POLITICS ACROSS THE POND—Slavery is not modern, but it is unfortunately still with us and uncomfortably close to home. The ruthless exploitation of workers in the garment industry in Leicester who are being paid illegal wages of only £3-4 per hour is ending once and for all, writes a member of the British Parliament, Andrew Bridgen.
The Black Lives Matter campaign has re-invoked the specters of slavery and racial prejudice, demons that were thought to have been exorcised long ago in the minds of a large number of the white majority of my country. A noble cause, however, was quickly hijacked by political extremists and, as a result, is losing the support of the law-abiding majority and the huge open groundswell of anti-racist sentiment.
Thinking about slavery is not a bad thing, but can lead to an uncomfortable feeling not of “white privilege,” but the all-pervading angst of “white guilt” in the consciousness of many. In contrast, many political commentators, particularly on the left, have retreated into their comfort zone of virtue-signaling.
All this has led to the ludicrous situation where some individuals, who have never owned slaves, are offering to pay reparations to others who have never been slaves.
Let us examine the facts. The word SLAVE comes from the old French word “enslave” and is the name given to the people who now reside in much of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, namely the Slavs. The Slavs were enslaved throughout history in turn by the Greeks starting in 1600 BC, followed by the Romans, Vikings and Germanic tribes and later by the Ottomans until the early 20th century.
As late as 1908 female Slavs were still being sold within the Ottoman empire. It is estimated that about 3.5 to 4 million Slavs were enslaved in total until the practice was finally stamped out just over 100 years ago. The people of Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia,The Czech Republic, and others retained their title as the Slavic nations.
Anti-Slavism, also known as Slavophobia, is a form of racism and refers to various negative attitudes towards the Slavic peoples. This was exhibited most blatantly during World War II when Nazi Germany declared the Slavs as “sub-human” and set-about the extermination of the majority of the Slavic peoples alongside the Jews in their death camps
Although slavery is illegal throughout the world today, it was only made a criminal act in Mauritania in 2007. The Portuguese, Dutch, French, Spanish, British, and several West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade especially from the 17th Century. It is estimated that between 11-12 Million black Africans had to endure this inhuman, degrading, and life-threatening servitude.
The Republic of Ragusa was the first in Europe to ban slavery in 1400. In modern times, this was followed by Norway-Sweden in 1802. In 1807 the British Parliament outlawed the British trans-Atlantic slave trade by passing the Slave Trade Act. In 1833 another Act of Parliament further propagated the abolition of slavery in most British colonies, freeing almost 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa, and a small number in Canada. The Royal Navy also established the West African squadron to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of West Africa. Operating between 1808 and 1867, the squadron captured around 1600 slave ships and freed over 150,000 Africans.
In the US, the newly sovereign State of Vermont, an independent Republic after the American Revolution, had banned slavery in 1777 much to their credit. In some other States, the practice of slavery ended only after years of advocacy and after the re-established Union had fought a brutal civil war. As the newly freed slaves would soon discover, there was, however, a vast difference between freedom and equality, and this difference would not be addressed by new legislation until 1964 with The Civil Rights Act in the US and the 1965 Race Relations Act in the UK.
So that was the end of slavery, right? Well, not really. Reports show that there are about 40 million of our fellow human beings suffering from the ignominy of slavery today.
Although much of modern slavery continues in Africa and is executed through forced labor, some of it is much closer to home.
In January I raised in Parliament the issue of modern slavery and the plight of what I believe is about 10,000 people working in the garment industry in Leicester, being paid illegal wages of only £3-4 per hour.
These people are forced to live a miserable existence in massively overcrowded housing and inhumane working hours, and in conditions that Charles Dickens would find all too familiar. The “workers” are predominantly originally from the Indian sub-continent, and some are also, interestingly, Slavs.
The center of Leicester is only 17 miles from the leafy Leicestershire village where I am fortunate to have my home and from where I am writing this article now; but in reality, we are worlds apart. My constituency does not border the City of Leicester and my constituents are of a very different demographic to their nearby urban cousins, who live in what is the most racially diverse city in the UK.
How can this abuse of mainly ethnic minorities happen anywhere in the UK today? How can this abuse happen in the only city in the UK where the minorities make up 50% of the population? The answer is the systemic failure of local agencies and elected political leaders to act and to speak out.
I am delighted that Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has given a personal commitment to use the full force of the law and all the powers of the State to stamp out these illegal and inhuman practices.
Slavery is not modern, but it is unfortunately still with us and uncomfortably close to home. This ruthless exploitation of workers and the appalling conditions they are forced to endure is a stain not only on this great city but also on our national conscience. Leicester and the people of Leicester deserve much better than this.
I will continue to work with the Home Secretary Priti Patel, national enforcement, and other national agencies. This abomination should end once and for all, and if the Black Lives Matter supporters would like to campaign with me on this, they would be very welcome.
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