What does globalization mean to working people? Ask a member of UNITE and she’ll talk about the thousands of good paying jobs that were taken overseas. Talk to the young woman in Bangladesh who gets 20 cents for making a shirt that sells for $30 at The Gap.
Ask the 14- to 16-year-old women in Central America who are forced to swallow birth control pills in front of their bosses so the company can keep them on the job, since it doesn’t pay for health care.
Ask the laid-off steelworker about the foreign imports, made by U.S. corporations abroad and exported to the U.S. because they make more profits.
Or ask Iqbal Masih, the 12-year-old rug maker from Pakistan who was enslaved from age 4 and forced to learn a trade.
Unfortunately, you can’t. He was shot in the head after making a world tour protesting the widespread use of child labor.
What’s behind all this misery? On every continent, the lives of working people are deteriorating. If they’re not working from dawn to dusk for not enough to live on, they are being bombed and made homeless. Is it due to “globalization,” or greed, or laziness? Or is there something more fundamental, something less obvious, behind the world’s current problems.”
A primary feature of capitalism is its need to constantly expand, to find new ways of making more profits. This has been the case since its earliest days, over 400 years ago. Why? Competition, for one.
In competing, owners try to produce more cheaply and sell a greater volume. One way to produce cheaper and still make greater profits is by keeping wages as low as possible – by any means necessary. Since all wealth is produced by human labor, the fruits of that labor, or value, go either to the workers or the owners. The less workers get, the more the owners get. That accounts for the long, brutal history workers have faced when trying to form unions or improve their livelihood.
Another way to compete is by developing more efficient production methods and new technology. The catch is the more money the capitalist puts into higher tech machinery, the less is his rate of profit. The return on his capital investment declines, which in turn drives him to expand his share of the market so as to increase the amount of his profits. If he doesn’t and is content to merely be rich, he’ll go out of business, through bankruptcy or being bought out by some bigger company.
These objective factors, which have nothing to do with the owner’s ability or greed, are what drive capitalism to continually expand – from city to city, from country to country. This expansion in the past 20 to 30 years has taken capitalist investments, and with it capitalist exploitation, to literally every part of the globe.
Countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil have become more industrialized. Peasants in these countries now work in factories and mills. They have become workers and in many ways find themselves in the same conditions common to U.S. workers 70 years ago.
As poor as they had been, these new workers now have less. They are involved in trying to form unions to fight to improve their wages and conditions. No longer isolated within their own country and increasingly making ties of solidarity with workers throughout the world, these new workers are changing the face and latent power of the working people of the world.
Meanwhile, astounding advances in communications, transportation and production techniques are making possible the rapid expansion of global economic activity. The phenomenal growth of multinational and transnational corporations, which know no national boundaries, are carrying out their gargantuan competitive struggles on a world scale. Their activity is weaving the fate of nations and peoples into a tight interdependence. Economic activities are becoming inextricably tied together. Production is becoming more socialized on a global level.
However, greater economic interaction among nations of the world does not necessarily cause greater misery and loss of freedom. It is private ownership of industry, trade and finance, and the policies of capitalist nations that are at fault. It is the underlying need to increase profits that leads our government and those of other major capitalist nations to force all nations to privatize their publicly owned facilities and services.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), representing the biggest capitalist financial interests, forces weaker nations to export cheap goods to richer nations so as to make enough money to pay back their loans to the big banks. It is our corporate-controlled government that pays corporations to relocate to Central America, taking our jobs with them, and provides a union-free, all-expenses-paid factory. These corporations just gotta have it. And they don’t give a damn how they get it!
Therefore, when examining “globalization,” the real issue is not the expansion of production and trade to the entire world. That seems inevitable. The real issue is that capitalism is the driving force behind this global socializing of economic activity. The answer is solidarity of workers of all nations in the fight against the policies of transnational corporations, their governments and their supra-government bodies such as the World Trade Organization and IMF. The fight is ultimately for the elimination of private ownership in industry, finance and trade, and for the enormous wealth that working people everywhere have created to be used for the benefit of working people. All we can lose is our chains.
John Gallo is coordinator of the Cleveland AFL-CIO Retiree Council.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org