Joshua B. Freeman, a TomDispatch regular, teaches history at Queens College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and is affiliated with its Joseph S. Murphy Labor Institute. His forthcoming book, American Empire , will be the final volume of the Penguin History of the United States .
[Further Reading: For those interested in learning more about the history of prison labor and the convict-leasing system, we highly recommend three books that were crucial to us in writing this essay: Rebecca M. McLennan's The Crisis of Imprisonment: Protest, Politics, and the Making of the American Penal State, 1776-1941, Alex Lichtenstein's Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South, and Douglas A. Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.]
This piece is an adaptation of an "In the Rearview Mirror" column that will be published in a forthcoming issue of the magazine New Labor Forum.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman