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(en) Britain, ORGANISE! #68 - Letter to the Editors: Slavery 'Abolition', by Brad Evans + reply

Date Fri, 06 Jul 2007 09:28:07 +0300

Word is getting out that the people of the United Kingdom have a cause to celebrate - 200 years since the abolition of slavery! But how can the abolition of slavery be celebrated when slavery hasn't been abolished? Let me make a point in which to remind ourselves of the system that we are forced to survive in - the capitalist system is a system based on exploitation, a system where a majority of people are condemned to servitude for a minority of people who are lavished as the recipients of global profiteering. Capitalism not only protects this minority, it encourages them to pursue more profit without a justice system to discourage or stop them. For a system like that to thrive - slavery is a vital component. ---- Many people will shake their heads on this and think: what are you talking about, we have wages? Wages for what? People on the Minimum Wage are on a rate of pay issued by employers and backed by a State that is driven by this system. Marx warned workers about this in the Communist Manifesto over 150 years ago! The employing class buy from their employees a labour value which is publicly declared as rock bottom. As a consequence, workers survive on the barest of subsistence. Workers who save frugally may be carried through to the next week, before it's back to work to save up and buy some more basic food. Such workers take part in the economy, therefore we all have a right to benefit from other areas of the economy so that our lives can be improved. Has anybody heard of an award wage? A wage where people can not only afford to buy the barest of essentials, but they can also buy nice things to eat from the local delicatessen, they can go to the theatre, they can buy brand new products instead of constantly buying secondhand ones, to save money for future things like travel, a deposit for a house, etc. These are impossible goals for those working full-time under the minimum wage.

Even buying top quality daily essentials are not an option. Locally produced foods are out of the question for people on the minimum wage because they are often more expensive than food bought from ASDA, yet these workers are contributing to the economy just as much whilst being treated as second class citizens. This is outrageous and it's time for working people to take action - with unified action, workers can create change - without action, the system remains in place. So why has slavery not been abolished and relegated to history? When the word 'slavery' is mentioned, people like to give it some distance from the times in which they live in today. It is far easier to conjure up images of African people shackled inside the wooden hold of a ship, suffering sickness and utter misery while being sent off to the plantations of the New World. This is not to put that important aspect aside, nor is it intended to forget the disgusting and despicable nature of slavery within that context. We need to remind ourselves that slavery is much more insidious and far reaching than many people want to admit - and racism plays a part in this.

History is chock full of situations where one group of people manipulate and exploit another group of people for economic reasons. In the past, and right up to the present - white people have enslaved black people, black people have enslaved black people, white people have enslaved white people and, believe it or not, black people have enslaved white people. This occurs in most parts of the world where capitalism is given free reign. The superficial reasons for slavery are often depicted through a person's colour, ethnicity, religion - but these aren't the only reasons for it, the underlying reasons are rooted within the rigid hierarchy of capitalism. Today this country's radio and television stations, ruled by big business and whose interests they serve, constantly generate topics of racism and racial discrimination. Quite often, the racial abuse inflicted is on minor groups of people, vulnerable people, people who can be more easily exploited than other larger groups. People who may have a colour that is different to them, people who may have a religion that is different to them, people who speak English as a second language. Ethnic minorities are often the target of this abuse. Through bombarding minorities with this hatred, the discriminating group seek to undermine the basic human rights of these other fellow citizens whom they are abusing, to try and disempower them while attempting to garner support from others.

One issue at the moment is workers who are coming in from other European Union countries to seek work. Often overseas workers are motivated to come to the UK with the idea of providing some financial assistance for their loved ones back home - loved ones who are struggling to survive in their native country (this is also often due to exploitation from their system back home). Some workers who are born in this country see this as a threat to their labour, and find quick reasons to abuse 'foreigners'. What they do not understand is that this is a deliberate strategy used by the employing class (who are also born in the same country as them) to cut wages across the country and to provide a cheap, highly mobilised workforce in great numbers who can be paid as low a wage as possible whilst also minimising the responsibilities that employers are meant to provide for their workforce (sick pay, holiday leave, pensions, etc.). Responsibilities with which the government, too, wants to relinquish whilst still demanding a vast diversity of taxes at premium rates. It is under capitalist conditions like this, where employers can thrive the most. Gangmasters hire cheap labour from countries beyond the EU, to work farms and sweatshops in this country. In many instances, these people are brought in illegally because it benefits the employing class to do so. It is far easier to threaten a labour force with instant dismissal and even worse - to contact immigration, if they begin to organise and make demands to improve their working conditions. The fact that these people do not have some minimal protection, which may be provided for those who have citizenship, ensures total obedience of the workforce and makes them extremely vulnerable.

Through maximising exploitation, gangmasters and other members of the employing class, find themselves in ideal circumstances. This is modern day slavery and it is far from finished with many examples that can be outlined - from women in Eastern Europe kidnapped, brought into this country and forced into prostitution to cockleshell pickers from China, workers in retail, workers who work in sweatshops and denied basic human rights, the list goes on! When you end capitalism you end a system of exploitation. And when this does end, under what circumstances will slavery end once and for all? When working people are aware that the capitalist system is not there to serve us but, rather, we are there to serve it; When working people realise that the isolationism, spin, defeatism, confusion, disorientation and general sense of hopelessness of our situation, is deliberately broadcast constantly by a mass media, rotten to the core with ruling class chauvinism; When working people realise that the ruling class invest billions in such a mass media for their own purposes and intents - to keep workers confused, fearful and divided - as disunity and fear are close allies of the employing class; When working people realise that the employing class do these things because THEIR OWN greatest fear is to see the working class awake and to be made aware of our plight and who are no longer apathetic but active and prepared for class struggle. Workers who will commit ourselves. Workers who will prepare together to organise, to unite ourselves for the common goal of liberation.

When we uproot and abolish the structures of hierarchy in this capitalist, monarchist United Kingdom, we will begin to create circumstances for ourselves that will enable us to create the society that will benefit and enrich our own lives, we will set an example and bring hope and inspiration to many enslaved working people across the world. The countries in South America have got a headstart on us, it is now time for this country, a country symbolic of the 'developed' world, to show workers in other developed countries what can be done to improve our lot and set an example by abolishing slavery, by eradicating the sub-citizenship status which working people have had forced upon them. This is when we will have cause to celebrate.
- Brad Evans

Organise! replies:

Thanks very much for this letter. In addition to the points you make, the 1807 Slave Trade Act didn’t even stop the trans-Atlantic trade, never mind that slavery in the British West Indies was still legal until 1838, since even the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act only gave partial freedom to begin with, and the 1807 Act did not prohibit trade within the Caribbean colonies, only from Africa. Legal slavery continued well into the 1880’s in Spanish Cuba and Portuguese Brazil, and in Africa continued into the 20th century under British empire rule in Nigeria and Gambia and until the late 1920s in Sierra Leone, for example. In 1921, in reply to the governor of Sierra Leone, Winston Churchill argued that abolition of slavery there would not be beneficial to the country's economy! Then there is evidence of continued smuggling of slaves across the Caribbean and South American coast and import into the Brisith Colonies using slave ships under foreign flags that had been fitted out in London and Liverpool. Naval photographs in the National Archive show slave ships (with slaves on board) being intercepted in Africa decades after the supposed end of the transatlantic trade. So much for the proud idea of British abolition being 200 years old, then.

Plus, in the 1830s, British slave owners (who included some abolitionists!) many who never even lived in the Caribbean, were compensated for each slave they freed to the total tune of 20 million pounds. This money they then used to build the cotton mills, plus gasworks for night working, canals and railways to move the cotton away from the ports, and banks they ran to invest in these ventures. These made life a misery for thousands of British working class women, children and men after the official end of the Trade, still using slave-grown cotton from America! Back-breaking and fatal indentured labour continued in the British Caribbean plantations under the same masters for years after. African slaves fought hard to win their freedom, and although to be legally free is a very big deal, we do have to ask as you have done - to what extent did the exploitation ever end?

You refer to recent inspiration from South America. A word of warning here – the key is to get rid of both capitalism and state control. Indigenous people in Venezuela are experiencing the controlling nature of state leaders like Chavez who is continuing to give their lands over to companies like Anglo-American (Tarmac in UK). Leaders of authoritarian left parties like Chavez certainly do not like the idea of peoples’ autonomy. This situation is being highlighted by our Venezuelan anarchist friends in the CRA.
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