Conservatives like to talk about Slavery. They like to talk about it quite a lot. They say that the Affordable Care Act is a form of Slavery, that Social Security is a form of Slavery and that the Federal Debt is a form of Slavery. I like to think they're just over-reacting - but lately I've begun thinking they may have a point. Not that their correct about the reasons, but they aren't absolutely wrong about the direction that we're all heading.
We like to think we've evolved past that particular practice. We like to assume that it was merely a temporary aberration in our forward path, but the fact is that Slavery - in many forms -has been with us, as a species, for Millenia.
It's discussed in the Bible and all history texts where the practice was used. It was quite common in fact. In was used Ancient Egypt with the Israelites, With the Empire of Rome, it was a practices on many continents by many peoples. Usually it was used as an alternative to death or imprisonment for those loosing troops after a war. Some times is was used as a method to punish debtors. For time in the 16th Century it was used as a method to mortgage oneself temporarily in exchange for passage to the new world. We all know that in America it took a particular dark racial turn which was somewhat unique in it's flavor but not necessarily unique in the reasons for the practice being used an the reason that it turned.
In most of these cases the underlying reasons for the use of the practice was not enmity or hatred, it's was simply a practical financial transaction. Just as a person labor was a sellable commodity, so could the person themselves become a commodity. It's was simply - business.
And it seems in many ways and in many countries, even today in the 21st Century, business is booming.
Here's original article that inspired me to pursue this subject.
Modern-day slavery isn’t distant to us, we are all implicated, whether we want to be or not. We all carry mobile phones which contain the
element ore coltan. Coltan is only largely available from mines in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) rife with slavery and child labour. The clothes on our backs are similarly polluted. The cotton harvest in Uzbekistan, which feeds the production of many garment manufacturers is brought in each year by the forced labour of children. The mills that spin such cotton into thread in southern India are often run on the enslavement of girls and young women.
The situation is equally bad in the factories of Delhi in north India where children are routinely employed to do embroidery work. Police often raid such factories, not to resuce the children though, but rather to extract bribes from the owners.
The manslaughter, enslavement and torture of vulnerable workers in the global south, many of them children, to produce goods for the high streets of the global north is a result of business’ ceaseless search for cheap production, scarce commodities or both.
The ceaseless search for Cheap Production
, but then I guess it's all alright since it's all Out of Sight, and Out of Mind
Out there - Far Away, where it eventually ends up in our iPhones, iPads and cotton underwear.
I'm sure we were all horrified when we heard of the Bagladesh Factory collapse and the many hundreds killed in the tragedy, but how many of have stopped to seriously wonder - "How many U.S. companies were helping improve their bottom line by employing that factory to produce their goods more cheaply?"
Well, this many...
Frustrated by a lack of action by the government, worker advocates have pressured the companies importing the garments to take steps to make workers safer. One proposal, called The Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, would create a legally binding and rigorous independent inspection and oversight system. It would also allow workers to refuse to work in dangerous conditions. (Efforts to unionize workers in Bangladesh have largely been met with hostility or worse; last year labor rights activist Aminul Islam was tortured and murdered.) Inspections would be funded by as much as $500,000 per year from each company.
But only two companies have signed onto the agreement, short of the four necessary for it to take effect. Wal-Mart, Gap, H&M, JCP, Abercrombie and Kohl's are among the companies that have refused to sign on, instead taking their own steps to address worker safety. (The companies that have signed on are Tchibo, a German retailer, and PVH Corp., which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.)
A year after this disaster which killed over 400 people, and hardly anything has been done to correct the abuses and corruption that led to it, and continue to put many thousands at risk today. It is pretty much as if it didn't happen at all.
Yet we are not disconnected from this. We make financial choices to improve our own comfort and convenience, which in our ignorance and insouciance directly impact the living quality of people around the globe. And at home. Certainly we complain when a U.S. factory is shutdown only to be replaced with a far cheaper, and far less safe factory overseas. We rail at NAFTA and CAFTA, but do we truly see what it is that we are actually fighting?
A hundred years ago it was the Triangle Shirt Waist Fire, which left the street littered with the bodies of seamstresses who had been left locked in their workplace as a blistering fire raged, forcing them ultimately to leap to their deaths.
Then 40 years ago there was the Cuyahoga River Fire, which had become so polluted that the water burned.
More recently we've had the Deep Water Horizon Spill which took the lives of 12 workers on the rig, and did untold damage to the Gulf.
And the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 43 men in
And then the Texas Furtilizer Plant Explosion in near Waco that injured over 100 people, and killed 15. (h/t comments)
And the West Virginia Chemical Spill that exposed 300,000 people to a toxic solution.
We can see what is going on with the Suicide Nets
that surround the Foxxconn Plant in China were parts for the iPhone are assembled.
All of these things, we're and are avoidable. All of them were on some level, the result of the constant drive to smash down costs
, at the expense of the lives and safety not just of the workers on site, but of the surrounding communities. They are all merely symptoms of a much deeper rot, a much deeper structural flaw - they are all the results of Capitalism without Conscience
If we didn't have record breaking corporate profits at the same time as our wages stagnate, and those with like the Koch brothers who have more money than they'll every be able to count thanks to their DADDY's business are spending $Millions to make it so many of the rest of us can't get healthcare, or can't get to the ballot box, then one might be to argue that our current form of capitalism is working just fine. But it isn't.
We like to tell ourselves we've learned our lesson, that we know better than this. That what happened 150 years ago, or 400 years ago isn't who we are anymore. The Randian Conservatives like to tell us that eventually, the Market will take care of all of this itself, that we just need to give it a little more time. Someday, it'll all just "get fixed", and we don't need community standards, or government regulations, or inspectors, or taxes to pay for those inspectors or worker safety rules, or to make sure that the minimum wage at least keeps up with price inflation, or workers compensation, or pensions or health care mandates.
The Market will just fix all of this. Any minute now.
My clock might be slow, or just plain broken, but it seems to me that raw naked greed has been allowing for the extraction of wealth by the powerful to the financial and physical detriment of nearly everyone else has continued hardly without pause for at least the last 4000 years.
It doesn't look to me like we're moving forward, it looks to me like much of the business community, the 1 percenters who think they've got it so much worse than anyone else, are doing everything they can think of to drive us backwards, back into the bad old days - without government or union or consumer protections - with just the Free-For-All Magic Hand of the market to guide our fates.
And that's exactly what they'll get - if we don't use our voices, and hearts, and our minds to turn this train around back toward justice, humility, equity and respect for those who get the hard jobs done and does them well.