AUGUST 2017

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FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

REPETITON

I do not believe that history repeats itself. That does not state the case strongly enough. I believe that history is running on an endless loop. Allow me to show you just one example, and see if the following situation sounds familiar. An economic boom has busted, and the wealthy few at the top are bemoaning their pinched economics, brought on by yet another boom and bust economic cycle - in large part of their own making. The top five percent of the population control most of the nation’s wealth, and are using fear mongering to reduce the government to impotence. It could be the spring of 1970. Or it could be the summer of 1819.
That year, the northern English midlands city of Manchester was well on its way to becoming “…the first and greatest industrial city in the world.” But, over the previous three short years the weavers, spinners and loom operators that made the city great, the hi-technicians of their day, had seen their wages drop by 2/3rds. Alexis de Tocqueville saw that “In Manchester civilized man is turned back almost into a savage.”
A social commentator described how “twelve or sixteen persons” were living in single room apartments.   One half of all children died before the age of five.
Writer Angus Reach described the city for the Morning Chronicle as “…smoky brown streets all round long piles of warehouses…great grimy mills, the leviathans of ugly architecture….There are swarms of mechanics and artisans…undersized, sallow-looking men…factory girls somewhat stunted and paled… with dingy dresses and dark shawls…” Another observer wrote in a private letter, “Nothing but ruin and starvation stare one in the face…the state of this district is truly dreadful”. This was Manchester in the summer of 1819; simmering with discontent.
But at the core of this darkness was the Manchester Observer, called by Henry Hunt, “the only newspaper…fairly and honestly devoted to such reform as would give the people their whole rights.” In March of 1819, the newspaper began calling for a public rally to support the election of a sympathetic member of parliament; that man would be, in all probability, Henry Hunt.
The government’s response was to ban the rally. But so strong was the public support for change that the newspaper's leadership ignored the ban and set the date for the Rally as August 16th. In doing so the Observer insisted again that the rally was to support, “the most speedy and effectual mode of obtaining Radical reform in the Common House of Parliament”.
James Wroe, editor of the Observer, acting as a reporter, described the day for his newspaper. “The morning of the 16th was hailed with exultation by the many thousands…At an early period numbers came pressing in from various and distant parts of the country…it is supposed that no less than 150,000 people were congregated in the area near St. Peter's Church.” The number may have been an enthusiastic over estimation, but in the area known as St. Peter’s Field, in the very center of Manchester, perhaps 80,000 citizens had gathered to peacefully request help from their government.
Continued Mr. Wroe; “Mr. Hunt ascended (the platform)…about half-past one o'clock, and … proceeded to address the immense multitude, recommending peace and order…Whilst thus engaged…we were surprised, though not alarmed, at perceiving a column of infantry take possession of an opening in the assembly”.
In fact they were also locals, pressed into service as “special constables”. At about 1:40 p.m. they formed a corridor within the crowd, allowing for access to the central platform. It seemed the authorities were intent  upon arresting the speakers. Continued Mr. Wroe; “Our fears were raised to horror, by the appearance of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry, who came galloping into the area, and proceeded to form in line ready for action; nor were they long delayed from their hellish purpose…the bugle sounded the charge…Men, women, and children, without distinction of age or sex became the victims of these monsters.”
The sixty members of the cavalry unit were likewise locals, led by a local factory owner. They were no better trained than the Ohio National Guard troopers who opened fire on unarmed civilians 160 years later at Kent State. And in both cases, in 1970 and in 1819, the attack dispersed the crowds inside of fifteen minutes. But in both cases it also left behind dead; five in Ohio, and in Manchester at least 18 dead, including an infant, knocked from his mother’s arms by a cavalryman blocks away, before the confrontation had even occurred.
In 1819 some 650 were wounded, trampled by the horses or cut down by the cavalry sabers. It is important to note that there were no reports of crushing by the crowd, no stampede to escape the assault, supporting eyewitnesses who emphasized how well behaved the crowd had been.  All the violence had been perpetrated by the representatives of law and order.
John Lees, who had served at the Battle of Waterloo, and had received two saber head wounds at the demonstration on St. Peter’ Field, told a friend, “"At Waterloo, there was man to man. But here it was downright murder.” John Lees died of his wounds on September 7, 1819. After that the demonstration aquired the name of “Peterloo”.
It was after Mr. Hunt and the other organizers had been arrested, after the cavalry charge, that rioting broke out in some areas of Manchester and surrounding villages. But these outbreaks were quickly ended. Hunt was sentenced to two years in prison for speaking at the meeting, and he later told his supporters, “I have done everything in my power to maintain, uphold, and secure your rights, but I have failed upon this occasion.” James Wroe was also sent to prison for a year and fined 100 pounds for writing about it. And for a time it seemed that the only effect of “Peterloo” had been a wave of repression that followed.
But by 1835 most of the political reforms sought by the demonstrators at “Peterloo” had been achieved, and the powers that be and the reformers that would be had both moved on to other battlefields, such as the eight hour work day and health insurance. In the long run of human history the only constant is the struggle for human dignity. It is never won, and as long as humans struggle, it is never lost. It just continues in an endless loop.
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