Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Modern Day Shame

Sometimes, you come across something that leaves you stunned. It happened to me on Monday. I was scheduled to post on Bring It On on Tuesday, so I wrote about it. I've decided to put it up here for a day while I finish my next post. I encourage you to follow the links. If you'd like more information, email me and I will send it to you. The next time you hear our government condemning another nation for civil rights violations, remember this shame.

In case you were wondering, this is how it works in the new millennium.

You are homeless and hungry; the offer of food, a place to stay and the chance to work are gratefully accepted. A long ride in a beat-up van brings you to the camp. Beer is placed on ice in front of you. Food is placed beside it. After you eat and drink, you find out the beers are $1.50 each, the food and bed cost as well. Your charge "account" has begun.

The next day you load up in the van and leave the isolated camp. There is no town, just one road out. You go to the grower's facility. You pick tomatoes, dig potatoes, cut cabbage, pick citrus. The day is long, the work unrelenting. You are returned to the camp. You wages are docked for every thing you ate or drank, your ride to and from the camp, your bed. Your account obligation mounts. They own your earnings to repay your subsistence.

Crack is sold for $20.00 a rock. It ensures compliance as it requires more work to pay for it, and the addiction mandates more crack be purchased.

A man leaves the camp, down the one road. He is hunted down and severely beaten. Threats to feed the next one to flee to the alligators are believed.

New workers arrive at the camp. They are unloaded from a van with Arizona plates. The camp bosses ask the new workers to pay for their passage. No one has any money. The bosses pay the drivers for the workers. These workers must "repay" the $1000 payment, in addition to their daily costs, before they can leave.

More tomatoes, more potatoes, more cabbage and grapefruit await. The laborers are not employees of the growers, they are contracted labor. They are unprotected, exploited, and completely controlled.

They are modern day slaves.

President Bush addressed the trafficking of women on July 16, 2004. While commendable, it's only part of the slavery story. The situation I described above is happening, right now, in Florida. The ownership of humans, through punitive wage garnering, is creating a substrata of workers who are systematically abused by labor contractors. The protections in place to safeguard workers who work directly for the grower cannot help them. Are the growers aware of the situation? I can't see how they can't be; to succeed, you must understand your industry. Growers need cheap labor, and using labor contractors ensures they have it. Legally, their hands are clean.

Jumping up and down and screaming about illegal aliens is not productive here. No American would ever work fourteen hours to net $7.00. President Bush's temporary worker program merits consideration. To simply ignore the work that is being accomplished and focus on the influx of illegals is akin to not reading the book because you don't like the jacket. These workers are putting food on the American table. This nation values work. We must begin there.

The temporary worker program will protect people arriving in this country from slavery abuse, and fill jobs that Americans do not want to do. (Have you tried to pick a grapefruit off a thorn-laden 20' tree, while on a ladder? How about 2000 of them?) It will also help us know who is in this country, and help us to secure our borders.

America has not healed it's slavery scars. We cannot go down this path any farther. Slavery has NO acceptable format. Every mind, every person, has value and merit. This country provides the framework to develop yourself. It's one of our most cherished philosophies. If not available to all, it's reduced to farce.

I'm not willing to see hard work and determination join honor and respect on the sidelines. Are you?


At June 08, 2005 6:39 PM, Blogger frstlymil said...

This is happening in California as's a form of indentured servitude done by confidence scam between the "driver" and the contractor who pays for their passage. Asking them to pay is just part of the act. It covers sweat shop seamstresses (know where your clothes are made and by whom)the migrant workers picking our fruit, janitorial and domestic staffers, (just ask Walmart how low they pay their cleaning staff through the "contractors" they work with) and for the unfortunate who are born physically attractive - they are turned out into the sex trade against their will, often as children. It is true that this needs a hell of a lot more attention, outrage and action to stop it. Starting with our pocketbooks is one place, but refusing to be silent about it is another.

At June 08, 2005 10:09 PM, Blogger windspike said...

This is an astonishing and astounding post Jet. Thank you for opening our eyes.

At June 09, 2005 4:18 AM, Blogger Jet said...

What this nation needs is modern day abolitionists. By raising their voices, and the perceptions of the populace, to what is happening across the country, this becomes too nasty to ignore. The terrible treatment of our soldiers during the vietnam war is still reasonating today; support for the troops serving is high and even-handed. Our slavery scars are deep as well. I believe we, as a nation, will not tolerate this if the topic gains momentum.

At June 09, 2005 8:53 AM, Blogger frstlymil said...

There was an excellent article about this (about 2 years ago now) in National Geographic entitled "Modern Day Slavery" that got zero attention publicly. People would rather interview movie stars about their love lives than talk about something so horrible and shameful - bringing it into the consciousness of Joe American. The Gap was successfully picketed by shoppers at malls until they agreed to stop using sweat shop labor and adopt decent labor practices. Hershey, Nestle et al agreed (4 years ago, in writing) to faze out slave labor for their coco bean workers - but announced this year that they would not be meeting that deadline or agreement. This is condoned at the corporate level, by companies who have products we purchase every day and we're none the wiser because the press doesn't find it newsworthy.

At June 09, 2005 12:34 PM, Blogger Unadulterated Underdog said...

There certainly is a controlling aspect to the work-slave environment. In fact, this is yet another reason why we should let our companies go overseas. Not only do WE lose jobs but we also encourage employee abuse. Further more, companies promise lower prices for their going overseas and this simply doesn't happen.

At June 09, 2005 2:09 PM, Blogger Jet said...

Frstlymi, I remember your post about the coco bean workers, it was really enlightening. I think making this a political issue could help. There are so many people who have zero idea this is happening, right here is the land of the "free".

Joseph, I guessing you meant should NOT let our companies go overseas, and I think they should stay here also. This is a big puzzle, and we don't have all the pieces yet.


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