Universal Translator

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Realizing the Aristocrat’s Dream: Universal Slavery

Following up on that last post regarding slavery and the Civil War, it’d be nice to think that now – as we deal with issues of vast inequality and as the 1% circle their wagons and start calling up their lobbyists, their political donors, and their congressmen – the idea of democracy will once again win out over America’s de facto aristocracy.  But perhaps it will go the other way.  After all, America’s aristocracy is doing great right now.  How long before they reinstate a de facto slavery too? 

Maybe not too long at all.  Marie Diamond at ThinkProgress  had a post on Tuesday catching up on what is happening in Alabama now that its “stop and show your papers, schnell!” anti-immigrant law has gone into effect and most of its farm labor has abandoned the state.  Turns out, Alabama’s got a two word solution to that little problem:  prison labor.    

 And as Diamond reports, Alabama isn’t alone:

Replacing skilled workers with virtually free (and sometimes actually free) prison laborers has become a trend in Republican-led states.  Under Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) anti-collective bargaining law, at least one Wisconsin county replaced some union workers with prison labor.  And Georgia is considering replacing firefighters with prisoners to save money. (emphasis added)

So there you have it.  The Party of the 1% is destroying the unions (their political enemies) and replacing skilled workers with free prison labor.  They are driving out the immigrant work force that makes their agricultural industry so profitable and then – rather than allow free market forces to drive up labor costs and cut into that industry’s profits – they’re replacing that work force with free prison labor. 

And the next time you need to be rescued from a burning building, remember that the guy who’s supposed to run in and get you knows that he isn’t getting paid for risking his life; sure, it might impact his motivation a little, but rest assured that the money the state saves will more than make up for your subsequent death and/or severe disfigurement.

Of course, this is an old story in American history.  After slavery was legally abolished, the Confederate states created Black Codes that criminalized “vagrancy,” “loitering,” or simply being on the street without written proof of employment.  Convicted blacks were sentenced to prison, where their labor could be sold off to the same plantation owners for whom they originally had worked as slaves and for whom they now would continue to toil under slave-like conditions.

So I guess my only questions are:  (i) How long before the Republican-led states start handing down 360-day jail terms for jaywalking or for driving without a seatbelt? and (ii) Will 21st-century America finally realize the 19th-century South’s dream of the universal enslavement of poor people?


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