The Trial Lawyer Fall 2017 - Page 84

Indentured servitude began in a big way in the early 1600s, when the Virginia Company was establishing a beachhead in the (newly stolen from the Indians) colony of Virginia (named after the “virgin queen” Elizabeth I, who signed the charter of the British East India Company [BEIC] creating the first modern corporation in 1601). Jamestown (named after King James, who followed Elizabeth I to the crown) wanted free labor, and the African slave trade wouldn’t start to crank up for another decade. So the company made a deal with impoverished Europeans: Come to work for typically 4–7 years (some were lifetime indentures, although those were less common), legally as the property of the person or company holding your indenture, and we’ll pay for your transport across the Atlantic. It was, at least philosophically, the logical extension of the feudal economic and political system that had ruled 82 x The Trial Lawyer Europe for over 1,000 years. The rich have all the rights and own all the property; the serfs are purely exploitable free labor who could be disposed of (indentured servants, like slaves, were commonly whipped, hanged, imprisoned, or killed when they rebelled or were not sufficiently obedient). This type of labor system has been the dream of conservative/corporatists, particularly since the “Reagan Revolution” kicked off a major federal war on the right of workers to organize for their own protection from corporate abuse. Unions represented almost a third of American workers when Reagan came into office (and, since union jobs set local labor standards, for every union job there was typically an identically- compensated non-union job, meaning about two-thirds of America had the benefits and pay associated with union jobs pre-Reagan). Thanks to Reagan’s war on labor, today unions represent about six percent of the non-government workforce. But that wasn’t enough for the acolytes of Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. They didn’t just want workers to lose their right to collectively bargain; they wanted employers to functionally own their employees. Prior to the current Reaganomics era, non-compete agreements were pretty much limited to senior executives and scientists/engineers. If you were a CEO or an engineer for a giant company, knowing all their processes, secrets and future plans, that knowledge had significant and consequential value — company value worth protecting with a contract that said you couldn’t just take that stuff to a competitor without either a massive payment to the left-behind company or a flat-out lawsuit. But should a guy who digs holes with a shovel or works on a drilling