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Our country, founded on cheap labor

Oscar H. Blayton

When I wonder why there is so much contention in America, I consistently run into impenetrable walls of illogic.

For example, we know that race is a social construct created to justify slave labor and global white supremacy in the post-medieval developing economies. Yet racial classification remains a catalyst for social injustice, state-sanctioned violence and economic inequity across the planet.

We live in a world where patriarchal bigotry seeks to deny women the right to choose how and when they propagate humankind, even though females have cared for our unborn, newborn and young for the entirety of the history of our species.

Logic dictates that a living wage is necessary for life, yet corporate interests characterize it as a social ill that will tear apart life as we know it and must be met with vigorous opposition.

If we believe that this type of reasoning is acceptable in modern-day America, then we can draw only two conclusions: Either we are suffering from mental illness or we have been misled into believing these are not inconsistencies.

Assuming we are not all mad, the second premise begs a question: Who benefits from this illogic?

It certainly does not benefit the innocent and unarmed Black and brown people gunned down in city streets by murderous police.

Nor does it benefit a woman who, for her own mental, physical or emotional health needs to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

And it certainly does not benefit the single mother working two or three jobs to support the children she barely has time to see.

So, who does benefit? Who benefits from the existence of a large, underprivileged class of citizens? Who benefits from denying women agency over their own futures? Who benefits from low wages for workers?

All these miserable conditions are social constructs engineered to benefit only one class: people with an inextinguishable craving for cheap labor.

This country was founded on cheap labor, as chattel slavery existed in every one of the original 13 states at some time in its history.

Even after chattel slavery was outlawed, new forms of cheap labor were engineered through the judicial and penal systems that arose from the Black codes.

Blacks fleeing the deadly racism of the South found themselves corralled in northern and western ghettos where jobs often were scarce and police terror tactics were used to ward off any demands for justice that might fuel civil unrest. This served to amass wealth in the hands of a few.

Wealth was further accumulated to certain men by denying it to women. Political theorists have for years pointed out that male dominance is a social construct allowing men to seize control of wealth from women. This is evidenced most dramatically by the fact that the 100 Years War was ignited by the dispute over whether a woman could claim a right of inheritance to the French crown. Gender-based pay disparities is further evidence of this. Female labor is deemed cheaper.

A certain few Americans amass wealth in America by denying a living wage to workers while knowing a living wage is crucial for a decent quality of life. Their opposition is not fueled by a scarcity of wealth, but an unwillingness to share wealth with the laborers who create it.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 2019, chief executives of big companies made on average 320 times as much as their typical worker. By this measure, if a typical worker earns $20,000 annually, barely a living wage, her CEO pulls in $6,400,000.

So, what is all the fuss about? It’s about cheap labor to ensure the luxurious lifestyles of the wealthy.

It’s also about racism, sexism and socioeconomic bias. But all these things point in one direction — there are those among the wealthy who want to buy our labor as cheaply as possible so that they can have as much as possible. And they do this by keeping cheap laborers believing we are one another’s enemies.

This strategy is easily exposed by eagerness to expand trade agreements that provide American corporations access to cheap labor abroad. A company can pay poverty wages to a poor child in Asia to make sneakers to sell at exorbitant prices to poor children in America who work at below minimum wage to buy them. And the profit goes to the CEO stashing away $6,400,000 a year.

Men and women of all racial, ethnic and cultural stripes must work together for the good of women, ethnic minorities and all the underpaid in this country, and stop being misled into opposing one another.

Until that happens, we will never be able to break through those walls of illogic.

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.