Paid Employment and the Servitude Relationship

Paid employment is working for salary. The salary may be paid at stipulated times such as hourly, daily, fortnightly or monthly. The world has taught and conditioned our young children that you go to school, get good grades, graduate, get a job and get married. This mindset is inculcated into our young ones from a tender age; parents say it, teachers repeat it, the society reinforce it and life conditions it. It has been taken that a well-paying job is the climax of good parental upbringing when in reality it is the antithesis. All over the world, people who have been able to revolt against this mentality have found themselves taking the economic world by storm. They broke away when they dropped out of school, a comfort zone, to face business realities. They broke away before the world was able to concretely enforce the paid employment mentality into them. These break-aways are young either physically or at heart. Pearl S. Buck confirmed this by saying that, “the young do not know enough to be prudent, therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it generation after generation.” These enterprising people saw that paid employment was a box, a prison, and they did well to do a prison break from it. A lot of people walk around in the dark expecting a light to shine at the end of the tunnel when they have the torchlight in their hands and all they have to do is flick on the switch.

From a Forbes article “Can’t Leave A Miserable Job Because Of The Money? Take These 7 Stepspublished in February 2014, the author stated that “…In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed – a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”

The Global Slavery Index 2013 defines slavery as the possession or control of people to deny freedom and exploit them for profit or sex, usually through violence, coercion, or deception. The definition includes indentured servitude, forced marriages and abduction of children to serve in wars. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 29.8 million people are in slavery worldwide and 21 million people are victims of forced labour. If you interpose “slavery” in the definition above with “paid employment” you will get almost the same result. Let us now define salaried work with extracts from the above definition as the control of people to exploit them for profit usually through deception. Doesn’t it somehow fit your job?

If it still doesn’t fit, let me tailor it a little more. There are great similarities between crude slavery then and disguised slavery now. The only things that have changed are nomenclature but not the reality.

We have discussed branding. The names or initials of slave owners were burnt into the skin of the slaves for identification purposes and to prevent escape. Corporate branding is presently carried out for identification purposes in our contemporary times. You see some staff and you immediately know where they work. The cufflinks, lapel pins, diaries, notepads, biros, ties etc etc tell you I work for so-and-so company.

We have also discussed collars. Heavy metal collars were placed on the necks of slaves and they (the slaves) were joined to other slaves by metal chains attached to these collars. So these slaves were a long line of human beings whose movements were rhythmic but curtailed. Nowadays, we have blue-collared and white-collared jobs. Forget the colours and we are left with the collars. It still puzzles me where job collaring nomenclature was derived from but it certainly fits the idea of slave collars.

Next are baracoons. These are enclosures where slaves were kept in the beach slave markets in Africa prior to being sold. Have you ever worked in cubicles? These are enclosures too just like baracoons. As baracoons kept the slaves in against their wills same way cubicles keep present day employees in. Physical movement is not the only   repressed capacity, but mental mobility too.

Moreover, during the slave era there was the painful separation of families. A young boy is stolen at night and separated from his family. Or an entire family is captured and sold separately into slavery. In almost all cases, the little boy, in case one or the family, in case two, never come into contact with their family members again and they are compelled to live new lives in strange lands making new but strange friends. These times, a man gets a job in a city faraway from where he lives and relocates. Or he is transferred by his office to another location and is separated from his family. There is the subtle but underlying separation caused by working too hard, where the father may not have time for his family. Work has been known to cause this.

In slavery, there was the slave generation. These are cases where the children born into a family of slaves automatically become slaves themselves. Children of collared parents automatically become collared too. The mentality of the parents are passed down to the children. The mentality that you are successful only when you study hard to get a job and not make a job.

Still going forward, there is the drinking pot syndrome. Those days, while captured slaves were in baracoons waiting for European slave buyers, they had to be watered once a day. They had to wait until the slave traders (most probably Africans) who owned them came and gave them water to drink – just like waiting for salary- but in a bid to forestall any uprising or escape, the hands of the slaves were not untied. The drinking pot was a large, wide-brimmed funnel shaped metal. The slaves drank by bending down, with their hands tied behind their backs. Some of these slaves got injured by the metal edges while rushing to drink water because there was no refill after the first serve of water. This situation is similar to paid employment. Staff hopes are hinged on only one source of financial refreshment – the slave master – and stream; salary, and they have to combat with other colleagues to get the best.

The above brings us to another item on my list, survival of the fittest. Life, itself, is a survival of the fittest but slavery added a new twist to the tale. From the moment a slave is captured he is in a race against time to survive. From the scorching beach heat, the messy cloister of the baracoons, the thirst and battle for water in the drinking pot, the unhealthy slave galleons, the arduous work in the cotton field down to the temperaments of different slave owners, slaves battle to survive. Employees also go through the same tasks coupled with the normal vicissitudes of life. They all battle to survive most by cussing and kicking, coveting and betraying.

Dress codes. Slaves had dress codes. Funny but true. They were made to wear tunics that only covered their private parts or were made to go outrightly naked. Reasons for this include curtailing whatever capacity they could have of keeping weapons and also to properly showcase them to slave buyers as strong. Workplaces have dress codes too, although this policy code is rapidly declining. Employees in most organisations are told to dress in unique ways. ‘Here,’ you are told, ‘we wear suits, dark colored suits, with shirts and tie.’ ‘Here, we maintain this type of hair styles and not that hairstyle.’ You may have been told. They are made to keep you in conformity with their standard.

And finally, we have the points of no return. When I went to Badagry, Nigeria on a trip, I was taken to the beach where slaves were auctioned. There was a place which was aptly named the point of no return. It was a little island a small distance from the mainland. When you cross that Rubicon you may as well forget about ever seeing your family or your village again. You involuntarily discard every iota of hope that you may have been conceiving. Employees have the point of no return too. It is a point where they have been so sucked in by paid employment that they may never be able to set off on their own again At this point in their lives they are encumbered with the expenses of raising their kids, building a home, meeting their bills, paying for education and living a normal life. They are also enamored with the “good” life they are living or become too old to venture out into a personal business venture. At these points they give up hope and continue to perpetually tread the path of paid employment whether they like it or not.

This is an excerpt from my about-to-be published book on business. It is not written to pour cold water on your paid employment status (although it eventually does that) but to stoke our brains on some catching similarities between two very situations.

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