Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Changing Nature of Exploitation

Not so far back in history people did things differently, much differently. There was a real community spirit here in England, a spirit which appears to have been swept away by mindless consumerism, snobbery and apathy.

Last night I went to a local history lecture which focused on a local family who had brought much wealth to the area through exploitation of people, people they sent down mines, people they had working in foundries, people in other dangerous areas of industry. But there was something different about this family, something of moral fibre that today's rich people lack.

The founder of the company fathered three children, three of them boys. Before any of the boys took up roles within the company after completing their education he made them do a stint down the coal mines so they could see exactly what conditions the employees had to work in. Much to the father's horror, one of the sons, a keen sportsman who was destined to play cricket for the county, contracted pneumonia while working down the mine and he passes away aged 20.

So much was the father's grief that he passed away himself just a few months later, devastated by his loss, and feeling responsible for it. His remaining offspring learnt a valuable lesson from this experience and set about making improvements in the local area. I forget the exact quote but one of the daughters said something along the lines luxuries are bound up by the hard labours of the men in this community.

One of the sons went to the mine at the end of one shift and stopped ten men before they went home. He gave them ten pounds each (which was a lot of money back then), a return train ticket to London, and ordered them to go as they were, immediately. The idea behind this was so that people in the city could learn exactly what these men did in the North of England and in Wales, to bring them essential coal. The miners got to stay in luxurious accommodation and were cleaned up ready for their return.

Around this time the family gave away a piece of land to the borough, land that today is worth millions of pounds, so a park and municipal golf course could be built. They also gave away one of their luxurious homes, which was turned into a school. Another school was also funded by one of the daughters as well as Britain's first mother and child clinic. The generosity of the family also extended to the local hospital where new wards were built.

The older son was shocked by the living conditions families had to endure in one part of the town and so he invested, what would be over 3 million pounds in today's money, in the redevelopment of the area, bringing better living conditions for workers.

There were testimonies from families who said that these people were very good to work for and treated all employees well though they would suffer no fools.

In contrast, today's capitalists in this region put nothing back into the community. All they do is drain resources and avoid taxes. I've always been slightly left wing in my political views but last night's lecture taught me something I should have known long ago: we really do need to learn from the past.

No comments: