Thursday, September 27

President Obama on Slavery at Bill Clinton Global Initiative Conference

...and what it means to modern countries like Italy.  
In Obama's words...
"... It ought to concern every nation because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I'm talking about the injustice, the outrage of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name, modern slavery.
"Now, I — I do not use that word, 'slavery,' lightly. It evokes, obviously, one of the most painful chapters in our nation's history. But around the world, there's no denying the awful reality. When a man desperate for work finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling for little or no pay and beaten if he tries to escape, that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving, that's slavery. When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed, that's slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters' age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promise of a better life and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists, that's slavery. It is barbaric and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world."
Obama makes his case against the horrific and grotesque practice of human trafficking - something that we all know is going on right under our noses.  He brings that above phrase (in color) to its natural conclusions...that is being sold, beaten, threatened, locked up, forced to kill or be killed makes you a slave.  But I have another view of the part I've highlighted.  It is the plight of millions in Italy, and I imagine in much of Europe, it is the plight of an entire generation, and often their parents' as well.  I have said it before, and I will say it ad nauseum...Italy's economy is wholly dependent upon slave labor.  It is the unspoken secret that no economist looks at, because non-payment doesn't even make the figures.  Besides, economists are so busy looking at the multi-billion dollar underground economic figures, they don't have time to calculate the non-paid work as well.

It starts innocently enough: With kids and moms helping dad out at all hours of the day or after school in the local coffee shop.  It's entire families who shake the trees for weeks on end of olives to make the olive oil that then gets sold.  It's a friend asking you to tutor her child a few evenings a week, or another asking their doctor for free consultations, prescriptions and more.  Another who asks you to edit or translate their website; or produce a conference presentation or pick up their kids after school.  And we won't even think about the millions of grandparents who provide unpaid daycare, with healthy three course meals included.

With immigrants, it becomes 24/7 jobs taking care of granny in which the family conveniently ignores the fact that the help should be paid for night duty; even if they're sleeping (and I've yet to hear of an 80-something sleeping steadfastly through the night).  They are docked pay for time off or forced to swap their salary with a friend who pinch hits in the meantime.  Italy has specific rules governing their in-house COLF labor; the majority of families refusing to abide by them.  The unspoken rule of the day being, 'put up or push off'.  Not willing to lose their job, they endure.  And in a country that has one of the oldest populations on earth, the hours can truly add up.

It turns to the business world, where new graduates or young workers are lured by the false promise of a better life and start working earnestly on that magazine article, that website, that art book, those shoes.  They are asked to work, 'give it a try' in hopes they'll be brought in full time.  It never happens.  Once the project is over, a new line of free labor is signed on and you're out the door.  Or, they're brought in for such little pay, they're forced to live with their parents until well into their 40s, getting out of it only by default; their parents are dead.  Thankfully, in family-oriented Italy, inter-generational cohabitation isn't the torture that Obama describes above...

Professionals are forced to carry a six figure project up for bid by assuming all the costs first, and (hopefully) remaking the money back once the project's launched.  It rarely makes the money back in the end, and employees are let go without any remuneration.  Or, the employees get paid -- but two years in arrears.  Those same employees must first pay taxes on what they were to make, however.  If the Company stops paying, they're left holding the bag.  Or, talk to the people in the hundreds of 'call centers', Italy's sweatshops in a digital age, and Obama's description starts to make sense.
Even companies with the best of intentions might end up in the red (under-funded due to lack of capital and no venture capitalists to come by); employees carry on for months on end, hoping to turn things around.  Newspaper and magazine, one after another folds; with employees turned out without their euros in back pay.  A photographer is asked to do a shoot to 'get their foot in the door', a video producer a new music video, an actor...a few plays, an ad firm a few creative meetings and mockups.  Demos are bid on and delivered at great expense to their creators, only to see the project - should it happen to come to fruition (an unlikely result)  - given to a few unpaid 'interns' (I prefer the term 'slaves') who merely turn out a brutto copy of the original professional proposal.
In 30 years of doing business in italy, I have never - never - seen someone called back for the second round.  Suing is not an option, because you will be in retirement by the time the case is ever heard.

It is not enough that Italy suffers from wage stagnation (wages for workers, excepting for managers, political hacks and their high-paid whores and especially the bankers, have been at a standstill since 1992), there's an even more insipid problem in our midst - and that's an economy based on slave labor.  And as President Obama so accurately stated, "It is barbaric and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world."

Nota Bene:
This is not to imply that Italy holds the pole position on these practices.  The USA is choc-a-bloc filled with sweatshops, illegal immigrants toiling in the fields, and wages are at a standstill since the early 1990s.  I was screwed by a Tennessee company, that not only regularly fleeces unsuspecting people of their subscriber fees, but jilted me out of $22,000.  Good thing it's run by two lawyers, one of whom (Jim Roberts) also works for their candidates in the GOP - the party espousing 'values'.  The difference is, the U.S. economy does not depend on these practices and, usually (save for my lawsuit) one has recourse - and speedy trials to make up the difference.  


Anonymous said...

" of whom (Jim Roberts) also works for their candidates in the GOP - the party espousing 'values'..."

Not every member of the GOP is a thief or a liar. Please don't allow your personal feelings for this man to discolor your feelings for all of us. I am not a thief and a liar. Not all members of any group are the same. Every barrel has a rotten apple in it.

Irreverent Italy said...

Thanks, Anon -
But, please re-read -- I didn't state that all GOPers were thieves or liars...In fact, some of my closest friends vote Republican!

He is a certified member and lobbyist for the Right - the self-appointed authority on 'values'. I find it (slightly) amusing that this particular bible thumper and businessman can thumb his nose at ethical practices. But it'd be more amusing if he were the kind of gay-bashing Republican that you'd find waiting in an airport john looking for a 'massage'...