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Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economyby John Bowe
Synopses & Reviews
Most Americans would be shocked to discover that slavery still exists in the United States. Yet most of us buy goods made by people who aren't paid for their labor-people who are trapped financially, and often physically. In Nobodies, award-winning journalist John Bowe exposes the outsourcing, corporate chicanery, immigration fraud, and sleights of hand that allow forced labor to continue in the United States while the rest of us notice nothing but the everyday low price at the checkout counter.
Based on thorough and often dangerous research, exclusive interviews, and eyewitness accounts, Nobodies takes you inside three illegal workplaces where employees are virtually or literally enslaved.
In the fields of Immokalee, Florida, underpaid (and often unpaid) illegal immigrants pick the produce all of us consume, connected by a chain of subcontractors and divisions to such companies as PepsiCo and Tropicana. At the top of the chain are stockholders and politicians; at the bottom is a father of six, one of whose children suffers from leukemia, who entered America only to become the unpaid employee of a labor contractor nicknamed El Diablo for his cruelty.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the John Pickle Company reaped profits for years making pressure tanks used by oil refineries and power plants. Feeling squeezed by foreign competition and government regulations, JPC partnered with an Indian and Kuwaiti firm to import workers from India. Under the guise of a training program, fifty-three workers, including college-educated Uday Ludbe, came to the United States, only to have their documents confiscated and to find themselves confined to a factory building. Pickle laid off Americans andpaid the Indians three dollars an hour.
Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific where the author lived for three years, has long been exempted from American immigration controls, tariffs, and federal income tax-a status quo assiduously protected by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Congressman Tom DeLay. There, garment magnates-selling to clothing giants like the Gap and Target — live in luxury while thousands of foreign factory workers, 90 percent of them female, work sixty-hour weeks for $3.05 an hour and spend weekends trying to trade sex for green cards. The garments they make are allowed to be labeled MADE IN AMERICA.
Nobodies is a vivid and powerful work of investigative reporting, but it is also a lively examination of the eternal struggle for power between free people and unfree people. Against the American landscape of shopping mall, outlet stores, and Happy Meals, Bowe reveals how humankind's darker urges remain alive and well, lingering in the background of every transaction and how understanding them may lead to overcoming them.
"In this eye-opening look at the contemporary American scourge of labor abuse and outright slavery, journalist and author Bowe (Gig: Americans Talk About their Jobs) visits locations in Florida, Oklahoma and the U.S.-owned Pacific island of Saipan, where slavery cases have been brought to light as recently as 2006. There, he talks to affected workers, providing many moving and appalling first-hand accounts. In Immokalee, Florida, migrant Latino tomato and orange pickers are barely paid, kept in decrepit conditions and intimidated, violently, to keep quiet about it. A welding factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma imported workers from India who were forced to pay exorbitant 'recruiting fees' and live in squalid barracks with tightly controlled access to the outside world. Considering the tiny island capital of Saipan, Bowe explores how its culture, isolation and American ties made it so favorable an environment for exploitative garment manufacturers and corrupt politicos; alongside the factories sprouted karaoke bars, strip joints and hotels where politicians were entertained by now-imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The detailed chapter gives readers a lasting image of the island, touted a 'miracle of economic development,' as a vulnerable, truly suffering community, where poverty rates have climbed as high as 35 percent. Bowe's deeply researched, well-written treatise on the very real problem of modern American slavery deserves the attention of anyone living, working and consuming in America." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] scathing look at the desire for creature comforts and the American notion of freedom." Booklist
About the Author
John Bowe has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, The American Prospect, National Public Radio's "This American Life," McSweeney's, and others. He is the co-editor of Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs, one of Harvard Business Review's best books of 2000, and co-screenwriter of the film Basquiat. In 2004, he received the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, the Sydney Hillman Award for journalists, writers, and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good, and the Richard J. Margolis Award, dedicated to journalism that combines social concern and humor. He lives in Manhattan.
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