Indentured Servants

What have we become? Look around you and what do you see? We drive by Main Street and Strip Mall America and all we see are ‘For Lease’ and ‘Closed’ signs. Our nation is inundated with boxstores and national chains. One Stop Shopping is what Americans want, isn’t it? NO! It’s what they tell you that you want.

This writer can recall his teen years in Brooklyn N. Y. Christmas was such a wonderful season. I would stroll down the avenue and buy all my Christmas gifts. First stop was the ladies store, or whatever it was called. I purchased a blouse for my mom, nightgown for one grandma and towels for the other. Down the street I came to the Men’s apparel shop. I bought pajamas for my dad and handkerchiefs for my grandfather. The leather goods shop was next and I bought my brother a nice new wallet. After shopping, I went into the produce store and bought a few tangerines for snacks. Then I went into the German deli and got myself a nice hero sandwich for lunch. All on the avenue.

America used to be a Union nation. Many working folks belonged to a union. You paid your dues and, with some exceptions (company controlled ‘sweetheart unions’) , you were protected from cuts in pay and sudden layoffs. My dad and grandfather belonged to the ILA (International Longshoremen’s Association). Yes, it was mob controlled and far from perfect, but…. Better than not having a union. My mom would take us, when we were ill, to the ILA’s free clinic in downtown Brooklyn. My dad and grandfather got paid vacations, lots of sick pay, and salary increases on a regular basis. Of course, things could have been better if the mob did not have its hands in the till. Yet, during the last three years of his time as a longshoreman, my dad had seniority , and the union had a guaranteed pay clause in their contract with the shipping companies. Translated: since they did not need all the workers the union had, the shippers had to guarantee the salaries of those not needed to work, meaning men with seniority. So each morning my dad got up, ate breakfast and drove to the union hall. He showed his badge, signed in, and then was sent home… With a full day’s pay owed to him. That is what a union could do.

Today, less than 15 % of American workers are unionized. Of that number, most are government workers. In the private sector less than one in ten is in a union. In essence, American workers are truly at the whim of the employer. You look at the boxstores like Wal-Mart (America’s #1 private sector employer) and see how we are a nation of indentured servants.

Let’s look at the numbers and see what I mean. What is the average salary for a Wal-Mart associate (the label is such a joke in itself)? Maybe he or she earns $9.00 an hour. OK, let’s make it $10 an hour for argument sake. They work 40 hours, meaning a gross of $400 a week. Take out the approximately 7% for FICA and then federal withholding and the take home is what?  About $300 a week, just for argument.  The employee has no employer paid health coverage to speak of. If they do, it is probably with a high deductible and CO pay. That means if the worker gets sick, money has to come out of pocket, and not just $10 . More like $40 or $50 and that doesn’t include the cost of medicine. If the Wal-Mart worker has a young child and is a single parent (which is over 50% of the workforce) the child has to have day care if not yet in school. That takes money. Then you have rent for a two bedroom apartment (or they both share one bedroom — most likely) and a car payment, gas for the car, repairs for the car, food and clothing.  Need I go on? How in the hell is a single parent earning $300 a week take home pay going to afford all that !?

In the not so good old days they had company towns with company housing etc. In the feudalistic days they had the farm with the manor house and living quarters for the workers. Check out the fine Swedish film Pelle The Conquerer to see how that looked. All in all, these folks were what we call indentured servants… In ‘debt’ to the employer. Tell me what is so different from that Wal-Mart worker? Unfortunately, many Mom and Pop businesses are not immune from this mindset. A friend once worked as a carpenter for a local cabinet manufacturing shop. The employer paid a few dollars above minimum wage to the 4 or 5 craftsmen he had working for him. In a union shop, the workers would have earned 25% more and received better benefits. This shop did not pay for health coverage. Of course, the owner made sure his two children and his wife (and himself) all had brand new BMW cars…. On the company nut.

Some reading this would say ‘Well, God bless him to take care of his family. After all, he started and built up the business and why shouldn’t he have the very best?’ My answer is what the Japanese instituted decades ago. It was called the 15 times system (now it may be up to 30 times) . It followed a structure that the very highest earner in a company could not make more than 15 times his lowest full time worker. Do the math, even at 30 times and see if that cabinet shop owner would be buying BMWs for the whole family. In America, the Fortune 100 companies have CEOs who average over 400 times the pay of their lowest paid full time employee.

As the economy tanks again and again, the question is how much longer will the indentured servants quietly trudge into work each day? When will the majority of us who make up the workforce say ‘Enough is enough’?

Philip A Farruggio is regular columnist on itstheempirestupid website. He is the son and grandson of Brooklyn NYC longshoremen and a graduate of Brooklyn College, class of 1974. Since the 2000 election debacle Philip has written over 500 columns on the Military Industrial Empire and other facets of life in an upside down America. He is also host of the It’s the Empire… Stupid radio show, co produced by Chuck Gregory. Philip can be reached at Read other articles by Philip.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 27th, 2010 at 2:12pm #

    Even the ’15 times’ system is an abomination and pure parasitism. No-one works fifteen times hard, fifteen times longer or fifteen times more productively than the average. All the wealth of the parasite class, all the accumulated capital that is the excuse for their larcenous depredations, was appropriated from the labour of past generations or from looting the natural world (to the point of ecological collapse). And the parasites are literally insatiable, totally unscrupulous, infinitely vicious and, hence, utterly corrupt. A society run by capitalist parasites is of the type known by the Greeks as a ‘kakistocracy’-rule by the worst people in society.

  2. usedtobesupermom said on December 27th, 2010 at 10:57pm #

    I don’t know why people in this country can’t see what’s going on. Wages have fallen by 50% & even more since the 1980’s. In 1986 the meat packing industry paid $16 – $19 an hr. with benefits! It now pays $8- $13 an hr. NO BENEFITS.
    Corporations outsourced all our manufacturing to countries with cheap labor, what couldn’t be outsourced, foreign workers (both legal & illegal) were brought in to replace U.S. workers. To add insult to injury, U.S. workers were made to train their replacements in order to get any kind of severance pay.
    Microsoft doesn’t even look at resumes of Americans. Someone who worked there said they throw them away & only want people from India. In fact I watched Bill Gates go before Congress & tell them they NEEDED to INCREASE the number of H-1B Visas because he couldn’t find ANY QUALIFIED Americans to work at his company! He did this twice! He didn’t get what he wanted & not long after he said he would be laying off 5000 workers here.

    I warned for 10+ yrs. that Wall St. was going to crash because of fraud. I was told that I was F*%$@*G CRAZY & I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. We know what happened in the Fall of 2008.
    The only thing I was wrong about was that I actually thought they would go to jail. When the savings & loan scandal of the 1980’s was exposed, many went to jail

  3. Deadbeat said on December 27th, 2010 at 11:40pm #

    It wasn’t only India. Microsoft actively recruited Russians and from the Eastern Block nations as well. Most people are not aware of that and tend to think only India. But many Russians are highly educated and are cheap compared to their American counterparts.

  4. budfan said on December 28th, 2010 at 5:22pm #

    I think “Enough is enough” is being said all the time. So what is to be done? Revolution? That would collapse the economy quicker than corporate theft. Organize? Today, Americans don’t know how to organize in any way other than join fake media revolutions.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 28th, 2010 at 8:56pm #

    ‘Collapsing the economy’ is the only hope humanity has of survival. The ‘economy’ is a process whereby the stuff of life is chewed up and out the Behemoth’s rear end is excreted useless consumer junk and slave wages for the serfs, and fabulous profits and a life of idle ease, gluttony and display for the parasite class.

  6. Don Hawkins said on December 29th, 2010 at 4:01am #

    I think “Enough is enough” is being said all the time. So what is to be done? Revolution? That would collapse the economy quicker than corporate theft. Organize? Today, Americans don’t know how to organize in any way other than join fake media revolutions. Budfan

    Budfan that was great stuff three little words Fake Media Revolutions you nailed it. Write a book then soon to be a movie. Here’s just a few ideas.

    “Fake Media Revolution”

    It’s was only an illusion the start of the twenty first century in reality long forgotten the worst of times. The World better known as Earth and the life forms called human’s had divided into three group’s. The first group the many had on a relentless basis been brainwashed into believing almost anything the tea Party, war, wall street, congress, Hollywood, football games and on and on by the second group the few who control the media. This second group thought of the first group as two legged bipeds who would believe whatever they were told and they were now the little God’s masters of the Earth. In reality the second group not knowing it had brainwashed themselves the biggest slaves of all to this system now in control. Aha the last group only a few very few knew all of this the true thinkers of our time and tried there best to get the truth out with no success so far lost in the zero’s and one’s. So……………………………………….?

    Budfan write it change the name the title of book call it just “Illusion” or “The World According to Woody Allen”. Fun to write although you would never get it published as the system would reject it in the first part of the twenty first century.

    What have we become? Look around you and what do you see? We drive by Main Street and Strip Mall America and all we see are ‘For Lease’ and ‘Closed’ signs. Our nation is inundated with boxstores and national chains. One Stop Shopping is what Americans want, isn’t it? NO! It’s what they tell you that you want. Phillip

    Only the tip of the iceberg.

  7. Don Hawkins said on December 29th, 2010 at 4:31am #

    ‘Collapsing the economy’ is the only hope humanity has of survival. Mulga

    A sea of slums and a few castles sure have come along way in two hundred thousand year’s. Been done before of course in history but this time a few more players who want the castles and or the ticket on the c-130. We could use known knowledge work together use reason something so far never tried and everything made as simple as possible but not simpler and the REASON to not do that those darn castles. Will we never learn.

  8. hanspanzer said on December 29th, 2010 at 4:49am #

    One of the problems US citizens have is that “communism”, “marxism” “anarchism” etc. have become swear words in the US so it makes it difficult to organize/theorize a leftist mass movement. We have to rehabilitate these words.

  9. Don Hawkins said on December 29th, 2010 at 4:50am #

    Just watch see Cap and Trade a joke on the human race will happen. Keep’s the power where it belongs the second group as we all go down the drain in not such slow motion. Not to bright but have we ever been bright and Indentured Servants at least for a few more year’s will take on a whole new meaning. The President of the United States seem’s to like to go golfing. I wonder does he say four before he hit’s the ball as if so if he said three closer to the truth. I wonder does Mitch McConnell play golf if so make that two.

  10. budfan said on December 29th, 2010 at 12:53pm #

    Most Americans live under conflicting conditions that are not dictated by our natural environment — a Judeo-Christian ethos existing alongside an inherently predatory economic system. American society thus performs its own form of natural selection during these times when the self-satisfied human believes that he is the primary force, the powerful profiting handsomely at the tragic expense of others.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. Individual ambition can primarily serve the common good. And we can choose to live a more equitable existence — at least until that time comes when Nature once again will raise its ugly head to remind us that we are not in charge.

  11. Liberte said on December 29th, 2010 at 1:19pm #

    Budfan touches on the greatest hegemonic lie impossed on America; the associative paradox known as “Judeo-Christian.” This is like saying blackish-whitish.

    Much more logical would be to say “Islamo-Christian,” for at least those two faiths have some commonalities.

    But yes I agree that an increase in Christian charity coupled with Islamic economics will bring see us through the brunt of this crisis, even in the face of communist style orchestrated famines.

    If you know someone unemployed and you have farmable land, allow them to farm on your land.

    @Hanzspanzer. Marxism and communism are swear words because those ideologies are zionist power play’s and have perpetuated the worlds most horrific atrocities. The gulags, the holodomor, etc. Liberate your mind from the paradigm, it’s a trap.

  12. 3bancan said on December 29th, 2010 at 3:47pm #

    PatrickSMcNally said on December 29th, 2010 at 3:28pm #
    Imho this “well-known fact” should be expressed in numbers or at least as a percentage…

  13. hanspanzer said on January 1st, 2011 at 8:15am #


    Your characterization of Marxism and communism as Zionist are nonsense. Liberate your own mind from anti-semitism. (Anti-zionism however is a different story, and to be recommended). Go back to the theory, get over the history, (and, I assume from your comments, get over so-called “philosopher” Ayn Rand)