“Neo-Slavery” Re-emerging As A Business Strategy
Some patriotic friends of borders may have thought that
a severe recession would be an impossible time for
Washington to push through an amnesty for 10-30 million
lawbreaking foreigners. But
Senator Charles Schumer,
Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration, thinks now is
a fine time for amnesty. He held a hearing April 30 to
explore how to accomplish that goal.
It`s just another example the lengths to which business
elites will go to protect and expand their firehose
supply of the cheapest workers possible—by promoting
everything from open borders to H-1b visas and
permissive legal immigration. Labor can never be too
cheap nor too exploitable for the captains of industry
Hence the substantial lobbying arm in Washington to
thwart the well-being of citizen workers. A recent FAIR
that 521 corporations, business groups, unions,
nonprofits and the like reported lobbying on three
important immigration bills introduced in Congress over
the past three years. Of those, 98 percent of activity
was to secure more permissive immigration laws and
“willing” workers keep coming.
I was reminded again of the shortsighted selfishness of
business when I watched a BookTV talk given by
Douglas A. Blackmon
his recent book, Slavery by Another Name. (You
can watch the lecture online at its
page and clicking on the red
Blackmon found, during his seven years of research, that
very cheap labor was obtained in the post-Civil War
South by authorities arresting black men on flimsy
charges like vagrancy and then leasing them out to
commercial enterprises such as farming and mining.
Blackmon himself calls the practice
which is a helpful term. He writes:
"…in truth, since the beginning of the 20th century, a
new form of forced labor involving hundreds of thousands
of people, and terrorizing hundreds of thousands of
other people, had emerged in the South, that amounted to
what I call `neo-slavery,` and we should call it what it
was, the age of neo-slavery." [KFPK
transcript, May 6, 2009]
The Civil War itself was fought over slave labor. More
600,000 men died.
But the answer to the ante-bellum question
"Who will pick
the cotton?" (if slavery were ended) turned out to
be: "The same
people who picked it before". Land owners and other
users of unskilled labor strongly preferred their labor
costs to be very close to zero.
Blackmon made an interesting observation in the
interview about how old habits are difficult to end:
"One of the things that became clear to me as I studied
what was happening on cotton farms and in other settings
across the South, was that number one, the southern
economy and in some respects the national economy, were
addicted to forced slavery. White southerners really had
no idea how to grow cotton without the availability of
armies of forced Black workers to do that work, both in
terms of the need for manual laborers and the
intellectual knowledge that was necessary to deploy
those laborers in the setting of cotton farms and even
in industrial settings. This addiction to forced labor
was so great that there was this enormous compulsion to
return to it."
Of course, slaves did not supply totally
because the owner had to feed, clothe and house them. It
would be interesting if a number cruncher could analyze
and compare the costs between actual slavery in the
South with its 21st century replacement—the illegal
immigration of millions who volunteer for the worst sort
of treatment with very little pay.
The neo-slaves of the iPod age may
sleep several to a room or even outdoors. They depend upon
do-gooders in churches to help out with clothing and
other assistance. The unwilling taxpayer is forced to
"cheap" labor with
food stamps, housing and
free-to-aliens medical care. The threat of deportation
keeps them in line.
Even the U.S. government has recognized that absurdly
low wages in situations of ignorance or servitude cross
the line. The New
York Times has reported that several Florida labor
contractors had been convicted of enslaving farm workers
[Middlemen in the Low-Wage
by Steven Greenhouse, December 28, 2003]. The same
report also noted how a New York grocery chain paid
ignorant Africans $2 an hour instead of the $5.15 then
required by law.
the aftermath of the noisy
Postville, Iowa, meatpacking raid of a year ago, the
Des Moines Register reported that illegal alien employees were paid
$5 an hour and later $6 after a few months, while the
state minimum wage is $7.25. [Claims of ID fraud lead to largest raid in state history, by Nigel Duara, William
Petroski and Grant Schulte, May 12, 2008.]
Meatpacking was a
for blue-collar citizens
not that many years ago.
But no longer.
Some illegals manage to save some money or send cash
home to the family, even receiving such miserable wages.
But that progress is only possible because of the
subsidies provided by us
with a gun held to our heads.
Of course, not all business owners are oppressive
thieving monsters—far from it. But when one company in a
community chooses the illegal alien route, it completely
rejiggers the playing field so the cheaters win.
When one roofer or construction firm can underbid others
by 30 or 40 percent, those in competition must struggle
to adjust somehow. Although
The story of one builder in Colorado is instructive:
“Bob is an independent contractor, bidding on individual
jobs. `Guys are coming in with bids that are
impossible`, he tells me. After all his time in the
business, `no way can they be as efficient in time and
material as me`. The difference has to be in the cost of
labor. `They`re not paying the taxes and insurance that
I am`. Insurance, workmen`s compensation and taxes add
about 40 percent to the cost of legally employed
workers. When you add the lower wages that immigrants
are often willing to take, there`s plenty of opportunity
for competing contractors to underbid Bob and still make
a tidy profit…
gone in to spray a house and there`s a guy sleeping in
the bathtub, with a microwave set up in the kitchen. I`m
thinking, “You moved into this house for two weeks to
hang and paint it, you`re gonna get cash from somebody,
and he`s gonna pick you up and drive you to the next
“In this way, some construction trades are turning into
the equivalent of migrant labor. Workers don`t have
insurance or workmen`s comp, so if they are hurt or worn
out on the job, they are simply replaced. Workers can be
used up, and the builders and contractors higher up the
food chain can keep more of the profits for themselves.
“`The quality of life has changed drastically,` says
Bob. `I don`t want to live like that. I want to go home
and live with my family.`”
[Whatever we do about illegal immigration, somebody
by Philip Cafaro, Writers on the Range, July 16, 2008]
But now in fact Bob the contractor has been forced to
“live like that”—to travel far from his home to find work, a
middle-class American effectively forced down into the
ranks of migrant labor.
But Rome had its Spartacus and the United States had Nat
Turner. We also had abolitionists like
Susan B. Anthony,
leaders who applied an ethical standard to labor that
included human dignity.
Now, however, we have regressed. We are faced with a
modern reincarnation of
The manacles may be gone. But the exploitation is back,
as stubborn as ever.
The powerful business interests have the system
fine-tuned to benefit them alone. You can tell how
unbalanced Washington has become against the welfare of
the American people when the
immigration doors remain wide open
in a worsening economy, and top Congressional leaders,
take the side of foreigners against citizens.
European countries are tightening up
on immigration to protect their own people. Imagine
Patriots have remarked
that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. That
aphorism has never been more true than today—and doubly
so when borders and sovereignty are at risk.
Brenda Walker (email
her) lives in Northern California and publishes
ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She has her fingers crossed
repairs go well and safely.