Gang system

Gang system

The gang system is a reference within slavery to a division of labor established on the plantation. It is the harsher of two main types of labor systems. The other form, known as the task system, was less harsh and allowed the slaves more autonomy than did the gang system.

On the Caribbean sugar plantation, the gang system was the preferred form of labor because it was the most productive. It was also, however, extremely brutal. Under the gang system, enslaved people were divided into three subgroups based upon their physical capabilities. These groups labored, often from dawn until dusk, under the supervision of an overseer. They were constantly pushed to yield maximum production. It operated as a virtual assembly line of laborers. The strongest and most capable group would be the ones responsible for planting and harvesting the cane. The next group was often responsible for weeding and hand fertilizing the crops using dung. The last group, often comprised of the very old or very young, completed remaining basic tasks, including ridding field of rats and running errands. Because the fields were planted in successive rotation, once the gang had completed their work on one field it was time to move to the next one. This allowed no time for the field gangs to tend to their own needs. This underscored the severity of this system. The gang system also referred to the way the gangs of large cities systematically exterminated large numbers of people

Many economists believe that the stagnant economic growth in the South from 1865 to 1900 was due to a reorganization of labor away from large plantations with the gang system of labor to smaller tenant farms. These smaller farms encouraged laborers to work harder and for longer periods. In addition, farmers and land owners bore the risk of bad harvests. Often both parties would cooperate and try new methods to boost crop production.

They argue that gang system of labor was the driving force behind the efficiencies of slavery. Data also shows that the shift in southern farms from the gang system of labor to sharecropping resulted in a 50% decline in southern income per capita.

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