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Slavery in the US Today: Operation Blooming Onion

By Stephen Shenfield April 27, 2022 No Comments 2 Min Read

You thought that slavery had been abolished in the United States?

Earlier this year federal prosecutors completed Operation Blooming Onion. They uncovered a conspiracy to bring in workers from Mexico and Central America to harvest onions at a forced labor camp in South Georgia. Kidnapped or lured by false promises of high wages, some 500 of these workers entered the US over several years under the H-2A program, which enables agricultural employers to import foreign workers on a temporary or seasonal basis. 

[Workers were] required to dig onions with their bare hands, paid 20 cents for each bucket harvested, and threatened with guns and violence to keep them in line. The workers were held in cramped, unsanitary quarters and fenced work camps with little or no food … and without safe water. The conspirators are accused of raping, kidnapping and threatening or attempting to kill some of the workers or their families, and in many cases sold or traded the workers to other conspirators. At least two workers died as a result of workplace conditions.

US Department of Justice

The profit made by exploiting the workers is estimated at $200 million. Dividing by 500 gives $400,000 for each worker. Not that they will ever receive that sort of money.

A remarkable feature of the case is that several conspirators were officials at the Georgia Department of Labor responsible for oversight of the H-2A program, or close relatives of such officials. Did they seek employment there for this very purpose? The perfect cover, you must admit. The fox guarding the chicken coop!  

And so activists are demanding closer federal oversight of the program. If you want to sign a petition in support of this demand, here’s the link. But think. Even supposing that oversight is transferred to a federal agency, what is to prevent would-be enslavers from bribing its officials or themselves seeking positions there? 

Reforming capitalism is like a wild goose chase. You never quite catch the goose! Or like trying to fit a garment onto someone who is a bit too big for it. A tear opens up in one place, but when you sew it up another tear opens up somewhere else. That is why we put our efforts not into trying to reform capitalism but into organizing to abolish it.     

Written By

I grew up in Muswell Hill, north London, and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain at age 16. After studying mathematics and statistics, I worked as a government statistician in the 1970s before entering Soviet Studies at the University of Birmingham. I was active in the nuclear disarmament movement. In 1989 I moved with my family to Providence, Rhode Island, USA to take up a position on the faculty of Brown University, where I taught International Relations. After leaving Brown in 2000, I worked mainly as a translator from Russian. I rejoined the World Socialist Movement about 2005 and am currently general secretary of the World Socialist Party of the United States. I have written two books: The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology (Routledge, 1987) and Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements (M.E. Sharpe, 2001) and more articles, papers, and book chapters that I care to recall.

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