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The Wigan Riots

Karl Marx
2011 / 9 / 17


With regard to the Wigan riots, Mr. Cowell, the leader of the labourers at Preston, has declared in a public meeting that he very much regretted what had occurred in Wigan. He was sorry the people of Wigan had no more sense than to have recourse to a system of leveling. There was no sense in working people collecting together and destroying the property they had produced. The property itself never did them any injury – it was the men that held the property that were the tyrants. Let them respect property and life, and by proceeding in a peaceable, orderly and quiet manner, they might rely on the struggle terminating in their favour.

Now I am far from defending the aimless acts of violence committed by the Wigan colliers, who have paid for them with the blood of seven men. But, on the other hand, I understand that there is a great difficulty, especially for the inferior elements of the working classes, to which the colliers undoubtedly belong, in proceeding “peaceably, orderly and quietly,” when they are driven to acts of frenzy by utter destitution and by the cool insolence of their masters. The riots are provoked by the latter in order to enable themselves to appeal to the armed force and to put down, as they have done in Wigan, all meetings of the workingmen by order of the magistrates. The riot which occurred in the town of Wigan, on Friday afternoon, was occasioned by the coal kings of the district meeting in large numbers at Whiteside s Royal Hotel, in order to deliberate on the demands of the colliers, and by their coming to the resolution to repudiate all compromise with the men. The attack on the saw-mills at Haigh, near Wigan, which occurred on Monday, was directed against the foreign colliers, brought over from Wales ... in order to replace the turnouts of the coal pits.

The colliers were certainly not right in preventing their fellow-labourers, by violence, from doing the work they had abandoned themselves. But when we see the masters pledging each other by heavy fines, with a view to enforce their lock-out, can we be astonished at the more rude and less hypocritical manner in which the men attempt to enforce their turn-out? •

Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a reporter for the New York Daily Tribune, where this article first appeared on 4 November 1853. All his writings available on the marxists.org website




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