In Florida’s tomato fields, a Hispanic helot underclass toils in the burning sun to pick tomatoes for McDonald’s and Taco Bell in slavery-like conditions.
“Slavery” is being used here in the pejorative sense as “a labor system which we dislike.” It is extremely irritating when people who know nothing about slavery attribute the pitfalls of the “free labor” system to slavery.
In the Old South, slaves on large plantations had better access to healthcare than most poor Whites. They enjoyed a form of social security on plantations, sick leave, and lived longer lives than “free laborers” in the Northern states. In fact, the diet of slaves was superior to the diet of modern blacks, and slaves on cotton plantations only spent around 34 percent of their time per year on the cotton crop.
Since slaves were the property of their masters, the costs of educating them, housing them, policing them, feeding them and providing for them in sickness and old age, not to mention the costs of raising them from childhood until they were old enough to become profitable laborers, were all absorbed by the planter. The “free labor” system privatizes the profits of exploitation while offloading all the costs onto the public.
These tomato farmers in Florida can rely on an inexhaustible supply of cheap labor from Latin America and the Caribbean. In the Old South, the slave trade was banned, so slave labor was quite expensive. These “modern slaves” more closely resemble the Irish “free laborers” who were used to dig canals in the North or the Scots-Irish mineworkers who were exploited in early twentieth century Appalachia.
Note: Barry Estabrook has an interesting book about Florida’s tomato industry and the “slaves” who are picking them, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.
In 2011, Florida’s Arizona-style immigration law was killed by opposition from the Florida Farm Bureau, largely because of the threat it posed to the blueberry crop, which is driven by diet fads and which is equally senseless to grow in that environment.