free and forced labor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Jun 1 07:47:44 MDT 2001

George wrote:
>my mother used to complain about how her father had forced her to leave
>school after the eighth grade to take a job in a cigar factory. my question
>is: was this free or forced labor? if she had refused to take the job she
>would have been beaten or worse. she was paid a wage. my point here is that
>the distinction between free and forced labor is not absolute. child labor
>is a good illustration of this , then and now.

For anybody interested in these sorts of questions, I can't recommend
Robert Miles "Robert Miles, "Capitalism and Unfree Labour: Anomaly or
necessity?" (Tavistock Publications, 1987) highly enough. Although I stuck
to his chapter on South Africa for my reply to Ellen Meiksins Wood, he also
has chapters on Australia and other countries in recent times that depended
heavily on forced labor. He also has a fairly liberal definition of the
term that not only includes child labor but migrant labor as well. For that
matter, he does not get into the prison-industrial system which is the
subject of Christian Parenti's new book (Michael's son.) As I tried to make
clear, the capitalist's goal is surplus value. How he gets there is a
tactical question.

Louis Proyect
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