Barbed Wire. Militant July 1997

Hanging out to dry

Robert Hughes points out in The Fatal Shore how Georgian England’s obsession with hanging was reflected in the profusion of words for the ritual in it’s language: to go up the ladder to bed, to take a leap in the dark, to be turned off, to be twisted, to stretch, to squeeze, to be jammed, or frummagemed or haltered, die of the hempen fever, be in deadly suspense, to have a hearty choke and caper sauce for breakfast, to dance upon nothing, take the earth bath, shake a cloth in the wind, go off at the fall of a leaf, to cry cockles, piss when you can’t whistle, etc., etc.

Nowadays, the working class suffers a different kind of execution and capitalism’s obsession is with giving people the sack, or showing you the door, giving you the boot or the push, putting a hand on your shoulder, giving you notice, terminating, bouncing, dismissing or discharging you, retrenching you or making you redundant, surplus to requirements, in excess, targetting you with a voluntary severance package or compulsory redundancy, early retirement or an offer you can’t refuse, not renewing your contract, asking you to tender for your work, or giving you the nod, the boot, the bullet, the old one-two or the word, turfing you out, kicking you or throwing you out, putting you out the door, on the street or on the unattached list, telling you you're not wanted, asking you to leave, making you an offer, paying you out, asking for your resignation, or asking you to hand in your keys, clear your desk and pick up your cards, putting you on the dole, getting rid of you, giving you the chop or the boot or showing you the door, or maybe just suggesting it’s time you saw more of your family, looked for work outside, not to mention out-sourcing, down-sizing or better still “right-sizing,” rationalising, restructuring, reorganising, making economies, trimming, cutting labour costs, contracting out, or reallocating resources, casualising or introducing more flexibility.

Ah, progress! But capitalism doesn’t have quite the same poetry nowadays, does it?