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  • Writer's pictureH.R. Owen

M.A. Presents: Solidarity Forever

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M.A. Presents - Solidarity Forever
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Solidarity Forever Transcript

[Title music: slow, bluesy jazz.]

H.R. Owen

Monstrous Agonies presents: Solidarity Forever

[The music fades out, replaced by the sound of a radio being tuned. It scrolls through static, a voice saying “-crazy-”, pop music, a voice speaking Irish and an electric guitar playing before cutting off abruptly as it reaches the correct station.]

The Presenter

-setting and maintaining boundaries is a necessary part of any healthy relationship.

The time is two o'clock on Thursday morning. Next on the Nightfolk Network, with industrial action sweeping the country and the possibility of a general strike on the horizon, we look back at the role the creature community played in the history of trade unions.

While trade unions are a relatively recent creation, they have their roots in the guilds of medieval Europe – professional associations through which craftsmen and artisans could organise to set professional standards and negotiate fair wages.

But how did the creatures of the Middle Ages interact with these institutions? We heard from Maxwell Pierce, Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics.

Maxwell Pierce

I mean, it's hard to overstate just how much your genus impacted what job you did back in the day. Nowadays we might notice certain trends in certain communities – empaths tending to end up in social work or gargoyles working in security and surveillance, for example.

But in the past, this wasn't just a tendency. Creatures just didn't have the luxury of choice. It was an ingrained cultural assumption that your form – your genus, your literal, physical body – would dictate your function in the work force.

If you were born into an aquatic genus, you weren't going to train as a barrister – you were going to fish for a living. That was that. There was simply no path into other careers.

So, what you ended up with was certain industries – and thus, the guilds that represented them – being completely dominated by certain genuses. You couldn't have a weaver's guild without the local arachno-types, or a guild of law without the, uh. You know. “The good folk”.

At the same time, other genuses never interacted with the guild system at all. Nomadic and migratory genuses, for example, or insular communities that existed completely outside of the sapio economy, just weren't represented.

Taking that into consideration, it doesn't really make sense to talk about how “the creature community” was involved in guilds – or any part of history, if we're honest. The experiences of different liminal groups varied so widely.

But it's certainly fair to say that, for certain genuses, guilds were the first step on the road to what we recognise today as labour organisation.

The Presenter

From the 16th century onwards, however, the guild system collapsed, leaving workers with little to no structure about which to organise. Ad hoc arrangements sprang up as necessary, but it wasn't until the 1700s that early trade unions were established.

The Industrial Revolution transformed life in Britain for all its inhabitants, whether sapio or liminal. It was a period of rapid change and shifting social norms, as technological advancements in manufacturing, transport and communications disrupted ancient rhythms of life and changed the face of the British economy forever.

Some liminal groups in Britain had long lived in community with sapios. The aforementioned arachno-types, for example, had centuries of experience in the sapio workforce, while hobs and brownies had long made their homes among sapios.

But there remained at this time many genuses who had previously had little to no interaction with the sapio world. As the Industrial Revolution wore on, these folk awoke to find a new world at their doorstep.

Maxwell Pierce

The Industrial Revolution has really reshaped the world. There's less room, now, for quiet places, for sleepy hedgerows and shady woodlands. People are moving faster and further than ever, pushing into those places and forcing out those who've made their lives in these spaces for centuries or millennia.

So what do these communities do? Do they retreat, try to hold onto their traditional ways of life as long as possible? Or do they step into this strange, new world and try to find some kind of compromise?

For some, the decision was made for them. Hunting grounds were cordoned off, nomadic lifestyles smothered in bureaucracy, ancestral seats of power destroyed. They had no choice but to join the sapio-normative world – and its economy.

But with this surge of new genuses in the workforce, we also see more and more members of the creature community joining the trade union movement. In part, it was a way of mitigating against anti-creature sentiment. Plenty of sapios were still mistrustful of liminal folk, and unions helped cultivate a sense of solidarity across those divides, as well as between union members of different genuses.

Those newcomers to the sapio economy I mentioned, from the countryside – the sylvans and wood nymphs, river maidens and wild men – well, they found some unexpected allies. The British left has long had an interest in environmentalism and land access rights, and it became a bit of a tit for tat situation. We'll support your march for fair pay on Saturday if you come along to our mass trespass on Sunday!

The Presenter

It may be tempting to believe a narrative that paints all creatures as downtrodden workers, suffering under the heel of the sapio elite. But there were – and are – plenty of members of the community who enjoyed enormous wealth and privilege at the cost of others' labour. Historically, these were often members of long-lived genuses who had amassed large fortunes over their extended lifespans.

Many such groups, such as the Nine Great Families of the Rapturous Dawn, have since taken a philanthropic turn. But the creature community is still marked by wealth inequality and a failure on the part of the wealthy to act on behalf of the poor. In such a climate, it's little wonder trade unions remain an important part of liminal life.

Maxwell Pierce

You know what? It would be really nice if being a member of the community meant that you instantly experienced a kind of enlightened solidarity with all marginalised people. As if just being a person of the night is enough to undo all of those years – centuries, in some cases – of being told you've got nothing in common with people from this genus, that culture, those countries.

But the fact is, I have more in common with a sapio bus driver than I'll ever have with a billionaire, no matter what genus they are. Her struggle isn't the same as mine, but solidarity doesn't mean “sameness”. It means I've got her back, and when the time comes, she'll have mine.

When it comes to trade unions, the only – and I mean only – way we can protect ourselves as workers is by acting as workers, collectively and in the interests of the many, not the few. Join a union, support your fellow workers, and remember – we all rise together. Solidarity forever.

The Presenter

Thanks once more to Professor Maxwell Pierce. His latest book, ‘River of My People: Freshwater Genuses and the Fight for Sustainable Hydroelectric Power’, is available now from all good book shops.

Time now for the news.

[Background music fades into static as the radio is retuned. It scrolls through a voice saying “-lighting the way-”, pop music, classical music, and voice saying “-moonshine-” before fading out.

Title music: slow, bluesy jazz. It plays throughout the closing credits.]

H.R. Owen

Monstrous Agonies: Solidarity Forever was written by H.R. Owen and performed by H.R. Owen and Pippin Eira Major.

Pippin is the writer and editor of Spirit Box Radio, and plays protagonist, Sam, as he struggles to find his feet as the presenter of a radio station for witches and enthusiasts of the arcane. You can see why we get along. Learn more at or follow @SpiritBoxRadio on Twitter.

Submissions are now open for Season Three. Send in your letters, prompts and adverts online at, via email at, or get in touch through our Tumblr account, @MonstrousAgonies, and on Twitter @Monstrous_Pod.

Huge thanks and welcome to all our new patrons since our last episode – TinyToniMeloni, DJ, Ray, Megan and Mirka. Join them at or make a one-off donation at

This podcast is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The theme tune is Dakota by Unheard Music Concepts.

Thanks for listening, and remember - the real monsters are the friends we made on the way.

[Fade to silence]


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