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You have Nothing to lose but your Chains

Cyclists of the World Unite

You have Nothing to lose but your Chains ...

The 1890s saw the development

Of the bicycle as we now know it,

Overtaking the posh boys’ plaything,

The cumbrous high-seated penny-farthing;

Here was a bike the workers could afford:

Second-hand, about twice a weekly wage;

New, about ten times that but with a deposit,

You could pay by tolerable instalments.

This was an end of century revolution:

The sun might not set on the British Empire,

But it also shone on working-class

Women and men cycling to work,

Or cycling for leisure along the lanes,

Roads and thoroughfares of this country.

There was a political change too:

The Independent Labour Party was formed in 1893;

Unskilled workers began to unionise

After the Bryant and May women’s strike of 1888 -

But no women had the vote, of course,

And only 60% of men over 21

In this so-called British democracy.

And so, socialism and cycling went hand in glove,

With the determined men and women

Of the Clarion Club Scouts,

Carrying the message of collectivism,

And the nascent liberation of women.

And this was a form of recreation too,

That working-class women could pursue,

Unlike tennis and badminton and croquet -

And bloomin’ ‘eck!

Women cycling in their knickers and bloomers,

Liberated from corsets and heavy skirts.

So, remember this history,

And remember this too:

Cyclists of the World Unite!

You have Nothing to Lose but your Chains.

Here is the Clarion Club hymn – it would be great if anyone fancies updating the gendered language from a century ago and more.

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