Terms And Conditions

If, as we saw, a person called by his own society by the names of “serf” or “slave” might in fact be merely what we would call an employee, the contrary might seem to follow, that a person whom we call employee might be called by other societies a serf or slave. We have our jokes about Microserfs, but the question will repay deeper thought than this. No one in his right mind would compare a plantation or Gulag slave with a modern employee, but how about the medieval German ministerialis or the medieval Muslim domestic, governmental or military slave? It would surely be legitimate to compare the terms and conditions of work of the latter with those of the modern white-collar worker, especially if the “slave” is covered by health and safety legislation so that one cannot work him to death. It is also worth remembering that the medieval Muslim slave could refuse manumission, so that his master was obliged to continue feeding, clothing and housing him. The upside of indenture is that it can mean lifetime job security, which is anathema to the employers of free labour.

Moreover, it is worth reflecting that, whereas there may be a wide gap between chattel slavery of an “inferior race” and debt-servitude that is not transferable, the distance between a non-tradable debt-slave and a worker on an onerous employment contract is perhaps not so great. For example, an apprentice, who is obliged to work a set number of years for very low remuneration in return for his concurrent training, is not entirely “free labour”. Similarly, military officers are commonly trained and then afterwards compelled to serve for a period of years. Would Usamah b. Munqidh have called such officers mamluks? And what shall we say of the Gulf worker who cannot quit without his employer’s permission, or the Japanese sarariman who is de facto obliged to spend around 18 hours a day dancing attendance on his boss – first in the office and then in the karaoke bar – and spends less time with his family than any fieldhand?

Were we to undertake such a point-by-point comparison between the terms and conditions of the less horrible forms of slave labour and those of some specialised modern employment contracts, we might find first the one and then the other coming out ahead in congeniality of treatment. If this proves to be so, it would suggest that the terms and conditions for a worker are more important than his technical legal designation. And if that is the case, then it follows that there is no particular reason why the wit of man cannot devise arrangements for the employment of free labour that are less favourable to the worker than certain forms of serfdom and slavery.

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 09:29 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE ENSLAVING MAMMAL, The Universal Template

Leave a Reply