Posts Tagged ‘Richard Oastler’

The Chartists’ Shops to Punish Opposing Shopkeepers

April 25, 2016

I spent this weekend reading up on the Chartists. This was the early 19th century movement, which roughly ran for the decade between 1837 and 1848, which campaigned for the vote for every working man. There were also female Chartist organisations, and some Chartists were so radical as to wish to extend the franchise to women. It had a very mixed membership ideologically. Some were Socialists, others supporters of Free Trade. Some wanted the repeal of the Corn Law, while some were for keeping them. Many were against the New Poor Law and the Workhouses, but some, like Francis Place, supported it. There were Christian Chartists and atheist Chartists. Some, like Richard Oastler, were Tories, others Liberal. It has been regarded as a kind of early Labour party. This view has since been challenged, but certainly the Labour party politicians, who won the 1945 General Election saw themselves very much as part of the same tradition of working class political radicalism, and the contemporary heirs of the Chartists, as well as Tom Paine, the author of the Rights of Man.

Some Chartists believed, like Marx, that ‘the emancipation of the working class should be the task of the working class’, and wished to avoid contaminating the movement with contacts with the middle classes, who they felt would betray them. Nevertheless, the movement did have many middle class supporters, including Anglican priests, Nonconformist ministers, factory masters, and so on. One of the tactics the Chartists used, which I found particularly interesting, was that they opened shops to compete with and punish those shopkeepers that opposed the extension of the franchise to the hoi polloi.

The British working and lower middle classes are again becoming disenfranchised in the 21st century. And some of this is through the tactics used by the rich supermarkets to drive the small shopkeeper out of business, screw their suppliers, and drive down wages for employees. Quite apart from the various businesses that exploit unpaid workers under the ‘workfare’ system.

I think it would be superb if someone could come up with a similar system of shops to compete and punish these businesses, but I’m not sure how it could be done at a time of depression, when 4.7 million of us are in ‘food poverty’, and the trade unions are fighting for survival. The anarchists have tried similarly tactics, and these generally have failed. But perhaps there is a way. If there is, then it’s one I’d like to see pursued.

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Photo of Charity Food Queue 1900

April 23, 2016

Late last night I put up a quote from Richard Oastler, condemning the Victorians’ treatment of the poor as criminals by confining them in the workhouse if they wanted poor relief. This came from Poverty and Public Health 1815-1948, by Rosemary Rees (Oxford: Heinemann 2001). The book is school text on attitudes to poverty, poor relief, health, housing and sanitation in the 19th and early 20th century before the foundation of the NHS and welfare state. It’s profusely illustrated, with contemporary photographs, cartoons, drawings, plans and diagrams. One of the photos is this picture of a group of mainly children waiting for a hand-out of charity food in 1900.

Charity Food Queue

About a year or so ago I put up on this blog a late Victorian – Edwardian poem about children waiting in a queue in the early morning to receive food given as part of poor relief. I commented that this could describe the situation now, in the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands are being forced to use the food bank thanks to Ian Duncan Smith’s, George Osborne’s and Dave Cameron’s destruction of the welfare state and imposition of the sanctions regime. 4.7 million people are living in ‘food poverty’.

The photo is a document of the face of poverty at the turn of the 20th century. With just a few changes in fashion, it could also be the face of poverty in the first years of the 21st.

And it’s a disgrace.

Richard Oastler, on Why the Poor Deserve to Keep Their Liberty from the Workhouse

April 22, 2016

I found this quote from Richard Oastler’s The Rights of the Poor to Liberty and Life of 1838 in the book Poverty and Public Health, by Rosemary Rees (Oxford: Heinemann 2001):

Remember, always that liberty – freedom from confinement as well as food and clothing – is the birthright of every Englishman, however poor. What, Sir, is the principle of the New Poor Law? The condition imposed upon Englishmen by that accursed law is, that man shall give up his liberty to save his life! That, before he shall eat a piece of bread, he shall go into prison. In prison, he shall enjoy his right to live, but it shall be at the expense of that liberty, without which life itself becomes a burden and curse.

Thank God, the law of the land does not yet say – though the Commissioners of the New Poor Law have dared to say – that poverty is a crime, by which an Englishman may be deprived of the blessings of liberty.

(p.99).

Bloggers like Johnny Void, the Angry Yorkshireman, Tom Pride and Mike over at Vox Political, and myself have repeatedly pointed out the similarities of the workfare system to slave labour. It’s also been pointed out, time and again, that a benefit claimant may spend longer on workfare than a criminal sentenced to community service. It doesn’t seem to me to be at all a stretch to apply this quote from Oastler about the ‘New Bastilles’ of the workhouses to workfare and the wretched sanctions regime.

Is ‘Theramenes’ the Ancient Greek for Nick Clegg?

May 21, 2014

Greek Shoes

Shoes from ancient Greece. From Giovanni Caselli, History of Everyday Things (Hemel Hempstead: Beehive Books 1993)

Nick Clegg

Nick “Colthurnus” Clegg?

I found the saying, ‘He wears the sandals of Theramenes’, and its explanation in the 1981 edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It said that this was

Said of a Trimmer, an opportunist. Theramenes (put to death c. 404 B.C.) was one of the Athenian oligarchy, and was nicknamed Cothurnus (i.e. a sandal or boot which might be worn on either foot), because no dependence could be put on him. He “blew hot and col with the same breath.”

Which just about describes Clegg, the man, who broke all his election promises to climb into a coalition with the Tories, and is now frantically trying to convince the electorate that the Lib Dems are still a party of principles who can be depended upon to restrain the excesses of whichever party with which they will form another coalition. There is absolutely no evidence they have actually done this, and indeed have appeared only too eager to support the massively illiberal legislation passed by the Conservatives destroying the health service, state education, what’s left of the welfare state and setting up secret courts from which the accused is barred and may not know the charges against him. For security reasons, of course.

Or it could equally describe Dave Cameron, who spent his period in opposition trying to make the Tories appear slightly left of New Labour by engaging in community activism. His mentor, Philip Blond, published Red Tory, which tried to embrace 19th century working class radicalism and the progressive legislation passed by Conservative reformers like Richard Oastler, as well as name-checking the great anarchist Kropotkin. Now in power, Cameron has turned his back on all that, and has firmly embraced the usual Tory policies of putting the boot into the working class by privatising everything he can get his hand, cutting welfare benefits and forcing the unemployed to work for free for the Tories’ corporate paymasters.

And like Theramenes, Clegg and Cameron belong to the aristocracy, and so thoroughly represent oligarchic rule against any kind of democracy.

140117democracy

Dave “Antique Greek Boot” Cameron?