I originally wrote this after the Scottish election in 2016 and before the horror of the EU referendum under the title Return of the Slave Trade, but it seems apposite to reprise it today because, in the midst of all the demonstrations about the slave trade, it’s important to remember that today, in the UK and elsewhere, there are still slaves. It seems the slaves are always with us.
Now the election’s over, we can get back to business as usual on social media, with most postings slagging off the Tories for the latest round of austerity cuts (or proposed cuts), cutting the incomes of the poor and disadvantaged, while, at the same time, boosting the incomes of the deserving plutocrats.
But how can they do that? How can they sleep at night? Have they no conscience? These and other similar questions are often asked, but what surprises me is that the obvious answer to all of these questions is being ignored.
But first, a history lesson. Let’s go back a few hundred years to a time when the European nobles got a bit fed up fighting amongst themselves. Problem was, wars too often resulted in an effective score draw and many of the peasants who formed the bulk of the armies got killed. This meant that there weren’t enough left to tend the animals and grow the crops used to feed the plutocrats of the day. Jolly inconvenient, eh, what! To solve the problem, they started looking further afield for resources for their battles and to look after their animals and fields and that’s when they discovered Africa.
In Africa, they found a land populated by strange animals you didn’t see in Europe, lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes and many more. But best of all was an animal that looked almost like a human. It stood on two legs, just like a human. It had opposable thumbs, just like a human. It could use simple tools, just like a human. But best of all, they discovered it was able to look after crops and animals and could be used to replace the peasants with no need to pay them beyond a few drinks of water and the odd bowl of gruel. But they weren’t really human. I mean, they didn’t wear proper clothes and they couldn’t even speak a single European language.
That was the viewpoint of the early European invaders. The slave trade developed partly because they thought they were dealing with some sort of sub-human species, so treating them like animals was quite acceptable, because they were animals. Europeans considered Africans were put on the world to provide a means of generating money and food for real (i.e. rich) people. This was an attitude that persisted right up to the middle of the last century and, in some places, still exists today. Even many of those who campaigned to end the slave trade did so on the same basis as we would today campaign to improve the conditions of pigs or chickens.
Now, of course, in most developed countries, people views have changed and such thinking is not considered appropriate. People are no longer identified by their race or colour. But it is in human nature to seek to differentiate. There has to be an us and a them. So how are people differentiated today? The answer is, of course, money. There are those who have lots and those who don’t.
So what’s this got to do with the slave trade, I hear you say. Well, while 17th century Europeans thought Africans were inferior because of their colour, 21st century rich toffs think poor people are inferior because of their poverty. They believe superior people will find a way to become rich and only inferior people will remain poor because they’ve not got the mental capability to become rich.
Do rich people think poor people are some sort of sub-human species? A step up from cattle, pigs and sheep, perhaps, but still only fit for tending crops and looking after animals (or whatever the 21st century equivalents are). Might that explain why Tories don’t seem to be overly concerned about the impact of the cuts on poor people? After all, if you decided to (e.g.) reduce the amount of grazing your cattle have, you might be worried if it impacted the profit to be made, but you wouldn’t be overly worried about the impact on the cattle’s quality of life.
There are still a few quite significant differences between poor people and animals. Two of the more significant are poor people can vote, animals can’t and poor people have human rights, animals don’t. Until this changes, there is always the danger that some poor people might get really annoyed about something and prevent the plans of rich people going ahead. However, alive to the danger, we’ve seen the Tory government take the first steps to resolve these two problems by firstly changing the voter registration system, resulting in large numbers of poor people losing the right to vote; and secondly, proposing to replace European Human Rights with a British version, which will undoubtedly provide fewer rights than the European one. And who will bet against this being only the start of a significant program to remove even more rights from poor people.
But surely that can’t be right, I hear you say. Surely our government doesn’t really think of the bulk of the population as some lower form of being. Well, just think of what has happened since the Tories (effectively) took power in 2010. Their rhetoric has been to demonise the unemployed (shirkers don’t contribute to the wealth of rich people) and to describe the disabled as a drain on society (many of them don’t contribute to the wealth of rich people). Their actions have added to the misery of the poor and disabled by cutting ESA, introducing the bedroom tax (though the fact that this was first introduced by Labour is a timely reminder that not all rich people are in the Tory party) and Work Capability Assessments, and freezing other benefits or making them much more difficult to claim. We’ve also got zero hours contracts, poverty wages and student debt. All actions which further disadvantage the already disadvantaged. Would normal human beings do that to fellow humans; to people they considered as their equals? I think not.
All the actions of the government point to the inescapable conclusion that rich people (remember the government are nearly all rich people) consider themselves a higher class of being and, by inference, consider the poor as a lower class who don’t deserve the same level of consideration. Who then can argue that poor people are not the slaves of the 21st century?