Let us go back in time, back to before Brexit began, before the flash laziness of George and Dave, before the messiah JC, before the Maybot, all the way back to 1346.
We’ll skip the events in between, because time is short.
1346, when the Black Death began its sweep across the world from east to west.
There is consensus that it killed fifty percent of any community it arrived within, this plague, this pestilence, Yersinia pestis. Some places it killed more and others less, fifty percent is the savage average.
“…earliest symptom was the appearance of certain swellings in the groin or armpit [unlike its first appearance to the east; bleeding from the nose was the first symptom then], some of which were egg-shaped whilst others were roughly the size of a common apple…” (1)
You’ve heard or read all this before, most likely, and how does it resonate with events now?
This is my query and freedom of movement is the key.
I find strong resonance with the much contested issue of ‘freedom of movement’ within the European Union, that we are currently able to enjoy, or malign, depending on your point of view.
And how do I draw a line between Brexit and the time of the Black Death?
It’s not an attempt to be melodramatic. It is just asking a question to do with resonance.
It’s to do with how the ruling elite in England, in the 14th century, responded to the massive social impact of, and disorder in the aftermath of Yersinia pestis.
They found the labouring classes, the serfs, taking advantage (unfairly, if you were a baron…and had an economic model based on a labour system just above slavery) of the shortage of labour in the country to demand greater rights, greater wages.
King Edward III heard the plaintive cries, of his medieval chumocracy, and responded with a law called the “Statute of Labourers”, passed in 1351.
Here is the extract that catches my eye. That brings to mind Brexit and the desire to crush freedom of movement between the UK and the rest of the EU.
“…seen fit to ordain: that every man and woman of our kingdom of England…shall be bound to serve him who has seen fit so to seek after him; and he shall take only the wages liveries, meed or salary which, were accustomed to be paid…” (2)
There were further measures in the years that followed. This was because not everyone in the elite was able to hold the line. They were guilty of “enticement”. Offering greater wages because they needed the labour on their land and because the labour was happy to go. A little less serfdom cake is an enticing thing.
This “Statute of Labourers” passed in 1351, and other measures, were an attempt to squash freedom of movement of serfs after the great plague.
A move from the elites to suppress wage and conditions through controlling labour movement. To control the lives of the many, by the few, tying them to just one piece of land.
It failed, The Peasants’ Revolt, led by Wat Tyler, in 1381, saw Wat dead and it saw the death of the 1351 law and others.
Ordinary people now had a greater share of rights. Even if there was still a long way to travel.
This change (in England) can be traced back to as a key turning point that led centuries later to the abolition of absolute monarchy, on from there to the industrial revolution and finally universal suffrage and parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom.
If you control your labour, its physical liberty to move across a landscape and continent, then you have a greater chance to control the wages and conditions of that labour. In short, if you’re a baron you can grow richer by disenfranchising labour of its rights.
We have travelled a long way from 1351. Let us not start going in reverse, lead by blowhards and bus drivers like Boris, Farage and all the others, backed (allegedly) by tax avoiding billionaires.
Long ago the majority of the population was in serfdom. It took centuries to get to now, when all (with limitations our government has seen fit to ignore, for political reasons, I’d suspect) within the union of nations called the European Union can choose where they live, work, study, love and retire.
I can’t help feeling the billionaires, millionaires, MP’s and the extra rabble rousing chancers who have pushed lies about immigration and made names for themselves railing against freedom of movement, have a similar feudal desire to restrict peoples’/workers’ rights.
It’s not just the workers from across the channel whose freedom of movement the Brexiters want to abolish. It’s yours. It’s your children’s.
It means less rights and less of the democracy cake in your hands.
Democracy is one cake we can all have and eat, but only if we defend it against the people who, like their medieval shadows, want to reduce the rights you own.
And it should be asked if, lacking a natural calamity as cover for their plans, the Brexiters have manufactured one?
These are my links between the Brexiters and the ruling elite of 1351.
1. Page 96, “Why Nations Fail” D. Acemoglu & J. A. Robinson, Profile Books
2. Page 99, “Why Nations Fail” D. Acemoglu & J. A. Robinson, Profile Books