The World is so full of a number of things;
I think we should all be as happy as kings.
We tend to look back on previous centuries with a sense of nostalgia. We don’t want to believe that the lives people lived in those days were as heavily shadowed by the sense of impending evil as ours are now. In 1885, when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the above verse for his children’s book of poetry, A Child’s Garden of Verses, there were unjust wars of aggression being fought, nearly as much as now.
Let’s see, there was war in the Khartoum in the Sudan. Great Britain declared Bechuana Land a protectorate that year. She did want to protect her interests in that country, though it is highly debatable whether her protection did the people of that land any good at all. Africa still reels from the injustices of the apartheid established then.
The Battle of Batoche was fought that year, by the French Canadians who were rebelling against Canadian rule. I don’t recall mention of that battle in the U.S. history books, when I went to school. However, the French Canadians truly did want their independence from a government many of them believed had become too intrusive.
German Chancellor Bismark took possession of Togoland. My goodness — all those place names that we have forgotten, because maps have changed so much. Togoland was a blip on the northern shore of the Gulf of Guinea.
The U.S. ended her Reciprocity and Fishery agreements with Canada that year, proof that our relationship with that country has not always been easy.
On December 17, France declared Madagascar a protectorate. Again, France’s interests were more important than were the interests of the people living in that country she so blithely took over.
By 1885, we were well into the industrial revolution — changing from a society that was largely agrarian, where most people owned or rented farms and gardens, to one oriented to support of large concentrated populations in cities. Family farms, largely due to the prevailing bank management practices, began to collapse and people moved in masses to the cities in hope of finding work. This left large tracts of land open for the industrial farms to take over food production in this country. There was also a massive influx of people from Europe, hoping for a better life in the United States. The influx of people swelling the populations in our cities, peaked during the late eighteen hundreds.
For the factory owners and heads of corporations, it was an influx of potential slave labor. Except, unlike the Southern plantation owners, the factory owner was under no obligation to keep his workers healthy, or even alive. After all, the factory owner had not gone to the expense of having to pay someone else for his workers. His workers came to him gratis, by the dozens and hundreds, every day. He was under no compunction to pay them more than just enough to keep them alive. He could get away with paying wages that were just high enough to keep men, women and children coming back — and if his workers were severely injured, or even died, either because of dangerous conditions on the job, or because of near-starvation and filthy living conditions at home, it didn’t matter because there were always more people to keep his machines running. The slaves in the South had one thing going for them that the factory workers in the North did not have, and that was the financial investment that their owners had made in them. While life as a slave was never enviable, the slave owner understood that it was to his advantage to keep his slaves reasonably healthy. After all, he had made a fairly sizable financial investment in them, when he bought them.
Corporate lawyers claimed that factory workers were not really slaves, because they didn’t have to work for those companies. After all, the workers were free to choose to starve and live in the same squalor, while working at another factory.
In 1885 the battles between the unions and the corporate owners began to build up. It was those hard-fought battles that gave us the much vaunted forty hour work week and raised the concept of the living wage — a single pay check being enough to keep a husband, wife and two children comfortably fed, clothed and housed. This is the concept that people forget when they denigrate women working outside the home. We live in a world now, where women cannot afford not to work for wages. The housing bubble of the late Twentieth Century, made mince-meat of the concept of the living wage. Whether young families attempted to buy their homes, or rent, costs were so high that two incomes were needed to keep their families housed.
Whether our unions came to be as corrupt as corporate apologists would like to say they did, is a moot point. They no longer exist. The forty hour work week, which our grandparents and great grandparents fought so hard to win, has been disappearing. Those of us who have jobs can expect to work sixty to eighty and more hours every week. And the concept of a living wage is one many of us only dream about. Too many people are working seven days a week at two, or even three jobs, just to keep a roof over their heads.
Then, as now, it wasn’t a bad time to be alive, if you had the spirit and enough cash to do it well. However, the die was cast. The corporate take-over of our world had its birth during the late eighteen hundreds. People with insight and imagination could see what was coming long before it happened.
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