Friday, January 6, 2017

The Strike

By May Kwek

This poem is based off a scene in the 1855 book North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. In the scene, there is a strike and when the strikers hear that their employer had tried to break the strike by hiring non union Irish workers, they riot outside his home and he comes out to face them. 

In that time they referred to employers as Masters and I have kept it in my poem. 

The situation

The air isn’t dark but it rumbles
The sun shines but there is fear
People run and shout, demanding things
Yet oddly their demands are clear

It’s a strike turned into a riot
“Raise our wages!” they declare
And the Master emerges from his house
And fixes them with his stare

We pause the scene for a moment
Let’s enter each of their minds
The Master and the workers
And see what we might find

The Master

They call me cruel, so many have
Unfeeling, uncaring, proud
Look at them, my workers
What a rowdy crowd

I have done an honest business
Indeed I truly have
But it doesn’t run on charity
Indeed it couldn’t have

It must make money, it must
Or else everything will end
So I cannot raise wages
I am being squeezed on both ends

If I fail, and I might
This whole place will shut down
Everyone here that I support
Will be squashed into the ground

I have hundreds of livelihoods
Dependent on that monthly check
It’s my duty to keep it coming
Even if enough it lacks

I have spent the money
Keeping the air they breathe clear
Lost both pounds and pennies
So that they can still be here

Yet, it’s not enough, it wasn’t enough
I have done all I can
What more do you ask of me?
I am just a man

The worker

I have slogged long and hard
Days and nights I slaved away
To put food on the table
To live till the next day

I cough, I fall ill
I came to work anyway
Life is too short, too precarious
To afford to waste that day

I have given my life
So that I can keep living
If not for me then for my family
Who are at home starving

I have given all I have
For this measly check
These meagre pennies
Aren’t equal what I can’t take back

It’s not enough to live on
My back’s against the wall
I’ve tried everything
Everything! Every and all!

Yet, it’s not enough, it wasn’t enough
I have done all I can
What more do you ask of me?
I am just a man

The Conclusion

The scene is still paused dear readers
I cannot will it to move
For peeking into both their thoughts
I find that I’m confused

For I came here expecting
To support the weak and disparage the strong
But I found a situation so terrible
And no one really wrong

Copyright © 2017 by May Kwek