The Poor Take Courage, You Rich Take Care

I was using this song the other day in a work-based capacity (yep, I played it to some twelve and thirteen year olds)- Billy Bragg’s The World Turned Upside Down (sometimes known as The Digger’s Song). The lyrics were written by Leon Rosselson and Billy released it in 1985. The music alone is stirring enough, Billy’s palm muted guitar punctuated by urgent, staccato, metallic stabs. The Diggers were a radical 17th century group, the first Communists arguably, who claimed the earth as ‘a common treasury’, pressed for economic equality and led by Gerrard Winstanley put their money where their mouths were and began to cultivate common land. The Diggers made the point that the common people of England had been robbed of their birthrights since the Norman Conquest and exploited by the ruling class. The government and local landowners between them, back up by the threat and use of the army, crushed them and by 1651 most Digger colonies had vanished.

In 1649 to St. George’s Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers came to show the peoples’ will
They defied the landlords They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs
We come in peace they said to dig and sow
We come to work the lands in common and to make the waste grounds grow
This Earth divided we will make whole so it will be a common treasury for all

The sin of property we do disdain
No man has any right to buy and sell the Earth for private gain
By theft and murder they took the land
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command
They make the laws to chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven or they damn us into hell
We will not worship the God they serve
The God of greed who feed the rich while poor men starve
We work we eat together, we need no swords
We will not bow to the masters or pay rent to the lords
We are free men, though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory stand up now

From the men of property the orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers to wipe out the Diggers claim
Tear down their cottages, destroy their corn
They were dispersed but still the vision lingers on
You poor take courage you rich take care
This Earth was made a common treasury for everyone to share
All things in common, all people one
We come in peace the orders came to cut them down

All of which seems to strike quite a few chords at the moment, what with the Occupy protests, rightful disgust at our banking system and successive governments failure to control or regulate it, student protests, kettling and pepper spraying policemen and so on. On top of this, I and millions of others, are on strike today. I’m not saying it’s the same to argue that withdrawing our labour for a day in protest at changes to our pensions is the same as what The Diggers were trying to achieve or that we are ‘the disposed reclaiming what is ours’ but… these things are all in the ether at the moment. There are people at my place of work who are going in to work, under the guise of ‘I can’t afford to lose a day’s pay’ or to impress management. Wrong headed I think. I may even go on a march. ET’s always wanted to go on a demo and as her school’s closed we may as well. See you down the front. Must remember to take a lemon with me.