Antikrieg TV – Ciaran Walsh, a storyteller and a radical historian. He is performing “Captain Swing”
“Captain Swing” was the name appended to several threatening letters during the rural English Swing Riots of 1830, when labourers rioted over the introduction of new threshing machines and the loss of their livelihoods. Captain Swing was described as a hard-working tenant farmer driven to destitution and despair by social and political change in the early nineteenth century.
Popular protests by farm workers occurred across a wide swath of agricultural England, from Sussex in the south to Kent in the east, and they had a number of structural causes. The main targets for protesting crowds were landowners/landlords, whose threshing machines they destroyed or dismantled, and whom they petitioned for a rise in wages. They also demanded contributions of food, money, beer, or all three from their victims. Often they sought to enlist local parish officials and occasionally magistrates to raise levels of poor relief as well. Throughout England, 644 rioters were imprisoned, 505 transported to Australia, and 19 were executed.
The protests were notable for their discipline and the customary protocols favoured by the crowds, characteristics which were very much part of the tradition of popular protest going back to the eighteenth century. The structural reasons for the Swing ‘riots’ (or risings) are relatively straightforward: underemployment, low wages, low levels of relief, and competition for winter employment from machinery. However, the nature of the events of 1830 suggest that they may demand just as subtle an interpretation as the events of the previous century.
Reform was in the air. Many protestors found sympathy in middle-class radicals who encouraged protesters to spread far from their original sources. Further, early sentences by magistrates against the rioters, even those who destroyed threshing machines, were fairly light. Thus, riots continued into 1831.
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