Now that weâ€™ve all enjoyed Labor Day, (ours was in May), it might be good to examine the importance of this holiday. I am qualified to give historical information only on Jamaica, but Iâ€™m sure you will all find the following helpful if not familiar.
Immediately after slavery was officially abolished in the entire British Empire in 1834, the estate, factory and business owners started to replace it with a system that was worse than slavery. First there was the â€œapprenticeshipâ€ system between 1834 and 1840 to help prepare the slaves for freedom and to help the planters cope with this change. It failed miserably, so Queen Victoria decreed total abolition as of August 1, 1938. In the ensuing decades the workers relationship with employers became worse than that between a slave and his/her owner. A slave owner was morally obligated to care for the welfare of the slaves. The slaves were entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Usually the owner also had money invested in his â€œpropertyâ€. Slaves were not cheap to obtain, so he felt it necessary to tend for the slavesâ€™ welfare.
A hired help is different. He is acquired without any initial outlay, can be replaced at the employerâ€™s whim at any time and there are no obligations as to the hired workersâ€™ welfare. The worker must find his/her own food, clothing, shelter and meet his/her own cost of medical care. The wages were dismally low, the working conditions deplorable and workplace safety was too often not of much concern to the estate or factory owner. After all, it cost money to make the place safe, but if a worker is injured or killed, he/she can be replaced cheaply and easily.
As a result, almost 100 years after the abolition of slavery, the workers were still not enjoying true freedom; their dignity was not being given recognition and the diseases, injury and deaths that occurred were often avoidable, but nothing was being done because they had no power. Over the decades, tension resulted in riots which were viciously and violently repressed by the governmental forces.
Finally on May 23, 1938, Alexander Bustamante led a labour rebellion and as events unfolded, he ended up becoming a hero to the people of Jamaica. When he defiantly refused the police command to desist or be shot he instead bared his chest and told them to go ahead. That 1938 rebellion eventually lead to Jamaican gaining independence in 1962. Alexander Bustamante is a founder of the Bustamante Trade Union. The other Union, founded by his cousin Norman Manley, was the National Workers Union. Our two major political parties came out of those two Unions; therefore our founding fathers were leaders of trade Unions. They enacted legislation that has improved the conditions of workers in Jamaica.
We take the labour laws of our countries for granted; however, many workers in other highly industrialized and lesser developed nations are not as fortunate. The story in the article that the following link points to is very disturbing:
Yes, are all enjoying, using and benefiting from the products of a major industrialized nation that, by not enforcing its own laws, is perpetuating a social system that is worse than slavery. There is only one recognized union in China, The All China Federation of Trade Unions. (ACFTU) This is a government-controlled union. It rarely confronts management to uphold workers rights or to conform to the countryâ€™s labor laws and safety regulations.
A friend noted to me last week that an American manufacturer once sent a representative to inspect the factory of their Chinese sub-contractor. He saw the workers living in cramped quarters supplied by the sub-contractor. They are forced to be separated from their families for weeks, at a time, only going home for brief visits during time off from work.
The person assigned to be his personal assistant during his stay did such a great job caring for him that he decided to give her a small gift. It was a cheap piece of jewelry costing the equivalent of about US$40.00. He was berated by an executive of the sub-contractor because the price of gift was greater than her monthly salary!
I urge you all to make petitions to your representatives to press China to correct this deplorable situation. The U.S. is probably Chinaâ€™s biggest market, so voice of the U.S. will have impact. The companies listed in the article in the link include popular U.S. companies. Write, write, write. Please do all you can to spread the word. We should not be supporting this worse-than-slavery system, but we are getting too dependent on China.