In his analysis of the California "Black Market" agriculture economy, Eric Schlosser, author of Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market claims that,
cultivation of high value specialty crops-- has also become the one most dependent on the availability of cheap labor. Nearly every fruit and vegetable found in the diet of health
conscious, often high-minded consumers, is still picked by hand...As the demand for these
fruits has risen, so has the number of workers necessary to harvest them...today anywhere
from 30-60 percent, depending on the crop, are illegal immigrants. Their willingness to
work long hours for low wages has enabled California to sustain its agricultural
This is today's reality. But if we look at the history of this nation, we can see that in fact, that cheap labor has always been a way for certain individuals and corporations to make large profits. Take the following historical examples:
1) The Slave Plantation System: Slaves literally built the wealth of this nation and some of its most well-known and valued symbols, such as The White House. In addition many of today's wealthiest corporations used slaves to build their economic foundation. As stated in the article, "Slave Profits and the Roots of the Wealth Gap", authors Meizhu Lui and Rose Brewer assert:
Well-known bastions of American capital also have the institution of slavery at their foundation. Last Tuesday, lawyers Deadria Farmer-Paellmann and Ed Fagan filed lawsuits against insurance company Aetna, railroad giant CSX, and FleetBoston bank, claiming that these companies profited from slavery. These are only a fraction of the prosperous American companies whose wealth came in part from the slave trade.
See the slavery link to the left for more information.
2) The Colonial System (Also known as the Mission System): Under the mission system, thousands of Native peoples were used to cultivate land, manufacture produces and strengthen the economy of the church (Phillips, The Enduring Struggle).
3) The Chinese: The Chinese not only helped build the railroad systems, which enabled businesses to expand, and took land away from American families and farmers, but they also contributed to agriculture and fishing industries in the Central Coasts. See the link on the left under "Chinese Labor" for more information.
4) The Bracero Program (1942-1964): This was a "guest worker" program that asked for the labor of thousands of Mexican workers. Migrants were "shuttled" to the border for work, and once they were sprayed with anit-lice chemicals, they were allowed to enter the USA. Once here these workers were tied to one single employer. Even today, there are some Mexicans who participated in this program who are still waiting for payment for their services that they never received. See the links, "Operation Wetback" and "The Bracero Program" for more information.
5) The Prison Industrial Complex: As more black and brown youth, specifically young men are imprisoned, many for non-violent crimes, their labor is being used to create great profits for various companies and personal individual whose business is the prison system itself. Prisoners today can't get a college education in jail, but they can make or process the following products: children's toys, liscence plates, chicken cutlets (in the south), clocks, tables etc. (Letter to the President, 2005) Also, see the link, "Prison Industrial Complex" for more information.
6) "The Tourist Plantation": Today's tourism industries rely heavily upon the cheap and abundant labor from south of the border. As Avalos states in The Neighborhood Reporter, 1988, "If we consider the realistic rather than the mythological landscape of San Diego then we must acknowledge that the Super Bowl could not be held here if this town did not have a tourist complex of hotels, motels, restaurants, and amusement parks. And without the undocumented worker, San Diego could not have a tourist industry."
A final note: When we think about the atrocities of slavery, colonialism, false imprisonment and labor exploitation, it is key that we understand how all of this violates the right to be human.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
See the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" link for more information about the articles defined by the United Nations.