A Day’s Work at the Docks


Inspired by Jemmy Hope’s new poetry season at his blog ‘Swearing at the telly‘ I thought I’d add this little gem from George Milligan entitled ‘A Day’s Work at the Docks’.

I can’t find anything about George Milligan and the only reason I’m aware of this poem is it’s included in Jack Jones’ autobiography called ‘Union Man’! The little info provided records George Milligan as a Liverpool docker and a mainstay of the Liverpool Dockers’ Union.

I think the poem captures the awfulness of the situation that dock workers faced. Your impulse is to get bread for your family. The only way is work. That in itself is not a bad thing. But it’s how capitalism takes that down to the base instinct and sets man against man in the fight for dignity and bread.

It would be good if we could say with certainty that this is a thing of the past, but it’s not. We seem to be returning to the bad old days when the rich were rich and the poor were, well, poor and should be damn well grateful for what they were allowed to have. Did anyone mention zero hours contracts?

Anyway, enjoy George’s poem.

A Day’s Work at the Docks

Before the great world’s noises break
the stillness overhead,
For toiling life begins the strife –
The day’s grim fight for bread.
Where Mersey’s mighty greyhounds speak
The wealth or England’s stocks,
Stand, mute and meek, the men that seek
A Day’s Work at the Docks.

Behold them now – a motley throng,
Men drawn from every grade:
Pale, florid, puny – weak and strong,
All by one impulse swayed.
One impulse – bread; one impulse – work!
How hope at each heart knocks
As mute and meek, they crush to seek
A day’s work at the docks.

‘Stand back! Stand back!’ A hoarse voice storms,
With curses muttered lower,
The straining ring of human forms
But closes in the more.
Well fed, you foremen scarce can know
How want the judgement mocks,
When, mute and meek, men eager seek
A day’s work at the docks.

George Milligan, circa 1910



Values and morals

1 Timothy 6:17-19

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – St Paul of Tarsus, AD 62ish

Sounds good.

“But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.” – St Cameron of the Bahamas, AD 2011, BBC News

Sounds good.

David Cameron personally intervened in 2013 to water down an EU drive to tackle tax evasion, it was claimed last night. – Daily Mirror, AD 2016

Oh dear.

John Brown and his body

When you listen to those who we define as folk/protest singers and songwriters you tap into an oral history that you will be hard pressed to find elsewhere. These troubadours keep alive the struggles and trials of the past that we here and now should be learning from.

I recently got hold of David Rovics’ album 10,000 Miles Away. On there he has penned a song call John Brown (least I think he wrote the lyrics!). Now if you grew up in the time and country that I did then you’ll likely be aware of the traditional chorus of John Brown’s Body. Where it came from I didn’t know, just that it shares a tune with the Battle Hymn of the Republic. More than that? Nah.

But when you listen to David’s song then the story unfolds. You realise the story is about a man whose Christian faith leads him to confront head on with action the vile slave trade in the Americas before the Revolution. You see how black and white worked together to sow the seeds that would lead to abolition in the Western English speaking nations.

These men are all talk, what we need is action!

So when you get a taste of this story then you look further and you come across people, places and events I never knew about – Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad to name a few.

All it takes is one seed, one spark.