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Issue #1755      November 2, 2016


Slavery: Genesis of capitalism

“Slavery is a booming business and the number of slaves is increasing. People get rich by using slaves. And when they’ve finished with their slaves, they just throw these people away. This is the new slavery, which focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people in the traditional sense of the old slavery, but about controlling them completely. People become completely disposable tools for making money.” – Kevin Bales, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, 1999.

Since 1983 December 2 has been recognised as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery that had been adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. They dedicated this day to the awareness of contemporary forms of slavery such as extreme labour exploitation, human trafficking, forced recruitment of minors for use in armed forces and forced marriages.

Although the United Nations has made an attempt to challenge these issues we still have a staggering statistic that shows that slavery rates are higher than ever before.

Trade deals like the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), of which Australia is a part, are creating the circumstances for being soft on contemporary slavery.

Malaysia, for example, (also a signature of the TPP) has been put on Tier 3 for having a long history and increase in human trafficking, forced labour, sex trafficking and child labour abuses. During the negotiations of the TPP the investigations on contemporary slavery went down to practically nonexistent.

Then Barak Obama removed Malaysia from the Tier 3 category list to Tier 2 list in order to proceed with TPP deals, Obama’s move has been called variously “shrugging off global slavery for the interest of the TPP deals” and “Obama has turned its back on the victims of trafficking”. Some might be surprised that this is happening today.

The fundamentals of capitalism haven’t changed, the very essence of capitalism is slavery and though there are different levels of modern day slavery, today all workers suffer a kind of slavery whether it be wage slavery or chattel slavery.

Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture or birth and are deprived of the right to refuse to work or demand better conditions or wages.

Slavery is usually used in the past tense, but by analysing current socioeconomic systems we can identify that we are literally slaves today.

Employers have always regarded the act of workers coming together with fear and as a crime. There were bitter struggles in the 19th century as workers tried to form trade unions. But inevitably the demand for joint action in support of commonly held interests triumphed.

This may seem so obvious as to be not worth repeating but it is the concept of the common interests of workers and the necessity for trade unions as collectives of workers, that is being challenged by employers and the offensive against organised labour by the current federal government.

Another aspect of the growing use of slave labour is the rise of private prisons: prisoners who are stripped of their rights; workers who are no longer allowed to unionise and are paid a slave pittance. This has been exposed more recently in Australia with extreme exploitation of overseas workers on work visas or in Australia as students. The corporations don’t have to give these workers sick days, overtime, holidays and other entitlements.

But who’s winning the race to the bottom for 21st-century slave labour?

The US holds more than 25 percent of the world’s prisoners; US corporations see prisoners as the best strategy for corporate profit. According to the Wall Street Journal “more than a third of all US states allow borrowers who can’t – or won’t – pay to be jailed”. So, if you’re struggling to pay off your loans you might be a victim of 21st century slavery, an example of the deepening crisis and systemic malaise of the capitalist system, as the genesis of capitalism is slavery.

This is why the United Nations is struggling to overcome the modern version of slavery because it is built into a society that creates the conditions for slavery, with corporations that benefit from wage or chattel slavery. To tackle the issue of slavery means tackling the issue of capitalism.

Next article – “Save Our Hospitals” – Privatisation rejected

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