Modern slaves

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Human trafficking and modern-day slavery are, as Jeremy Godwin (Letters, 20 March) suggests, simply a continuation of practices from the truck enslavement system in Shetland.

The bondager women of the Borders were another historical instance similar to Shetland’s truck practice; this time the women were slaves of the land, whereas the Shetland men were more slaves of the sea – farm work and fishing respectively.

Sue Glover’s play Bondagers, which recently graced Edinburgh’s Lyceum stage, depicts the harshness of a system that demanded of ploughmen that they provide a female outfield worker in the event of their wives being unable to fulfil the service because of the needs of home and children.

Then there is the account of “Indian Peter” (Peter Williamson), who was snatched as a child from the quayside in Aberdeen and sent as an indentured servant (an 18th-century euphemism for slave) to the West Indies and America.

There is much history of this kind – maybe too often romanticised – a considerable underbelly of all the respectable life interchanges that mostly are put forward as social history. Into the 20th century, the feeing markets and their associated tied cottars featured across the rural farm scene – David Toulmin was a North-east spokesman of this way of life in his novels and stories, with the bothies of Aberdeenshire the regular residence of many young males during their toil on the hard, stony farmlands.

Domestic service for females was routine well into the same 20th century.

Some might well compare the present zero-hours contracts with such enslavements, and see the currently widespread self-employed job situations as euphemisms for more of the same.

IAN JOHNSTONE

Forman Drive

Peterhead

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