by Lindsay Beyerstein
How our blog got its name
Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”
Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.
It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.
Drugs, Debt, and Modern-Day Slavery in Florida
HASTINGS — LeRoy Smith thought he had hit rock bottom when he found himself trolling Atlanta's gay district, looking to exchange sex acts for a hot hit off a crack pipe. Then he wound up on a Florida farm near the small town of Hastings, being bilked blind, he says, by a man with a fifth-grade education, sweating all day for a few dirty dollars, with no way to escape from the middle-of-nowhere camp.
He did not think slavery existed in modern America. He knows better now. [Tampa Bay Times]
So begins a harrowing story of drugs, debt, and modern-day slavery on a Flordia farm by Ben Montgomery of the Tampa Bay Times.
In his excellent book, Tomatoland, Barry Estabrook describes how Florida contractors enlsave undocumented migrants. Montgomery describes how similar tactics are used on Americans, often on homeless black men:
What Smith found when he got there: "Slavery. Abuse. Overwork. Deplorable, unsanitary conditions. Drugs," he said. "The only reason there's no shackles is because now they make the people submit to the cocaine. That's what they use to basically control the people."
Specifically, he found an overcrowded bunkhouse full of elderly, drug-addicted black men and one decrepit bathroom. Before he even arrived, the man in the driver's seat had loaned each of the 15 recruits in the van $10 for a bite to eat, on the condition they pay him back with 100 percent interest.
At the bunkhouse, he said, the men formed three lines. One was for loans, also at 100 percent interest. One was to buy shots of Wild Irish Rose or grape "Mad Dog 20/20" out of an ice chest. And one was to buy crack. By the end of the first night, penniless Smith already owed $50.
Over the course of the two months Smith was at the camp, he never received a paycheck. Though he mowed and scrubbed toilets and cleaned shower stalls, he ran up $210 in debt. The thought that he was being bilked, that there was no way out until he paid his debt, angered him.
Smith is suing the contractor who allegedly placed him in bondage.
[Photo credit: Willy Volk, Creative Commons.]