Abolition of slavery 'nail in the coffin' for poor

Angry protesters surrounded Parliament today, demanding government does not proceed with controversial legislation to completely ban slavery.

The protesters, estimated at around four million, chanted slogans against the government and demanded that the controversial measures be dropped. The protest was mainly peaceful, but there was some violence near the gates of parliament. A police spokesman said one person died following a heart attack. Twelve people have been admitted to hospital, one in critical condition, and there were sixteen arrests.

Parliament is due to vote tomorrow on the 'Make Slavery History' Bill. The date was deliberately chosen to coincide with the 48th anniversary of the vote on the historic 'Everyone is Born Free' Bill, which ended ownership of children by their parents or the parents' legal owners, and banned under-18s from entering contracts leasing themselves for a period greater than 8 hours a day.

Bluematter's political editor said that while the 'Born Free' Bill enjoyed support across the country and was welcomed by the electorate, the level of support for the current Bill is high only amongst the currently enslaved - however there is much uncertainty even around this fact, as current slaves are not allowed to vote or express their opinion in public.

'Nail in the coffin'

Government insiders told Bluematter last month that they expected only a limited reaction to the legislation, mainly from groups such as the Association of Slave Owners.

Despite this expectation, the protest today enjoyed support from across the civic spectrum, including from such unlikely allies as the Confederation of Businesses, the Confederation of Trade Unions and anti-poverty charities.

Mary Rose, the Chairperson of the CoB, said: 'How can the government expect us to compete in today's globalised economy without slaves? This will put us at a huge disadvantage, and if the legislation passes we will be challenging it at the World Trade Committee'. The CoTU has not issued a statement yet, but it is believed that their main grievance is that a sudden influx of ex-slaves in the labour rental market will significantly dampen wages.

But these were not the only grievances aired during the protest. Perhaps the most prominent theme throughout was the fight against poverty.

John Harpes, a 26-year carpenter, is one of the protesters. 'If this bill goes forward, it will be complete disaster for me' he said. 'My dream has always been to run my own business, but the bank will never lend me money without collateral. But I was born poor and the only thing I own are these two hands'.

'I will now be forced to rent my daily labour for a pittance to survive. How will I feed my children? This is the nail in the coffin for me.'

Even some slaves object the legislation. One of them said 'My master now has an interest in taking care of me, making sure I'm healthy and happy so I can produce the most for him. If I'm freed, why would he bother? I'll die in the street like a dog.'

'Back to the dark ages'

Christian groups have also been vocal in their opposition to the bill, and today a large number of believers attended the protest.

'Slavery is mentioned time and again in the Bible, and not a single verse mentions anything bad associated with the practice' said the Right Rev. John Gieves, a representative for the Inter-Christian Faith Council which speaks for all the main Christian Churches, including the Vatican and the Church of England.

'In fact, slavery is a powerful force for promoting ethical conduct and enhancing our morality, and it is a time-honoured tradition. Believers across the world will never accept this legislation.'

The Libertarian Alliance also strongly condemned the move. A spokesman said: 'The government now says that we are not even allowed to own our very own selves. They will invalidate contracts signed by consenting adults. The rights to private poverty and free exchange are inalienable, and we should not allow the nanny state to walk allover them. Abolishing slavery will return us back to the Dark Ages'


'These proposals are just a populist measure that will benefit a small number of those currently enslaved, but at a great cost for all generations to come', said Greg Biden, an economics professor at Harvard University and a former member of the Council of Economic Advisers.

'Not only will it remove the right to property from millions of poor people, but it will also kill entrepreneurship and innovation and will undermine the government's commitment to protect property rights in the future. The capitalist system that has allowed us to enjoy unprecedented wealth and economic growth simply cannot survive without government commiting to protect private property.'

'The future of the world is in jeopardy. Why would anyone educate themselves and invest in human capital if they cannot use it as collateral? Who will want to own an asset that he cannot sell and which he cannot commit to a given use? Which employer will invest in their staff if they can leave at any time they wish? How far can we progress economically with this unnatural restriction in place, where we are allowed to only rent out services for a very limited period of time?'

'The poor and the young, who do not own any physical capital, will suffer most. This is a tragedy in the making'

A spokesman for the Campaign to End Slavery said: 'The cost to the government of ensuring the slaves obey their masters has been spiralling out of control. Slavery is not fair on the slaves, and it is not fair on the taxpayer. Abolishing slavery is essential to protect the most vulnerable amongst us, and it will benefit the public purse. This is not a 'nanny state', this is a compassionate society.'


Bluematter's political editor believes that the government may now try to defer the vote, citing a need for public consultation and more evidence on the long-run implications before the policy is introduced. Political observers believe the move has been a dramatic miscalculation on the part of the government, which hoped that freed slaves would tip the balance in its favour in the upcoming national election on January 22 but failed to predict the ferocity of the public backlash.

Parliament is expected to vote on the issue tomorrow, however the police fears that a large number of protesters will again convene outside parliament tomorrow, despite the ban on further public demonstrations.