Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Wages for Slaves?

By Noel Ignatiev

At first sight, not a bad idea. Wages would have been an improvement over what they had. Yet the abolitionists never proposed it. The struggle was for freedom, not wages.

Freedom could be and was taken to mean various things: family-owned farms operated individually, family-owned farms operated cooperatively, sharecropping, cash rent, working for wages, collectively-owned farms, communal farms, maybe other schemes. The overthrow of chattel slavery throughout the western hemisphere led to one or another of the above and various combinations among them (except for the last, which was never tried), but depending on the balance of forces the result might have been different. How would it have helped to define the goal as wages?

If dependent household labor is domestic slavery, then why not struggle to abolish it, leaving open what abolition will mean, rather than seek to transform it from unwaged to waged labor?

First freedom; then, if it turns out that no more is possible, wages!

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