When thinking of modern day slavery, it is impossible for the average person to comprehend that it is still going on within our own country today. The issues of slavery and inequality have been a major part of the history of the United States, and the fact that they are still hidden behind walls of ignorance and fear are more than can be grasped by the human mind. Modern day slavery “exists not because today’s workers are immigrants or because some of them don’t have papers but because agriculture has always managed to sidestep the labor rules that are imposed upon other industries” (Bale, 1984, pg. 5).
It has always seemed as if morality was what our country had originally fought for when struggling with the issues of slavery, but the very fact our government and local politics have refused to accept the existence of migrant slavery in our country, due to the web of financial greed by layers of major industries, proves to be a major source of discrimination against the migrant workers who have entered our country to elevate their standards of poverty life.
Over the years, many of our activists have approached the morality issues of slavery in the United States with the image of slavery coming to mind of trade ships bringing African slaves to our country, forcing them into slave labor against their will. What does not come to mind, which is why so many people find it hard to acknowledge slavery today, are images of Immokalee migrants living in housing owned by “the town’s largest landlord, a family named Blocker, owns several hundred old shacks and mobile homes, many rusting and mildew-stained, which can rent for upward of two hundred dollars a week, a square-footage rate approaching Manhattan” (Bale, 1984, pg. 2).
Another image of slavery is of the migrant’s payday after working eight to twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week, “After charging workers a check-cashing fee, the brothers (the bosses) then garnished for rent, food, work equipment, the ride from Arizona (where they were picked up), and daily transportation to and from the fields. Whatever remained was usually spent on food at La Guadalupana” (Bale, 1984, pg.3). After this, the workers barely broke even. In addition, no utilities were provided in the rent for migrants, so this was also deducted.
The labor contractors “exert near-absolute control over their workers’ lives; besides handling the payroll and deducting taxes, they are frequently the sole source of the workers’ food and housing, which in addition to the ride to and from the fields, they provide for a fee”. (Bale, 1984, pg. 2). Females themselves had their own brand of slavery which included rape and forced prostitution, “In 1998, Rogerio Cadena and fifteen others, including several relatives, were charged with smuggling twenty women and girls, some as young as fourteen, into the United States from Mexico with promises of jobs in housekeeping, landscaping, and child care.
The women were made to pay a smuggling fee of more than two thousand dollars each and held in sexual slavery in trailer-home brothels in South Florida and the Carolinas”. (Bale, 1984, pg. 5) These women “were required to perform between fifteen and twenty-five sexual acts per day”, and “victims who became pregnant were forced to have abortions and then return to work within weeks; the cost of the abortion was added to their debt”. (Bale, 1984, pg. 5-6)
The problem with all of this was that a migrant agriculture worker was “paid only 40 cents a bucket, which weighs thirty-two pounds” (Bale, 1984, pg. 2) which hardly made any of it worth it, if they had only known in advance. To calculate wages, a worker would have to pick 125 buckets a day to make a daily wage of $50. For the average citizen of the United States this would seem desolate wages, but for the Haitians, poor whites, Mexicans, and African-American migrant workers it was a fortune, as quoted by one migrant worker, “Farmwork in Mexico pays about five or six dollars a day – – when it’s available” (Bale, 1984, pd. 3).
What they were not told is that once they arrived in the rich country of the United States, they would barely make a dime due to the high prices their bosses would charge them for living expenses “that were never discussed”. (Bale, 1984, pg. 3).
Forced unknowingly into a slave life, the conditions of these migrant workers are the same as slaves earlier in our history. Similar to the African slaves, they are sold to owners or bosses, “the workers saw Nino write out a check to El Chaparro. They were told that the bosses had paid a thousand dollars for each of them” (Bale, 1984, pg. 3). They receive little, if any wages, as previously stated. And they become at the complete mercy of these abusive individuals, where “workers were forced to work six days a week, netting at most fifteen dollars a day. According to one Flores victim, female camp residents were raped, and gunfire was often used by guards to keep order”. (Bales, 1984, pg. 5).
The sense of community of these migrant workers was nonexistent due to the language barrier of individual races, different cultures, and fear of reprisal from their bosses — of “owners” who used threats of violence against them if they did not do as they were told. If it had been there, communication would have allowed them to seek help, which some actually did out of sheer desperation with many of the dying.
Knowing these facts, it is almost difficult, if not impossible, to purchase products from companies such as Taco Bell, Tropicana, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Wendy’s, and many others – – recognizing that their profit and products arrive through such “sweatshop like situations” (Bale, 1984, pg. 4) in our country. Many people have boycotted these products, such as Taco Bell, but only 1,000 workers have been rescued out of half-a-million migrant workers living in the United States in the year 2003.
Appearing futile, the term “moral beauty” seems a laughable situation as we look back in retrospect. What is beautiful and moral about struggling migrant workers who are exhausted, hungry, and worried to death about the financial status of their families they have left in their home countries – – with no way out? But more than that, what is beautiful and moral about a country, whose stepping-stones of democracy were equality and anti-slavery, yet who now refuses to acknowledge such situations?
Facts prove that migrant slavery exists in our country today, with people dying who were attempting to better themselves. What would have happened if we had welcomed by the same type of individuals when we first came to our new country, to “better our lives”? Would we have been more understanding and more apt to help the migrant workers in their plight? Or would we still look the other way until the slavery was so blatant we were forced to do something about it “so we would look good to those watching”.
Bales (1984). “Nobodies: Annals of Labor”, The New Yorker. The Conde Naste