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