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Labor Notes: Slavery For America's Field Workers

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amborin Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 02:29 PM
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Labor Notes: Slavery For America's Field Workers

In Florida, Slavery Still Haunts the Fields

The trailer, 24 feet deep by 8 feet wide, is muggy this early August afternoon in Manhattan. Eight of uschurch ladies, iPhone-wielding denizens, curious touristsmop our brows as we clamber inside for a look at one the most shameful secrets of the American system of food production: modern-day slavery among farmworkers.
Our guide, Romeo Ramirez, tells us straight away that the trailer, which already feels uncomfortably small, is a replica of one in southwest Florida where 12 farmworkers were forcibly kept between 2005 and 2007. Locked in at night, they had no place to relieve themselves and were forced to foul a corner of their cramped quarters. When someone fought back, he was beaten and chained to a pole. The chain and padlock, still twisted from when workers finally forced it off, rest on the trailers wall.

After two workers pounded a hole in the trailers ventilator hatch large enough to squeeze out, they found a ladder and extricated the rest. Their escape began the seventh of eight prosecutions for involuntary servitude among U.S. farmworkers since 1997. (The eighth indictments, involving dozens of Haitian nationals victimized by trafficking, were announced last month, two days after Independence Day.)

Almost all of the cases were uncovered by the tours host, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), whose pioneering campaigns against Taco Bell, McDonalds, and other fast-food giants have led to agreements that pull tomato-pickers wages up by one penny for every pound picked, which can boost daily wages from about $50 to $85.
But while the coalition can boast of some success in challenging corporate titans that control the food supply chain and in improving conditions in some of the biggest tomato fields in Florida, a steady drip of federal criminal cases over slaving makes it clear that the industry is plagued by structural problems that result in horrendous abuse.
As the small pamphlet handed to tour-goers spells out, forced labor is nothing new in American agriculture. From the descendants of Africans who transformed Florida into a kingdom of cotton and sugar in the mid-1800s to the managers at US Sugar indicted in 1946 for holding farmworkers against their will deep within the Everglades, a long and painful history precedes the thousand or so farmworkers freed from involuntary servitude in the last decade in Florida.
Even the tactics managers use havent changed over the decades, said Ramirez, whos worked in the Florida fields since 1996. Just like US Sugar, several of the recently convicted slavers had armed guards watching over the workers camp, which is typically far from town so that escapees have nowhere to go even if they find a way out.

In the worst cases, the workers whole existence depended on supervisors or contractors, who were masters at keeping workers in both physical and economic bondage, deducting money for food and garden-hose showers ($5 each) from paychecks. Others plied the homeless from shelter job programs with promises of steady work, only to feed them alcohol and drugs and trap them in a cycle of debt and addiction. One boss took away workers shoes at night so they wouldnt run.
The first prosecutions in recent years resulted in light sentences, around three years in jail, because district attorneys had to use laws from the post-Civil War era, when human bondage wasnt a settled issue in the South. Federal lawmakers responded by boosting penalties, so that a 2008 case resulted in 12-year sentences for ringleaders. But whatever the penalty, the pressuresand the profitsof the corporatized food system keep producing farm bosses and contractors who ensure their labor supply with force if they have to.

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Hello_Kitty Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 02:30 PM
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1. This is so important. K and R. eom
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GreenPartyVoter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 03:04 PM
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2. And another one
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PDJane Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 03:23 PM
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3. And while slavery is illegal,
it goes on and on.
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blindpig Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 03:50 PM
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4. k&r
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Octafish Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 03:57 PM
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5. Slavery Is Evil
The fact that it still exists in the United States of America -- land of the free etc. -- proves how difficult it is to change a human heart, once it has been hardened by hate.
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