Some African Americans are offended when slavery is compared to the life of immigrant laborers. Its true, there is nothing that compares to the horrors of bondage.
Even so, immigrant workers lives are not often pretty. And we all contribute everytime we buy something at Wallmart and Target.
ON THE JOB
Nobodies: Modern-day slavery in the United States
San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, October 1, 2007
By Chris Colin, Special to SF Gate
The other day I spoke with John Bowe about his new book, "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy." I'd been appalled by the stories of slavery happening here in the States: immigrants forced to pick fruit in Florida, armed guards keeping welders in a factory in Tulsa, Okla. ...
But really, I was just pretending to care.
To claim otherwise would contradict the facts: I buy a new shirt now and then. A stereo every decade or so. Charcoal. A rug. Food. In 2007, I can't say that I don't know — those prices are just too low when you start calculating the time and labor behind them. But if you're like me, you don't calculate all that often. Sure, you boycott a particularly egregious company or two, but a lurking suspicion tells you they've all got dirty hands, and gradually your indignation wears away.
...The CIA has estimated that 50,000 women and children are brought to the country each year as sex slaves; many more are trapped doing agricultural, garment and domestic work. Bowe spoke with a few of them.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the anti-slavery movement's first major victory, the abolition of the British slave trade. Two centuries later, Bowe offers a look at how little progress has been made. Taking us from Florida to Oklahoma to the island of Saipan, he provides astonishing, in-depth accounts of the forced labor behind the cheap goods consumed in this country and elsewhere. These are not obscure products — major corporations we're all familiar with profit from modern slavery, he writes.
... Not only do some of Bowe's subjects technically receive a wage, many are even employed — indirectly, through sub-contractors — by the country's most prominent companies....
As Bowe illustrates, the logistics have changed — legal ownership has been replaced by domination and power — but the fundamental element remains: "A person not free to leave their job, held in place by violence or the threat of violence, to be exploited by someone else," is how he defines it.
Since its abolition in the United States, slavery has lived on in a variety of disguises: tenant farming, chain gangs assembled through flimsy arrests, guest worker programs just a step away from forced servitude. Nowhere is slavery's modern-day reconfiguration clearer than with bonded labor, an extremely common arrangement where immigrants come to a country to work, only to find themselves owing vast sums to those who help ferry them over, for housing and even for the job itself and the tools of their employment — a sack for the fruit they collect.
In cases like these, the workers' employers are often in league with those who helped them immigrate, or perhaps they rent out the squalid quarters where the workers stay or charge exorbitant prices for minor services like check-cashing. Finding themselves in such debt, the workers are forced to stay on — at risk of violent retribution if they leave — and surrender their wages until their obligation is paid...
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