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“Hell on Earth” was how a Vietnamese construction worker employed on a construction project in Serbia described his working conditions. A recent New York Times article reported that the job was a $900 million Chinese tire factory being built by a Chinese subcontractor that was owned by the factory owner. It reminded me of the threat the Related Company posed when we were negotiating over Hudson Yards. They said they could hire a Chinese construction company, house the foreign workers on a ship docked in the Hudson River, build a bridge over the West Side Highway, and we wouldn’t get anywhere near them. It didn’t happen; they just got Top Shelf instead.

Those Vietnamese laborers reported having to sign documents vowing never to go on strike or join a union or raise any issues regarding their conditions. They were housed in rat-infested spaces with no heat or hot water. The company originally held their passports, basically enslaving them. Pressure from some Serbian opposition party government officials caused them to return the passports and some workers fled the job, while others feared that if they quit they would have breached labor contracts signed with labor brokers and loan sharks who paid their way to Serbia, leaving their families back home in debt.

The lesson here is what can happen when corrupt governments and large multinational corporations conspire out of greed and profit. Working men and women lose. They lose their rights, their dignity, their standards, their unions and, too many times, their lives. Can it happen here? Can it happen in America? You bet your ass it can. Just look at who wants to be in charge. The one percent, remember them? The greedy corporations and the corrupt politicians all wrapped in American flags, cheered on by those who only hear what they want to hear. Unwitting working people blindly getting sold out. Welcome to Hell on Earth.