Home Social Issues The New and Not-So-New De Facto Slavery

The New and Not-So-New De Facto Slavery


Two recent articles show the lengths that Republicans will go to appropriate the time of the unemployed and the jailed for free labor. First, the Senate Republicans now want to punish the unemployed even more.  Not only do they want to impose a drug-test tax, and deny benefits to those without a high school education, they also want the unemployed to work for free (i.e., de facto slavery).  Given that the economy has downsized more people of color, with African American unemployment running as high as 50% in some places, this move has rather sinister and historic non-subtle overtones.  It should be a federal crime to demand anyone work for free.  But here we are with the Senate GOP demanding exactly that.  

Sen. Richard Burr wants to make those on unemployment prove they have applied for a job at least 20 hours a week AND work for free another 20 hours a week, just to get the paltry insurance they are owed.  Unemployment insurance is paid by companies to cover employees when the same companies lay off workers.  It is the last disincentive to firing and downsizing, and as we have seen, not nearly enough so.  When it is a choice of further enriching the already rich or paying workers, you know what the corporate CEOs decide.  With at least 2/3 of the unemployed unable to find work, that is a large number of conscripts into servitude.  Why, maybe the very same employers who eliminate their jobs can gain their free labor (sarcasm)?

It is bad enough that Senator Burr wants to force the unemployed to put up with a drug screen.  Don’t most employers do that as part of the employee hiring process anyway? Research shows that only about 1-2% of those so screened are found to use illegal drugs.  So such drug testing is a redundant burden on the 98% or more of those who cannot afford to pay for it. They have no income, remember?  What the drug screen programs really are is enrichment schemes.  In Florida, the wife of Gov. Scott heads up a corporation operating the storefront clinics which will profit from this.  Follow the money.

Second, also bearing on the use of free labor (i.e., de facto slavery), a story on Huffington Post this morning reveals that the practice of using inmates for producing products for companies and corporations is ever-expanding, even encroaching into raising restaurant food.  The Cook County Sheriff is using his jail population to grow food for local restaurants, including high-end ones. Given that in Cook County, as elsewhere, the prison population is disproportionately people of color, this smacks of an added ulterior motive (beyond the increased use around this nation of prisons for profit) to jail and keep those guilty of non-violent offenses in prison. This is not the first time prisons have been shown to use their inmate population to enrich private corporations.

It is bad enough that prisons for profit are even allowed in this country.  But adding another layer to the profit motive is even worse. There is a recurrent theme here. Today’s extremist GOP looks for ways to abuse the already downtrodden. From the mistreatment of the unemployed to the abuse and continued needless incarceration of non-violent prisoners (for profit), our nation is headed back, not just to the 17th Century, Pre-Elightenment (apx pre-1690) but further than that.  This is a shameful moment in our country, a country with far too politicians who feel shame about anything.


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