On Pirates of Old

Gimme the Loot | Jacobin:
Being a sailor has never been easy, and it was particularly tough in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. To maximize profits, sailors were forced to eat rotten food and bunk in cramped quarters, and were paid on credit – you didn’t collect until you had completed your one-, two-, or three-year bid. And even then, you might not collect. You could die, of course. Or you might be pressed into military service, or forced to work an extra few years on another ship, or forfeit your wages as a punishment for insolence. It wasn’t uncommon for sailors to go a decade without seeing a shilling. Ship captains had absolute authority over their crews in order to enforce discipline. Any complaining or shirking could be deemed “mutinous,” and punishment could range from whipping to hanging to being dangled over the side of the ship to have your brains bashed in.

Pirate ships were different – they were under democratic worker control. Captains weren’t absolute rulers, but elected leaders who commanded only during battle. Day-to-day operations were handled democratically by the entire crew. Loot was divided equally and immediately, and pirates ate – and drank – better than their law-abiding contemporaries. This was the major reason pirates were feared: it was easy to convince exploited sailors to join up with them. And join up they did.

Posting just to say

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