ALL BUT FORGOTTEN: The same day of the Bay View Tragedy at the southern edge of Milwaukee (May 5, 1886), German immigrant workers who were on strike for the eight hour day gathered at the Milwaukee Garden on the north side of the city for a demonstration. They were confronted by the police. “Shots were fired before the crowd finally dispersed. Had any of the bullets found their mark, the German incident at the Milwaukee Garden might have ended as tragically as the Polish march on Bay View.”
(John Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County Historical Society, 1999, p. 155)
(Why did we march and remember on May 1, 2013? “The National Labor Relations Board in Washington, DC recently upheld a regional ruling that found the company (Palermo Pizza) acted lawfully when it terminated 75 workers as part of the immigration audit and did not use the audit as retaliation for the workers’ effort to form a union.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, p. 3B May 9th, 2013 )
(A continuing story – scroll down to get previous postings)
The Tourist’s Tale
We rose early, had a sumptuous English breakfast, and walked the mile into town. The crisp morning air and bright sunlight gave life to our step. The well dressed joyful children heading for school were inspiring.
The Todmorden Open Market
Our first stop was the very busy open market. I talked to a man selling fresh fish from the western seacoast. He was very proud of his work purchasing ‘just caught fish’ from the coast and selling the fish in Todmorden. “I must be doing something right’” he said; “I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years.” He was not able to relate the first of May holiday to trade unionism. I talked to several others. No one considered May Day as a celebration for workers.
St. Mary’s Church
We left the market and walked a short way to the quaint and pleasingly impressive Gothic church that demands attention on the main street of Todmorden. The church, called St. Mary’s, is under the jurisdiction of the Church of England. There is a small graveyard in front with monuments indicating that many Fieldens were buried there. I found that to be curious because Jeremy Burgoine told us about the Quaker origins of the Fieldens and Sam Fielden wrote that the ‘rich Fieldens’ were Unitarians.(The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, op. cit. pp.141-142) Sam also says that his mother was a Methodist and that he had joined the Methodist Church.(ibid. p.134, p145) Sectarian distinctions were very important in post reformation England and it would be surprising if some of the non-conformist Fieldens were members of the Church of England. A similar grave yard could have been found in Ireland because of the prominence of a large Celtic cross.
As indicated in his autobiography, Sam of the Chicago Haymarket didn’t think much of the English royalty or aristocracy. A story in the St. Mary’s Church in Community magazine indicated the current absurdity of the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II, participates in the washing the feet ceremony for Holy Thursday. (Maundy Thursday in England) This has been a practice of the monarchy for centuries. The Queen, the head of the Church of England, invites special people to have their, ‘feet washed.’ Three people from the Todmorden area, Church of England adherents, were selected to participate. Instead of getting a wash from the Queen Mother, the participants received two small bags of money, one containing a silver coin of five pounds sterling to commemorate the victory of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar and the other with 79 pence in commemoration of the writing of Ben Johnson’s English dictionary. This year 2013 participants received two small bags of money. One contained five pounds and the other 50 pence to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation. The ceremony in the Vatican was quite different with Pope Francis actually washing feet in a prison.
“Perhaps no symbol was more poignant than (Pope) Francis’
decision to move the Holy Thursday evening service to a
Roman juvenile detention center, where he washed the feet
of detainees – including two women and two Muslims.
National Catholic Reporter,”p. 6, April 12-25, 2013)
But did the symbolism really cover up the monarchical reality of the papacy?
The story in the St. Mary’s magazine of the Queen doing Easter washing is told as quaint and humorous; so much for the mandatum – Maundy- command of scripture to serve. Sam of the Chicago Haymarket in his death row autobiography wrote, “I undoubtedly inherited from my father that hatred of shame and hypocrisy which I hope I possess to some extent.”(ibid. pp.135-136)
However, Sam would be impressed with the spiritual growth of the community. St. Mary’s along with the other Todmorden Christian Churches cooperate in liturgical events. Also meetings are held with the Imam of the Todmorden Mosque.
The person that greeted us and welcomed us to St. Mary’s expressed disgust with the wars in the Middle East. Would it be such a great leap forward to recognize the injustice of a failed economic system that has allowed free reign to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse – war, famine, poverty, and disease? We are indeed a ‘Distant Mirror’ of the 14th century.
Todmorden Town Hall
Across the street from St. Mary’s is the Todmorden town hall.
The classical edifice was built in honor of ‘Honest John’ Fielden by his three sons. It is considered one of the finest municipal buildings in the country. On the floor of the entrance a mosaic of the town’s coat of arms summarizes the symbols found throughout the building. It states, “BY INDUSTRY WE PROSPER.” This statement is found below a weaver’s shuttle and a spindle. At the top is a representation of the Stoodley Pike Peace Monument. Does this mean the artist thought that peace was a prerequisite for industry? Perhaps it meant that British military hegemony and enforced peace was needed to provide markets and resources for industry.
Another point of view is indicated by the beautiful plaster medallions that decorate the Great Hall. At one end of the Hall is the peace medallion and at the other is a medallion representing justice. Do these symbols indicate that peace is commensurate with justice – not military might?
We didn’t see a specific representation that would honor the workers of Todmorden. This would fit the classic scheme which considers workers to be of lesser value than their bosses.
The prominent architect from London John Gibson designed the building. He also designed two other Fielden projects, Dobroyd Castle and the Unitarian Church completed in 1869. The Fieldens got involved in the construction of the town hall in 1866 and opened to the public in 1891. Where did they get the labor for these projects? Was the U.S. Civil War (1861- 1865) a factor in the supply of surplus labor? Cotton production in the U.S. did not reach prewar levels until 1870.
The suffering of the English mill workers during the U.S. Civil War is another example of the failure of the ‘liberal’ economic system of Adam Smith that does not value the workers -- those who create wealth -- as human persons. International trade, with the primary goal of profit, made the staple of Irish peasants to be potatoes, and for the mill workers in Todmorden, it was cotton. Sam wrote that for the ‘poor starving people’ of Todmorden the staff of life was cotton, American cotton. (ibid. p. 145)
One of the causes of the U.S. Civil War was the dispute about trade and tariffs. The New England States wanted to impose tariffs on English manufactured goods to protect its nascent textile industry. The Confederate States advocated free trade. English commercial interests supported the Confederacy, but Todmorden mill workers saw the war as a conflict over the moral issue of slavery. Despite the hardship born by the Todmorden mill workers, they were in worker solidarity with the U.S. slaves. Sam wrote:
When the American civil war broke out I was an enthusiastic
champion among my fellows of the cause of the north, and in
fact, so were all my family, my sister not being undone by
any of us.(ibid. p. 142)
The Todmorden mill workers, in siding with southern U.S. slaves, disproved ‘liberal’ economic theory of the ‘Economic Man’ that people will always act according to their self serving financial best interest. On the other side of the class divide, such action is similar to ‘Honest John’ Fielden supporting the ‘Plug Pullers’ and advocating for the ten hour day.
England passed a law against British participation in the slave trade in 1807. The driving force behind the law was William Wilberforce, M.P. a friend of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church. In 1833 Wilberforce was able to get
legislation passed to abolish slavery. Free labor was a basic principle of ‘liberalism’ or capitalism. Labor was then hired or fired depending on the supply and demand. After experiencing post U.S. Civil War conditions in the South and seeing the suffering of the newly freed slaves, Sam of Haymarket called the new capitalist form of wage slavery worse than the latter.
Our next stop was the Methodist Church not far from the Town Hall. Sam the Anarchist wrote that as a young man in Todmorden he joined the Methodist Church and became a Methodist preacher. In this way he developed a recognized skill as an orator which served him well as a labor activist. In his autobiography, Sam remembers his mother Alice as a devout Methodist.
The Methodists appealed to the working class. Founder John Wesley thought it was important to reach out to the people so he developed itinerant preachers such as Sam Fielden. There was no early official break from the Church of England, but their reaching out to people and their criticism of ostentatious life styles endeared them to the working class.
Like the Quakers the Methodists encouraged people to take an active part in church services and meetings. Methodists insist on the primacy of conscience. In contrast to the Calvinists, Wesley taught that all could be saved, even low class workers. Good works such as social service was crucial in achieving redemption. Wesley had no problem with people accumulating wealth but not at the expense of others. Wealth was accumulated for the “greater honor and glory of God.” Charitable contributions to the community of time and substance were expected.
The Todmorden Methodist Church is a large box like structure located in the middle of town. Like the other buildings in the area it is blackened by the soot from the now closed cotton mills. Compared to the Gothic Church of England St. Mary’s and the rich Fielden brothers’ more ornate Unitarian Church, the Todmorden Methodist Church is simple and functional, and reminds one of classical Roman architecture.
We dropped in on the weekly 10:00 a.m. coffee social. Church members welcomed us with warm greetings. No one had heard of Sam of the Haymarket but he certainly knew of the Fieldens. They were baffled when I asked about ‘Lord Fielden’ whose name among many others appears on one of the sandstone blocks at the front of the building. I was assured that ‘Lord Fielden’ was not an entitled Lord, but that the name Lord was probably a family surname used as a given name. No one knew who this person was, but someone remembered that her grandmother had told her that anyone giving even a small donation to build the church would have their name etched on the front wall. The Church was completed in 1906, too late for Sam to have known it.
The Todmorden Methodists were interested in Sam of the Haymarket story, and the pastor looked for a record of Sam and his mother’s baptism without success. Someone recalled that there had been a split in the early Methodist Church and that the baptismal records of the Church may not be complete. In his death row autobiography Sam notes that his mother was a ‘Primitive’ Methodist and that he joined the Wesleyan group years after her death. (ibid. p, 134, p. 145 ) As mentioned above, as a young man Sam honed his skills as a future effective labor speaker volunteering as a Methodist preacher in the Todmorden area. (ibid. p. 147)
Todmorden Connection to World Trade
Before we met Trisha for lunch we walked to the canal locks not far from the Methodist Church. The canal system is a non- designated functioning monument to the workers of 18th & 19th century England. The canals allowed shipments of cotton from the seacoast to reach the interior by barges. Because of the hilly nature of the terrain, locks needed to be built to move the boats from level to level. The locks of Todmorden still function and tourists travel the canals to enjoy the beautiful countryside of Lancashire.
It was now time for lunch with Tricia. We met at Sinclairs, a small restaurant near St. Mary’s Church. The restaurant featured local dishes including soup and sandwiches for the lunch time cliental. I ordered the Lancashire vegetable soup – perfect for a chilly day.
(Why do we march and remember on May 1st, 2013? “Caterpillar contract talks stalled, union leaders say.” Company says no further negotiations scheduled.” “Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,” p. 9A, May 11th, 2013)