CHEAP LABOR

When I wonder why there is so much contention in America, I consistently run into impenetrable walls of illogic.

For example, we know that race is a social construct created to justify slave labor and global white supremacy in the post-medieval developing economies of the western hemispheric colonial societies. Yet racial classification remains a catalyst for social injustice, state sanctioned violence and economic inequity across the planet.

We live in a world where patriarchal bigotry seeks to deny women the right to choose how and when they propagate humankind, even though females have cared for our unborn, newborn and young for the entirety of the history of our species.

Logic dictates that a living wage is necessary for life, yet corporate interests characterize it as a social ill that will tear apart life as we know it and must be met with vigorous opposition at all costs.

These are just a few of the inconsistencies that we live with every day in the United States. And if we, as a society, believe that this type of reasoning is acceptable, in modern day America, then there are only two conclusions to be had. Either we are suffering from mental illness, or we have been misled into believing that these are not inconsistencies and are instead fact-based, rational consistencies that are beneficial to society.

Assuming that we are not all mad, the second premise begs the question, who benefits from these many instances of illogic that riddle our social order?

It certainly does not benefit the Black and brown people who, while innocent and unarmed, are gunned down in city streets by murderous police who are a part of a heavily weaponized occupying force.

Nor does it benefit a young woman with an unwanted pregnancy, who, for her own mental, physical or emotional health needs to terminate that pregnancy.

And it certainly does not benefit the single mother who must work two and three jobs in order to

support her children who she barely gets to see because she is working all the time.

So, who does benefit from these huge roadblocks to social justice and improved quality of life for many Americans? Who benefits from the existence of a large, underprivileged and under-employed class of citizens desperate to find a way to a better life? Who benefits from a large number of women being unable to have agency over their own futures? Who benefits from low wages for workers?

All of these miserable conditions are social constructs engineered to benefit only one class of people in our society. And those are the people who have an inextinguishable craving for cheap labor.

We can understand this if we keep in mind that this country was founded on cheap labor as chattel slavery existed in every one of the original 13 states at some time in its history.

As slavery became impractical in the northeast and the northern Midwest, it moved westward across the South until the bloodbath of the Civil War brought it to an end. But even after chattel slavery was outlawed, new forms of cheap labor were engineered through the judicial and penal systems that arose from the Black codes.

Blacks fleeing the deadly racism of the South found themselves corralled in northern and western ghettos where jobs often were scarce and the terror tactics of police departments were used to ward off any demands for justice that might fuel civil unrest. All this was done in order to amass wealth in the hands of a few.

Wealth was further accumulated to certain men by denying it to women. America is a nation where it was considered comical when men voiced the sentiment that they should keep women “barefoot and pregnant.” And conventional wisdom has long affirmed the fact that there is often truth in a joke, and beyond this ugly truth, one would have to ask: Why is such a sentiment funny?

Political theorists have, for years, pointed out that male dominance is a social construct of western culture that allowed men to seize control of wealth from women. This is evidenced most dramatically by the fact that the 100 Years War was ignited by the dispute over whether a woman could claim a right of inheritance to the French crown.

Viewing wealth through a lens of zero-sum gain, denying wealth to women afforded greater access to wealth for men. Gender based disparities in paychecks is further evidence of this. Female labor is deemed cheaper than male labor.

A certain few Americans amass wealth in America by denying a living wage to workers while knowing a living wage is crucial to maintaining a descent quality of life. Their opposition is not fueled by a scarcity of wealth, but an unwillingness to share that wealth with the laborers who create it.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 2019, chief executives of big companies now make, on average, 320 times as much as their typical worker. By this measure, if a typical worker earns $20,000 annually, barely a living wage, her CEO pulls in $6,400,000.

So, what is all the fuss about? It’s about cheap labor. The wealthy, like the CEO banking away $6,400,000 a year, want an ample supply of cheap labor to ensure their luxurious lifestyles.

Yes, it’s also about racism, sexism and socio-economic bias. But all these things point in one direction – there are those among the wealthy in this country who want to buy our labor as cheaply as possible so that they can have as much as possible. And they do this by keeping their cheap laborers believing we are enemies of one another.

This strategy of the wealthy can be easily exposed by their eagerness to expand trade agreements that provide American corporations access to massive amounts of cheap labor abroad. This way, a company can pay poverty wages to a poor child in Asia to make sneakers to be sold at exorbitant prices to poor children in an American ghetto who work at below minimum wage in order to buy them. And the profit goes to the CEO stashing away $6,400,000 a year.

One goal of many American corporations is to buy our labor as cheaply as possible. And when we, the victims of this scheme, understand this and begin working for the benefit of each other, we will be working for the benefit of ourselves as well.

Men and women of all racial, ethnic and cultural stripes must come together and work together for the good of women, ethnic minorities and all the underpaid in this country, and stop being misled into opposing one another.

And until that happens, we will never be able to break through those walls of illogic.

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia. His earlier commentaries may be found at https://oblayton1.medium.com/