Worker Exploitation Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1699 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: American History

¶ … abuse of the under-privileged by the privileged minority. These issues include things such as human trafficking, especially of children, the seizure of privately owned land by governments, and populations that exhibit large disparities of income, amongst others. One of the most pressing of these issues is worker exploitation, which can be found in every country and which dates back even to Biblical times. However, before discussing this problem, a question must be answered: what is worker exploitation? One definition is that a worker is exploited if there is a recurrent and regular appropriation of economic goods from people who have a moral right to them (Hoivik 261). Others say that a person is exploited if that person cannot enjoy the fruits of his own labor, and if the difference between what that man makes and what that man gets cannot be justified by redistribution according to need (Elster 3). Perhaps one of the most egregiously overlooked examples of worker exploitation, that fits both these definitions, is one that is found in the United States, and which dates back generations. This perfect example can be found in the form of the Bracero Program, which was put into place during the early 20th century. The workers of the Bracero Program in the United States faced a significant amount of worker exploitation.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Paper on Worker Exploitation Assignment

The Bracero Program, also known formally as the Mexican Contract Labor Program, was one of the first examples of exploitation against immigrant and undocumented workers in the United States, beginning in the 1910s and lasting through the 1960s (Marcell). The program was the result of a bilateral agreement between the United States and Mexico to create a guest worker program under which Mexicans were recruited to work on U.S. farms (Braceros: History, Compensation). Through this program, the United States government brought Mexican labor into the country in response to a labor shortage faced by these large farms. The program happened in two waves. During the first wave, between 1917 and 1921, the Mexican government was dissatisfied with the agreement due to the fact that many of the bracero workers were experiencing discrimination in the United States, and very few actually earned money due to the fact that the farms where they were hired were charging them for such necessities as food and board (Braceros: History, Compensation). However, the program was reinstated in 1942, after the United States agreed to a reform of the program. Participating farms were now required to pay round-trip transportation from the workers' place of recruitment to the work site, as well as pay them the same wages that were paid to U.S. farm workers (Braceros: History, Compensation).

However, despite these new reforms, braceros made considerably less money than their American counterparts, for doing the exact same job. Ramon Torres-Hernandez, who was a U.S. citizen from El Paso who worked in agriculture during the time of the Bracero Program, recalled that in 1959, he made 61 cents per hour. This was ten cents more than braceros were making, and yet 30 cents below the national average (Marcell). During this same time, wages fell sharply in the agricultural industry; before the introduction of the Bracero Program, a worker would have made around $4.00 for one hundred pounds of cotton that he picked. However, after the importation of bracero workers, those wages fell to $3.00 per one hundred pounds (Marcell).

While these wages were higher than what the Mexican workers would have been earning in their home land, these workers also had their wages garnished by 10% (Millner). As per the agreement between the United States and Mexico, this 10% would be held for the workers in an account in Mexico; this was to provide the workers with an incentive to return to Mexico once their contract was up (Millner). However, upon their return to Mexico, the workers found that the money had simply "disappeared." It is unclear where the money disappeared to. Archived documents in the United States and Mexico show that American diplomats, who were monitoring the treaty in the 1940s, warned Washington that the braceros were being cheated due to some misconduct in Mexico (Millner). However, the Mexican government maintained that it did not know what had happened, nor did it have a record of anything happening to these savings accounts. As a result, several lawsuits were filed against the banks and against the Mexican and the U.S. governments to try and recoup the loss (Braceros: History, Compensation). Now, more than 60 years later, 250,000 former braceros have registered for compensation of unpaid wages, which would result in a payout of more than $875 million dollars to compensate the braceros and their remaining families.

Another unique problem that developed during the later years of the Bracero Program was the fact that, in the later years of the Program, many U.S. farms decided to "go rogue" against the regulatory standards set in place by the U.S. government regarding the employment of guest workers. Therefore, instead of hiring authorized Mexican workers, they chose instead to hire undocumented Mexican workers, thus circumventing the necessity to pay for their transportation and boarding costs. While in 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act was enacted, which made harboring illegal aliens a felony which was punishable a $2,000 fine and a prison sentence of up to five years, it also included the "Texas proviso." This provision stated that employing an undocumented worker was not technically considered to be "harboring." Thus, there were no penalties on U.S. employers who hired undocumented workers (Braceros: History, Compensation). As a result of this practice, wages were driven down even more.

Bracero workers earned wages that were much lower than their American counterparts', a fact that was only exacerbated by the practice of hiring undocumented Mexican workers. Their wages were also garnished, to be held in "savings accounts," and as a result, 10% of all their earnings disappeared to funds that have not been recuperated. It is undeniable that in this situation, the Mexican bracero workers have had their economic goods (in this case, fair wages and compensation) appropriated from them, despite their moral right to them. Furthermore, the exploitation of the Bracero workers fits the Hoivik model of Market Exploitation. In this situation, the Bracero is the Seller of labor, while the U.S. Farmer is the Buyer. According to Hoivik, exploitation of the Seller occurs when the Price/Quantity ratio falls below the ideal. In this case, the price of the labor "sold" by the Bracero worker is not only 30-40 cents less than the national ideal, but it is even further devalued due to the lack of compensation of garnished wages (Hoivik 262). Furthermore, Hoivik asserts that no matter where exploitation is found, whether it be between city and countryside, capital and labor, or industrialized and poor countries, it is true that the weaker side both sells its own goods for money (or reimbursement through food-stuffs, labor power, or primary goods), to a strongly organized center, and then must also purchase goods and services from that same center (264). This is again, something that was seen in the case of the Bracero program. The Bracero programs sold their labor for a comparatively low cost, only to be forced to purchase transportation and board from their employers, or goods and services from the United States market at U.S. prices.

However, as Hoivik states, unlimited exploitation limits itself (263), and in this situation, the exploitation of the Bracero workers was limited by technology and the fact that, despite the incredibly low wages paid to the Mexican workers, it became cheaper still to turn to new technology in the 1960s to complete agricultural jobs (Marcell). Labor-saving mechanization played a huge role in halting the Bracero Program. The widespread replacement of workers with machines in the fields was expected to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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