When someone uses the word ‘slavery’, they typically mean explicit slavery, a system where someone under the law of the land is made the property of another.
We forget that a state of slavery can also be implicit in the circumstances of our lives.
All one’s slavery lacks is official or legal recognition.
Some questions to ask:
Can you walk away?
Would you face social ostracism and starvation if you ever stopped?
Do you make your own schedule or does someone else decide where you will be and when you will be there?
Do you have a superior from whom you must take orders?
Few of us can give significantly different answers to these questions than could an explicit slave.
The hard truth is that we are slaves for the most part.
Employees do receive pay while slaves do not, but compulsory servitude is compulsory servitude whether or not you bring home a check.
Those who defended the institution of slavery in the antebellum South had some valid criticisms of abolitionist concerns:
-Factory workers in the North worked more hours than plantation slaves.
Harsh competition ensured that they were always stretched to the limit on the job. One mistake, injury, sickness meant getting outcompeted by someone else.
-These workers were paid the bare minimum required to feed and clothe themselves.
Thus little practical difference between slaves handed food, clothing but no pay. Worse, employees could even be tricked or forced into becoming financially indebted to their employer.
-The master has a vested interest in the wellbeing of slaves. The employer has no reason to care about or be responsible for the wellbeing of factory workers. They hand over a bare subsistence amount of pay and wash their hands of the matter.
Clearly, there never was an influx of factory workers trying to sell themselves at slave auctions no matter how desperate their circumstances:
-Being explicitly a slave entails a degree of humiliation and degradation that cannot be quantified.
-Even the most wretched factory worker might have a residence and family beyond the reach of their bosses.
-Upward mobility is possible for a factory worker’s offspring, even if not probable.
However, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that several important aspects of the lives of Southern slaves were significantly better than that of a Northern factory worker.
A state of implicit slavery can be doubly desirable to the master, doubly detrimental to the slave.
If the slave relationship is not recognized under contract, no governing power regulates the master/slave relationship, the master need have no investment in or responsibility for the slave. Anything goes.
This implicit, double slavery is perhaps the inevitable state of existence for the majority of employees now just as it was in the 19th century.