Those now called scabs were once called blacklegs. This song arose in the north east mining communities in the late 19th century of the North East – it references Deleval, a former mining town near Newcastle.
It’s harsh and uncompromising tone reflects the kinds of struggles in which such communities were involved – at a time when unemployment meant death or the workhouse. Defeat in a strike meant wages drawn even nearer to the subsistence level,and, in the case of Deleval reemployment with longer hours – a big thing for people already putting in dangerous 12 hour stints in a pit.
Organised miners were, in this period very much a transnational community. South Africa got its goldminers from cornwall, and Canada from England and scotland. Miners wouild go back and forth depending on labour market conditions and developed a form of organisation that paralleled the globalisation of their industry. As such this song spread round the world, and is now equally well known in Canada’s newfoundland – getting altered by a few Chinese whispers along the way.