Friday, March 02, 2007

Slavery in the UK.

It seems Tom DeLay was not the only one to learn from the perfect petri dish of pure capitalism. New Labour is to abolish laws that provide the most basic protection for migrant workers. Workers who receive visas to enter domestic service are "legally entitled to leave their employer if they are abused or exploited and to receive basic protection - including the minimum wage - under UK employment law." Now, if they are abused or mistreated by an employer, either they must suck it up or flee back to their country of origin. Even Barbara Roche, the former Home Office minister who used to put on a hideous freak show by appearing at the docks and interrogating lorry-drivers about any human cargo they might inadvertently be carrying, is alarmed: "These new proposals are a very retrograde step. Workers who suffer abuse from employers will feel absolutely alone. I can't believe a Labour government which has taken such a firm stance against trafficking will want this to happen." Oh, you'd be surprised, Barbara.

This comes as a recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found an enormous amount of slavery operating in the UK. There are said to be 10,000 gangmasters operating in the UK, who supply labour that operates under the threat of extreme physical violence to various sectors of British capital. These include everything from domestic service, where the new laws will apply, to agriculture, manufacturing, restaurant workers, food processors, care work, hotels and so on. Among these are tens of thousands of sex slaves, who include thousands of children - and not all of those children come from overseas. If you try to protest about your treatment, you "may be beaten, abused, raped, deported or even killed."

There is no overall estimate given for the total number of slaves working in the UK that I can find, but if there are 10,000 gangmasters, and I imagine that each of these deals with dozens in any year. The summary of findings states that there are 12 million slaves in the world at any one time, and at least 360,000 in the advanced capitalist countries. We're talking about a fairly sizeable substratum of the economy here, and presumably a source of enormous surplus extraction, alongside the more common forms of hyper-exploitation. And don't give me any of that bullshit about the employers not knowing what's happening: they know where these workers come from, they knew what the bruises signify, and they know why they don't have to pay minimum wage. It's simply that anything beyond the imperative to increase the rate of return isn't even a value.

So, the party of the organised working class wants to help the slave drivers. Somehow the phrase "crisis of expectations" doesn't quite capture that.