200 years ago, Scottish workers went on strike for Democracy

In 1820 the workers of Scotland held a general strike. Lead by the weavers, 60,000 workers took part stopping almost all production in April. It was not a strike for wages or union recognition, it was a strike for democratic reform. They walked off the job and were even willing to take up arms if it meant they could get justice. Out of a population of over 2 million people, only 4,000 men had the vote. Workers wanted things to change.

Military suppression, killings of workers, and finally executions put down the strike and their hopes for democracy. 98 men were charged with treason. Hundreds were arrested and held for months without charges. 24 workers were sentenced to death. 19 men were transported to Botany Bay penal colony in Australia. However, 52 of the arrested strikers escaped, many of them making their way to America and Canada. They were not the only ones to leave for the new world. One man named William Lyon Mackenzie would leave and continue his fight for responsible government and a democratic Canada eventually leading his own rebellion in 1837.

In the end three Scottish weavers, James Wilson, Andrew Hardie and John Baird, were hanged and then beheaded for high treason. Their crime? To have taken up arms against a corrupt parliament and the aristocratic government that refused to reform. On Sept 8th they were made to pay the ultimate price for wanting democracy. These three union supporters were the last people to suffer beheading in the Britain.

It would take 20 more years before there was any change but those that fought on remembered those that died in the struggle for democracy.

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