Fishers under siege
Publisher: International Socialism
Date Written: 09/01/2018
Year Published: 2018
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX22012
A review of Penny McCall Howard, Environment, Labour and Capitalism at Sea: "Working the Ground" in Scotland.
In the 21st century, 27 million people around the world catch fish for a living which is worth at least £116 billion annually year. This substantial section of the working class has enormous potential industrial power yet most of it receives a tiny proportion of the value of their work. This fascinating, accessible work of Marxist anthropology is a valuable contribution to understanding why this happens and how fishers can change their situation. The book examines the working lives of fishers in Scotland struggling in a system of shrinking fisheries damaged by neoliberalism. Its focus is the people who created the crab and prawn--or langoustine--fisheries on the west coast of Scotland from the late 1960s to the present and shows that we cannot understand how such areas became fishing grounds "without the active and attentive labour of fishermen".
Howard learnt to fish on trawlers and creel boats with many of her interviewees--jobs she was able to get because she proved that she is a good sailor. The result is a sympathetic but realistic examination of hard lives and rivalries but also the camaraderie and physical pleasure of working the sea for a living. It also becomes clear why so many people die in incidents that would be preventable if fishers didn't have to push themselves beyond safety.
Howard describes these workers feeling that they live under "a state of siege". When Friedrich Engels wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 he could have been describing these fishers' lives. He wrote "They are exposed to the most exciting changes of mental condition, the most violent vibrations between hope and fear; they are hunted like game, and not permitted to attain peace of mind and quiet enjoyment of life".