Trouble at the Mill

Channel 4 viewers may have caught the gritty drama “The Mill” in recent weeks. Apparently it is based on accounts and records held by the Quarry Mill (now owned by the National Trust) of its workers, although one assumes its inevitably been spiced up for TV somewhat. I mean look at the mess on BBC “the White Queen” which is less historical drama and more mediaeval fantasy (i.e. about as historically accurate as Braveheart).

But I digress, the one thing “The Mill” does get right, is its portrayal of the sorts of working conditions many toiled under in the 1830’s, a time when even children were expected to put in over 12 hours a day worth of back breaking and often highly dangerous labour. And even adult workers faced working long hours for starvation wages. Many workers lived (when not working) in slum like conditions, two families to a room sort of thing. The series also shows who workers began to unite and get organised and lobby to see things changed, and of course the resistance of the upper classes to such changes.

Indeed the arguments against the Factory Acts or the 10 hour rule (with management saying, oh what’s wrong with a child working for 12 hrs? why they’ll be so fit and healthy after just 10, they’ll go off and do another night job with someone else and then never get any school or rest! :crazy:) sounds remarkably similar to the sort of spin that comes out these days, such as when, for example, its suggested the Starbucks & Amazon’s of this world actually pay some tax. Or that the rich pay a bit more (even just a one off payment from the $21 trillion cash pile they’ve stashed away). We’re led to believe that they will abandon their plush multi-million pound houses and billion pound a year turn-over businesses and flee abroad…and if you believe that then you probably also believe in this big jolly guy dressed in in red.

But going back to the Mill. The 1800’s wasn’t just a period which gave us the Industrial revolution, railways, industry, the labour movement and the middle classes but also it was the era that communism began to evolve. And when I say communism, I’m not talking about what comes out of David Miliband’s mouth (if he was around in 1830 he won’t have even been allowed to join a labour union on grounds of being too posh and right wing! ;D) but the Karl Marx (who was living in England at the time) “workers of the world unite” variety. Never mind taxing the rich a little bit, no take away everything they’ve got and put them on a train to Siberia sort of stuff.

Such notions (a belief that capitalism is institutionally corrupt and that democracy will always work in favour of those who can afford to buy elections) can strike the modern person, even those who are left wing leaning, as being a tad extreme. But seen through the prism of an oppressed worker in a British cotton mill or a downtrodden peasant farmer of the 1800’s or 1900’s it made perfect sense. It is really no big surprise that Russia was the first country in the world to go communist. The term “serf” for the working class of Russia has entered the dictionary as a word to describe extremes of social oppression.

Leaving Cert and A-level history papers often ask the question “why did Russia become communist?”. I’m tempted to reply “like Dah!”. Perhaps the real question is “why didn’t Britain become communist?”

And I would reply that what prevented the communist root taking seed in the UK was the actions of progressive reformers and politicians who sought to find a middle ground. Thanks to people such as Robert Peel, John Russell, Keir Hardie, Lloyd George, Gladstone and Attlee, gradually laws were brought in that protected workers rights, recognised trade unions, improved workers pay and living conditions (which ultimately led to the creation of what we now call the middle class), while at the same time effectively saving the capitalists from they’re greedy selves.

The rich were also made to first pay some tax (traditionally since feudal times the upper classes have never been expected to pay much, that’s the job of the workers and peasants!) but gradually more and more tax, in order to help meet the costs of an expanding welfare state.

Now the problem of course is that since Thatcher there’s been a gradual erosion of these hard won laws and freedoms. I mean where not far off the situation in the 1800’s when strikes were practically illegal…and of course as a consequence back then in lieu of a strike disgruntled workers often sabotaged production or burnt down their factory / bosses house….often with him still in it! (how long before this carry on happens again?).

Also in the UK, US and other Western countries the proportion of taxes paid by the top 1% peaked in the 1970’s, even thought since then many have seen their incomes skyrocket. Indeed many more of the very top earners pay no tax at all, as compared to previous generations.

And of course the Tories under Cameron have accelerated these trends, by cutting away yet more regulations, slashing benefits, tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and increasingly the privatisation of public services like the Royal Mail, NHS, Prisons and policing.

And there are some, notably libertarians who say we should go even further, getting rid of most if not all laws and taxes.

My response to that is to suggest they (and the Tories) read a history book. Because nine times out of ten you’ll find there was a perfectly good reason for said regulation being put in place or that social benefit being offered and thus good reasons to maintain it. Its equivalent to arguing that a building which hasn’t burnt down for decades doesn’t need a fire escape anymore, even though the last time it did catch fire, decades ago, the records show that everyone inside was burnt to a crisp.

In short, we tried unregulated turbo capitalism (then known as Lassie-faire) back in the Georgian & Victorian era and it didn’t work out so well. As anyone whose ever even read a Charles Dickens novel will know, Lassie-faire certainly did allow a small number of very greedy people to acquire (and then ultimately squander) vast fortunes, but it also led to enormous hardship and poverty for the majority (back then it was not unusual to have to step over dead bodies on the streets of London), actual famines within the UK (in Ireland and Scotland), violent crime rates that would make Baghdad look safe (back then the better off needed armed body guards or have a pistol handy whenever they went out and about) and nearly led to a communist revolution. Thus trying again is not recommended.

As for “The Mill” I’m still waiting for someone in it to say that line “there’s trouble at ‘t Mill” so they can do the Monty Python sketch, although I presume in this case the guys in red who burst in will be a bunch of Trade Unionists ;b.

Telly Addicts

As I’ve no TV at home, I’ve been catching up on my TV in Ireland. Saw a few interesting programs. I finally got to saw the end of the series “Pillars of the Earth”. While I wasn’t too keen on the Scooby Doo style ending to the series (let’s see who this Bishop Waleran really is.…why it’s the old man from scene 34!) I did like how they portrayed the ad-hoc nature of how things were built in those days. The Engineers and builders of the era literally made up the design of structures as they went along. The roof starts to crack due to heavy loading? Used a ribbed vault, and/or pointed arches (all based on the mathematics invented by the Ancient Greeks). The wind load in a storm causes more cracks? Flying buttresses get installed. It does make you realise that when you look at a historic building how much effort, both intellectual, artistic and physical brute force, went into building these things.

Given that it could take generations of builders to finish a cathedral or castle it also shows you how forward thinking people were back then. In order to meet our future energy needs for example there are a whole host of things we should be building right now, arrays of wind/wave/solar energy systems, deep underground repositories for spent nuclear fuel, new mines to extract rare Earth metals (so we don’t have to rely solely on China for them), new recycling facilities, large scale tree farming of hard wood trees (absorb more carbon dioxide & provides excellent building materials), building a HVDC network or a hydrogen distribution network, I could go on all day. But no, none of this is being built because if you try to get any of the above approved and you get questions about cost (and how costly will it be when the lights go out?), or it will spoil the view…etc. you have to conclude that are not as forward thinking as people in the middle ages. I also liked all those olde English Trade names, Tom Builder was a builder, the Butcher was called Mr Butcher, Mr Potter made pots….I don’t want to know what the Crapper’s, Nutter’s, Hoare’s or Cockers did!

Another interesting programme was strangely enough Upstairs/downstairs. Wha? Well I thought it was interesting in that they hinted at what I always assumed was a taboo subject in Britain – the “coup” of 1936. I don’t know if you, like me, have ever been entirely satisfied with the explanation for the resignation of King Edward VIII, i.e that the government blocked his marriage to an American Divorcee. While yes, I’m sure images of some ghastly American on the throne in the future (King Homer Simpson? Queen Sarah Palin?) probably filled the establishment at the time with dread, I think this was pretty minor compared to the concerns of them about the new King’s (and his future wife’s) overt closeness to certain goose stepping foreigners. In 1936 it was becoming clear (reoccupation of the Rhineland, invasion of Ethiopia, Spanish civil war) that the fascist regimes would probably have to be confronted in some way in the future, and it wouldn’t do for the UK to have a King friendly with the Gerry’s while they’re bombing the shite out of us (especially after the fiasco at the start of the 1st world war when the official name of the Royal family was still Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, they changed it to “Windsor” during the war….thought Mark Thomas wants it changed now to “lower Slough”).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Saxe-Coburg_and_Gotha

http://www.sloughobserver.co.uk/news/roundup/articles/2009/05/29/38841-will-windsor-soon-become-lower-slough/

While the excuse may well have been the wedding to a divorcee, I suspect that the real reason for the pressure on the King to resign was the concern about his politics. In essence it wasn’t so much an abdication but more of a coup, but a very British coup (“You’re Highness, you would mind doing us this small favour old chappy?…. Could you be so kind as to resign at once and fuck off to France, as we can’t have a goose stepping b@$t@rd on the throne at the same time we’re fighting the chap’s in Europe, now… can we?….And while I hate to impose on you, old fellow, but if you aren’t a good sport on this…I’m afraid I shall have to ask some of my Eton chums from GCHQ to push down some stairs….so if you’d be so kind, you’re majesty, what! What!”).

For comedy, I watched Fox news or Sky news. Well, its funny so long as you don’t take anything they say seriously, i.e treat it like people did Pravda in its day (the soviet newspaper called “truth” even thought it was well known for being essential absent of any). My favourite quote? They talked at one point of bringing back fox hunting “…due to a spate of fox attacks on people in recent years….” Wha?…..far as I’m aware there’s only been one confirmed case of a fox attack against a person in the last few decades, that being the juvenile fox that got into a kids bedroom last year (and it’s scratching the kid was likely accidental or an instinct of self defence). One “attack” hardly constitutes a “spate” of attacks.

There are plenty of reasons to hunt foxes, lets not start inventing them. And something tells me letting the horse & hound’s loose in the middle of a city centre (to go after urban foxes) would be a tad impractical (the Neds will be inventing a new sport of “toff hunting” chasing after the toffs in they’re Honda Civics with their Pit Bull terriers in tow). Personally, my objection to fox hunting is on the basis of efficiency: why does it take 50 dogs and twenty people on horses to do a job, that can be done equally as well by 2 dogs and a guy with a gun and a flash light? There is a recession on you know! Furthermore, the only reason why foxes are a problem is because the natural predators of foxes (birds of prey, lynx) have been eliminated and there is a surplus of prey species for them to feed on (birds, rabbits, voles, rats, mice, etc.) largely because of our elimination of predators, land use choices and in cities plenty of food waste for them to scavenge. People screwing around with the environment inevitably creates problems – go ask the Aussie’s or Kiwi’s. For example city centre litter means we now also have a problem in most cities with Seagulls…of course it used to be the same thing but with Starlings, city authorities launched a war on starlings…and the pigeons took over…. We got rid of the pigeons….and the seagulls took over! What next? We get rid of the Seagulls and have golden Eagles swooping down and lifting kids out of they’re prams? Get rid of the foxes and will we be overrun with rats? Better to deal with the source of the problem, i.e excessive litter and a lack of recycling of waste, then worry about the foxes.

Then there was 4 rooms, the Tarantino film that got all those bad reviews. Okay, it wasn’t a great film, but it certainly wasn’t a bad film. Don’t believe what you hear in the reviews. For example the latest Tarantino/Rodriquez outing, Machete, got also pretty rotten reviews. I think what the critics didn’t realise is it’s supposed to be a deliberate effort to imitate a bad 80’s B movie. Its sort of a case of rather than a film being good despite being so cheesy, its good, because its so cheesy & full of plot holes.

There was a documentary on Bill Hicks, some excellent quotes from him:

He was heckled by this guy after a joke he made about Flag burning “…Guy said to me: My daddy died fightin the Chinese in Korea to protect that flag….I [Bill] goes, we’ll that’s funny, cos you turn my flag over here and its say’s: Made in China..”

Or “what is it with Christians and crucifix, if Jesus comes back you guys are all screwed, cos I reckon after what he went thro the last thing he wants to see is a load of damn crosses…..be sort of like going up to Jacqueline Onassis with a little symbol of a sniper rifle around you’re neck…”

“These guys came up to me after a show and said “we’re Christians and we don’t like what you’ve been sayin about Christ-ian-aty”…so I goes, well then forgive me!”

Any of ye familiar with the Downfall internet Meme, here Hitler is informed he will have to fly Ryanair for his Christmas Skiing holiday

And here’s the new Ryanair safety video