The Union Rep stared across a vista of pale, pinched, human faces, they were the familiar faces of his brothers and sisters in the struggle. In front, the silk mill workers, dark shadows nestling underneath their red eyes and all but a few of them eating breakfast (potatoes roasted in turkey twizzler fat), as they stood there. The match factory workers, mere children barely out of infanthood, scampered and skipped next to them, filling the air with screams of glee, clad as poorly as they were they seemed oblivious to the cold. There were some who could barely walk, let alone skip, white bandages wrapped tightly around crumbling jaws, a side effect of being repeatedly exposed to the phosphorus the match sticks were dipped in.
Behind them the chimney sweeps, their faces all ruddy from being fiercely scrubbed, they were as stolid as they were silent and had dressed in their Sunday best for this meeting. There was hardly a child amongst them not holding a scarlet coloured banner aloft, stolid they were and as silent, but the Union Rep could almost smell their rage. For one of their own had been made to climb up Lord Grid-Iron’s chimney whilst it was still burning, and had paid dearly for that cruelty with his life. As had the Master Chimney Sweep,Turple Sleath, he had been found dangling from that same chimney.
The cotton mill workers were stationed just behind them, whilst the ‘Nunnery’ keepers milled around everyone, for the most part they were ignored since theirs was considered to be a disreputable profession, but everyone had joined together in this dispute over pay and conditions. The Union Rep smiled sweetly at each and everyone of them, they had proved useful when it came to getting the better of a politician in the past, and should push come to shove he would need the help of them all and he knew he would get it. Then there were the music hall dancers swirling their skirts and tra-la-la-ing through the swarms of workers who made room for them and then closed around them and joined in the singing. Prime amongst them was the greatly esteemed Madame Guacamoley, she was clad in the bright red dress that had expedited her ex-communication from the Church of St. Gove; and to which she had added a tri-cornered hat,with arms outstretched she moved amongst the people singing ‘The Worker’s Anvil’ to the tune of ‘Down At The Old Bull & Bush’
” Strike! Strike! The worker’s anvil! Strike for the cause of freedom! For each friend and neighbour, strike for everyone! Strike! Strike! The worker’s anvil! Strike against the factory bosses! Strike against the dim-wit Grid-Iron! Then may we be free!”
A fine woman was Madame Guacamoley, her jet black locks flowing freely down her back and her face flush with the enjoyment of it all. The Union Rep noted with much satisfaction that none of the chimney sweeps were smiling, dancing or singing, their rage was palpable. Cantering back and forth on his horse he scanned the crowds looking for the union stewards who would marshall and direct the masses on the march to Grid-Iron Square, he waved his blue flag vigorously at them as he cantered to and fro. On that signal each produced a whistle blowing mightily on it until at last the comrades were quiet, the Union Rep cleared his throat, ” Brothers and Sisters” he said, “I was born not far from where you stand, at the workhouse of St. Gove the Martyr, raised by me Gran whilst me Ma worked for a pittance, as a cog-oiler at the Grid-Iron distillery”
Booes and hisses greeted the mention of St. Gove, but that was as nothing compared to the potatoes that went flying through the air when Lord Grid-Iron’s name was mentioned, (so far so good).”Torn from me Gran’s arms at the age of seven I were sent to the Industrial Academy at Spital Fields and t’was there I experienced the heart breaking oppression of factory life. Walking six mile each morning to the mole stretching factory, sitting from four in the morning to late at night, steaming and stretching suede gloves and mole-skin trousers. My little arms covered with blisters my little back scarred from the birch beatings I took, and my pay? One Shilling and six pence! One shilling and six pence! for being torn from the arms of my family, one shilling and six pence! For nought, but stale bread lunches and dinners! One shilling and six pence!”
The crowd shouted imprecations, it roared for blood, “Yesterday one of our dear brothers was murdered!” uneasy mutterings swept over the crowd, “Yes! My brothers murdered! Forced up a Grid-Iron chimney where he choked and burned to death! And d’you know what his wages where? One shilling and six pence!” Now the chimney sweeps howled and bellowed their rage, their little faces demonically contorted and flushed beetroot red. “My brothers! My sisters! It has been four decades since my birth, is it right that thirty three years on from when I was first apprenticed, the wages and the conditions should still be the same?”
“No!” roared the surging hordes,
“Is it right that we and ours should find ourselves stuffed into the same workhouses our parents endured when the bosses close down their factories for months on short time, to preserve their profits?”
“No” they roared again,
“Our grandmothers and grandfathers thrust onto straw pallets in a workhouse? No care in their old age? And us to follow them? After years of one shilling and six pence? Nay brothers! Nay sisters! I say strike! Will you strike with me?”
“Yes!” roared the multitudes, their banners held aloft, the crowds surged forward, eager to make their way to Grid-Iron Square and that is when it happened…