Recent occupations of motorway toll booths by Greek activists who allowed motorists through free of charge as a protest against high prices charged by private companies is reminiscent of the 19th-century Rebecca Riots in mid and south-west Wales.
In the 1840s farmers and farm labourers attacked toll booths in protest at crippling prices imposed by aristocratic landowners at the private Turnpikes for roads which crossed their lands.
They assumed the name Rebecca, from an Old Testament quote (And they blessed Rebecca, and said unto her, Thou art our sister. Be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gates of those that hate them). Not only did they take the name Rebecca, they dressed as women to avoid being recognised, and became history’s greatest cross-dressing rebels!
Following the Rebecca protests, Newport and Merthyr uprising the English Establishment took decisive measures to suppress decent in Wales. The county’s industrial capacity, particularly coal and steel made the Welsh peoples’ compliance vital for profit margins. The Welsh language, was singled out as an obstacle to London rule and the following decades saw the imposition of ‘civilizing’ measures such as the ‘Welsh Not’.
Like the Greek action, toll prices were simply the final straw among the escalating costs of living while the bosses sat on their fat profits.
Today we are faced with exorbitantly high costs of travel resulting from the privatisation of our transport system and inflated fuel costs. Let’s hope that the protest by Greek activists will help to re-ignite the spirit of the Rebeccarites.
With thanks to Anita Wright
More info: Greek Toll Booth Protest
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