Earlier this month saw the jailing of eight gangsters responsible for the largest known slave network in the UK. For a number of years, these criminals kept up to 450 Polish slave workers in the West Midlands region, making more than two million pounds in profit in the process.
The victims’ ages ranged from 17 to 60. They were lured in from Poland with the promise of well-paying jobs. But instead they were forced to live in unimaginable squalor.
Targeting the vulnerable
The routine would begin with one of the gang’s members traveling to Poland to target some of the most vulnerable people in society: those with alcohol problems; the homeless; or ex-convicts.
Suspecting a chance in winning a better life, little did these souls know that their torment was to intensify tenfold. After an extremely long bus journey, they were housed in squalid slums around West Bromwich, Walsall, and Smethwick.
These houses were overcrowded, dirty, unheated, and infested with rats and other vermin. One victim said that he had to wash in a canal because he had no access to water. One of the ex-slaves, 38-year-old Miroslaw, explained his conditions for the BBC:
“In the house there was no heating, the windows were leaking and drafty, and we slept on the floor of the mattress, using our clothes as blankets…
“I couldn’t even leave the house to go for a walk. They were following me, spying me, controlling me. I came here to start a new life. But I didn’t know that this life would start with such problems.”
POLISH SLAVE GANG— Man in Black (@69mib) July 7, 2019
Top UK supermarkets including Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco & Asda have been selling goods from supply chains that used workers from the biggest human trafficking network yet exposed in the UK”. The "workers" were forced to work for little or no money. pic.twitter.com/AW4GPjIegb
Humiliation and exploitation
Any complaints would mean threats, beatings, or humiliation. When one slave worker complained, the gangsters forced him to strip naked, before they proceeded to douse him in surgical chemical iodine, warning that if he won’t stop complaining they will remove his kidneys.
Another worker - who died in captivity - had all his personal belongings and identification documents removed for the sake of protecting this sickening plot. The victims were forced to work 13 hour shifts in recycling centres, farms, and factories. One of the workers broke his arm whilst working in one of the factories. He was prohibited from seeking any medical help. The bone reset itself out of alignment, leaving permanent damage. The list of such incidents is endless.
These slave workers would be lucky to get paid anything. But the ‘wages’ never exceeded £20 per week. In the meantime, the slave owners lived in obscene luxury. One of the gangsters, who remains on the run, drove a Bentley funded by his slaves’ work.
While this particular episode has come to an end, the government estimates that there are tens of thousands of people currently enslaved in the UK. This horrendous statistic is on the rise: 2017 saw 5,000 reports of potential slavery - up one-third from 2016. This includes 2000 children.
It is no accident that centuries after illegalising the slave trade, slavery continues to be a reality for tens of thousands in the UK - and tens of millions more worldwide. Some of these victims are exploited for their labour, others for sex.
The most shocking statistic of all is that there are more people in slavery today than there have been at any other point in human history. The degree of human suffering that this brings is incalculable.
How can such atrocities continue to exist in this day and age? After all, capitalism formally abolished slavery long ago.
In preceding societies, there were no shortage of privileged elites who enslaved - in various ways - pyramid-builders, cotton-farmers, or serfs. Some might therefore conclude that it is ‘human nature’ to enslave other human beings for greed and gluttony.
But this explanation is completely inadequate. Slavery is in fact a very modern concept in terms of human history. Its existence is linked to an epoch where humanity has existed under societies divided into classes: exploiters and the exploited.
Humans who lived in primitive communist societies - those found in the prehistory of human civilisation - never felt the need to enslave one-another. Where was this ‘human nature’ to enslave for our ancestors?
The root cause of slavery lies directly with class society, where the exploited labour for the wealth of the exploiters.
Capitalism produces more than enough to provide a decent and happy life for everyone on the planet. But this wealth gets pocketed away by the super-rich elite: the capitalist class of bankers and bosses. As Karl Marx noted in Capital: the accumulation of wealth at one pole causes degradation, poverty and misery at the other.
Because of this, slavery will forever remain a sickening scourge under capitalism. As long as we live under this exploitative dog-eat-dog system, which creates conditions of scarcity and desperation for millions, modern-day slave-masters, criminals, and gangsters will thrive. Once again we see how capitalism means horror without end for the vast majority.
The fight against modern slavery - in all its forms - is therefore only possible by the fight against capitalism. It is only by abolishing the profit system that we can bring salvation to all those who suffer in slavery today.