Monday, March 27, 2006

The tragedy of the cockle pickers

I live in Barrow-in-Furness, it’s a pretty sleepy northern English town and we don’t normally have much in the way of interface with slavery (or at least we thought we didn’t!) the tragedy of the 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned out in the bay (Morecambe) served as a wake up call to all of us.

Or at least it should have done! But it didn’t!

We like to think ourselves as quite civilized up here, we don’t go in for the hysterics of southerners, or the radicalism of those further north, we like to think we are gentle caring folk who look after our neighbors, the way northern folk famously do (and southerners infamously don’t) and yet right in the middle of our democratic and so caring community; people were being enslaved and forced to into fatally dangerous slave labor! And we all knew it was happening!!

And we all did nothing!!!

It was quite common knowledge among the people of the area that the cockle pickers out in the bay were here as illegal immigrants, and that they had little choice but to work there, and that they were paid a pittance.

But we chose to turn a blind eye, many of us (misguidedly) perhaps not wanting to get people who we already felt were getting a raw deal; into further trouble.

In the seemingly few opportunities that the locals of the area had to talk to the Chinese, they came over as friendly outgoing and generous, and all of them hated having to pick cockles, they were frightened of the bay with its tides and gullies, they knew their bosses didn’t care about their wellbeing, and they feared for their lives when picking cockles having had close shaves before, the thing that struck you was how young they were, teenagers, (kids!) traveling round the world and having to do any work offered; for any money; with no choice in the matter!

And now? There is still as much lethally dangerous cockle harvesting going on out in the bay as there ever was, according to the local fishermen/people who know the bay and it’s tides and dangerous ways (It drowned my only son in 2003) it’s only a matter of time before there’s another tragedy.

It’s a sad reflection on us as a society and community that this can have happened right under our noses without us realizing what was going on; and doing something about it, doing the right thing isn’t abut waiting for government legislation to put things right, it’s about seeing what’s wrong and saying/doing something.

Do you think if they were English/Caucasians there would have been more done about it?


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