on the walls in Birmingham. Public pressure forced the government to act, and Negro Apprenticeship was eventually ended.

There are several points of similarity between 19th century post-slavery Negro Apprenticeship, and Osborne’s workfare.

1. Both systems assume that those subject to them are idle and socially irresponsible. The point of such schemes is ostensibly to prepare those on them – former slaves in the 19th century, unemployed workers in the 21st, to become independent, self-reliant, responsible members of society.

2. In both systems, the worker’s personal freedom is removed, and they are expected to work for others for no or little pay. The fact that at the moment, most people on workfare receive some kind of benefit does not necessarily disqualify it as a system of slavery. As the plantation system became firmly established in the Caribbean in the 18th century, so skilled slave artisans were frequently hired out by their masters to work for others in return for wages. Moreover, medieval serfs and slaves in the British Caribbean possessed their own plots of land, on which they could work for themselves. Medieval law termed this land, which the serf cultivated for himself, his peculium. This is paralleled in 21st century by those in voluntary or part-time work elsewhere, whom Osborne now wishes to force into workfare. You could also make out a case for the agencies, like Ingeneus, that administer the workfare schemes, as forming the 21st century equivalent of those slave masters, who hired out their skilled slaves.

3. Both systems are based on providing cheap labour to support the countries’ national economy and big business. In the 19th century this consisted of forcing the former slaves to work for their plantation masters. In early 21st century Britain this means sending the unemployed to stack shelves in Sainsbury’s, or any of the other major firms that sign up to his scheme.

Finally, there is a further parallel between 19th century slavery and the Tories’ campaign to drive down working conditions and raise working hours. Both were partly based on the argument that this must be done in order to maintain the British industrial competitiveness. One of the arguments used by the opponents of abolition in the 19th century was that the abolition of slavery would make British sugar too expensive to compete globally with foreign, slave produced sugar. Similarly, the authors of Britannia Unchained declared that British workers were too lazy and pampered to compete with countries like India and China, where labour is cheaper and works much longer hours.

Priti Patel

Priti Patel, Britannia Unchained, Workfare and the ‘Coolie Trade

If one wished to bring race into this, one could argue that Priti Patel, one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, is an ‘Uncle Tom’. Patel is Asian, and her arrival and rise in the Conservative Party was greeted by the Daily Mail as showing that the Conservative Party were embracing the Black and Asian community. On their part, the British Blacks and Asians were also putting aside their racial resentments, to play a role in wider British society. It was hinted that the policy of racial resentment was exclusively the province of the Left, which was simply interested in picking over past grievances for its own, purely sectional gain.

I’ve described Osborne’s expanded workfare scheme as ‘a new system of slavery’ in this post’s title. This was quite deliberate. From 1817 onwards the British government attempted to find labourers elsewhere to replace the Black plantation slaves. Black slaves resented their enslavement, and were perceived as recalcitrant workers. They were also inclined to rebel. Hence the title of one of Dr. Richard Hill’s books, The Blacks Who Defeated Slavery, if I remember the title correctly. After Abolition, they attempted to find other peoples, who would supply cheap labour to the plantations in place of the former slaves. The result was the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured immigrants to the Caribbean from China, and what is now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. These were in theory free. In return for their years’ of work on the plantations, they would receive wages and a grant of land. In practice they were ruthlessly exploited, working extremely long hours in poor conditions. The death rate could be extremely high, and contact with their families and loved ones in their homelands was frequently non-existent. Wives and children of indentured labourers often could not hear from their husbands and fathers for 20 years or so. Many were the victims of kidnappers, and forced into slavery across the kala pani – the Black Waters surrounding India. Leading British politicians denounced the Coolie Trade as ‘a new system of slavery’, which forms the title of the history of the trade by Hugh Tinker. I urge anyone with an interest in this black chapter of British imperial history to read it. I am certainly not suggesting that Patel and her colleagues are advocating replacing British workers with those from China, the Indian sub-continent, or elsewhere in the Developing World. What I am saying is that Patel and the other authors of Britannia Unchained wish to import the systems of exploitation in these countries to British workers. And that includes Asian and Black Brits, whose parents and grandparents came to this country in the hope of finding work that was better paid and in better conditions, than those in their countries of origin. Patel is destroying the aspirations of her parents’ and grandparents’ generation, and in that sense surely well deserves to be called an Uncle Tom.

The parallels between 19th century slavery and Osborne’s plans for workfare are now so close, that I believe it may be worthwhile contacting human rights organisations like Anti-Slavery International about them, and campaigning against them as literal slavery. Anti-Slavery International is a charity dedicated to combatting slavery throughout the world. In 1995 the exhibition ‘A Respectable Trade’ held by City Museum and Art Gallery in Bristol on the city’s past as a major slave port included pamphlets by Anti-Slavery International, and donation and membership forms for those wishing to continue the fight of great liberators like Olaudah Equiano and William Wilberforce. Amongst their pamphlets on slavery were those on exploitative working conditions in the UK, including child labour. Osborne’s workfare should surely be of concern to anyone opposed to seeing slavery revived in any form whatsoever.

1842 Punch

‘Capital and Labour’: a bitter cartoon from Punch from 1842, showing the luxury enjoyed by the rich contrasted with the poverty and squalor endured by the labouring poor which support them. This is kind of system Cameron and co. wish to restore.

Say No to Slavery Pic
Sources

I’ve mentioned a number of excellent books on slavery and the ‘Coolie Trade’ in this post. Other excellent books include Hugh Thomas’ Slavery, Dr Richard Hill’s Blacks in Bondage and Blacks in Freedom, written by a former member of the Jamaican independence movement, and Bill Yenne’s illustrated book, Slavery, published by Buffalo Books. This last contains some truly horrific photographs from the 19th century of slaves, who were abused and mutilated