Human Exploitation in the United States

By Norman Thomas | Go to book overview
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From very ancient times there was such a thing as hired labor. It coexisted with chattel slavery and serf labor. It played its part in the economy of the medieval guilds of craftsmen. It was the concern of law givers and code makers before the times of Hammurabi or of Moses. Sometimes laws were meant to protect laborers from those who would defraud them of their hire and sometimes they were meant to fix wages. After the scourge of the Black Death, A.D. 1348-50, when a labor shortage made for a high wage scale, English law sought by cruel punishments to enforce a low and uniform rate. The last of a series of statutes was Queen Elizabeth's Statute of Artificers ( 1562) which was more or less systematically enforced for a century and not formally repealed until 1814!

But in spite of the antiquity of wage work it became the dominant form of exploitation in a predatory society only with the rise of the capitalist system. That wage labor did involve exploitation was an opinion by no means confined to the modern Socialist movement. Nor did the struggle between wage workers and their employers wait for its expression until Marx and Engels had formulated their theory of the class struggle. Southern defenders or apologists for chattel slavery were not so dull that they did not cite against their Northern critics the long hours, low wages, and frequent unemployment, of mill and factory workers. The capitalist system, as contrasted with feudalism, demanded mobility of labor. For its success it required that the employer be free of the personal responsibility for maintaining


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Human Exploitation in the United States


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