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April 4, 2005

More Taco Bell

Yet another reply from Rad Geek People's Daily. At this point we're going to have to agree to disagree on a few key issues.

1. Using the term slavery to apply to migrant working conditions. I do not think it's accurate, bottom line. Individuals are given the free opportunity to work (perhaps for a relatively low wage) or not. Choosing the former over the latter is still choice and not slavery. The violent references made by the media and the Boycott activists, may be true but I have no means of investigating their claims, and view them with scepticism at best.

2. The third definition of capitalism listed in the above post. I don't have a problem with boss powered employment for the same reason I don't view migrant labor as slavery. Ownerhsip is the means in which I view legitimate authority over the usage of property and resources.

I've enjoyed the debate greatly, but it doesn't seem like there's much more to say especially since the Boycott has come to an end. We'll have to wait and see what developes for Taco Bell and the migrant workers after the new policies take effect. Till then I rest easy knowing that I can still get delicious tacos for a reasonable price.

Posted by djdamico at April 4, 2005 11:47 AM


I'm afraid you misunderstand my references to slavery. CIW has been involved in exposing and working to change two distinct things in southern Florida (and the Southeastern US broadly):

1. Extremely low wages and harsh working conditions

2. Enslavement of migrant farmworkers by large farming operations

I agree with you that (1) isn't slavery in any but the metaphorical "wage slavery" sense, and that metaphorical phrases like "wage slavery" conceal at least as much as they reveal and usually don't belong in serious analysis. But when CIW says "slavery in the fields" they don't mean (1). They mean (2). As in, farming operations where bosses threatened to torture or murder immigrant workers if they left their jobs and pistol-whipped passenger van service drivers who had given enslaved workers rides out of the area. Here's what CIW says about it:

Q: What does the CIW mean when it uses the term "slavery"?

A: When the CIW uses the word slavery, we do not mean "slave-like" or "resembling slavery" --- rather, we are referring to conditions that meet the high standard of proof and definition of slavery under US federal laws.

Modern-day slavery is a violation of the 13th Amendment. The cases we have helped bring to justice have been prosecuted by the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division either under laws forbidding peonage and indentured servitude passed just after the Civil War during Reconstruction (18 U.S.C. Sections 1581-9) or under the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which prohibits the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

In our latest case, three Florida-based agricultural employers convicted in federal court on slavery, extortion, and weapons charges were sentenced to a total of nearly 35 years in prison and the forfeiture of $3 million in assets. The men, who employed over 700 farmworkers, threatened workers with death if they were to try to leave, and pistol-whipped and assaulted -- at gunpoint -- passenger van service drivers who gave rides to farmworkers leaving the area. The case was brought to trial by federal authorities from the Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division) after two years of investigation by the CIW.

You can find out more about cases of straight-up slavery that the CIW has helped expose from the Feds or from from the CIW.

Because I agree with you that neither (1) above (sucky pay and harsh labor conditions), nor my definition (3) of "capitalism" (a boss-directed labor market) constitutes slavery, I also agree with you that neither is coercive, and that they can't legitimately be met by government force (or any other kind of force). But that doesn't answer the question whether or not it's O.K.; it just answers the question of whether or not you can use force to stop it. There are lots of things that you have unquestionably legitimate authority to do that are nevertheless absolutely despicable ways to act. Justice is the only virtue that's enforceable but it's not the only virtue!

What I hold is that there are good reasons to think that we should be concerned--I mean that it is virtuous to be concerned, not that we should be forced to act concerned--about the living and working conditions of the people that make things we enjoy, and that it's perfectly reasonable for the sense of solidarity that that concern entails to affect the decisions we make in a free market for goods. That's a preference that most people act on, at least when it comes to family--few people are such scrooges that they wouldn't help a child or a relation out in business, even at some economic cost--and I don't think it's unreasonable to think that you can (indeed, ought) to have and to act on a similar attitude--though weaker, and for different reasons--for all your fellow human beings. Also that it's an attitude worth encouraging in other people, as long as you do it not through coercion but through education, persuasion, and peaceful incentives. Which is what the CIW has been doing.

As for the price of tacos--Jesus, do you really eat so many tacos in one sitting that a penny-per-pound increase in the cost of tomatos is going to make a difference in price on the margin to you? :)

Posted by: Rad Geek [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 4, 2005 2:52 PM

I do eat a lot of Tacos :)

Posted by: Daniel J. D'Amico at April 4, 2005 4:00 PM

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