A 21st-Century Form of Indentured Servitude Has Already Penetrated Deep into the American Heartland

Indentured servitude is back in a big way in the United States, and conservative corporatists want to make sure that labor never, ever again has the power to tell big business how to treat them.

Idaho, for example, recently passed a law that recognizes and rigorously enforces non-compete agreements in employment contracts, which means that if you want to move to a different, more highly paid, or better job, you can instead get wiped out financially by lawsuits and legal costs.

In a way, conservative/corporatists are just completing the circle back to the founding of this country.

Indentured servitude began in a big way in the early 1600s, when the British East India Company was establishing a beachhead in the (newly stolen from the Indians) state of Virginia (named after the “virgin queen” Elizabeth I, who signed the charter of the BEIC creating the first modern corporation in 1601). Jamestown (named after King James, who followed Elizabeth I to the crown) wanted free labor, and the African slave trade wouldn't start to crank up for another decade.

So the company made a deal with impoverished Europeans: Come to work for typically 4-7 years (some were lifetime indentures, although those were less common), legally as the property of the person or company holding your indenture, and we'll pay for your transport across the Atlantic.

It was, at least philosophically, the logical extension of the feudal economic and political system that had ruled Europe for over 1,000 years. The rich have all the rights and own all the property; the serfs are purely exploitable free labor who could be disposed of (indentured servants, like slaves, were commonly whipped, hanged, imprisoned, or killed when they rebelled or were not sufficiently obedient).

This type of labor system has been the dream of conservative/corporatists, particularly since the “Reagan Revolution” kicked off a major federal war on the right of workers to organize for their own protection from corporate abuse.

Read more here.


Outback 6 years 48 weeks ago

"And now the conservatives/corporatists are going in for the kill, for their top goal: the final destruction of any remnant of labor rights in America."

No, Thom, you are dead wrong! You use the term "conservatives/corporatists" repeatedly throughout your piece, but it's not just the Republicans or conservatives that are in on this game. The Democratic "neo-liberal" establishment is fully in bed with them. Bill Clinton brought us NAFTA. It's a sure bet that Hillary, had she been elected, would have soon been backing the TPP. The problem is that there is an elite class of corporate friendly career politicians in BOTH major parties, plus the corporate owned media that are perpetrating this crime against the 99%.

I posted this link on yesterday's blog, too late for most to see it. But if there is anyone here that believes the "Left" (capital L) is any more in support of the working masses than the so called "conservatives/corporatists" you refer to, then pleas read this excellent article: http://m.truthdig.com/report/item/donald_trumps_greatest_allies_are_the_liberal_elites_20170305

Thom, when will you start speaking the truth about who is behind all of this? How long will you go on villifying only the Republicans? It's the oligarchs that own both parties, and other than the rhetoric, you can't slide a thin dime between the establishment in either party!

Howard Laverne Stewart's picture
Howard Laverne ... 6 years 48 weeks ago

It's hard to believe that US citizens I grew up with would tolerate this abuse.

stephensolomita's picture
stephensolomita 6 years 48 weeks ago

Robber Baron? Oligarch? Is there really a difference. The Supreme Court is also playing its part in restoring the rule of a small number of super-rich families. There is one difference, however. In time past, the robber barons had to commit a crime in order to bribe elected officals. Now bribery, in the form of campaign contributions, is legal.

flyguy8650's picture
flyguy8650 6 years 48 weeks ago

This is why I live in a right to work state where these types of agreements are VERY hard to enforce. Low taxes, high employment, safe for workers. Long live Texas and Florida!!

Work is a right and there is a right to work.

Love the liberal states!! NOT!!


flyguy8650's picture
flyguy8650 6 years 48 weeks ago

Well said - It's the OPPOSAMES again fucking with us. We need the "Cupcakes" to wake up and get some moxy! It's both parties and the extremes are really the same. The end game is the same. But once the consumption and consumers are gone, so are they!!

Hail bartering, live off the grid or die


lifesizedolls4c... 6 years 48 weeks ago

Indemnity servitude? To whom? I thought we stopped having kings and queens long ago. This is absolutely horrible! People cannot live a decent life and have no rights, unless they're rich? Horrible! I'm apalled that the slave era's come back!

changeX's picture
changeX 6 years 48 weeks ago

It does seem that indentured servitude has penetrated deep into the American Heartland; including into the both political parties. Outback good point. It's almost as if they could care less about the people or the environment. You mention the oligarchs that own both parties. Do we have to ask if the politicians have to enter into some indentured servitude agreement, handshake, or oath ritual with the said oligarch owner?

Ou812's picture
Ou812 6 years 48 weeks ago

Non compete agreements have been around for years. They are required of senior management of most companies. If you're skills are in such demand that you are required to sign a non compete, I guarantee you will be paid top dollar for those skills.

Edward Dodson's picture
Edward Dodson 6 years 48 weeks ago

Few people realize that ours is a system dominated by what political economists of earlier centuries called "rentier interests." These are individuals and business entities who by virtue of the control over land and land-like assets (e.g., the broadcast spectrum) are able to extract unearned income (i.e., rents) from those who actually produce goods and services. The full impact of our privilege-based systems of law and taxation is hidden because many of the largest businesses in the nation own huge amounts of as well as capital goods (i.e., buildings, machinery, technologies).

To a more limited extent, those of us who own a residential property are conflicted. Provided we have paid off our mortgage loan, we own two very different assets: our home, which is a depreciating asset; and the land on which the house sits, the value of which tends to increase over time because of what is happening in our community, not by what we do or do not do with the land.

For the one-third of households who live in leased housing, they are, in a sense, sharecroppers. They work to earn wages, a portion of which they turn over to a landlord, partly in compensation for the living unit provided, and partly because the landlord is able to include a capitalized land rental charge.

The rental value of land is a public asset that has been privately confiscated. By removing this fund from the public coffers, politicians have taxed every other asset and every other activity in order to pay for public goods and services. While the majority of the population is heavily taxed, owners of land just keep getting richer and richer as land prices skyrocket.

changeX's picture
changeX 6 years 48 weeks ago

I've read story after story where each of the employees held some type of senior management position to sides skirt but I'm sure that this would never actually happen in the real world. I believe one point that was made today is that many employers seem to be enforcing non-compete agreements to any-level employee where in many cases it could cause undue hardship on the employee making them more indentured to the employer, therefore greatly enhancing employee servitude; taking society back to the days of indentured servants.

Some states are much more EMPLOYER friendly than others. Yes, unfortunaely many do have the right-to-work-for-less. Non-compete agreements residing in employment contracts are bad enough, we must not forget about the other terms an employee in an indentured servitude environment usually must agree to as part of the entire Employment Agreement, contingent to employment; such as: settlement by arbitration for any claims or controversies that arise, nondisclosure agreement, nondisparagement agreement, social media clause, and then the unimaginable agreement that may arise out of mandatory arbitration having taken place; oh lord what could this one consist of?

Beyond employment, as consumers, almost every purchase nowadays has lengthy terms of agreement tied to it; just about every website has terms of agreement which should remind us to read the handy dandy beloved thomhartmann.com Terms & Conditions conveniently listed at the bottom of the page. Hey, what ever happened to the old (No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service) sign?

Hephaestus's picture
Hephaestus 6 years 48 weeks ago

What are the rich going to do when there is no economic activity brought about by their greed?

Peasants do not consume

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 6 years 48 weeks ago

Put the Fascists out of business with worker owned cooperatives, employee governed.

"And that little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed." John Steinbeck , The Grapes of Wrath

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 6 years 48 weeks ago

I recognize Sanders, Warren, Pelosi, and Schumer as representative of the current Democratic Party establishment. A representative sample of the Teapublic Party establishment would include McConnell, Ryan, Rubio, and Trump.

A thin dime of difference between the two????? C'mon.

BTW: It wasn't only defamation of Clinton, Putin's propaganda also helped spread the, why bother to vote, they're all the same crap...and he won.

jibaro01's picture
jibaro01 6 years 48 weeks ago

It's worse than that. In Alaska the fisheries invite people to work for them and pay thier transfer to their working area. The workers are offered a reasonable salary, working clothes, and free food but they have to work for 18 hours a day with few breaks with half an hour to eat. If they miss their meal, the workers don't get to eat, if they don't like what they are served, they don't get to eat. If they forget to pack suitable clothes for the conditions where they work, tough shit. If they fail to do what they are told, those workers are fired and left in the Alaskan town where the factory is and so on.

It's a type of modern slavery. It's voluntary and it's backed by the government.

Legend 6 years 48 weeks ago

Companies make agreements all of the time not to hire each others employees all of the time. Apple and Steve Jobs was one of the biggest at implementing this in the Silicon Valley. Happened to me in my career. I signed non compete agreements to change jobs and better my career. These can arbitrarily be written as they want for duration. They cannot touch you on foreign work.

Dianereynolds's picture
Dianereynolds 6 years 48 weeks ago

@ #12

Great idea. I have wondered for years why unions don't just start and run their own businesses instead of complaining about employers who don't pay enough, offer free insurance, or pension plans.

It is long past time where unions stop demanding and start their own companys manufacturing or producing products that set the example for non union corporations.

ikeberltersen's picture
ikeberltersen 6 years 48 weeks ago

Outback - there are a few congresspeople who belong to 'the Democratic wing of the Democratic party' as Paul Wellstone said, but most of them do not. As I see it, the main difference between establishment Republicans and Democrats is this: Republicans are leading us back to the Gilded Age at full speed, while Democrats go along, trying to carve out a few exceptions that make policy a little less cruel. And when Democrats like Clinton triangulate to find that middle ground, Republicans just move the goalposts further to the right.

ikeberltersen's picture
ikeberltersen 6 years 48 weeks ago

I think it's important to understand that, as Thom pointed out, this system of exploitation goes back further than the history of the USA, and further back than the English system of aristocrats and corporations exploiting the commoners. It is part and parcel of a European system from the Middle Ages that locked people into two tracks - an elite class of 'nobles' and a class of serfs that had very few rights. In America we cling to a myth that we jettisoned the European class structures with a new, egalitarian way, but it was more a change in outward appearance than a fundamental change. That old European way is once again rearing its ugly head and neofuedalism is alive and well. If we are ever going to make a change that enables social justice, we will have to come to grips with the reality that the European culture on which our economic system is based is fatally flawed and must be discarded.

arky12's picture
arky12 6 years 48 weeks ago

Interesting that today as you had Greg Palast on talking about Republican suppression and changing national voting laws I received my renewal notice for my car and included with it was a notice about my driver's license stating that AR is taking part in a national initiative to "improve" the secrity of state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards which will help fight terrorism and reduce identity fraud. Apparently in order to enter a Federal building or board a domestic flight I first have to jump through multiple hoops to get an "enhanced" driver's license by 2020. I don't need that enhanced license but if I don't have it I'd still have to provide 3 additional forms of ID to "prove" citizenship, some which are nearly impossible to obtain. And we can't even get these at all the state offices, but only a select few. Apparently all this "complies" with Federal "Real ID Act of 2005".

Outback 6 years 48 weeks ago

ikeberltersen: I have no quarrel with Democrats like Elizabeth Warren or an independent like Bernie Sanders, but they are as rare as "hens teeth". When you speak of "Democrats like Clinton triangulat(ing)" What you're really describing is actions taken that can't be distinguished from the most egregious acts of right wing corporatists, cloaked in words designed to obfuscate their impact. Again, I'm talking NAFTA and TPP (effectively gutting our domestic industrial base for the benefit of tax evading multi national corporations), endless war and empire building, etc. etc. In these areas, the actions of the Democratic Party (increasingly since the 80's) can't be distinguished from those of the Republicans as both parties work for the benefit of the wealthy today, not the common people (call them the 95%). And as always, actions speak louder than words.

Legend 6 years 48 weeks ago

Hens teeth is much larger than you think. The Progressive Caucus is 71 declared representatives.


2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 6 years 48 weeks ago

Clintons are no longer in the game, but as a side note, Hillary Clintion had one of the most progressive voting records while in the Senate. Bernie topped her, but not by much. Free Trade has always been opposed by the Democratic Legislative branch. The Teapublic Party has always supported the trade agreements.

I know I'd be resting much easier with Hillary Clinton in the White House right now.

Putin and the Fascists don't need any help in defamation of a political party that still has the will to stand up against them. We're at war, it's a hybrid one utilizing cyber warfare and we're getting our asses kicked...thank you. Crooked Donny is at the mercy of Putin....that's a fact...and our intelligence agencies all damn well know it.

If little difference exists between the Dems and Teabagger Party , then explain the corpse media to me.

deepspace's picture
deepspace 6 years 48 weeks ago

Although the modern Democratic Party has huuuge problems and has completely failed the American people and violated our democratic principles in so many ways, mainly because too many of its members insist on working with rapacious Republicans in pursuing fascism -- a police state, a surveillance state, a military empire, an oligarchy, talking the talk with common folk for their votes but walking the walk with rich bastards for their money -- it did achieve major (and truly great) accomplishments, since the the last century before and after the Republican Great Depression, that should never be forgotten. Now is the time for Democrats to rediscover their roots and hold their representatives accountable!

Place the following list (only a partial one) alongside Republican accomplishments during the same time period (if you dare):

Old age: Social Security; Medicare.

Healthcare Reform: Medicaid; Food Stamps/WIC; Women's right to control their reproductive future; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Affordable Care Act.

Veterans’ Benefits: GI Bill; Veterans Administration.

Equal Rights and Voting: Civil Rights; Women’s Right to Vote; The Voting Rights Act; Motor Voter.

Labor Laws: National Labor Relations Board (NLRB); The Wagner Act; 8-hour Work Day, 40-hour Work Week; Overtime; Workplace Safety Laws; Unemployment insurance; Earned Income Tax Credit; Family & Medical Leave Act; Americans With Disabilities Act; Equal Pay Act; Minimum wage.

Economic Growth (Democratic Presidents: Roosevelt through Obama): New Deal; Great Society; The Civilian Conservation Corps; Peace Corp; Vista; Job Corp; AmeriCorps; The Department of Housing and Urban Development; Morrill Land Grant Act; The Tennessee Valley Project (TVA); Rural Electrification; Balancing the federal budget; Federal Loan Program.

Banking and Wall Street Regulations: Bank Deposit Insurance (FDIC); The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); Federal Reserve System (not so great); Anti-trust Legislation; Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act; Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB); Allowing citizens to view their own credit records; Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Consumer Protection and Safety: The Department of Transportation; Vehicles Safety Requirements; Reduced Emissions, and Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE); Consumer Product Safety Commission; Product Labeling Laws; Food Safety Laws; Truth in Advertising Laws; The Brady Bill (5-day wait on handgun purchases for background checks).

Universal Public Education: The Department of Education; Public Universities; Support for Public Education; Head Start; School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

Funding for Science: Medical and Engineering Research; Space Exploration; National Science Foundation (NSF); National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Protection for the environment and from natural disasters: Increased Numbers and Support of National Parks and Wilderness Areas; Endangered Species Act; Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA); The Department of Energy.

Citizen Awareness and Transparency: Public Broadcasting (PBS, NPR); The Internet; Freedom of Information Act; National Weather Service.

International Peace: Winning World War II; The United Nations; NATO; Marshall Plan; Supporting the establishment of Israel; Peace between Israel and Egypt; Peace between Israel and Jordan; The Iran deal.

(Now, get the f*cking military out of the Middle East and every other stupid war and spend that money (our taxes) at home, gawddamnit!!!)

Legend 6 years 48 weeks ago

Also Deepspace you could point out all of the times that the Republicans have done nothing but vote for the 1% but brainless idiots like Outback will tell you that Republicans support the 2nd Amendment and that makes them righteous.

ErinRose's picture
ErinRose 6 years 48 weeks ago

#deepspace: (1) Good one. (2) I just read that We, the People, have paid out 6 Trillion dollars over the last decade to the war budget. Seriously, when are people going to take their heads out of the sand? They remind me of those who go down to the shore when the sky is orange and the sea has retracted from the shoreline to look for fish and explore the seabed. What size tidal wave do people need to wake up and get on it???

deepspace's picture
deepspace 6 years 48 weeks ago

Wow! Six Trillion! Think of how many decades of healthcare, college, and international goodwill that could have funded. "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars." Alas, such is our nature. American power brokers never were good at sorting priorities or practicing what their religions preach.

changeX's picture
changeX 6 years 48 weeks ago

deepspace Great post but, the problem; Mitch McTurtle and others would probably like to remind all of the gentle readers that the utmost priority key Christian issues are Abortion, Gays, Guns, and God and ending Obamamcare not to mention how, most likely, he feels the Obama administration left the military in shambles I'm sure he his next step will be to rebuild the military after the failures of Obama. Hammer time can't touch this. lol.

ellenperry's picture
ellenperry 6 years 46 weeks ago

Thank you for this info!! I agree and will read your article. It's really screwed up what's happening to us with both parties. I think we need coalitions not parties.

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