Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Kindred Spirits: Immigration and Slavery?

Anyone supporting unlimited immigration into the United States might review the history of the antebellum South of the 19th Century.

While there’s no doubt that slavery was perverse, causing incredible harm against African Americans, it had another victim that few likely know – lower class, independent, white, businessmen, sometimes poor, sometimes middle class.

They were the service providers, fixing fences or performing odd jobs around an owner’s plantation.

William H. Freehling, a retired history professor at the University of Kentucky, writes in his two-volume series detailing Southern life, politics and economics prior to the U.S. Civil War, entitled The Road to Disunion, small white businessmen were often at a disadvantage because they were competing against either free blacks or slave labor. 

Often it was easier and cheaper, Freehling writes, for a plantation owner to turn to his slaves when work needed to be done around his estate that didn’t include planting or tending to the crops.

History repeating itself?

Nearly 150 years since the end of the Civil War, yesterday’s New York Times reports ( a similar issue exists today.

Only it’s not about lower class whites being at a competitive disadvantage.  It’s mostly about lower class African Americans, The Times reports, unable to secure work on a farm, Southern Valley, in Georgia.

Their competition?  Immigrant labor but with a new twist:  It’s not about pay, say the owners and operators of Southern Valley, it’s about attitude. 

Southern Valley’s Director of Operations Jon Schwalls compared Mexican and guest workers to Americans this way:

“When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work.  It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input.”

The story reports a lawsuit was recently settled by some of the workers and it included, The Times said, Southern Valley agreeing “to make certain changes,” which were left unclear in the article.

Lawyers for the American workers, The Times reports, say the guest worker program, which allows foreign laborers to work for limited periods of time in the United States, “is rigged to favor low-cost foreign labor because, given the conditions and the pay, no one else will do it.”

In U.S. politics, the Democratic Party’s constituency is often voters on the lower end of the economic spectrum.  If Democrats can’t help low-skill laborers, like the ones formerly employed by Southern Valley, are there other constituents they can’t help?  Are these workers the Democratic Party’s sacrificial lambs because they’re in a Red State?

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