5 November 2003
On reflection, I fear I didn’t do the idea of the Global Working Peoples’ Association sufficient justice in the essay in the sense that I only touched on what I believe to be the underlying rationale for the (eventual) emergence of some kind of global political ‘party’. And frankly, I can’t see any other alternative given the way the world is going, except barbarism.
Consider this: I’m sitting here typing away on my Powerbook, assembled in Ireland made with components from El Salvador, Mexico, Malaysia, Taiwan and who knows where else. And I’m wearing sneakers made in Vietnam, a sweater in Spain, my jeans are from El Salvador and my undies and socks are made in South Africa. The light on my desk is made in China and the light bulb in Hungary. The corporations that ‘made’ them are transnationals, ‘sans frontieres’ as they say. They relocate production and assembly with increasing frequency as the pace of global production speeds up and the profit margins are reduced under the impact of competition from all the other corporations that are also relocating production…. But of course the critical intellectual capital that is central to production is owned by the developed world. In the case of my computer it’s patents and in the case of clothing, it’s marketing/advertising and distribution, that depends on wads of surplus capital to work. None of it works without continual expansion into new markets and the production of a never-ending flow of ‘new’ products and people to buy them.
And it would appear that there is no end to this process until global pay and conditions equalise which they most surely will – downwards – if we take the ‘mature’ economies as our benchmark or, they run out of markets. After all, under the impact of automation, there will come a time when the human component of industrial production is reduced to the point whereby there is no advantage to be gained from moving production to an even cheaper labour market. Where to then? Mars?
How long will this process take? Consider that in the 1970s Ford Motor were threatening British workers in Coventry with relocating production to Germany unless they ‘towed the line’ and within a few years, threatening the German workers with relocating production to Belgium. And where are they made now? Well the engine blocks may be made in Germany, the body panels in the UK, the electronics from all over the place and assembled in South Africa for export to the UK. Moreover, only a tiny fraction of the ‘value’ of the automobile is in the actual product, the rest comes from advertising, ‘branding’ and other euphemistically named ‘intangibles’.
|In the early 1970s the first transnational strike took place when Pirelli workers in the UK and Italy coordinated joint industrial action. At the time, there was much talk about workers taking on the transnationals by synchronising actions but it came to nothing.|
One hundred and fifty years ago when Marx and co formed the IWMA it paralleled the emergence of the joint stock corporation and modern global capitalism. Unfettered by the inconvenience of national borders, capital went wherever returns were highest. And during those times preceding the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, labour could also move with relative freedom, often because it was forced to. ‘Free Trade’ was the rallying cry of the industrial capitalist world one hundred years ago but just as now, ‘free trade’ was loaded in favour of the developed economies. The Russian Revolution changed everything. For one thing, it blocked the unfettered expansion of capital and the establishment of ‘free trade’ and perhaps as importantly, it eventually led to the creation of the security state and controls over the movement of people.
Ah the irony of it all! As those US manufacturers (who still produce locally) complain about ‘competition’ from China, over 60% of the ‘competition’ is actually from American-owned corporations who have moved production to China. And the major culprit? Walmart, the single biggest private employer in the US.
There are several critical questions we need to pose. Firstly, are there any limits on the relocation of production? Second, how long will the process take to ‘mature’? And finally, what will the end product look like?
Will countries like China and India see their industrial working classes demand higher wages and better working conditions? Well it’s already happening and indeed, we’re already well into the third and fourth and maybe even fifth relocation of production to ever cheaper production areas.
And what happens when countries like China also enter the ‘knowledge’ economy phase of development and compete with Cupertino and Oxford just as Japan did thirty years ago? Much depends on the poor world that currently has only raw materials and agricultural production to sell in return for finished products (that its populations can’t afford to buy). There are only two possibilities; either they drop off the edge of the planet and enter the ‘Terminal World’ as entirely ‘surplus to requirement’ or they industrialise and they too compete with the ’mature’ economies. Okay, some of the production will be absorbed by an expanding market, but this is a market that has limits. Not only that, the entire mad enterprise depends on cheap raw materials to work in the first place, especially oil.
Inevitably, the cost of raw materials will rise. Remember the 1973 ‘energy crisis’? Multiply that by several orders of magnitude when it hits critical elements like tungsten, titanium, cobolt, gold, silver, manganese etc, elements that are indispensible to the global information infrastructure but which occur in relatively small amounts. Okay, perhaps we’ll see the emergence of biological information systems made from carbohydrates, but in any event, sooner or later it depends on the production of raw materials that rely on nature and human labour.
The alternative is the US Imperium; a last-ditch attempt to hang on to world’s resources, a process that as we are witnessing, is not without opposition and as with the first attempt to curb the insatiable appetites of the capitalists — the Russian Revolution — it will lead to the next phase of organised opposition, which brings me back the GWPA.
Is it realistic to envisage people coordinating opposition to imperialism on a global scale? Well it’s already happening, albeit in fits and starts. Currently it lacks a coherent theoretical base, but it’s early days yet but the knowledge is there. Second, it’s fragmented and uneven and most importantly, it’s not coherently connected. But we have the tools; the Internet, satellite communications, a global ‘culture’ of shared experiences and memories. Globalisation is the motor. As Monbiot’s book points out, we in the ‘developed’ world are simply unaware of the scale of the opposition to the imperium in the poor world but this will and is, changing.
What form will it take? Who knows, but it’s instructive to note how the imperialists have reacted to the inaccurately named anti-globalisation campaign. They retreat to the remotest locations they can find when holding their strategic meetings, not to protect themselves from a handful of ‘anarchists’ but to keep knowledge of the opposition out of the public’s view. Increasingly, they are building a fortress state and the mentality to go with it, Jack London’s proverbial ‘Iron Heel’. Is this the behaviour of the winners of the Cold War? I think not. The ‘war on terror’, it’s most obvious expression, is the reaction of a desperate class, a class that knows its days are numbered.
And I’ve yet to present the inherent contradictions of the capitalist financial system, perhaps the weakest link
of all. Look out for Part Three.