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« Black Farmers in America, by John Ficara and Juan Williams | Main | Stop the Bleeding? »


Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor, by John Bowe

By an everyday book reader
September 1, 2007

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.

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.

Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy
by John BoweBook Picture

Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN: 9781400062096, 1400062098
Random House
September 2007

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 and paid the Indians three dollars an hour.

In this eye-opening look at the contemporary American scourge of labor abuse and outright slavery, journalist and author Bowe 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... 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. - Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

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.

The very human impulse to get ahead in life even at the expense of others' suffering encourages and tolerates the slave labor that provides more products at lower prices, argues Bowe. Traveling from Florida to Saipan, Bowe chronicles the connection between American consumerism and modern global slave labor. Instead of chains, modern slavery uses coercion in the form of threats of deportation, beatings, harm to families back home, or even death... Bowe concludes with a scathing look at the desire for creature comforts and the American notion of freedom. - Vanessa Bush, Booklist Reviews

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.

The author speaks with a moral voice that is never moralistic. Rather he looks at all sides of horrendous situations that might more conveniently, and easily, be seen starkly in black and white. This unique perspective adds immeasurably to the power of the stories he tells, all well-documented. Bowe analyzes the psychological attraction of power and the easy justifications that make abuses of other human beings a common, if not normal, part of the human experience.

This book is a "must have" resource for anyone who cares about human dignity.

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