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Today in American Corporations Using Slave Labor


Shipbuilding corporation Signal International has some very special labor practices, policies that more corporations would emulate if they could get away it:

The lawsuits allege that Signal and its agents defrauded guest workers out of millions of dollars in exorbitant “recruitment fees” and falsely promised help in applying for and obtaining permanent US residence.

The guest workers sold family property and heirlooms, and incurred crippling debt, to each pay as much as $25,000 to Signal, they charged.

Once these workers were lured to Signal’s shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Orange, Texas, they were forced to live in overcrowded, unsanitary and racially segregated labour camps, the news release alleged.

Signal, used the US government’s H-2B visa guest worker programme to import these employees from India to work as welders and pipefitters after Hurricane Katrina scattered its workforce, SPLC said.

Usually capital mobility moves to other nations in order to exploit labor. But sometimes it draws workers from afar to its manufacturing sites, keeps them in social isolation so they can’t complain, and treats them as if they actually had moved to Vietnam or India or Honduras.

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  • max

    And the feds aren’t on this?

    [‘There should be some felony false imprisonment and fraud charges floating around there somewhere.’]

    • Murc

      Sure they are. They’ll make real sure any of these workers are deported lickety-split if the company reports they’ve violated any clause or codicil of their guest worker visas.

    • Richard

      The EEOC filed an action against Signal in 2011 based on these allegations. Not sure if it is still pending or not. The linked article makes reference to some lawsuit against Signal being dismissed in 2012 but I think this might have been a decision to deny class certification for these claims. After class certification was denied, a number of individual actions were filed. Among them are the new actions referenced in the article

      • JMP

        And thanks again, Roberts Supreme Court, for making class certification in federal cases prohibatively difficult.

    • Alan Tomlinson

      These assholes are subcontractors for the US Navy.


      Alan Tomlinson

      • e.a.foster

        yes it is interesting that they can not find a single veteran of the Armed Forces to take these positions. So much for patriotism and looking after veterans once they come home. Next time the government decides to go to war perhaps they can find some other country to take care of it at a min. wage and let the American soliders stay home and save their bodies and minds.

        • Helmut Monotreme

          Don’t give them any ideas. An American version of the French Foreign Legion would be the wet dream of the Neo Cons. They would love an army with no rights that they can use up and throw away in every imperialist venture that they can imagine. Of course, that’s what Blackwater (or whatever they are calling themselves these days)was supposed to be. I imagine the idea is only dormant, and will return the next time Neo Cons are anywhere near the levers of power.

  • rea

    Having disposed of the 15th Amendment, will the Supreme Court take this opportunity to decide whether the 13th Amendment is constitutional?

    • David Hunt

      Oh come now. The 15th Amendment hasn’t been disposed of. It’s simply been hamstrung. That way it can do no productive work and is relegated to performing in a freak show where people can look at it and marvel at it, but on no account meaningfully interact with it.

  • Another Holocene Human

    Watching some pbs about convict labor and (illegal) debt slavery called peobage after Reconstruction, also knowing what is going on in Florida in ag business and the failed attempts to shut down international human trafficking in the sex trade, enforcing US anti slavery statutes on the federal level is nigh impossible by design.

    Wonder if afl could have outflanked coc witha job saving tough anti slavery/trafficking law in 2009 instead of dying on the hill of efca.

    • Bill Murray

      did you mean peonage rather than peobage?

  • Caroline Abbott

    We had something akin in Oklahoma with the John Pickle Company.


  • e.a.foster

    In British Columbia, Canada we are seeing similar things. The federal government has a “temporary worker” visa program. They bring in workers from other countries and pay them less than Canadians. There is one case, HD mining, who says it can not find any experienced miners in Canada. They are bringing in 200 miners from China. (HD Mining is a Chinese Corporation). They of course are being paid less than Canadian workers, much less. As a note several hundred Canadian miners did apply for the job. They failed two requirements, one of which was to speak Mandarin. Yes, that is in Canada where our official languages are French and English.

    Federal governments like the tempoary worker visas because the workers leave the country at the end of the job and they won’t have to pay these workers things like Canada Pension or Old Age Pension. It isn’t just the corproations who save money.

    Many resturants bring in temporary workers also. the min. wage is so low and the working conditions so bad, Canadians won’t work or they call in labour practice depts. One chain was eventually taken to court by the temporary workers. They won and were awarded several million $s.

    Temporary workers don’t complain about working conditions, pay, or unionize. If the Canada or the U.S.A. were truly short of workers than the potential workers should be admitted as landed immigrants and enjoy the same rights as others.

    • We know the US, at least, isn’t “short of workers” because we are in a goddamned recession with multiple people applying for every job.

  • DrDick

    Slave labor is pretty common today in agriculture in this country as well

    • see also Tomatoes, florida.

      • DrDick

        Yeah, that and sugar cane, Florida, were what sent me looking into it. While Florida does seem to be the biggest offender, it is pretty widespread.

  • jkay

    I think this’ why we’ve seen immigration only get worse in the past thirty years since the radicals’ve been in power. It’s tons easier to enslave if you can’t get in on reasonable terms, especially South.

    It’s also bad for academics , another reason people worse than the actual Know Nothings might like immigration antireform.

    So, remember, immigration reform’s important.

  • Ragout

    Loomis writes that the Signal Corporation “keeps them in social isolation so they can’t complain, and treats them as if they actually had moved to Vietnam or India or Honduras.”

    Ironically, Signal shares the same xenophobic prejudices that Loomis exhibits here. According to the lawsuit, Signal thought the workers would be “happy campers” to live 24 to a windowless trailer and eat rotten food, because that’s how they imagined skilled workers in India live. Similarly, like Loomis, Signal thought it would be fairly easy to keep the workers from complaining.

    Fortunately, Loomis and Signal are wrong. The workers fought back. They quickly complained to management, formed an employee association, engaged in mass direct action demonstrations to stop deportations, and contacted local press and church groups. Most quit their jobs. Eventually, they demonstrated in front of the White House, met with members of Congress in DC, made national news, and filed a class action lawsuit. When their class action was denied, they filed 150 individual suits.

    So the real story is nothing like Loomis’s version, which amounts to: “Meek, uneducated foreigners are stealing our jobs and corporations are evil.”

    • DrDick

      Having a bit of trouble with that reading comprehension are we?

      • Ragout

        Maybe you could explain what the conditions at Signal had in common with conditions in Vietnam, India, Honduras. Do you think slave labor is common in those countries?

        • DrDick

          Don’t get out much, do you? Maybe you missed the posts (and news stories) about garment workers in Bangladesh? There is also the widespread use of forced labor (much of it children) in West Africa’s cacao production or in South Asian rug making. If you have a point, please find it, so you can sit on it and spin.

        • DrDick

          Also as to forced labor in SE Asia and India Indi, it is quite widespread. It is worth noting that Erik never makes that assertion. You really want to work on that reading comprehension thing.

          • Ragout

            The workers were from India. So I don’t see the relevance of Loomis’ references to Honduras and Vietnam, or your reference to Bangladesh. How can the conditions of West African cacao workers possibly be relevant to the situation of Indian pipe fitters in America? It may surprise you to learn that India is not in West Africa, and that Honduras, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and India, are all different countries. But it’s true!

            And while it’s true that forced labor exists in India, it is a lie to say that it’s “quite widespread.” I highly doubt that it’s any more widespread than in the US.

            To repeat my point: Loomis’ complaint here is really that foreigners are stealing American jobs. He says that it would be just as bad if Signal were to open a plant in India. That’s pernicious nonsense, unless your only concern is for American workers. In their own country, Indian workers would have more rights. For example, Signal wouldn’t be able to threaten workers in an Indian plant with deportation! And of course Signal’s “guest workers” thought they were being treated much worse than they had been in India.

            • DrDick

              And I repeat, you obviously have no reading comprehension, as Loomis says or implies no such thing. His complaint is about the behavior of the business, not the workers.

              • Ragout

                Indeed, Loomis entirely ignores the actions of the workers, which is odd for a labor historian.

                His complaint is clearly based on protectionism and his concern is mainly about the plight of American workers, not the Indians. “Usually corporations ship our jobs overseas, now they’re importing guest workers to steal our jobs!”

  • I don’t want to see this thread die of ragout based reading incomprehension so I’d just like to reaffirm that

    1) there is nothing new under the sun and
    2) this is all part of the fact that our master class has decided that paying anything 0 dollars is an insult to the profit motive and to capitalism.

    In fact, like the intern scandal, this Signal scandal just shows that the corporations themselves are seeing worker desperation for jobs as a new revenue stream and taking on the role of coyotes international: charge the worker exorbitant fees for placement (25,000?), move them across borders, and then scab and underpay them relative to the local labor rate? You are killing two labor movements with one stone, and the workers themselves are paying you to do it.

    • Ragout

      Very little of what you say is true. The Indian workers weren’t desperate for jobs — that’s why Signal had to lie to them (promising Green Cards) to convince them to come to the US! The placement fees were paid to Indian labor brokers, not to Signal (although the fees allowed Signal to avoid recruitment costs). The suit alleges that they were discriminated in many ways against compared to US workers, but it does not allege that they were underpaid (although some were paid $13.50/hour instead of the $18.50/hour they had been promised). Lastly, no labor movement was killed. Instead, a labor movement was created: the Indian workers formed an association that is still going strong.

      Like you, Signal assumed the Indians would be a compliant, “desperate” source of labor. Instead they imported a group of workers a lot more militant than most Americans.

    • DrDick

      Give it up, Aimai. Ragout is bound and determined to never get the point and no amount of logic and facts will convince him otherwise. I begin to wonder if he is a paid shill for Cato, AEI, Heritage, or the US Chamber of Commerce.

      • jb

        Given that his previous comments here have all involved

        a. Attacks on Loomis’ reasoning/mental capacity, often in quite nasty tones and
        b. A ludicrously rose-colored glasses view of international capitalism

        I think we can safely ignore him.

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