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America's history of worker exploitation Part 1


Last updated 10/28/2021 at 4:39pm

There are countless ways to exploit the working class. Most have been found, and used, at one time or another. Slavery was certainly a popular one. However, I’m sure that there are many who would prefer not to hear anything further on America’s history of Black slavery so, instead, let’s talk about some other examples of exploitation.

“Between 1492 and 1880, between 2 and 5.5 million Native Americans were enslaved in the Americas….” “While natives had been forced into slavery and servitude as early as 1636, it was not until King Philip’s War (1675–1678) that natives were enslaved in large numbers….” See: “wikipedia native american slavery”

Not all Native Americans who were enslaved remained in the Colonies. “During the [King Philip’s] war, New England colonies routinely shipped Native Americans as slaves to Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Azores, Spain and Tangier in North Africa….”See: “brown colonial enslavement of native americans”

“Approximately 300,000 European workers immigrated to the American colonies in the 1600s as indentured servants, and indentured servitude continued throughout much of the 1700s...” See previous reference. Indenture is presented as a contract that both parties willingly enter into. Typically the person who buys the contract provides the other person’s passage to America and room, board, and necessities for the term of the contract – commonly five years. In return, the receiving party agrees to work exclusively for the buyer for the term of the contract. It worked out well for the majority, but the potential for abuse was huge. All too many did not complete their term of service, having been worked to death. Others, at completion of their contract, were physically and/or mentally broken.

Particularly after the Civil War, and with increasing urbanization, more and more children, as young as 10, were exploited as industrial workers. But it wasn’t until 1938 that the federal child labor provisions, authorized by the Fair Labor Standards Act, also known as the child labor laws, were enacted to end this exploitation. In the 1900’s, sweatshops for women were quite popular in the garment industry, slowly phased out in favor of using overseas sweatshops.

Another exploitative practice is forcing employees to work in contact with toxic materials. This practice has been on-going for so long, millions of workers have been affected. Here are three such materials: asbestos, coal dust and silica, and herbicides/pesticides. What they have in common is that continued exposure is likely to result in cancer. What they also have in common is that their toxicity was known well before any mitigation was instituted.

John H. Terrell


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