Globalization and women workers

Is the “globalization” that George Bush supports good or, at least, inevitable, as people from the capitalist class claim? And what impact has it had on women workers?

Tuberculosis and malnutrition are global, and becoming more so where capitalism still rules. Obviously neither is good — or inevitable. The same applies to Bush and capitalist globalization.

For women workers, from the U.S. to Zimbabwe, globalization has brought great suffering. At the same time, women workers are often found in the lead in the struggle against unequal and unbridled “free trade” and the privatization of public assets.

The current Wall Street globalization drive began after the fall of the USSR. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement and 1995 World Trade Organization are two of their trophies. Both facilitated monopolies’ ability to move capital, effectively spreading competition among workers worldwide for dwindling jobs and wages.

Some of the resulting burdens suffered by workers are detailed in a remarkable 2004 Oxfam report, “Trading Away Our Rights.” The report says, “Globalization has hugely strengthened the negotiating hand of retailers and brand companies. New technologies, trade liberalization and capital mobility have dramatically opened up the number of countries and producers from which they can source their products.”

Oxfam’s report goes on to depict amazingly uniform and devastating working conditions, whether workers are working (ultimately) for Wal-Mart or Target, making Nike or Adidas shoes, packing fruit or sewing clothes in Morocco or Thailand, Chile or Bangladesh.

Women often form the majority of production workers — as high as 90 percent in Cambodia’s garment industry, 87 percent in Zimbabwe’s flower industry. “Commonly hired on short-term contracts, or with no contract at all,” Oxfam reports, “women are working at high speed for low wages in unhealthy conditions. They are forced to put in long hours to earn enough to get by. Most have no sick leave or maternity leave, few are enrolled in health or unemployment schemes, and fewer still have savings for the future.”

“Most women are still expected to raise children and care for sick and elderly relatives when they become cash-earners,” Oxfam continues. “They are doubly burdened, and, with little support from their governments or employers to cope with it, the stress can destroy their own health, break up their families, and undermine their children’s chances of a better future. The impacts are felt by workers in both rich and poor countries.”

Indeed. Wall Street globalization has not been kind to workers in the U.S. Superficially, women’s status appears to have improved in the U.S. since 1990. Adult women’s participation in the paid labor force increased from 57.5 percent in 1990 to 59.5 percent in 2003, a positive development. Women workers’ earnings as a percentage of men’s ostensibly rose from 71.6 percent in 1990 to 76.6 percent in 2003, while average weekly “real” earnings of hourly workers supposedly rose slightly.

But that is on the surface. Declines in wages and benefits have commonly forced greater labor force participation. The improvement in women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s applies only to the minority of women working full-time, year-round. The official (and very slight) rise in “real” wages between 1990 and 2003 does not truthfully account for the jump in the cost of housing, fuel and transport, in regressive taxes and debt service, and the decline in health insurance, pensions or unemployment compensation.

Bankruptcy filings are the terrible “proof of the pudding.” Personal bankruptcies exploded in the U.S. between 1990 and 2003, from 661,000 to 1.6 million. And the increase was greatest among women. According to Harvard bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren, by 2002 the single best predictor for a bankruptcy filing was a woman having a child. Bankruptcy rates of single mothers, nearly the same as for all others in 1981, were almost 200 percent higher by 2001.

The Communist movement has a historic commitment to end all forms of social inequality, including that between men and women, everywhere. The capitalist “globalization” George Bush loves increases competition among workers worldwide, with the greatest inequalities falling on women. Our answer to Wall Street’s international agreements includes uniting workers of the world with good jobs and equal pay for all.