Wage Slavery is the New Slavery

On April 16, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensation Emancipation Act, which freed over 3,000 enslaved persons in the District of Columbia. This was some 8 months before enslaved persons were freed in the south through the Emancipation Proclamation. Washington D.C. was the only district in the nation to have compensated slave owners for freeing slaves.[1]

On this day, we celebrate the freeing of slaves in this part of the nation, recognizing it as a brave step by Abraham Lincoln during a tumultuous period known as the Civil War. During this time, slavery was tied to the economy in areas such as the south, which prompted rebellion from the Confederacy.

Even though it is illegal, slavery still exists in the United States through human trafficking and forced labor. Yet, slavery as it once was, which targeted people of color on a mass scale, has been abolished. There is another type of modern, legal slavery which we should all be concerned about, however.

Little Choices Available

Wage slavery is prevalent across the United States, with many people tied to jobs they don’t like to pay their bills. These jobs may be low-paying, and if these workers quit or are terminated, they could be at risk of losing their livelihoods. The working class is most at risk of being victims of wage slavery, with many working minimum wage jobs just to support themselves and their families.

Losing your home or car over a job you hate doing is the somber reality for many folks. They have no choice but to continue in their jobs. Without recourse, they are stuck.

Wage slavery is tied to slavery because wage slaves have little options at their disposal. They are forced to work jobs that offer little bargaining power to the worker. The only bargaining power slaves had were things such as active resistance by slowing down the pace of work or faking illness.

In addition to a lack of bargaining power, wage slaves usually have a lack of fulfilling job choices at their disposal. Their opportunity for leisure is little, and they have a lack of self-management when it comes to their jobs. This means they have little control or say over their work. Their jobs are predicated on following instructions, without input from the individual. Although the circumstances are incomparable, the characteristics between slavery and wage slavery are similar.

As the job market becomes tighter, workers usually have more bargaining power than they otherwise would have. This is the result of demand – as the pool of workers from which an employer can hire from shrinks, the employer has less options. They may then be forced to increase wages to hire top talent, or to hire at all.

You may ask how you can even put slavery and wage slavery in the same sentence, considering the former meant ownership over a person or their family in horrid living conditions, and without pay. Although slavery was specific towards people of color in the United States, anyone can become a victim of wage slavery, no matter their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, or age. This broadens the impact wage slavery can have over a populace. The similarities between slavery and wage slavery exist because in both cases, workers usually have little option but to continue working in their poor circumstances.

Decline of Unions Hurts Workers

When workers’ rights suffer in a nation, people are more likely to be victims of wage slavery. In 1983, 20% of American workers were union members. This number has dropped nearly half to 10.3% in 2021.[2] Unions were and continue to be integral towards labor rights and labor relations between workers and their employers. They were a medium from which workers could complain about any unfair working conditions, and demand change.

The decline of labor unions has hurt American workers, putting downward pressure on wages, and increasing wage inequality. With a union, a worker usually had the support and resources of their coworkers and others in a similar occupation or industry. Money was generated and pooled from union members in the form of dues so that in times of crisis, unions would be able to pay their members when pay was withheld from employers.

Other than that, unions and employers would often sign collective bargaining agreements, which dictated the conditions workers had. These were usually more favorable to workers than work that was not bound by a collective bargaining agreement.

Implications for Yourself

Slavery was the most abominable thing our nation has went through. It is a stain on our nation’s history, and we must continue to remember our past so that nothing like it can ever come again. By remembering slavery, and the past hardship of people of color, we are also doing a service to those impacted by wage slavery.

To escape wage slavery means to escape the conditions that bind you to unfavorable work. This may otherwise be difficult. One of the clearest examples of wage slavery today is working for Amazon, where many workers have recounted their stories online of back-breaking work for little pay.[3] This is a consequence of capitalism, where factory workers working in harsh environments are exploited for the rich and wealthy.

If you are impacted by wage slavery, you may be working overtime or more than 40 hours a week just to please your boss or cover your expenses. Your income may not be enough, and the conditions of your work have left you overworked, burnt out, and fatigued.

In the process, you may become injured due to the burden you are putting on yourself, such as sustaining a broken bone, which can elicit a strong emotional response. Overwork has implications like poorer health due to a weaker immune system and higher rates of injury. Fortunately, the workers’ compensation system was set up to protect workers.

Have You Suffered Ill Health Due to Wage Slavery? If so, Call Us Today.

If you have become injured or are suffering from ill health due to wage slavery, you will want to reach out to a workers’ compensation lawyer, who can help recover workers’ compensation benefits on your behalf.

At Livingston DiMarzio Brown, LLP, we recognize that people sometimes don’t have a choice but to work in jobs that don’t adequately compensate them. The result is more dissatisfaction and pressure placed on the individual, which can negatively impact their health. Keep in mind that even though you need to support yourself and your loved ones, this does not mean you need to put up with ill health or injury due to the conditions of your work. For information on whether you qualify for a case, contact us today or fill out a case form, and we will reach out to you.

[1] DC.Gov. (n.d.). History of Emancipation Day. History of Emancipation Day. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://emancipation.dc.gov/page/history-emancipation-day

[2] Green, T. V. (2022, February 18). Majorities of Adults See Decline of Union Membership as Bad for the U.S. and Working People. Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/02/18/majorities-of-adults-see-decline-of-union-membership-as-bad-for-the-u-s-and-working-people/

[3] Sogani, A. (2019, February 2). Capitalism and The Rise of New Slavery: From Slave Trade to Slave in Trade. E-International Relations. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://www.e-ir.info/2019/02/02/capitalism-and-the-rise-of-new-slavery-from-slave-trade-to-slave-in-trade/#:~:text=Capitalism%20has%20led%20to%20severe,are%20almost%20working%20as%20slaves.

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