Abide the Bosses’ Law by Gemma June Howell


Image by Ricardo Liberato*

At which point the butterfly of globalisation first flapped its wing has been the focus of historical debate for many years. Some suggest that it goes back to Roman times and the imposition of ‘foreign’ forms of economic and social development throughout Europe – hence ‘what did they ever do for us’! But I see modern globalisation being about scale and worldwide integration of all forms of capital, some of which are good (raising levels of empathy and understanding of different cultures), some of which are bad (where capitalism soaks the pores of every crevice).

In more recent times globalisation reached its potential through deregulation during the Thatcher/Reagan era that released the bats of profiteering we see today in the long tail of economic inequality. This followed the shock oil price controls by OPEC, in the early 70s; which was the beginning of non-Western hegemony with the spread of global assets by today’s new economic powers from Dubai to Dehli to Beijing. Capital flows as quickly as the oil through transcontinental pipes, so we now have Indian companies owning British-based manufacturing and deciding the fate of Welsh and English steel workers. The origin of ownership doesn’t matter per se. But global capitalism is run in the same way whatever the cultural heritage as we see with ‘communist’ China. Owners may be hedge funds or political dictators, they are all driven by profit and their managers are their enforcers.


Image by John Briggs

Gemma June Howell’s poignant ballad, ‘Abide the Bosses’ Law’, inspired by the Rhondda Riots (aka Tonypandy riots) over one hundred years ago, resonates to this day. Our women cradled flasks of tea/while we clasped wooden sticks. /The kids looked on with hungry eyes,/We miners had thrown down our picks!” An oligopoly of mine owners had set prices and wages to the obvious detriment of the workers. “Though starving half to death out there/our wills were strong as iron./We wouldn’t take this lying down,/each man with the heart of a lion.” The young Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary sent some Metropolitan Police Officers and Cavalry to back up the ‘beadles’ in the fight against the miners. “The beadles came out of the dark/with truncheons overhead,/to bash upon the skulls of men /and leave us all for dead.” The miners ended up having to take a pay cut in order to keep their jobs, the same as the steel workers in Scunthorpe recently. Who knows what will happen in Port Talbot in Wales?

Gemma June Howell is a poet, playwright and author of experimental fiction. Her work has appeared in various publications in Wales and in London. In 2010, she was a Finalist for the John Tripp Award for Spoken Word, and has since published widely with work appearing in the Bloodaxe Books ‘Hallelujah for 50ft Women’ Poetry Anthology (2015); the ‘Momaya Press Awards’ Short Story Anthology (2014) and, ‘When the Young Dodo’s Meet the Young Dragon’s’ Poetry Anthology (2015). Her debut collection ‘Rock Life: 17 Poems from the Welsh Valleys’ was published in November 2015 and has since received several notable reviews: “Howell’s has an excellent ear for everyday speech and captures its rhythms and cadences very well.The language defies any overall feeling of negativity in its forceful , funny and fierce way.” Mike Jenkins, Welsh Poet & Author.


Abide the Bosses’ Law
Inspired by the Rhondda Riots: 1910-11 documented in Lewis Jones’ Classic Novels ‘Cwmardy’ and ‘We Live.’

At dusk we gathered by clock,
the whole village had turned out.
Stood there in the ice-cut air,
we’d no longer go without.

Our women cradled flasks of tea
while we clasped wooden sticks.
The kids looked on with hungry eyes,
We miners had thrown down our picks!

Our babies wailed with bellies weak,
our wives did not retreat.
They suckled them there by the clock,
stuck to us, like fat on meat.

But soon they’d have to go on home,
and put the babes to bed.
To hear the cries come from the streets,
and pray their men weren’t dead.

See, coal runs through our hearty veins
the pits sunk with our bloods.
The fat cats get to drink the cream
while we make do with spuds.

We stood with weapons in the air,
the battle was now near.
The beadles scuttled over hills.
But we, we had no fear.

Though starving half to death out there
our wills were strong as iron.
We wouldn’t take this lying down,
each man with the heart of a lion.

The beadles came out of the dark
with truncheons overhead,
to bash upon the skulls of men
and leave us all for dead.

Upwards they rose and down they fell
as neighbours came to fight.
We all joined in the battle there,
as workers, we’d unite!

The next day brought a compromise
as we were beckoned back.
Pride was more important for some,
while the starving began to crack.

Our wives, in turmoil, needed food
yet some men had not budged.
We left our wives with pantries bare,
to the general store we trudged.

The general store had empty shelves,
and credit was sky high.
So, up to the colliery pit we strode,
to our pride, we said goodbye.

And now we work for less than half
of what we got before.
We had no choice, we must survive,
and abide the bosses’ law.


[Previously published in: Red Poets, Issue no.[18] Sept 2012; ‘When Young Dodos Meet Young Dragons,’ Anthology Nov 2014; ‘Rock Life: 17 Poems from the Welsh Valleys,’ Nov 2015.]

* First image by Ricardo Liberato



  1. That is what coined the term ‘salary-slaves’. A social injustice which has long violated what democracy was supposed to be. Splendidly made transparent. Thanks for sharing!


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