SLAVERY THEN AND NOW

Document Sample
SLAVERY THEN AND NOW Powered By Docstoc
					                      SLAVERY THEN AND NOW
Slavery alive and well.
I was challenged by a friend the other day when I said that we are all „wage-slaves‟. He
was speaking as someone who had started quite humbly working in a design studio, and
now he runs his own studio, employing others. He has a point of course, but for the vast
majority of those in the Western world who require to make a living but have not
succeeded in taking the same step as my friend by becoming an employer or self
employed, the choice is simply one of selling your labour to another - or of course opting
out of the system, or by becoming a criminal. Some are quite happy with the employed
status and if you choose a career in the forces, in nursing or as a firefighter, an employee
is what you must be. But if you have no alternative to selling your labour, then that to
me is a form of slavery and although the conditions of employment have gradually
changed for the better, it is only in terms of slackening or upholstering the shackles!

Even if we have a problem with this expression wage-slavery, everyone agrees on the
terms rat race and treadmill to describe the average person‟s passage through their life of
employment - and in the UK most would agree that the rat-race has become tougher and
the treadmill more demanding in recent years with - hence the condition of work-related
stress that is now becoming a national epidemic. But why, at a time when humanity has
never enjoyed so much wealth, never has production, through the innovations of
technology, been so high, is this the case? And more to the point why don‟t we appear to
see it as utterly wrong?

It would appear that once a practice, however wicked and dehumanising, becomes
established within a culture, it appears to be normal, and becomes accepted by the
majority of that culture - rather as the prisoners, in the Plato‟s famous analogy of the
cave, were content with their life sitting manacled and looking at a wall of passing
shadows, because they did not realise that there was another alternative - so are most
people content with the fact that there is little alternative in their society to selling their
services to others as wage-slaves.
If this unnecessary and enforced means of earning enough to survive on this planet is to
change, then society must first wake up to how wrong the state of affairs is and then
perhaps the root cause, land -monopoly - by which I mean the exclusive individual or
collective holding of land or natural resources, without fulfilment of the appropriate
obligation to others, ie the payment of rent - might be able to be dealt with.
Funnily enough, whereas today the idea of what constitutes slavery is comprehended and
abhorred by the majority, the implications of land-monopoly are not so understood
although this is the cause of the new form of slavery that we labour under today. What I
would like to do in this article is to compare the question of land-monopoly, the cause of
today‟s wage-slavery, and how it might become a thing of history, with the the abolition
of the ‘slave trade‟ - the trading in the people of Africa as merchandise to the „New
World‟ of South America and the Caribbean over a period of 400 years between the 16th
and 19th centuries, was eventually outlawed some 200 years ago, and see whether this
comparison might give us a lead on how land-monopoly, might also be brought to an end.
The link between slavery and land-monopoly was significantly illustrated after abolition
of freed slaves found that because they had no access to land, that they had to return to
their former slave masters to be employed - often in far worse situations than they
enjoyed as actual slaves.
The African Slave Trade
A couple of weeks ago I was passing a large house close to where I live in
Gloucestershire and my companion, who knew the area, commented that it had been built
on the proceeds of the slave trade. In fact this area has seen both sides of that issue and
in my local town of Stroud, there proudly stands the anti-slavery arch, erected in 1834 by
one by Henry Wyatt, a local wealthy cloth merchant (this being the centre of the West of
England cloth trade) which carries the inscription “Erected to commemorate the abolition
of slavery in the British Colonies”.
The abolition had been brought about by the passing of the Emancipation Act by the new
Whig government, following huge national pressure upon the government, particularly in
this somewhat radical and nonconformist part of England. And yet, at the nearest sea
coast just 25 miles away, is the town of Bristol where the steep cliffs around the harbour
are lined with magnificent houses, and where there is an air of wealth and success - a
wealth that was originally built from the trade in slaves.
The almost unbelievable figures show that during the four centuries that the slave trade
persisted, an estimated twelve million Africans had been transported to the Caribbean
Islands and South America, to work on the cotton and sugar plantations, as house
servants, in the mines and, as in the case of Brazil where they constituted half the
population, to do most of the manual work. Whilst most European sea going nations
were involved in this trade, with the collusion of African leaders and certainly of the Arab
traders on the African continent, Britain was one of the leading European nations in
perpetuating this iniquity which involved the trading of manufactured goods with African
tribes and slave hunters, in return for men, women and children, who were shipped to the
New World and sold for sugar and other products, which were brought back to Europe.
But the point I want to make in this article is how this inhuman trade was supported and
perpetuated, indeed considered quite normal by the majority of the community,
stimulating one Bishop to observe “my scruples are not so great that I totally condemn
this trade, seeing that it is tolerated by so many men of letters and great theologians”.
Indeed, rather in the manner in which land-monopoly is considered today.
The Process of Abolition
What is interesting is that the abolition did not come about through enlightened
politicians but by a combination of religious conscience, the words of great writers, the
courage of individuals, the build up of pressure from groups of people, and ultimately the
persistence and brilliance of certain politicians.
Among the first influences was a stirring of conscience amongst the non conformist
religious groups both in America and in Britain in particular by the Society of Friends.
The direct consequence of this Quaker activity was that in 1767 a proposal was, for the
first time, introduced into the real legislature against the slave trade in the House of
Representatives of Massachusetts. At the same time the Quakers in England were at the
forefront of moves towards the ending of the slave trade and in 1775 prompted a
commission of the House of Commons to be appointed to take evidence on the slave
trade.
Of the writers, Jean-Jacque Rousseau in France was more extreme that anyone else and in
England, at about the same time, writers such as Horace Walpole and Dr Samuel Johnson
began to make their disapproval heard. Amongst the judiciary, the great Sir William
Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, published between 1765 and
1769 stated the case against slavery, declaring that the law of England „abhors and will
not endure the state of slavery within this nation.....a slave or a negro, the moment he
lands in England, falls under the protection of the laws and, with regard to natural rights,
becomes a freeman‟.
Granville Sharp
But perhaps above all the abolition of slavery in Britain was prompted by a young clerk,
Granville Sharp, whose involvement started from simple humanitarian motives, but his
story also illustrates the grip that the practice of slavery had taken on society. One day in
1765 Sharp passed a man of African origin evidently in a poor state, as though he was
ready to drop to the ground. He had been beaten over the body and head with a pistol so
often that he could hardly walk and was about to lose his sight. Apparently his master
was a British lawyer, David Lisle, practicing in Barbados. Granville Sharp and his
brother supported and clothed him until he could earn his living by working for an
apothecary, in London. However, two years later he was spotted by Lisle in the street
who, having noted Strong‟s improved health, followed in his carriage back to the
apothecary‟s shop. Having seen that his health was fully restored he sold him days later
to a planter from Jamaica at the discounted price of £30 (the market price was £50, or
about £4500 at current values) and had him incarcerated in prison, where the gaoler
would keep him until a ship was leaving for the West Indies.
Realising the implications of his situation Strong sent a note to the Sharps. In due
course, having prevented Strong from being taken aboard ship, and having been sued by
Lisle the owner who also challenged him to a duel, Sharp researched the law himself and
coming across the above passage by Sir William Blackstone managed to secure Strong's
freedom. This was the first of many such actions that Sharp undertook, becoming a
leading figure in the anti-slave trade movement. It is commonly held that the judiciary
and then Parliament were sufficiently moved to effect the abolition of slavery. It was
Sharp, however, who took the first steps as a private individual. His motivation began as
personal conscience at seeing the distressing condition of Jonathan Strong.
The end of the slave-trade.
In due course the case against the slave trade began to be stated in England with ever-
greater effectiveness, by a whole new school of active polemicists and theologians. The
enemies of slavery were in touch with one another and could boast of several successes.
Thus in 1783 a bill was introduced to the House of Commons forbidding officials of the
Royal African Company, a company set up specifically to trade in slaves, from selling
slaves - a motion which caused the ever active Society of Friends to submit an appeal for
a general prohibition on the commerce.
Now fully within the political arena, a number of significant figures put the power of the
conscience and oratory behind the cause of abolition, notably William Wilberforce, MP
for Hull who brought innumerable motions before the House of Commons. Others
included Prime Minister William Pitt, Richard Sheridan, Charles Fox, George Canning
and the renowned Edmund Burke MP for Bristol. Significantly, of the many members of
parliament and the House of Lords who opposed the abolitionists, usually because they
were directly or indirectly involved with the trade, most active and vehement was the
Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV of England. But to show the extreme
polarisation that the issue raised, during the debate of one of Wilberforce's motions
Edmund Burke said that „to deal and traffic, not in the labour of men but in men
themselves, was to devour the root, instead of enjoying the fruit of human diligence‟ yet
when the this particular vote for abolition was lost 88 to 163 against Wilberforce's motion
in the house of Commons, in Burke's Bristol constituency church bells rang, cannons
were fired on Brandon Hill, there was a bonfire and firework display and a half holiday
was granted to workmen and sailors. „Commerce chinked its purse‟ wrote Horace
Walpole „and that sound is generally prevalent with the majority‟.
Ultimately, in 1805, the efforts of Wilberforce, and all those who had contributed to act
against this shameful trade, was at last rewarded by the passing of an act that would
forbid the import of Slaves from Africa into British colonies to come into effect on 1st
January 1807. But it was another 30 years before the passing of the Emancipation Act to
bring freedom to the slaves of the colonies, which was celebrated by the building of the
Anti-slavery Arch in Stroud, and many more years before the trading in slaves from
African was finally stamped out by all nations.
The End to Land Monopoly?
So inspite of the abolition of the slave trade, slavery still persists in the Western World, if
not round the entire globe, and that is the slavery brought about by the persistence of land
monopoly - effectively the holding of land by the few, to the devastating detriment of the
many, this detriment manifesting in a landless population, and the consequential
condemnation to wage slavery.

What can be done to bring about change in relation to land monopoly, as in the case
recounted above? First an awakening to the horror of the situation, and to the fact that
humanity is not on earth to live in poverty and servitude and that the fundamental right of
every human being is to have access to the planet upon which they have been born; then
the dedicated few, people such as Granville Sharp, driven by his sense of liberty, who will
stop at nothing to see justice prevail; then the words of the opinion formers and the
rallying of the general public so that politicians have the necessary mandate to bring
about change. Perhaps the time is approaching when justice and liberty might prevail at
last, in this last stronghold of privilege - the monopoly of land.

Timothy Glazier – tim@timothyglazier.com

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Shared By:
Categories:
Tags: SLAVERY, THEN
Stats:
views:148
posted:3/3/2010
language:English
pages:4
Description: SLAVERY THEN AND NOW