This week I must submit my discussion forum for the 10th module

| November 24, 2016

Dear CedWriter,

This week I must submit my discussion forum for the 10th module of my Introduction to Labor Studies course.

As always, I am first submitting my question to you.

This module, we begin with a new book.

Please provide me with one page answering the questions to the module.

Very best.

The book in reference:

Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy
John Bowe
Randome House, 2008, paperback)
ISBN-10: 9780812971842

Next, a link to a video related to the module:

http://online.fiu.edu/videos/?vivoId=02d4ae0c800a4e449ad6959ca65a85c5

Next, the professors overview of the module:

Professor’s Overview of Module 10

The reading for this lesson begins a new book, and a new topic. Broadly speaking, the topic for the remainder of the book Nobodies is the relationship between labor abuse/slavery and the global economy. What is the connection, if any? At first glance, one might think that globalization would be a strong force to prevent slavery. According to this thinking, as pre-modern societies are brought into contact with modern ones, modern notions of freedom and human equality and human rights would be spread to “primitive” societies that have slavery or near-slavery as a normal condition. Thus, wouldn’t globalization be a primary means to help eradicate slavery?

Author John Bowe fears that it might not be all that simple. He produces many unsettling facts to demonstrate how there may be ways that globalization is actually aiding and abetting labor abuse and slavery. First, globalization seems to be increasing inequality in the world. For example, between 1970 and 2007 the bottom 40% of Americans lost 80% of their net wealth; meanwhile by 2007 the top 1% of Americans had more wealth than the bottom 95% combined. The last time we had inequality that great was in the 1920s, immediately before the “great depression” of the 1930s. Bowe notes the statement of then Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Bowe’s point seems to be that when we combine (a) enormous inequality with (b) those at the bottom mostly being far away, a different nationality, different racially, immigrants from elsewhere, etc., the tendency to not see, or ignore, abusive conditions and even slavery becomes much more likely and easier to do. Globalization thus may be aiding slavery in some respects, rather than erasing it.

This is especially true because the type of slavery we currently have in the U.S. is often hard to recognize. Usually, in the U.S., slavery involved “trafficking” individuals, using some form of coercion, and is often temporary. This looks nothing like our traditional conception of slavery, which involves guns, chains, stationary people being owned by others. Sometimes the type of “force” used in modern day slavery is also difficult to recognize.

The first example, from the reading for this lesson, is the agricultural industry in South Florida. South Florida has been dubbed “ground zero for modern day slavery” in the U.S., primarily on the basis of cases of forced labor in agriculture. Bowe explains the oppressive conditions faced by immigrant laborers in Immokalee, FL and nearby areas. Everything from outright murder, the difficulty of prosecuting cases of labor abuse/slavery and why that is, the historical roots of agricultural labor abuse in the sharecropping and “debt peonage” system and the Bracero program, the legal restrictions on workers’ rights in this industry (no right to unionize, no 1 1/2 time pay for overtime work), the shift to agriculture as “big business,” U.S. government collusion with growers, etc., is covered in the reading. Please read it carefully, noting all the factors that surround the existence of slavery and labor abuse in this industry.

A good portion of the reading concerns the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of tomato pickers in the area of Immokalee, FL that has waged a struggle for better treatment and better compensation for tomato pickers. The CIW has waged a number of surprisingly successful campaigns to get the “end-users”, or final customers, of tomatoes to pay a “penny a pound” more for the product so that the workers can make a living less deeply stuck in poverty.

As part of this lesson, you will be viewing two videos, one featuring David Brancaccio about the CIW and its first major victory, over Taco Bell. A second one updates the situation, to the summer of 2015, after the CIW has won similalr agreements from a very large number of fast food restaurants and also some grocery stores. View that second video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6s4YAOISns (copy and paste this websitde address into your web browser, or else “Google” “CBS Sunday Morning: Fair Food Program – You Tube” to bring you to the same place). As you view these videos, try to mentally tabulate the critical issues that are involved in arguments about whether chain fast food outlets and grocery stores are responsible for the treatment of those who produce the food they sell. The CIW has continuing battles to improve farmworkers’ conditions, as we will note next lesson.

Next, the questions in place for the module:

Discussion Forum
1) In the introduction to his book, John Bowe argues that we all should be concerned about issues like slavery, even if they don’t negatively impact us personally, because the ideal of universal human rights requires it, and “the abandonment of that ideal is something we cannot afford. Because a world where everybody is a somebody is a radically different place from a world divided into somebodies and nobodies.” (p. xxii)

What exactly is he saying here? Should we care if the world is divided into “somebodies” and “nobodies?” What are the consequences if that does happen? Discuss the difference between the two types of world he is talking about here, and what is your own personal stake (if any) in either one of those worlds. Is it worth it for you personally to engage (and fight for) a world in which everybody is a somebody, or is it not? Why or why not?

2) There are different ways to try to address the labor abuses of Florida farmworkers. One way would be to try to change the law, or to enforce the law more forcefully or more effectively. Another is activist groups organized to “empower” workers such as the CIW. A third is to expect (or rely on) the “free market” to correct abusive conditions. Discuss the relative merits of each of these approaches. Which should be relied upon, and why do you think so?

3) In the video and in the reading, the analysis leads to the conclusion that only the big corporate entities that buy tomatoes in bulk have the power to change the condition of Florida tomato pickers. Yet, they often deny any responsibility for worker treatment in the fields, arguing that the workers are not their employees and thus are not their responsibility. What is your “take” on this? What is the responsibility of Taco Bell, or McDonalds, etc., for the conditions of those who harvest and produce the food they sell? When you discuss this, consider the opposing viewpoint, and why you think it is incorrect.

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