The Evolution Of Slavery

by Philip Greenspan

February 17, 2003


"The government of the United States is a foster child of the special interests."
--Woodrow Wilson

"I owe my soul to the company store," (1) says a lyric from a popular song of the '40s. It summarizes the plight of the lowly coal miner whose existence epitomized a form of slavery that persisted long after slavery was legally abolished.

Has slavery been abolished? Hell, NO. The actual conditions of slavery have never ceased. By emphasizing the theoretical over the practical, the educational institutions and the media have masked the differences between the world of reality and the world of illusion.

Just take a gander at Article 13 Section 1 of the US Constitution. The section that supposedly abolished slavery explicitly permits it. 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.' That exception has been used ever since to inflict on the convict the brutality of slavery that was supposed to have been eradicated -- a brutality that violates the Constitution's prohibition of 'cruel and unusual punishment.' (2) Those notorious chain gangs supplied the old southern landowners with the labor formerly extracted from their slaves.

Not long after the civil war and well before the twentieth century, in those countries throughout the western hemisphere where slavery still existed, it was abolished without bloodshed.

How come? It was no longer necessary.

With an adequate labor supply and industrialization, slavery as then employed was an economic burden. It was cheaper for the boss -- who's gotta keep those costs down -- to hire than to maintain slaves.

The poor blacks who'd been promised twenty acres and a mule that never materialized were forced to become sharecroppers, slavery in fact if not in law. Ah, yes, you're so right, he did have freedom. He did not have to become a sharecropper. He was free to take some other prestigious job such as a coal miner to mortgage his soul to the company store.

The auctions where individual slaves were sold are history, but they are more prevalent now than ever, in a slightly different fashion and context. In this modern era things are done differently and oh so much more subtly and cleverly. Those shrewd slave auctions exist today on a sizable wholesale scale.

Each country, large and small and by whatever designation it is known; republic, democracy, monarchy, dictatorship, empire, etc., is effectively controlled by a relatively small elite group usually acting in a covert manner. Their real motives are most often disguised by some phony 'noble purpose,' proclaimed by the rulers to be the motives of the state. The rank and file are their slaves because they are just as easily put on an auction block as were the blacks when they came off the slave ships. Today's slaves, believing in the masters' fictions, willingly undertake their masters' demands.

When NAFTA was passed, the democratic government of Mexico gladly sold the labor of its workers to the Northern gringo corporations. The Mexican treasury, which benefits the country's ruling elite, received payments in return, and the gringo corporations promptly dropped their obligations to the long-loyal US workers and picked up the slaves that Mexico offered.

Over a year ago the elite governors of Communist China offered a better deal than Mexico for their slave laborers, the common people of China. The unlivable wage of $1.50 an hour that the Mexican worker earned is, under current circumstances, too steep for the gringo bosses who can get Chinese slaves for only 20-25 cents an hour. (3) Yes, this is currently referred to as neo-colonialism but colonialism itself was just another manifestation of slavery.

With industrialization and automation the demands for labor have diminished; and with the population explosion the supply of labor has increased. Accordingly, if there is no regulation, a continual drop in the costs of labor is inevitable. "Ah," say the bossmen, "isn't it great to have deregulation and globalization. Hooray for slavery in fact."

In first world countries corporations have been moderately regulated and their workers were able to get a small piece of the pie. But their power and influence are gradually eroding the protections and benefits of those workers still employed. And so the corporations are off and running to new venues around the world searching for the lowest labor cost. To compound those abominations the natural resources of a country are bought and sold at bargain prices by the same elite parties. In this fashion the masters of the world can control both labor and resources.

Unfortunately this story can not be closed at this point with a happy ending for the masters. There are some countries that do not believe that the rich foreign masters have any claim to either their labor or their wealth. To extract the wealth from those countries it becomes necessary to resort to force -- WAR.

A perfect scenario for the resulting war is to get the slaves of both the attacking country and the defending country to make all the necessary sacrifices that will cause their country to win. It is hoped by the master that each individual slave is so loyal that he would readily give up his life and the lives of his loved ones. This is why the rulers are so concerned about patriotism. Heil! Heil! Mein Fuehrer!

Breaking your ass or even dying for the glory of the elite of your country is defined as patriotism. To defy that patriotism causes hostility from all of the obedient fellow slaves and may eventually subject the poor dissident soul to criminal arrest and conviction on some trumped up charge.

The elite, by the way, in addition to directing this magnificent wartime operation are attending to business and extracting the maximum it can as their justifiable patriotic profit from the state treasury.

So many countries have been bled white by the sale of their country to foreign elites that there is essentially very little left to drain. The masses, almost all of whom have been reduced to poverty, have now arisen and are no longer accepting the myths that were formerly promised by their double crossing leaders.

Throughout Latin America, if one listens carefully, one can probably hear millions of voices crying, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."

The Middle East is stirring, stirring, stirring over the injustices inflicted on the Palestinians and over the impending war on the innocent people of Iraq. A spark from Palestine, Iraq or elsewhere may set off a major conflagration.

And throughout the world there are rumblings as more and more people are no longer buying the media pap that has been their diet for so long. They are also symbolically shouting, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."

With the worldwide financial situation now so ominous, with the irrational and belligerent actions of the US government, and with the overwhelming anxieties of people throughout the world, a major historical period appears to be unfolding.

Perhaps the ghost of that rebellious slave Spartacus is off scene cheering and helping to propel events. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride!

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1.  "Sixteen Tons," words and music by Merle Travis, 1946; CHORUS: "You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go, I owe my soul to the company store."  (back)

2.  Amendment VIII. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.  (back)

3.  William Greider, "A New Giant Sucking Sound," The Nation, Dec. 31, 2001 http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/inequal/labor/1231suck.htm  (back)


Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).

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Published February 17, 2003
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