Democracy – The long and often bloody fight for freedom – The Swing Riots
Named after the infamous Captain Swing who was said to have organised them, the Swing Riots were a more militant attack against mechanisation in the early nineteenth century.
The advent of mechanisation, such as the threshing machines, had reduced the need for labour. Because of the surplus of labour the bosses had seized the opportunity to reduce wages down to subsistence levels. People were starving and desperate with poor wages and unemployment and no welfare.
Unlike the peaceful Tolpuddle martyrs who came a few years later the workers of Kent organised in a more militant manner, threatened the landowners, burnt barns and threshing machines and demanded a fair wage. The riots spread through Kent and the South of England.
Eventually the landowners relented and raised wages.
But two thousand arrests were made with 252 sentenced to be hung. Of these only 19 were hung. Over a thousand were imprisoned or deported to Australia.
It is worth remembering that fair wages are the product of much blood. Our rights and freedoms were not given freely; they were fought for and paid for with lives.