Wednesday, March 9, 2011

We need a word like "gangmaster"

Lately the UK Guardian is having to defend a film it made about the harsh living and working conditions of illicit migrants who grow salad vegetables in Spain for the north of Europe. In doing so, the paper notes that some years ago in Britain, similar abuses were similarly dismisssed as the isolated crimes of a few bad apples. "Yet," it notes, "by the time the Gangmaster Licensing Authority was established in 2005, it was clear that the problems were systemic. Inspections and raids on mainstream factories, packhouses and large farms found extreme conditions even though many had passed their supermarket audits."

Such a useful term, "gangmaster", pulled from the uglier older reaches of labor history, to match conditions that recall the bad old days. In the U.S. we apply polite words like "contratista" or "H-2A employer" and indentured or undocumented laborers go on working for low pay and living in barracks or worse.

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