Back to previous post: What we can agree about—and what we can’t (and shouldn’t try)

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: A precedent that will reach to himself

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

June 12, 2008

Slavery
Posted by Patrick at 09:23 PM * 56 comments

In America. Now. Here. Today.

This is what we get for letting unions wither. This is what we get for our libertarian delusions. Forced labor. Workers forbidden by law to change jobs. Held captive at gunpoint when they dare to protest.

Fellow Americans: Odds are these particular workers don’t look like you. Do you think that will save you when the time comes?

Comments on Slavery:
#1 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 10:46 PM:

What. He. Said.

Gonna be rough times, getting rights back. Needs to be done, though.

#2 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 10:46 PM:

And the real pisser is that these guys at Signal weren't even kidnapped and sold into slavery. Instead, they were charged $20,000 dollars for the privilege.

I want my country back, and I want to kick the ass of those who stole it and broke it.

#3 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 11:00 PM:

"...and the south shall rise again!"

(I realize the southern states are not solely responsible for human trafficking.)

Why am I not shocked?
Not being shocked, why am I still deeply offended?

#4 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 11:03 PM:

It's the old company store, back again.

#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 11:23 PM:

What you say we all get shovels, dig a deep trench around the Mississippi border, and give it a big shove to the south?

(Fume)

There was a long piece about this on NPR a little while back, possibly on This American Life. Some really good people helped out workers who blew the whistle.

And FUCK, I found the link to the piece, and it turns out to be about ANOTHER case of Indian men trapped in shit jobs by an arrogant prick:

"Host Ira Glass talks to reporter John Bowe about the story of John Nash Pickle, who ran a company in Tulsa, Oklahoma that made steel tanks used in the oil industry. According to 52 Indian men whom Pickle hired and brought to America, Pickle was trying to compete with foreign companies, doing something most companies never try. Instead of simply opening a factory overseas with cheap labor, the men say, Pickle decided to run an overseas factory with cheap labor...on American soil...inside his own Tulsa Oklahoma plant."

Cowboys and Indians

#6 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 11:25 PM:

Now I think I know why our local Jason's Deli has a discreet sign in the window describing human trafficking (as defined in under Texas law) and giving the number people should call if they think it's happening. It's probably going on here too.

#7 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 11:54 PM:

What I'm curious about in that Raw Story piece: where the heck are the unions in this mess? The welders/pipefitters/machinists tend to be well organized and fairly militant everywhere (Polish Solidarity, anyone?), but is Mississippi really the exception to that rule as well?

No outrage from the AFL/CIO or related organizations?

On a slight tangent, work visas that are workplace-specific seem to be the rule rather than the exception here in Canada. Several friends are or have been here on such visas, and they are employer-specific.

#8 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:11 AM:

Wirelizard, #7: I'm pretty sure that Mississippi is what's misleadingly called a "right-to-work" state... which really means that you work at the pleasure of the employer, who can fire you at any time, for any reason, without penalty. Unions? What unions? Most of the Old Confederacy states are like that.

#10 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:07 AM:

Some would say this is what we get for choosing nationalist craft unionism over internationalist industrial unionism.

Alas, nobody ever listens to those people— because they crazee.

#11 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:21 AM:

As much as the capitalist bosses want to screw every last penny possible out of their workers, a lot of this kind of trafficking has more to do, I think, with the need that a lot of people seem to have to own other people. Hard to believe someone could be that evil, but there they are. Why else are there overseers and shop bosses?

Lee @ 8

One of the more successful tactics used by The Man to divide workers from each other has been to convince US workers, even union workers, that foreign workers want to take their jobs, and will get away with it because they're willing to work for less pay. And a lot of people buy it, not thinking that, well, no, it's the owners of the companies who won't pay the foreign workers more who are stealing the jobs. But if US workers hate foreign workers and think of them only as competition, they'll be a lot less sympathetic to the ones who've been exploited and sold into virtual slavery. Patrick is right, of course. Turning against the brown workers won't get the white workers anything when it's their turn to be exploited.

There'a an old line, originally in the context of living in a police state, that's apropos: "When they came to take my neighbor, I was afraid and I said nothing. When they came to take my friend, I was afraid, and I said nothing. Then they came for me and there was no one left to say anything."

#12 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:32 AM:

Patrick,

This is what we get for letting unions wither

It's true that all of us bear a certain responsibility for not realizing that we've been in a fight for more than 30 years over whether we'd get to keep our rights and our share of the prosperity of the US economy.. But I want to write in letters of fire 10 feet high, preferably on the bodies of a herd of neo-cons, that the gutting of the unions was a premeditated, orchestrated operation carried out by (among others) Ronald Reagen abd the Georges Bush. The unions didn't wither, they were beaten to within an inch of their lives and then rolled into the gutter, and I am damn mad about it.

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:43 AM:

Some local stations are running a pair of "Unions want to take your money and boss you around!" commercials, pointing viewers at a web site I won't repeat here.

Every time I see them I feel like I'm living in a Pohl / Kornbluth satire.

#14 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:01 AM:

There are similar things happening in Australia too. In fact this Sunday's ABC Background Briefing reports on Slavery in Australia. There'll be a transcript & podcast after broadcast. And similar themes about 'foreign workers' have been part of Oz culture at odd times since the 19th Century.

Bruce Cohen (StM) @11: Martin Niemöller's famous quote involving communists, socialists, trade unionists, Jews, & finally "me" has come in a great many versions — see here for a study of the origin & history by a page by Harold Marcuse at UC Santa Barbara.

#15 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:02 AM:

Well, if you're one of the people who probably pay for these ads, they do want to take your money and boss you around. Hey, perhaps a lot of the monied classes' attitudes are simply based on being clueless about how the world looks like to the rest of us.

#16 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:58 AM:

Epacris, that historical fact-checking is fascinating. Thanks for the link.

#17 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:45 AM:

Bruce Cohen's #11 bears repeating and underlining. Sometimes there are genuine social surprises thanks to changing circumstances, where we can say "Nobody intended this bad thing to happen to those folks." The destruction of union power in the US isn't one of them, anymore than the loss of verifiable elections or media diversity is - these are all things people decided they wanted and set out to make, and what we see is what persistence and the abandonment of moral standards will get you. We need to keep in mind, as we choose our responses, that this is not unforeseen harm, but an outcome some people wanted.

#18 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 07:30 AM:

You're blaming libertarians for this? When these people were brought in under INS visas? I think you'll find that libertarians are in no way fans of that odious engorged bureaucracy.

Actual libertarians would favor one of two approaches to labor imports. On the one hand, I could see them wanting to let in anyone who can find work, and who isn't likely to cause trouble. (Not that there aren't problems with that, mind you.) On the other hand, they might notice that picking and choosing foreigners to let in would require a bureaucracy of some kind, and a government one at that. And since keeping government small is a priority, libs would favor having very simple admission rules and probably letting in very few foreign workers. But either way, the system that caused these problems little resembles what the libs are looking for, and I don't see much point in blaming them for it.

As for unions, I doubt a union would have helped these people. As foreigners who are here only temporarily and can be tossed out for essentially any reason, they have little leverage over anyone. Certainly not over the government or their employers, and probably not over anyone charged with looking after them either. More than likely, the union would have turned into yet another fee-taking layer, delivering nothing useful but keeping the goons in bling.

#19 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 08:35 AM:

Remember these stories when the idea of a "guest worker" program comes up again in the immigration debates.

#20 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:10 AM:

Yep, this uses a program established and run by Democrats and Republicans to establish a kind of indentured servitude. Clearly, it's the fault of the libertarians, who have zero power over any of the legal tools used, and who overwhelmingly oppose the existence of those tools, when it's misused. What could be clearer?

#21 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:24 AM:

1. Unions are not active everywhere as they are out east. Colorado has them but you can get work sans union for just about every thing.

2. Unions are not always best practice. certain unions in CO tend to high anyone without background checks. There are a lot of wanted felons working in union kitchen jobs. (so not joking) Being afraid for your life because you can't fire some who has pulled a gun on co-workers because he's union is not a good plug for them.

3. Why pay 18.50 hour then hold them under armed guard. I can't believe they were really being paid that much and then being held. Oh I don't doubt that they were held...but it doesn't hold up. The well-payed slave scenario makes me think that the deputy was in the extra stupid category...maybe he was afraid his own workers would get deported if he let them out? Totally screw up...if nothing else I hope they really got the money.


#22 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:26 AM:

albatross #20: The funny thing, though, is that the people most likely to rant against unions and to insist that organised labour is bad for workers are wont to say they are libertarians. I wonder why that is?

#23 ::: annalee flower horne ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:35 AM:

I firmly believe that we need a guest worker program. We have (or had, before that bullshit wall went up) people coming over the border for a few months at a time to pick our fruit for us and head back home. Those people deserve legal protections and the improved conditions government oversight is supposed to bring with it. Much like abortion, criminalizing guest workers doesn't make the practice end; it just makes it exponentially more dangerous for the most vulnerable parties to it.

When Bush unveiled his new guest worker program, I thought "WTF? What guest worker industry needs someone for two years at a go with one year breaks? University Professors?" Now it all comes clear: he doesn't want migrant farmers to have legal protections (and why would he?). He wants construction barons to be able to dismantle one of America's last union strongholds through insourcing.

The article said they were at the Indiana embassy until Wednesday. Are they still there now, by any chance?

#24 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:37 AM:

Epacris @ 14... similar themes about 'foreign workers' have been part of Oz culture at odd times since the 19th Century

A curse upon the Wicked Witch!

#25 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:42 AM:

@JKRichard #3:
"...and the south shall rise again!"

I'm hoping that my family in the South will rise with those who are fighting this sort of nastiness.

(I realize the southern states are not solely responsible for human trafficking.)

Thank you for this little bit, at least you appear to be trying to be fair.

Why am I not shocked?

I'd have to ask my family, but I suspect the history of such things isn't being taught much in the public school system down there, nor is this sort of activity widely reported. There's also the issue of over-simplification in general in history classes/"common knowledge" that slavery and company town activities were "a Southern thing that the Civil War ended".

Not being shocked, why am I still deeply offended?

As well you should be, as am I. Unfortunately, as I still have family down there - some living in Pascagoula, MS actually - there's potentially some shame involved on my part.

@Stefan Jones#5:

What you say we all get shovels, dig a deep trench around the Mississippi border, and give it a big shove to the south?

Hey now, that's my family you're threatening.

Cool it.

(Fume)

Plenty of cause for that, I'll agree, but please, be a bit more targeted in your rantings. Despite one of the main bad actors here being an alleged Mississippi Deputy Sheriff, the main groups at fault here are corporations, not the bulk of the people that reside in Mississippi! There are plenty of examples in the linked articles about locals doing everything they can to help these workers.

For my part, I just e-mailed my Uncle who lives in Pascagoula, MS where this shipyard is and gave him a heads up. I'll see what he knows - it is likely this isn't getting much local coverage. They have the same trouble with corporate-controlled mainstream media not covering stuff well as we do elsewhere in the country.

He's retired, too, so if this gets his hackles up he's got some time to put to use.

Later,
-cajun
P.S. A while back I posted a joke about the Civil War, got asked what my base assumptions/opinions were, and realized I hadn't thought about it deeply enough to have one. I still haven't pondered that well enough, but I'm certainly not in favor of slavery, and I still don't feel comfortable using that joke again until I get some better historical grounding. As I'm from the South, though, I tend to jump to the defense rather quickly.

#26 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:14 AM:

JKRichard @3:

"Mr. Adams, I give you a toast: 'Hail Charleston! Hail Boston! Who stinketh the most?"

A Virginian who's getting damn tired of the South being blamed for slavery when the North has practiced the equivalent (Triangle Factory Fire anyone? How 'bout coal miners?) and who damn well is outraged at what is happening to these "guest workers."

Whether it was called slavery or not, you can find varying flavors in EVERY part of the USA and many other nations -- and as long as it's being permitted to happen and we are purchasing the products produced, NO ONE'S HANDS ARE CLEAN.

#27 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:03 PM:

This is a global outrage. There are more people enslaved globally now than at any other time in history. India has entire regions of generational debt enslaved, for instance.

The Dominican Republic U.S. Corporation sugar fields have been operated with Haitian slave labor non-stop all these decades. Haitian slave labor in the federally subsidized Florida and Louisiana sugar industry as well. Nor, in this nation, is slavery confined to the south or the southwest.

This isn't a new story. It's a story that keeps increasing.

A just published book documents some of this: A CRIME SO MONSTROUS: Face-to-Face With Modern-Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner. The WaPo reviewed it this week here.

What makes it so easy to do this on such a large scale in our deep Southern south, is practices still well remembered up through the Civil Rights movement, and even still in practice in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, where the re-enslavement of African Americans went into effect immediately post the Civil War. It's called 'prisoners,' and you need the justice system from judges to sheriffs to make it work. It gave Birmingham its wealth from coal and steel.

If you can stand to read it, because it is awful stuff, this current book tells you how it worked/works: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.

Love, C.

#28 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:04 PM:

This really isn't the libertarians' fault, and the weakness of unions isn't the primary cause.

What makes people hideously vulnerable to enslavement in civilized countries is the border restrictions. The particular case was driven by a green card and residency scam, and that's made possible by the belief that it's legitimate to deport people just for not being officially accepted by a government.

#29 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:24 PM:

Thank you, Cajun. Rhetoric along the lines of "This happened in the south (or Mississippi, or Texas, or Utah, or other region that gets unhelpfully stereotyped)--why are you surprised?" always sits badly with me. Of course it sits especially badly with me when my hometown is the target, and the people doing the targetting are supposedly my allies (cf. that little "Metairie, home of white supremecy" jab the other day); I share your frustration when it's your home that's getting bullseyed.

Pragmatically, blaming the region and then shrugging doesn't solve anything. It neither helps the abused parties nor wins allies to their cause. Sometimes it even has the effect of driving potential allies into the arms of the evil-doers out of an instinctual impulse to protect the homeland that has come under attack by those damn Yankees/foreigners/elite snobs/etc.

Worldweary stereotyping rhetoric simply isn't useful. It isn't accurate or truthful. It isn't nice or fair either. All that it has to recommend it is that temporary smug, cynical glow, which seems very little worth it.

#30 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:40 PM:

Who are that shipyard's customers?
Are there no pipefitters etc. available in the USA to work on ships, that that company gets all those visas? (The hospitality in the Northeast has a huge problem, they can't get visa for workers from outside the USA who have been coming here to work summers from before the end of the school year until after the school year starts up again, because there are X number of temporary work permits available and there seems to be a requirement to apply that restricts how far ahead of the sort start, the company can request work permits for foreign national temporary workers--and since the summer tourist season up here starts later than the tourist season in further south locations, the work permits go to the more southern businesses.)

I worked briefly as a contractor at a location where all the other people doing software testing seemed to be Indian nationals, who get sent around the USA, on H-IB or some such visas. A friend who used to do software testing told me that many of the Indian software industry contract workers he'd worked with, lived quietly in apartments multiples of them per apartment, avoiding attention and unwilling to let people know where they lived.... That wasn't true of my fulltime coworkers from India, Russia, Ukraine, etc., before the dotcom implosion, but they were fulltime direct employees, not employees of contract agencies.

On a distantly related topic:
The Oval Office Oaf has asked Congress for what, $280 or so million for increase the FDA budget to hire more inspectors and to send people permanent party to e.g. China to inspect food and drugs and additives and chemicals slated for use in food and drugs in the USA, being exported from China to the USA?

At the surface it looks palliative, look DEEPER, though--who is footing the bill for this, not, I bet, the corporations which have been continuing to massively offshore the production and jobs that used to done in the USA, which exterminated jobs and income and spending of the people who were in the USA doing the production, and spending money in the local economies, which created more jobs and income and spending and tax revenue to pay for inspection services.... No, it's the US taxpayer, not the companies BEING inspected, who are paying I suspect, the same taxpayers who've been seeing their "good jobs at good wages" get offshored to India and China and Malaysia and Taiwan and everywhere else in the world, to facilities which often are worker-exploitive, while the wealthiest citizens of the world get richer and richer from their investment portfolios and have all sorts of "wealth management" professionals looking after "preserving" and growing their net worth, as the expense of the majority of the people on the planet.

The least the US Government should do is slap an inspection tax on any and all agricultural and chemical goods coming into the country, that pays all the expenses of inspection and certification, by qualified (which is NOT a characteristic of so many of the appointees and appointees of appointees of the Oaf's Misadministration) inspectors... as opposed to the US public being gouged more for the privilege of losing more jobs and income and having a worsening living standard....

#31 ::: Beable ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:51 PM:

Michelle @ 21 : If you look at the details - sure they are being offered $18.50 an hour to come here, but when they got here the company tried to drop them to $13.50.

Second - by forcing the workers to live in camp accomodations at $35 a day and not allowing them to leave to find their own options the companie gets that money back - in addition to whatever tax benefits they get for providing "daily accomodations".


Third for the money the workers are managing to get after all that I bet a huge portion goes to pay down the $15-20K each one paid for the privilege of being treated like this.

Fourth - they can't find a job elsewhere because of the visa limitations, so it's either pack up and go home (still owing the huge amounts of money) or suck it up.

#32 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:04 PM:

'Company store' and 'company housing' are not that far back in time, even in the northern states, and some of those companies were predatory enough to make their workers riot.

#33 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:14 PM:

Fragano #22:

I'm missing the relevance of unions to this case. As I read it, these guys' problem wasn't their lack of ability to form a union, it was being lied to during recruiting and screwed over company-town-style once they got here. And that was mainly made possible, as far as I can tell, by the nature of the visas they had and the nature of US immigration law. (As an aside, which libertarians were involved in developing that law, again? I can't seem to recall any.)

Now, there are many places where libertarian ideas look messed up to me. But I don't think I've ever seen a libertarian argument for anything that looks like our current immigration policy. Most libertarians prefer pretty-much open borders; some like Ron Paul want pretty-much closed borders. Neither group seems to be big on carefully doled out permits to allow someone to come work for you and you only. There are a few libertarians who will argue for the idea of indentured servitude as an ultimate extension of the right to bind yourself with a contract, but I'm pretty sure even those guys would at least want the indentured servants to have to be given the terms of the contract up front, which doesn't sound like what happened here.

Blaming stuff like this, which happened under policies and laws designed by middle-of-the-road Democrats and Republicans, on libertarians, seems insane to me. Why not blame it on Martians, who have had almost as much say on US immigration policy?

#34 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:30 PM:

White supremacy is not necessarily equivalent to historical slavery or the current neo-slavery.

Though it can be, as with the 'leasing' of convict labor, a practice that has continued non-stop in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, and has more recently been taken up by a sheriff in Arizona, as a good thing. Again, I urge anyone to read Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon.

When we speak of white supremacy, we generally mean this sort of thing, which happened last month, and is under investigation by the FBI.

Love, C.

#35 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:00 PM:

Constance: Yeah, I think the slavery (or whatever you call it--surprise indentured servitude?) we're talking about here is purely driven by greed, not by some kind of racial supremacy doctrine. But then, my impression is that black slavery first became widespread and economically important, and then the justifications for it based on racism came out.

It seems to me that this is extremely common in political arguments; you have some practice or policy or law you like, and so you generate arguments to support it and discard (or try to generate ways to undermine) arguments against it. This is the opposite of the way you'd want to make arguments to discover truth, but that's not really the main point of most political argument....

#36 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:26 PM:

Constance Ash @#34: It's worth noting that criminal convicts are a Constitutional exception to the prohibition of slavery.

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:01 PM:

albatross #33: In general, the people who speak up for workers -- regardless of whether they are members or not -- are unions. And the people who put unions down tend to be libertarians. I'm not blaming the libertarians for this particular crime. Just saying that, in general, libertarians seem to me to be against the rights of workers.

#38 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:55 PM:

While I believe that the primary cure for that sort of operation is just letting people come into the country and work, unions might help catch it if it happens.

I'm guessing that reasonably active unions would keep track of businesses that offer their sort of work, and would be more than suspicious of a business that didn't seem to have visible workers.

I don't know whether you could expect a union to try to get a decent deal for people who'd been abused like that, or if it would be more a matter of just freeing and deporting them.

This just applies to industrial and maybe agricultural slavery. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think there are unions with much care for domestic or sex slavery.

#39 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:36 PM:

Fragano @ 37, Nancy @ 38

The union movement has a long history of acting as a watchdog for workers' rights, not just as a bargaining agent for their own members. That was one of the reasons why the kleptocrats went after them: silence them and likely no one will be watching how you treat your workers. Make them political untouchables ("unions are run by greedy crooks who really want to bilk the owners and the workers at the same time, they have no honor and not real purpose") and the very act of watching for abuse can be labelled unclean ("liberal").

#40 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 07:33 PM:

Re: the claims that it's absurd to put any of the blame for this on libertarians because stuff like this violates libertarian principles and isn't supported by libertarians: Well, I guess many neocons aren't in favor of having a giant clusterfuck in Iraq, either. It's just that the things they do support ended up leading to a giant clusterfuck in Iraq.

If you remove a lot, or all, government restrictions on major businesses, these businesses will be able to operate more freely, and therefore become more influential and powerful, than they were before. They will then be able to use this additional power and influence to put more pressure on the government to pass new restrictions that favor them. You can say that you're opposed to these new restrictions, too, but that's pretty much like saying that you're in favor of blowing up a levee but opposed in principle to the flooding of the city behind it.

#41 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:13 PM:

Fragano #37: Citation needed.

#42 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:15 PM:

Oops sorry, I wasn't clear enough. Citation needed only for this part: "In general, libertarians seem to me to be against the rights of workers."

#43 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:20 PM:

Lee, #8, Virginia is a right-to-work state, but there are still unions here. Some companies choose to have unions, although the reasons may not be laudable. I shop at a union grocery store.

Here in DC (and also in NYC), slavery is usually practiced by diplomats who bring young women from their own countries to work for them and then take their visas away and don't let them out.

#44 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:28 PM:

I'm pretty sure libertarians believe in the right of workers to work on whatever terms employers offer.

#45 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:59 PM:

Unions tend to be anti-slavery because one of the bottom lines is that slaves are "unfair competition" regarding pay and working conditions--slaves don't have the option of choosing to quitting and going to work for another employer or start their business, or move elsewhere for better working conditions, or go on strike, etc.

Unions have downs sides of e.g. "featherbedding" some labor unions have histories of the heads of the unions not really looking out for the interests and well-being and concerns of the membership, of goldbricking, and of causing businesses to pack up and move elsewhere, sellout, or contract everything out to firms/places with a more productive work force more willing to base pay on performnce and achievement rather than on longevity and political connections.

Business/management often tends to be cavaliar if not stomped on by regulatory agency and inspection, with regards to the health and safety and well-being of workers, and try to pay as minimally as possible, provide few benefits, and fire workers as they get perceived as having higher salaries and increased benefits and more vacation and become large fiscal liabilities and get older and healthcare premiums get more expensive for, or fire them as soon as there is an interest in making higher revenue per employee figures, or reducing the labor force in anticipation of business slowdown, etc.

#46 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 02:10 AM:

#40 ::: Raphael:

Do you apply the same standards to people who support immigration laws? (Some of them are libertarians, but I bet that isn't what Patrick meant by "libertarian delusions".)

#47 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 02:57 AM:

Actually, I thought that what Patrick meant by "our libertarian delusions" was our delusions that we (Americans) are a libertarian (liberty-loving) people. But maybe I'm wrong.

#48 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 11:53 AM:

Allan Beatty #s 42/43: You need a citation for a statement saying 'in general, libertarians seem to me...'? That's been my experience. If you disagree that that has been my experience, I invite you to prove it.

#49 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 09:04 PM:

Fragano @ 48: It occurs to me you might be thinking of minimum wage laws and restrictions on plant closings. I've been libertarian so long that those didn't occur to me when you mentioned workers' rights. Here I was all set to go explain things to some putative libertarians you knew who would deny workers the right to organize, bargain, strike, change jobs, and seek redress in the courts when employers failed to pay their wages (all of which are relevant to those folks in Mississippi). Sorry for the misunderstanding.

#50 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 11:41 PM:

John, #44: Yeah, that's pretty much my take on it as well. "After all, you can always choose to go work somewhere else, and if you choose to stay, it's not the employer's fault." I've heard that one put forth as an argument against everything from anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws on down.

#51 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2008, 05:52 PM:

#35 albatross

Yes, justification of 'race' slavery after the fact, indeed. But after some decades here, this got twisted psychically like nowhere else, making it a dogma that was both overtly religious, and religious in psychic dependence, a twisted, twisted eroticism as well as economic entitlement to the production of the labor of others at no cost to you. Though it has receded to a significant degree, it is is still operating at very deep levels in many places of the republic.

#36 David Harmon

That's why it became a felony to exist as an ex-slave or a freeborn African American post the Civil War. Not that sheriffs and those who benefit from convict-slave labor ever had any interest in the Constitution. They were the law where they were/are, and that's all that matters.

An enormous proportion of those taken up in the tens of thousands post the Civil War and up to WWII (and sometimes, yes, even now) didn't commit a crime of any kind. Except, maybe, wearing a shirt that the sheriff thought was too good for him. This made the convict labor game the number one weapon in re-enslavement, keeping the 'populations' of black Americans docile and humble and very, very careful. There was also that practice of never bothering to do anything legal at all, never even entering the name of the person taken up for the convict labor coffles into any official record. So when investigations did happen, that person simply did not exist.

We still find this happening in Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi today, though not to the same levels. But the levels have been increasing the more the prison systems have been privatized.

Love, C.

Love, C.

#52 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2008, 07:06 PM:

I know of one business that in running on something close to slave labour. There are schemes here in the UK to get long-term unemployed on "work placement". In theory, you end up with a work record which helps you get a proper job.

Well, the companies don't actually pay anything. Free workers, who more or less have to work where they're told or lose unemployment benefit.

And these placement schemes are run by contractors, who also have the option of paying a subsidy to employers who take on the long-term unemployed. Except they never seem to have any money left over to pay the subsidy.

Yeah, right, we abolished the slave trade, two hundred years ago. Hooray for William Wilberforce.

Bastards

#53 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2008, 07:58 PM:

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been reporting for years on what's wrong with the guestworker program.


I too live in the South, and I agree there's a lot wrong here. But I'd like to point out that there's also a lot right. For example, the local (gasp) evangelical minister who came to the aid of the abused workers in the "This American Life" story cited above. And yeah, the SPLC.

#54 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2008, 08:33 PM:

That's the unions' primary reason for so long keeping the immigrant labor force as members. Undocumented workers pull down the wages and benefits.

Which is why the enormous waves of immigrants to NYC and Boston in particular, out of Ireland, hated slaves, and then, by extension, hated the runaway slaves in the Civil War and after. They were all competing for the same jobs, and the runaways and later, emancipated, worked cheaper even than the Irish -- who were also despised by the members of the labor force who had arrived to the U.S. earlier.

Really bad riots, deaths and just plain horror shows all around.

By the time of the Civil War the slave states had been experimenting with slave labor in the manufacturing sector, and had been figuring out how to make it work profitably. It was the next stage -- the stage we saw post the Civil War and the convict labor gangs.

Love, C.

#55 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 01:13 AM:

#54 -- Constance --

"...That's the unions' primary reason for so long keeping the immigrant labor force as members. Undocumented workers pull down the wages and benefits."

Not entirely, the reality is two-fold

First, yes, successfully-exploited workers *do* drive down wages and benefits.

See what is happening now to wages/benefits from "insourcing"/"offshoring" [which is successful exploitation] and what is happening in areas where undocumented workers are used as day laborers with no benefits and the threat of ICE action if they complain about anything from workplace safety to rape-- in those areas employers can say "well, if I want to stay in business I have to cut my labor costs, you will just have to take home less money but at least I can keep you on the payroll"

The second, more fundamental reason has to do with simple human dignity.

#56 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 03:02 PM:

There's been a lot of discussion about whether there's any possibility that unions would help with issues like this.

Is it worth pointing out that Tula Connell who wrote the fdl posts appears`to work for the AFL/CIO

IOW, they seem to be interested in getting the word out about this sort of thing...

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.