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Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy Hardcover – September 18, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this eye-opening look at the contemporary American scourge of labor abuse and outright slavery, journalist and author Bowe (Gig: Americans Talk About their Jobs) 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. In Immokalee, Florida, migrant Latino tomato and orange pickers are barely paid, kept in decrepit conditions and intimidated, violently, to keep quiet about it. A welding factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma imported workers from India who were forced to pay exorbitant "recruiting fees" and live in squalid barracks with tightly controlled access to the outside world. Considering the tiny island capital of Saipan, Bowe explores how its culture, isolation and American ties made it so favorable an environment for exploitative garment manufacturers and corrupt politicos; alongside the factories sprouted karaoke bars, strip joints and hotels where politicians were entertained by now-imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The detailed chapter gives readers a lasting image of the island, touted a "miracle of economic development," as a vulnerable, truly suffering community, where poverty rates have climbed as high as 35 percent. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 focuses on three cases: a labor contractor named El Diablo, who held Mexican illegals in involuntary servitude, working in Florida orange groves, while ruling with terror and murder; a Tulsa, Oklahoma, man, owner of a steel-cutting plant, who contracted with an Indian-born American to recruit Indian laborers, who were overworked, underpaid, housed in squalor, and threatened with deportation if they resisted; and the U.S. commonwealth of Saipan, which recruits foreign workers, who are abused and exploited while working in sweatshops for U.S. clothing manufacturers. Bowe concludes with a scathing look at the desire for creature comforts and the American notion of freedom. Bush, Vanessa

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (September 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400062098
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400062096
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,241,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Joseph H. Race VINE VOICE on September 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Bowe does it again! In his former book GIG, he discussed various jobs, ranging from detective to technician to writer. In NOBODIES, he addresses the foreign workers at the bottom of the heap. The workers come from far-away countries such as India, China, the Philippines, etc., hoping for a better life. What they find is often quite different, starting with the illicit recruiters in their home countries, and then arriving on American soil to find that were lied to, and then being subjected to subhuman conditions, and for the females, some forced into prostitution. He discusses the Tom DeLay-Jack Abramoff scandals, and how their greed affected the lowly workers who came to the US with high expectations as did the immigrants in the past. What the workers found in Florida, Oklahoma and Saipan, were employers that paid them less than a minimum wage, had shadowy contracts and took money from them for substandard housing and lousy food, and the list goes on. John also notes that certain employers are living high just down the road from the shops, playing golf and taking expensive vacations, while their workers are suffering and need the basics such as health care and housing. What the American consumer needs to know that when s/he reaches for an orange juice or buys a high-end shirt, that some soul was working in un-American conditions on American soil to provide that product. In addition to the information about modern slave labor, the book is a smooth, thoroughly researched, and well written. As John indicates, there a "a dark side to the new global economy." Excellente, and a must read!
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By R. Davis on October 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I saw John Bowe on the Daily Show talking about his new book and ordered it the next morning. It got here early the next week, and I read it in 2 days. Devoured it.

The book is a series of 3, for lack of a better word, essays. The first two narrate the circumstances of prosecuted cases of foreign workers held captive and forced to work for little or no pay, in deplorable conditions. Their bosses threatened them with everything from being turned over to the authorities to physical violence against themselves or their families. These essays made me feel both guilty and a little paranoid - who exactly is harvesting my food? Are they fairly compensated? (You can bet the answer to that one is `no.') What businesses do I use that profit from slave labor? In each case, a desire for power combined with willful ignorance or collusion led to incredible suffering for many people.

The third essay deals with another situation entirely - that of Saipan, a US Commonwealth in the south Pacific and the source of a large number of labor complaints and allegations of forced labor. I'm not positive I'd even heard of Saipan before reading this book. The story of interaction between locals, migrant workers, a few power players, and the federal government is described in detail. Garment workers, sex workers, local officials, mainlanders, and others are interviewed and help to paint a complicated, and sad, picture of a paradise gone horribly wrong.

The conclusion ties all three stories into a single premise, but in particular, the story of Saipan is used to illustrate a disturbing vision of the future. There's no reason to believe the rest of us are any more high-minded than the natives of Saipan.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By William E. Betz on October 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
John Bowe's "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy" shines a cold bright light on labor abuses on American soil, from Florida to Tulsa to a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific Ocean. 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. The book's focus is on farm workers in Florida, East Indian labor abuses in Tulsa, and Saipan and all it stands for. Bowe demonstrates how "globalization" and the actual slavery that results have had the effect of degrading not only foreign workers who are abused in the U.S. but also the character of our society as a whole. Although it reads like a novel and is as funny at times as its all-too-human subjects, "Nobodies" is an uncompromising indictment of labor and immigration abuse and should go a long way to putting the brakes on the proposed "guest worker" program so dear to Bush's heart. It's an invaluable resource for anyone who cares about human dignity.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By F. J. Lozen on November 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I guess nothing should suprise anymore, still this investigation of slave labor in America can still shock.
With all the talk of imigration reform, what never seems to be addressed is the nasty secret behind the importation of cheap, docile, foreign labor.
John Bowe brings a new perspective to this continuing saga.
It should be required reading for all our elected representitives.
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