Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wage Slavery vs The Real Thing

Sometimes we hear the claim that capitalism turns people into "wage slaves." An odd kind of slavery it must be that allows people the freedom to walk away from the wage anytime they want to.

Consider the contrast with chattel slavery. Born into slavery and sold for the equivalent of $400 when she was just 12, she was raped for the first time by her master when she was 13. She eventually bore him three children. Two survived. Both were taken from her. For almost nine years, she had to work long hours in the fields and in his home without pay. If she did anything wrong or tried to escape, she was beaten. But after she fled and married a man of her own choice, she was charged with bigamy and sentenced to six months in jail. “No woman”, she says, “should suffer the way I did.”

Are we talking about a slave on a cotton plantation in the American deep South of the early 19th century? No, Hadijatou Mani lives in the 21st century. She also has the great misfortune of living in Niger, an African country where the government turns a blind eye towards slavery. According to The Economist, there are an estimated 43,000 slaves in Niger, and tens of thousands more in other countries in Western Africa.

If capitalism did nothing more than turn chattel slaves into wage slaves, it would still be a wonderful thing. Just ask a real slave like Haijatou.

And if you ever need confirmation of the questionable value of government paper, remember that the the 1962 UN Slavery Convention condemns chattel slavery, the curiously named 1981 African Charter on Human and People's Rights condemns it, and so does the Niger constitution and criminal law.

"Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters." - C.S. Lewis

No comments: