Valentine’s Day is coming up, and that means a spike in American flower sales. Unfortunately, despite their romantic connotations, a lot of flowers sold in America have ugly, cruel, and, occasionally, violent origins.
In Ecuador and Colombia, for instance, which furnish a large bulk of America’s flowers, many flower farm workers—most of them female—are subjected to sexual harassment, poor wages, and unsafe working conditions. One worker interviewed for a Frontline documentary about flower abuses said her employers used to fumigate greenhouses while she and her colleagues were still inside. They also refused to pay her when she became pregnant.
On Kenyan flower farms, workers have reported being forced to work 12-hour days for less than a dollar in wages. Others say they’ve been raped while on their dangerous, dark routes to work at five in the morning.
What makes these abuses particularly upsetting is that they needn’t exist. There are many fair-trade flower producers in business around the world, and they’re creating sustainable flowers while offering workers competitive wages, daycare programs, and safety. The problem is getting major flower distributors to sell them.
This Valentine’s Day, if you want to make sure your token of affection doesn’t also support violence against women in the third world, try getting roses from one of these companies, which stamp all their flowers with the “fair-trade certified” seal: One World Flowers, World Flowers, Inbloom Group
Help spread the love.
… as early as its founding convention of 1866 the [National Labor Union] wrestled with the attempt to make black inclusion a reality, and by 1869 it had asked black delegates to form their own all-black organization. The result was the Colored National Labor Union (CNLU), whose 214 delegates gathered in Washing, choosing Isaac Myers as its president; Frederick Douglass headed the organization after 1872. ‘It is not without interest,’ historian Rayford W. Logan notes, ‘that the first large-scale exclusion of Negroes by private organizations in the postbellum period was the handiwork of organized labor.’
… The NLU’s solution of encouraging equality but not integration, urging the formation of separate black trade unions, ‘was a first halting note,’ according to W.E.B. Du Bois. ‘Negroes were welcomed to the labor movement, not because they were laborers but because they might be competitors in the market, and the logical conclusion was either to organize them or guard against their actual competition by other methods. It was to this latter alternative that white American labor almost unanimously turned.’ The recommendation of a specially formed NLU Committee on Negro Labor reveals the hamstrung quality of the members’ deliberations: ‘While we feel the importance of the subject, and realize the danger in the form of competition in mechanical Negro labor,’ the committeemen concluded, ‘yet we find the subject involved in so much mystery, and upon it so wide diversity of opinion amongst our members, we believe that it is inexpedient to take action on the subject.’ Du Bois cites the NLU’s failure to bridge the divide of race as a fatal misstep. Relegating the black worker to a role as a competitor and a prospective under-bidder’ and asking him, ‘when he appeared at conventions…to organize separately; that is, outside the real labor movement,’ was nothing less than ‘a contradiction of all sound labor policy.’
Part I: Theories of Exploitation
Exploitation of Labor Power. The one that gets the most attention in analyses of Marx (and the most contentious) is that of the extraction of surplus value from labor. This is accomplished by capitalists buying labor power on the open market and then using it to produce something, which is then exchanged in the market. The capitalist gets the profit while the producer gets a wage. When this process successfully gains surplus value for the capitalist and contributes to the accumulation of capital, the value of the labor can be said to have been realized.
In the case of the casino, the labor power being exploited is that of the casino’s staff. The maintenance workers, the women serving drinks in skimpy outfits on the floor (here we can see an example of a mutually reinforcing relationship between capitalism and sexism), the security staff, the dealers, etc. The value of this labor, for the capitalists is realized if and only if the casino gains surplus value (e.g. profit) in the long run. How does a casino do that? The answer brings us to…
Primitive Accumulation. This is much more conventional, smash-and-grab stuff. Appropriation of indigenous lands, forcible redistribution of common property, etc. Marx contended that such tactics were necessary for the formation of capitalism as a social and economic system. David Harvey expanded on this idea, demonstrating that it happened not just at the genesis of capitalism, but throughout its history. Colonialism, privatization of state assets, and so on all contribute to the continued accumulation of capital- what he termed “accumulation by dispossession.”
In a casino, this is the only way (conventionally speaking) that the institution can make a profit- by inducing people to give them money through gambling. Various tricks and rules ensure that the majority of patrons lose money, such as the house taking a cut of each hand, or the anthropologist-designed slot machines that convince you you’re just one spin away from victory, everything down to the pattern on the carpet. And of course, the drinks given out by the aforementioned women on the floor. All of this is designed to get people to lose money to the casino. One might argue that what people really want when they go to a casino is the experience of being there rather than money- the casino produces affects instead of commodities. The spectacles performed at some casinos might plausibly be used as an example of this. However the stand-up comedy shows and the like are a peripheral, and not a necessary part of the casino’s activities, and they also let you in for free. The principal source of income remains the zero-sum games on the floor.
When viewed from an ethical standpoint, the activities of a casino are doubly repellent- the surplus value taken from workers through the exploitation of the wage system can only be realized by regular engagement in accumulation by dispossession.