Ola leant back in his chair, looking around as if to take in the place one last time before leaving.
"Well, I think we'll leave now," he said to Per. "We can have a few last beers over at my place if you're still thirsty." Then, leaning over towards Bjorn and his two colleagues, he excused himself, putting his hands on his knees, ready to rise and leave.
"So you're staying at Ola and Ane's place tonight," Bjorn asked, looking at Per.
"Yes he is," Ola answered. "The ferry back to Kirkenes does not run at these hours."
"No! But we got a housekeeper, so there's no extra work for Ane or me to have people staying over," Ola added proudly.
"A house keeper! That sounds fancy," Bjorn commented acidly.
"Ganga... a Tamil girl," Ola explained, taking no notice of Bjorn's acid remark. "That's one of the great advantages of buying a place in Lundby. You can get a housekeeper for as little as fifty MG a day."
"But that is even less than your wife pays her factory workers."
"Sure, but Ganga gets a room and food for free, so she is in many ways better off than the factory workers."
Bjorn looked blankly at Ola for a second. "So those barracks over by the factory are not free for Ane's workers?"
"No, she rents them out for a hundred MG per night."
"But that's what the workers make in a day!" Bjorn protested, shocked by Ola's revelation.
"Sure, but the workers typically rent the rooms together with three or more other workers. That way they have plenty for food and other necessities."
Bjorn was speechless. Ane's shameless exploitation of her workers was much worse than he had thought. And Ola did not seem the least bit ashamed of it either. "What a loveless cold couple they must be," he thought to himself. But he had the wits to keep this thought to himself, and did not say anything to stop Ola and Per from raising up from their chairs.
"Take care, and enjoy the rest of your evening," Ola said with a friendly smile. Per said goodbye too and the two men left, leaving Bjorn, Thomas and Espen to themselves.
"I think Ola is right," Thomas said, breaking the silence around the table.
"About what?" Bjorn asked, still shocked by Ola's revelation.
"About the house... Per should buy it now while prices are down... The influx of asylum seekers isn't going to be nearly as bad as people think."
"I agree!" Espen said with a nod. "I don't think Ola was very pleased about the way you put it though."
"Yeah," Bjorn said with a smile. "Mentioning Frank's fence was hardly a winning argument."
The three men smiled and shook their heads over Thomas' silly remark that had set Ola´s arguments back by quite a bit, and possibly stopped Per from ever considering buying a house in Lundby.
"It's a good thing you're not working as a diplomat," Espen commented, still chuckling.
"But you know what I found to be the winning argument?" Thomas asked rhetorically to change the subject.
"No? What?" Espen asked.
"Really?" Bjorn asked in disbelief.
"Sure! Imagine having someone to sort out your house while you're off doing other things. I'd love to have that."
"But it's slavery!" Bjorn protested.
"No, it's not. This Ganga, or whatever, is making just as good a living as any of the factory workers."
"But they are slaves too?"
"No... They can all choose to do other stuff if they please. You're only a slave if you have no say in choosing your employer, or if you have to give away your earnings to a third party without your consent."
Bjorn did not agree, but could not find any quick counter-definition for slavery, so he found himself again lost for words.
"But you agree that the wages are terrible?" Espen commented, apparently agreeing with Bjorn, at least to some extent.
"Sure," Thomas agreed. "But as long as people are not forced to part with their earnings against their will, and have freedom to work for whoever they please, it is totally wrong to call this slavery."
Then, after taking a sip of his beer, Thomas continued.
"There is simply an oversupply of unskilled labour, and that forces the price down."
"And at what point does low wages become so low that it becomes slavery?" Bjorn asked.
"Never," Thomas answered confidently.
"Exactly. Slavery has to do with wage extraction and force. It has nothing to do with the amount a person earns. If Ganga is forced against her will to do a bunch of stuff she does not voluntarily agree to, she is a slave, but we have no evidence of anything like that going on in the Ola & Ane household."
"But she has no choice!" Bjorn protested. "She has no choice but to accept her lot."
"Not true," Thomas countered, still cocksure of himself. "She can work in the factory, she can open a stall at the market, she can start a business herself. She sure as hell does not have to work for Ola and Ane unless they are indeed locking her up and forcing her to do stuff. And only then would I consider her a slave. As long as I have no reason to believe that Ola or Ane are forcing Ganga to be their housekeeper, I see no reason to assume that she's a slave."
Bjorn was again unable to find a good argument to counter Thomas' assertion, but he had a distinct feeling that Thomas' definition was lacking, and he felt frustrated with Thomas insisting that the word slavery did not apply to the misery and hardship doubtlessly experienced by Ane's housekeeper and factory workers.
"But you have to admit that it would be great to have a housekeeper?" Espen asked Bjorn, evidently trying to make Bjorn see things from Thomas' perspective.
"Sure," Bjorn had to admit. "Who wouldn't like to be rich and successful? But if it had to be on other people's expense, I think I'd rather not."
"But it is not on other people's expense," Thomas insisted. "If Ane didn't employ all these people, they might be without work entirely, or working under even worse conditions. Remember, everyone working for Ane is working for Ane because they did not find a better deal with somebody else. They would in other words be worse off without her."
"Unless they are indeed slaves," Espen corrected.
"Sure... But there's no evidence of that."