Today in labor history: 13th Amendment abolishes slavery

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On this day in 1865, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. The amendment said, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The amendment had previously passed in the Senate. It was ratified by the states in December 1865, becoming part of the Constitution, and the law of the land.

Ratification of the 13th Amendment was the nail in the coffin of legal slavery in the U.S. and a victory for the principle of free labor. Yet struggles continued over de facto wage slavery, practiced by former slaveholders in the exploitation of former slaves as sharecroppers, by industrial giants in their treatment of workers, and in agribusiness exploitation of immigrant workers. Coal mining companies' "company stores" and child labor practices are examples.

Today, in the struggle for immigration reform, many say that "guest worker" programs amount to modern day wage slavery. And a growing movement is calling for an end to exploitation of prisoners as cheap labor, calling it a form of slavery.

Photo: The official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society, designed by Josiah Wedgewood, 1795. Wikipedia

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