Sunday, March 10, 2019

Modern indentured servants

One of the ways that many reached the New World was through a labor contract, a rather draconian one at that, in which people contracted their labor for a period of years in return for room, board and clothing and eventual free status. In practice, it was legal but temporary slavery.

Of course, those days are long gone or maybe not. In fact, those conditions have become more common and less temporary. I am referring to people that work multiple jobs merely to pay rent and put food on the table. In practice, the only time they have to “pursue happiness” as stated in the American Declaration of Independence is during their few hours of sleep. I am not referring to young people just starting their adult life or those middle aged trying to pay for their children’s private school. I am talking about people in the 30’s and 40’s who do not have the “luxury” of resting.

Many years ago, I visited a friend and her family in Mexico, a middle-class family. What struck me the most was how hard they worked. Both parents had management jobs but they also cooked soup and sold it to workers, all to make ends meet. The exact opposite from the stereotype of lazy Mexicans, this family, like many of their countrymen, worked endlessly to provide their family with moderate means.

On my just completed trip to LA, I had a conversation with the weekend clerk at the hotel where I usually stay. Discussing the high local prices, some $20 USD for a full breakfast, he mentioned that he also sold in eBay and worked as a Lyft driver, similar to Uber. He stated that without all these income sources, he simply could not afford to live in LA.  The man was in his 30’s.

In Israel, the shocking fact, according to the newspaper the Marker, is the 80% of all Israelis are in overdraft.  Granted, some are young and trying to get by on minimum wage while others are trying to live beyond their means. Yet, a great number are simply trying to end the month properly and are failing on a regular basis.

Further exasperating this trend is the fact that more and more tasks are being subcontracted to personnel agencies. This means that these workers earn less money but also lack sick leave, pension, medical benefits and job security.  This vulnerable situation adds stress but prevents these hard-working people from handling that stress.

According to the Bible, Jacob worked a slave for 14 years for Laban but eventually got Rachel (and Leah). It was painful but temporary and fruitful (in the Biblical sense). Modern indentured servants have neither the knowledge when their ordeal will end or the assurance it will end. The solution to the problem may be complex but its existence is undeniable no matter how much this situation is hidden in the economic statistics. More important, slavery, however framed, is morally wrong and should be eliminated. To highjack the expression, do not wish on others what you would not wish on yourself.

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