Of all the problems that beset the busy mind of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, none was so familiar or so strange as the problem of slavery. Taras Shevchenko wrote 160 years ago, while still a young slave to Russian masters, and yet his message, scrawled across time in bootleg packets may apply to our own time, and even here in my own time, in York Region.
Slavery is as old as mankind, from the first crafty Sumerian seizing an innocent beach boy or girl among the reeds to the slaves of Rome, so aptly described by the ancients, the sixteen-hour days, the blackened faces of the bakery boys, the scarred backs showing through the hemp, the fire-scarred visages, the stink and exposure of loincloths, everybody working, moving all the time, one eye out for the master's whip. As for African slaves, there is a galaxy of literature on this, right from the first seized Nubian in Egypt.
Recently, I visited a sweatshop in York Region. The sixteen-hour days, the blackened faces of the wage-slaves, the scars on hands and back from being caught in machinery, the grease-blackened visages, the exposed privates where the denim had ripped. Yet apparently the money is clean enough, or they wouldn't do it.
Poor Taras Shevchenko. Enslaved all his life, finally liberated because of his talents, enslaved again for excesses committed over his newfound freedom, like many another person today who just can't handle the mantle.
And yet he speaks to us over the tens of decades. The French have noticed him, and certainly do we.
An yet, how far have we come? Marx has come and gone. Those who had nothing to lose but their chains have found themselves again in chains, but tighter.
And who knows what strange shape hulks now again towards our region to set up hectare-sized sweatshops and call it a campus.