Slate Quarry Lockouts, the Communards of Paris, the Trail of Tears and News International Corporation

Penrhyn quarry choir during the strike
Penrhyn quarry choir during the strike
A couple of days ago I visited the Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Llechwedd was formerly the second largest slate quarry in the world, with over 25 miles of tunnels at a depth of up to 900 feet below ground and has now been turned into a heritage attraction. On a tour the excellent young guide answered questions knowledgeably and with enthusiasm. I asked him after he mentioned the coming of the Trades Union to the quarry if it had been a difficult process like at Dinorwig and Penrhyn Quarries where there had been long lockouts by the owners with the intention of resisting unionisation – a subject I am currently researching.

No traitors in this house!
No traitors in this house! Window sign in Bethesda in houses where strikers refused to go back
It turned out Llechwedd too had experienced intransigence and opposition resulting in a lockout for some months. The lockout at Dinorwig lasted two years and that at Penrhyn in 1903 even longer. Pause to consider; these men and boys were not being greedy, they worked in hard, dangerous, poorly paid conditions and out of meagre wages they bought their own tools, candles and blasting powder. They wanted safer conditions and a fair wage.

In the summer of 1870, the French Government drew their country into a war with Prussia but the French were surrounded and defeated. In Paris however, the city’s masses had organized a National Guard and despite shortage of food, money was pooled to purchase cannons. In this move the wealthy saw a danger to themselves, no less than that posed by the Prussians. Their fear was that the masses were aroused to a revolutionary fervour and their guns could be swung toward the bourgeoisie (Government and middle classes) within the walls as easily as against the foe without.

On 18 March 1870 the Paris Commune was proclaimed. The Government withdrew with its troops to Versailles. Two months later, they attacked the Communards as they had become known, aided by Prussian officers, in May 1970 and butchered everyone. The Communards, worn and exhausted, were falling back before an advance that spared neither woman nor child. Thousands were killed where they stood; the old and sick were herded to open places to be shot and each detachment of the maddened Versailles troops was an executioner’s gang, summarily killing every suspected sympathizer. The Commune was being drowned in its own blood. In that one week 40,000 workers were slaughtered and the wealthy, many of whom had now returned, stood on the curbs to watch the ghastly parade and congratulate themselves on their victory.

Trail of Tears
The Trail of Tears
Other examples of man’s greed resulting in inhumanity to fellow-man are numerous. In 1838 and 1839, as part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its fertile and productive lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee people called this journey the “Trail of Tears,” because of its devastating effects. The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march. Over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died. All because the white man wanted their rich productive lands.

The events in these three countries have two common themes. They all affected communities that were poor, seeking to better themselves, were committed to each other and had no means of defending themselves. The second theme was they were all exploited and crushed by powerful wealthy people without morality whose greed was without bounds.

News International Corporation is in exactly the same mould. They are ruthless, they crush anyone who opposes them and all for the aim of making more money at any cost. Unsurprisingly, they have a non-union policy. They committed a speechlessly cynical act yesterday in closing the News of the World, sacking their 200 employees – men and women with families, mortgages and now, unemployment. All to detract from their plans to take full control of BSkyB and enlarge the Murdoch empire. Well, the Bible says ‘What you sew, you reap’ – and for my atheist friends ‘Chickens come home to roost!’. I hope it happens sooner rather than later.