For those who feel trapped and see no way out, imagine what it was like for this young boy seeking hope in the darkest depths of hopelessness. Think about him and remember that hope is enduring. It is what you have when you have nothing else. KD
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century enabled some of the most horrific crimes against humanity.
Ill be fifteen next Friday…the ninth day of December, year eighteen hundred and thirty one. I’ve been a doffer, a sweeper and a strong back in the mill since I can remember. My mother tells my younger brother and I that she cannot recall many days when she has not been at the mill since the day my father died. I can hardly remember him and only dream of the life my mother tells us that they once had and hopes for us again someday. My auntie, who brought my mother to this place so that she could support us, has spent nearly all of her life here, miserable, having lost her only son, my younger cousin, to cholera only a year or so ago. We called him Thumbs since he was six or seven years of age. He lost two fingers and broke all of the others in an accident on the loom. His hands were a mangled mess…all but his thumbs. He is gone now and all day long, my auntie talks mindlessly, scolding herself for bringing this way of life and suffering to him, to her and to the rest of us. I fear for my life here. I fear for all of our lives.
Here in the mill, there is no escape from the cold or the hot of the season. If it is cold in the streets it is cold inside as well. Our fingers are chilled to the bone and it is hard to work, though work we are forced to do in such conditions. There is never one sick soul in the place, but rather, many at a time, and still we all keep working. With no ventilation in the mill, the summer brings a stifling and sweltering heat that pollutes the air inside with a putrid smell and miserable humidity that is a sure cause for disease. Some are so overcome with ills that they simply fall over, pushing themselves, or having been pushed to the point of exhaustion. I always pray that this never happens to me or my mother or brother as surely we would be dismissed without our due wages, never able to return, or if so with our current wage reduced. There are many times that we tell ourselves that we cannot take it one day more…yet, still, we keep working.
Our days are long and tiresome but we are almost never truly aware of the time. I long to go to school but I know it will never happen, as long as the bonds of this place continue to subdue me. I can hardly even imagine what it is like to be outside during the daylight hours. Our days begin long before the owl retires or the cock crows and will end only when the foreman allows it… and then we go home, eat what little our appetite allows and go to bed.
The foreman is such an uncaring man…an evil man, I think. Many times I have seen my brother and others whipped by him for not moving quickly enough…some just for being late. I myself have been whipped a time or two. I used to be angry with my mother and my auntie for not stopping him but I know now that they could do nothing. Without these wages, no matter how meager they are, we would have nothing. So we accept the indignant intolerance of the foreman. At the end of the day, there is little doubt that he will be proud of his own accomplishments, having effortlessly kept us all on task for so many hours…day after day after day. There is even less doubt that any of us, the workers, will have hardly more than a pittance for our efforts or any real sense of accomplishment to show for them. There are so many of us doing so much, so often in this place and yet I feel completely alone.
Some say this will change very soon…that proper men with schooling understand what we are going through here in the mills. I say rubbish. They do not know anything about the mills, the masters who enslave us or the evil foremen who do their dirty work. Those that may actually know some of what happens here, look the other way in fear of knowing more. It is the masters that keep them blind and smiling.
There is very little I can do to make myself or my family feel better about our circumstances except to dream of a better place and a better time. I have hope, but that hope hinges on change. I suppose that it is possible that things could change here and if the masters of the mill would allow this boy to speak his mind, I would surely tell them all of my grievances…all of the things that are wrong about this place.
There are too many young children here doing tasks that can be harmful. Though I speak to deaf ears, the mill is not a place for children. And a worker should be able to expect to be paid an equal wage for the work done without fear of penalty or reprisal. There should be no physical abuse or coercion, or threats of lost wages or lost job allowed. Our hours should not be such to impede or discourage children from going to school and should be sufficient to allow fathers and mothers to do household chores, cook, clean and spend time with families without sacrificing sleep to do so.
Lunch time should last more than a quarter hour and there should be ventilation to allow air to flow freely through the mill during the warmer months and plenty of fresh clean water and breaks for the workers. When it’s cold, there should be wood heaters to warm the mill.
While there are many things I would like to tell the masters of the mills, I suspect that I will never be given the opportunity to do so. Even if given the opportunity, it is likely that I, too, would cower, as I so often see others do here…man, woman and child. It is such a terrible view of life from here in the mill, but I do have a faint glimmer of hope that tells me that one day, we will see changes. Speaking for myself, I hope that it happens in my lifetime, but until such a time…we continue to work.
©Ken Darville 2010