The word 'slave' is presumed to come from the Slav people, the ethnic/cultural group from Eastern Europe, that would have been forced in to slavery by the Romans. The main point of contact between the Slavs and the Romans was when a large group of Slavs migrated to the Balkan area in the VIth Century. This invasion of pagans confronted the Christian populations that fought them and turned the captured warriors into workers in private properties, which is not very different from what we called the Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO) during the German occupation, when young French adults were sent to Germany to work in farms.
So instead of “slaves” that relates to an ethnic group and reminds us of the African people sent to Americas in awful circumstances and conditions, I would prefer to use the Greek word δούλος (doulos) that is used by Aristotle in his Politics treaty because δούλων means a being, human or animal, that is the property of someone, and δουλεύω means to be employed, to work. We can then question if owning cattle is ethically correct if we think owning human people is not. But owning a living being doesn't imply you must treat it like rubbish. For example if you own a horse that you use for pulling a cart, it's rather better to take care of it, cherish the help it is keen to provide you. Besides, it has been noticed that farming animals we eat, especially chicken, have a much better taste when raised in a free range.
Therefore I am unsure if the captured European slaves, or the δούλος employed by the Greeks were always badly treated, also when noticing that the Romans were sometimes emancipating slaves, which mean the owner of someone was keen enough to lose his property and offer freedom for some reasons. The Greek word is then απελευθερώνομαι that relates to ελεύθερος (eleytheros) who is a free person. Which means the key is to know if you are your own master or if you depend on someone who is your master, who owns you.
Then the property of something defines from the powers you have on it, that are Latin usus (usage), fructus (possibility of profit), and abusus (possibility of selling or destroying it). That differs from renting upon the abusus forbidden, and the fructus subject to owner's agreement. And being free suppose you fully own these rights upon yourself: nobody uses you, makes profit from you, or sells/kills you. But being free doesn't mean you must be wild, you can be perfectly civilised and socialised like the birds that live in our human environment, cities or villages.
However when it comes to your question of survival, getting food and a home, the solutions can be begging people for it, or offering something for it, goods or work. But then Aristotle warns that not all people have the capability to fully manage their freedom, be their own master, and have then better to be δούλος, to have someone who looks after you, who is responsible for your life. That's when we reach the issue of management, a word that may originate from French manège (horse training) or ménage (household). Because being able to make goods or provide a service is not enough, if you want to trade them for things you're unable to produce or do, you need to negotiate them with someone else. The question is then to choose between a single customer that can act with you like a master, or several customers that you would keep if they respect your freedom.
The dog and the wolf tale - illustration © Nicolas Rosquin 2018
We must then consider who keeps the usus, fructus, and abusus on you. And when I see how mergers and acquisitions of companies are conducted, without asking employees if they accept the change of their company ownership, I am unsure who has the abusus over the workers. But what is clear is that the company owners, the businessmen use the workers, and get a profit from their jobs. So these workers at least rent themselves to these businessmen. They are their servants, their acting δούλος. Their work must please their masters, allow to provide a procurement to someone who is ready to exchange it against money.
Consequently it seems to me the only way to run a company of truly free workers is the French structure called 'cooperative', where workers are also the owners of the company. Instead of signing a hiring contact with an acting master, a manager, you sign an agreement with all other workers to provide them a contribution to the collective effort in exchange of a share in the trade profits. Which also means you're not directed by someone you disagree with his/her strategy and attitude. But you share as well the risks of commercial mistakes that you would face if you were on your own. The word commerce coming from Latin commercium that means together trading and socialisation.
What you want to offer for sale must answer to a demand of your community, that the Greeks organised into independent city-states, or to a demand of another community, more or less “foreign”, that lack resources or skills. You then get a competition to own resources, have the usus, fructus, and abusus of them, but also between the level of skills mastering between houses, workers, and communities. A skill is a kind of resource you can acquire, improve but also lose. And when you don't have any skills or resources, your life totally depends on others' benevolence. That's why I disagree with Adam Smith when he said that people must do only what they are the best at it, because if you then face barriers in trading, some producers putting an embargo to sell you what you miss, you get a discomfort, some needs unsatisfied, your progress is hampered.
Why would then a provider refuse to sell you his/her goods or services? Certainly if you pose a threat to his/her interests. That's where freedom enters into action, the balance of powers between people, the wildness waving its hand. Freedom excesses that we limit with laws stating our liberties, our rights and duties, what's prohibited and what we're responsible for. We don't want to allow full freedom but only a certain freedom that doesn't cause unwanted nuisances, either to our society or our environment, our field of resources. We don't like any sort of pollution that harms or annoys us, cause a discomfort to the self-masters we ought to be.
International Business Controller. Chercheur en Sciences de Gestion. Ingénieur Systèmes d'Informations.