Colonising the land
in Working men’s bodies
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This chapter explores the early idea of the labour colony, and places it in a wider context of concern with unemployment and struggle over access to the land. Debates over the labour colony arose partly out of frustration at the shortcomings of the poor law system in general and the workhouse in particular. Radical thinkers such as George Lansbury and Herbert Mills proposed labour colonies as a way of simultaneously removing the unemployed and settling the land. Others took a more conservative view, seeing the labour colony as a way of restoring the body physically and preventing the moral and physical degeneration that had arisen from urbanisation. Yet others, including Sydney and Beatrice Webb, took a largely punitive approach, seeing colonies as reformatories for the idle. There was also a strong international dimension to the debate, with many looking to German social policy for an example.

Working men’s bodies

Work camps in Britain, 1880–1940

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