Posts Tagged ‘Transportation’

Penal Convict Slavery in Colonial Australia

July 8, 2014

It’s pretty much a commonplace that Australia was founded as a penal colony. What is surprising is how close the penal servitude of the convicts transported to that great continent actually came to real slavery. Before the government built barracks for them, convicts were expected to find their own accommodation. Some built huts for themselves, others worked for government officials or free citizens for their board.

And some were assigned to free citizens as servants. The government owned the services of all the convicts, and so its official had first choice when selecting which of them should they should employ as servants. Those rejected by the officials were to be assigned, under proper regulations, to private employers. These had to house them and pay them for work done outside the formal working hours. The order of two magistrates was required before they could be flogged or returned to the government. They did have the right to complain if the regulations were broken, but there was no process by which they could leave an abusive employer.

See Douglas Pike, Australia: The Quiet Continent (London: Cambridge University Press 1970) 49.

The Tories have effectively reintroduced a form of slavery in workfare and the welfare to work industry, especially as the unemployed may be required to perform it, even after their benefits have been stopped. And as one of the previous blog posts shows, at least one Tory down on Torbay council is nostalgic for the day when the unemployed could be safely banged up in the workhouse.

So I thought I’d post this, just to show how close penal servitude can be to real slavery, and just how thin the line between mandatory state labour and real, personal slavery is.

Our freedoms are fragile, and very, very precious.

And after the punitive attitude to the employed espoused by RTU, Fester McLie and the rest of the whole, squalid, putrescent government, does anyone not believe they’d try to reintroduce this, if they could get away with it?

No wonder there are Ozzies who want their independence!

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Iain Duncan Smith and the Monsters of Folklore

June 26, 2014

Ian Duncan Smith pic

I’ve previously written a number of posts comparing Iain Duncan Smith to a serial killer, specifically Andrei Chikatilo, the ‘Russian Ripper’, who raped, killed and ate about 54 children and men before the Soviet Union’s finest caught and shot him. This is because of the immense death toll caused by his welfare reforms, amounting to an estimated three every four hours, coupled with his absolute absence of any remorse or willingness to concede that his actions are responsible for any kind of suffering and death. Indeed, he insists that they are right, merely based on his own ‘beliefs’. Worse, he is actually proud of them, absurdly comparing them to William Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery.

Well, if he wants to make that comparison, then the folklore of the various colonial peoples brutalised and exploited by their European conquerors, as well as the lower class European victims of forced transportation to the colonies also provide an extremely close parallel and a metaphor for the suffering deliberately inflicted by IDS’ policies.

Murdering Indians for European Industry in the Andes

One of the monsters of Peruvean and Andean Indian folklore is a tall man, either of European descent or a mestizo (mixed race-European/Indian), dressed in a long, black coat. Concealed underneath this are two long knives, which he uses to kill his Indian victims. He does so in order to obtain their body fat, which is exported to Europe to maintain the machines of European industry.

This particular folkloric monster has been around since the conquest of South and Central America by the Spaniards in the 15th century. It’s a folkloric response to the destruction of the indigenous civilisations of the Incas, Aymara and other peoples, and their enslavement and exploitation by their European conquerors under the repartimiento system, in which Indians were allocated to their Spanish overlords as slave labour. Although Peruvian governments from the late 20th century have tried to raise the status of the indigenous peoples, for example, replacing the word for them, ‘Indio’ – ‘Indian’, with ‘Indigena’ – Indigenous Person, there is still considerable shame associate with Indian ancestry. The myth of this serial killer is effectively a metaphor for the way the indigenous peoples of the Andes suffered and died for the material enrichment of their European overlords, and the mechanised industry that became emblematic of European exploitation, industry and culture.

The Murder Factory for 19th Century Indian Emigrant Labourers

A similar myth also appeared thousands of miles to the east, in India, in the 19th century. After the abolition of slavery, European planters, industrialists and colonial administrators became concerned about the lack of available cheap labour to cultivate the sugar plantation on which the economies of the Caribbean nations, as well as other colonies scattered around the globe, such as Mauritius, the Seychelles and Fiji, depended. They therefore began to import Chinese and Indians as indentured labourers. Technically free, these people were exploited and suffered conditions every bit, and sometimes worse, than the Black slaves they replaced. The system deeply shocked some British and imperial politicians and administrators, as well as many leading Christian priests and ministers, who denounced it as ‘a new system of slavery’. This systematic abuse and exploitation of indentured Indian labourers under the ‘Coolie Trade’ also helped stimulate the campaign for Indian independence. Indian nationalists reasoned that expatriate Indians would only be treated with dignity and respect if they had the full support of an independent homeland. Some labourers were obtained through kidnapping, and the British authorities in India and China during the 19th century organised a series of raids against gangs, who had seized and held labourers against their will in order to supply the trade. Initially there were no arrangements to keep families in touch with relatives working abroad, so it was common for children and husbands simply to disappear one morning, without being heard of again, or to reappear suddenly as much as twenty years later. The response was the creation of another myth of mechanised murder for the sake of European industry.

The myth spread that those Indians, who signed on for work abroad, were taken to a secret factory. There they were killed, and the cerebro-spinal fluid extracted from their skulls, for use in Europe. A drawing circulated of a group of Indians hanging from a beam, with a text in Hindi explaining what had been done to them. As with the Andean serial killer, this expresses metaphorically and in personal terms the exploitation and death inflicted on the imperial subaltern peoples for the benefit of European colonial industry.

Children Abducted for their Blood by Kings in 18th century France

These monsters weren’t confined just to the subject people’s of the British and Spanish empires, however. in the mid-18th century a rumour spread through France warning parents to guard their children. They were being abducted by a wealthy lady, who took them to a richly furnished, dark coach. She served a king, who was suffering from a terrible disease, which could only be treated with the blood of children, who were thus killed to alleviate his suffering. Folklorists such as Marina Warner have suggested that this was created by the use of force by the French state to provide settlers for the new French colony of Louisiana in America. The unemployed and poor were particularly targeted by the authorities. The French Crown was becoming increasingly unpopular due to its extravagant luxury and unrestrained, absolute power and so the disappearance of people without trace, especially children, became linked to the idea of a corrupt and literally bloodthirsty monarch.

Babies Killed for their Organs in 1990s’ Rumours

Similar fears appeared in the 1990s in the widespread rumours that people were being drugged and even killed to supply black market transplant organs. In one of these stories going around the Central American republics, a woman had had her baby abducted. The child’s body was eventually founded, gutted and stuffed with dollar bills. With the money was a note saying, ‘Thank you for your co-operation’. These stories led to a massive atmosphere of suspicion and anger towards Americans and Europeans, and tourists were warned about the dangers of inappropriate or insensitive behaviour towards children. In one instance, a female American tourist had wanted to take photographs of a group of children in Guatemala. The local people became highly suspicious of her intentions, with the result that an angry mob developed, and eventually erupted into a full-scale riot. The woman and her husband, I believe, had to be taken to the local police station for their own safety, which was itself attacked. Several police officers and the couple themselves lost their lives in the violence. Again, it is not hard to see the myth behind this tragic incident as an expression of the highly exploitative relationship between Latin America and its much richer and economically dominant neighbour to the north.

Iain Duncan Smith and the Death and Exploitation of the Poor and Unemployed for the Aristocracy and Industry

IDS’ own welfare reforms also conform to the pattern of industrialised exploitation and murder, which are the essential subjects of these myths. They attack the very poorest members of the society, the unemployed, the sick and disabled, for the benefit of an aristocratic elite. Like the myth of the Andean serial killer and murder factory in Indian ‘Coolie’ folklore, these reforms are carried out for the benefit of the employers. IDS, McVey and Pennington have created a system of forced labour through the workfare system. It’s a system that needs the threat of death from benefit sanctions in order to make it work. And so IDS can join the monsters and industrial murderers of the brutalised and exploited from around the world.

I wonder if, should he ever make a state visit to Peru, someone should ask him very publicly if he still has two long, sharp knives with him, and if he really does to the people of England what his kind has been doing down the centuries

Tunes for Toilers: The Jolly Machine, edited by Michael Raven

May 25, 2014

Jolly Machine

I found this in the sheet music section of Hobgoblin Music, a music shop specialising in folk songs, music and instruments in Bristol’s Park Street. Subtitled Songs of Industrial Protest and Social Discontent From the West Midlands, the songs in this collection describe and protest about the hardships of nineteenth century industrial urban life, covering low and unpaid wages, hard, exploitative factory masters, prison and transportation, unemployment, and the threat of mechanisation, the soul destroying drudgery of the workhouse, emigration, and Chartism and the promise of political reform from the Liberals.

The songs include:

Bilston Town,
Charlie’s Song,
Chartist Anthem,
Colliers’ Rant,
Convict’s Complaint
Dudley Boys,
Dudley Canal Tunnel
Freedom and Reform,
John Whitehouse
Jolly Machine,
Landlord Don’t You Cry,
Monster Science,
Nailmaker’s Lament
Oh! Cruel,
Pioneers’ Song
Poor of Rowley,
Potters’ Chant,
Sarah Collins,
Thirteen Pence A Day,
Tommy Note,
Waiting for Wages.

There’s also an explanatory note about the songs at the back.

‘Waiting for Wages’ and ‘The Tommy Shop’ deal with ‘tommy notes’. Until the passage of the Truck Acts, many employers didn’t pay money wages to their workers, but only tokens or notes that were only valid at the company shops, thus exploiting their workers further and massively increasing their profits. ‘Waiting for Wages’ is written from the women’s point of view, and describes them waiting for their menfolk to hand over their wages, half of which they’ve already spent in the pub.

The ‘Convicts’ Complaint’ is about the harsh conditions in Ciderville Jail, while ‘Sarah Collins’ is about a woman transported to Van Diemen’s Land – Tasmania – for some unstated crime. ‘Dudley Boys’, ‘Nailmaker’s Strike’, ‘Nailmakers’ Lament’, and ‘Colliers’ Rant’ are about strikes, some of which exploded into violent confrontation between the strikers and the army. ‘Jolly Machine’, ‘Monster Science’ and Charlie’s Song – the last about a notorious factory master and the scab workers prepared to work for him – are about the poverty and unemployment caused by mass industrial production to the traditional artisan craftsmen, such as potters. The ‘Needlemakers’ Lamentation’, ‘Dudley Canal’ and ‘Oh, Cruel!’ were all written to raise money for those suffering from or threatened with unemployment. ‘Oh, Cruel’ was written for a benefit performance by a Mr Rayner on behalf of a serviceman, Tommy Strill, who had lost a leg and eye in combat. The ‘Dudley Canal Tunnel’ song was a fundraiser, which aimed at raising £5,000 to keep the tunnel open and the boatmen, who navigated through it, in work. The ‘Potters’ Chant’, ‘Bilston Town’, and ‘Poor of Rowley’ are about poverty. The last is specifically about the mindless, soulless labour in the town’s workhouse. ‘Landlord, Don’t You Cry’, and ‘Pioneers’ Song’ are about emigrants leaving Britain for a more prosperous, optimistic future abroad, including America. ‘Thirteen Pence A Day’ is a song bitterly criticising conditions in the army, and urging men not to join up to lose life and limb fighting people they don’t know and who have never done them any harm. It’s a fascinating demonstration that anti-War songs didn’t begin with Vietnam. John Whitehouse is about a man, who hangs himself after failing to find a buyer for his wife. It was the custom in many parts of England for a man to sell a wife, with whom he could no longer live at an auction in the market. It’s a shocking example of how low women’s status was. The ‘Chartist Anthem’ and ‘Freedom and Reform’ are ballads about the demands for the franchise. The ‘Chartist Anthem’ describes the immense hardship in the struggle to get the vote. Its last two verses run

We men of bone, of shrunken shank
Our only treasure dearth,
Women who carry at the breast
Heirs to the hungry earth,
Heirs to the hungry earth.

Speak with one voice, we march we rest
And march again upon the years,
Sons of our sons are listening,
To hear the Chartist cheers,
To hear the Chartist cheers.

At a time when many working and lower middle class people feel disenfranchised and ignored by the political class, this is a song that could well be revived for today’s struggle to get politicians to wake up and take notice of the poverty and alienation now at large in Britain.

‘The Great Battle for Freedom and Reform’ also demands the extension of the franchise for the workers, and urges them to support the Liberals. The first three verses read

You working men of England,
Who live by daily toil,
Speak for your rights, bold Englishmen,
Althro’ Britan’s Isle.
The titled Tories keep you down,
Which you cannot endure,
The pass the poor man with a frown,
And the Tories keep you poor.

cameron-toff

Cameron: A titled Tory keeping you down, if ever there was one!

With Beale & Gladstone, Mills & Bright,
We shall weather thro’ the storm,
To give the working man his rights,
And gain the bill – REFORM!

We want no Tory Government, The poor man to oppress,
They never try to do you good,
The truth you will confess.
The Liberals are the poor man’s friend,
To forward all they try,
They’ll beat their foes you may depend,
And never will say die.

The description of the Tories still remains exactly correct. Unfortunately, the present government has the song’s claim that the Liberals are the poor men’s friend to be a hollow joke, although it was certainly true at the time.

The songs are an interesting document about the hardship and social injustice working people experienced in the nineteenth century. It’s the other side of the coin to the image of ‘merrie England’ presented in some traditional songs and the Tory view of history promoted by Michael Gove. And with exploitative employers now eager to use the cheap labour supplied by unemployed ‘volunteers’, ‘interns’ and those on workfare, assisted by a Tory government of aristocrats enforcing a policy of low wages and harsh, anti-union legislation, these songs are all too relevant.