Chinese Immigrants Locked in Ship Containers

Deadly Traffic in Humans

Revolutionary Worker #1039, January 23, 2000

They were loaded on to a metal cargo container somewhere in China. The door was sealed on the 18 men--their destination, North America. The container was trucked to the docks in Hong Kong. After several days the container was lifted by a crane onto the freighter Cape May, along with hundreds of other containers carrying machinery and other goods. Their journey thousands of miles over the rough Pacific waters took more than two weeks.

Fifteen of the immigrants made it alive--barely. Three died in the container before the Cape May reached Seattle on January 11.

Imagine the horror that these immigrants went through. They were trapped for days in a cold, steel tomb. The container had a canvas top, and holes in the canvas showed that some had tried to escape--only to find themselves buried beneath other containers in the massive cargohold of the ship. After the flashlights gave out, they spent days in complete darkness. Food consisted of some vegetables and crackers which ran out before the ship reached its destination. Several buckets served as toilets.

As some of the immigrants died, the others must have wondered, "Will we make it alive? Will we ever see the light of day again?"

The immigrants on Cape May are part of the rising traffic in human cargo across the Pacific. Just two days later, 19 men were found on another cargo ship that arrived in Seattle from Hong Kong. During the past year alone, authorities detained over 200 Chinese immigrants who arrived in containers at ports on the west coast of the U.S. and Canada. No one knows how many people have arrived undetected on freighters and other ships.

Traffic in human beings has been a part of capitalism from its very beginning. Tens of millions of Africans were brought over the Atlantic as slaves. Many perished in the terrible journey. As Karl Marx observed, the slave trade along with the genocide of native people in the Americas "signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production."

Today's "modern" traffic in humans involves wage slaves--proletarians who own nothing but their ability to work, and who have nothing to lose but their chains.

The defenders and promoters of the capitalist system make the perverse claim that immigrants like those on the Cape May show how "superior" the United States is--because people are willing to risk their lives "voluntarily" to "make it" here. But what most immigrants from China--and from Mexico and other Third World countries--find once they arrive are jail and deportation, or back-breaking, low-wage work in factory sweatshops and restaurants.

In 1993 the modern day slaveship Golden Venture, carrying Chinese immigrants, ran aground on the shores of Queens, New York. Eight people died trying to reach land. Those who survived were arrested by the immigration department--and many were kept in detention for years afterward.

The Chinese immigrants like those who arrived on the Cape May must pay tens of thousands of dollars to smugglers to make the clandestine voyage across the Pacific. If they are able to make it into the U.S., they must work for years as virtual slaves or indentured servants in order to pay off the debt. Some women are forced to become prostitutes. These immigrant workers from China, Mexico and other poor countries are part of the most oppressed sections of the proletariat here--and an important factor in the economic boom that the rulers of this country boast about so arrogantly.

And how "voluntarily" was the choice that the immigrants on the Cape May made--when there are an estimated 100 million people within China who have been displaced from the countryside and are looking desperately for work in the cities? The return of capitalist rule to China after the death of Mao Tsetung in 1976 has brought widespread dislocation and poverty. And increased penetration into China by the U.S. and other imperialist powers is leading to more peasant farmers being driven off the land, and more workers laid off in the name of capitalist "efficiency."

In Mexico, too, millions of peasants are losing their land because of new laws created by the government and the "free trade" agreement with the U.S. The program of capitalist privatization--dictated by the imperialists and their blood-thirsty financial institutions--is resulting in intensified impoverishment of the people. And each year, tens of thousands make the decision to attempt the crossing across the border into the U.S. in search of work. Because of the U.S. government's militarization of the southern border, Mexican immigrants are increasingly forced to cross through dangerous routes. Many die from the cold or heat in the deserts and mountains. Others have died in the rivers and canals or in locked railway freight cars.

Across the world, imperialist globalization is fueling the traffic in human labor power. Each day, hundreds of immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa cross the Otranto Strait between Albania and Italy--hoping to find work in the rich Western European countries. Many die in the attempt.

People from the poor countries of central and southern Africa try to find their way through heavily militarized borders in search of jobs in the capitalist industries of South Africa.

A huge portion of the foreign exchange earnings of the Philippines comes from earnings sent back home by overseas Filipino workers. A global capitalist trade in women "exports" thousands of young women each year from Third World countries to the wealthy countries of Europe, North America, Japan and the Middle East.

On a world scale, some 75 to 90 million people from oppressed countries must work as migrant laborers outside their homelands.


It is the system of imperialism--and its obscene drive for profits--that is responsible for today's global traffic in humans. Even as more and more people are forced to cross borders for survival, the rulers of this system hope to keep oppressed people and proletarians of different countries from seeing their common interests.

As Carl Dix, national spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, points out: "Globalization has created a world where workers and oppressed people all over the world are more bound together. Bound together by ruin and misery, but more importantly bound together by a common enemy and a common future. Capitalism forces its competitive values on us by pitting us against each other in a desperate struggle to survive. In this way, they breed chauvinism among the workers of the rich, oppressor nations. They even get us on the battlefields, fighting and killing workers of other lands. But what we have in common is stronger than what divides us. This is why, when we see people struggling against harsh, brutal conditions in other lands, our hearts go out to them. Workers and oppressed people in any particular country have more in common with the workers and oppressed in other countries than with the capitalists in their own nation."


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