Thursday, April 25, 2013

Capitalism at work: More Bangladeshi workers die as factory collapses

Workers mourn the death of their comrades
by Richard Mellor

As I write, Bangladeshi authorities are trying to figure out how many workers have been killed in the latest factory disaster there.  So far, the death toll as a building housing workers collapsed according to the Wall Street Journal is 145, but it is expected to climb much higher. 700 workers have been killed in factory fires in the last decade in this Dickensian world of manufacture and mass mayhem.

Most of the workers are women according to reports and this catastrophe comes on the heels of the Tazreen factory fire last year where 100 workers died. This is capitalism at work. These killings are not accidents and the guilty are not simply the small fry that run these outfits but the executives in the board rooms of Wall Street and the western retailers that demand cheap labor to keep the profits rolling in. These workers have died so that consumers in the west can purchase items under such colorful brand names as "Joe Fresh" or from the the likes of Spanish apparel giant "Mango."

Like electricity that seeks the line of least resistance so do capitalists in their rapacious quest for profits.  As if Chinese wages and conditions aren't abysmal enough, as Chinese workers have fought to raise wages foreign manufacturers flee in search of human beings more desperate for work and survival and preferably living under more repressive conditions.  Vietnam and Bangladesh have become more lucrative markets for human Labor power, "Foreign companies have flooded in to Bangladesh in recent years..." to escape the higher cost of Chinese workers the WSJ points out.  This is as natural to the capitalist mode of production as the air we breath is to life, no amount of regulation will stop it. 

If we should learn one thing as workers it is the need to build international solidarity with all workers, those that make the decisions at US corporations don't move production to low wage countries to improve living standards, just the opposite.  We must reject the idea that we should compete with foreign workers that the bosses claim are "willing" to work for less and under more inhumane conditions.  Acceding to one's oppressor under coercion is not being a "willing" partner in the arrangement. We must not blame them and be driven in to competition with them for the necessities of life.  Our allegiance must be not to a nation state but to our class across such national boundary's. The existence of low waged areas is a threat to all of us, whether in Mississippi or Bangladesh, the bosses will always be drawn to them.  The way to combat it is to build international working class solidarity against international capitalism.

The investors and other thugs that run the likes of Wal Mart and Nike cry crocodile tears for the dead and throw a million bucks here and a million bucks there to satisfy western non profits and human rights groups who are constantly raising the conditions in these factories.  After the last fire, Wal Mart has been paying for fire inspections at the factories that supply it with cheap goods and has donated $1.6 million for training in fire safety according to the Journal.  We should remind ourselves that the Wal Mart heirs are worth some $100 billion, made off the backs of these women in Bangladesh, many of whom now lay dead.

A huge crack was seen in the building a day before the collapse and workers were evacuated. The bosses had a meeting that evening and the owner of the factory told workers that "The building will stand for another hundred years", according to Selina Aktar, a 24 year old worker who survived.  She told the WSJ that as workers were gathered outside the next day, bosses through megaphones warned them that if they didn't return to work their pay would be docked. Shortly after they did, the place collapsed. "I was trapped in the darkness" she told the Journal, "There was choking dust. There was a big slab of concrete. I couldn't get out."
Bosses coerced workers in to returning after defects were found
according to reports.

No amount of regulation or intervention on the part of western non-profits will prevent the continued savagery of capitalist production.  As I pointed out in recent commentaries, US capitalism has driven wages and conditions in the US to such a low level that this country is becoming an attractive place to do business as it already has fairly decent infrastructure compared to many other countries.  Caterpillar shifted production from its London Ontario plant to Indiana where wages are 50% lower and the Union leaders more cooperative.  As Marx once said, workers have no country.

The same forces that we bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars are at work here.  Capitalism was saved from collapse through the intervention of public funds.  We should have helped it over the cliff.  The austerity agenda that is being imposed on workers here in the US, the savage conditions imposed on workers and peasants throughout the Third (former colonial) World is the natural order of things for the so-called free market.  Workers can only rely on our own strength, our own organizations, both economic and political.  The women and men, and children that die everyday as a result of business decisions are our brothers and sisters.

At the 1994 California State Labor Federation Convention to which I was a delegate, then Executive Director, Jack Henning stated in his opening address: "There should originate, in the leadership of the AFL-CIO, a call to the unions for the only answer that is noble: global unionism is the answer to global capitalism."

Although Henning had no intention of using his office to fight for such a development, it is advice we can all agree with.  Only a united global movement of workers can drive back the global capitalist offensive and would be a step to preventing disasters like yesterday's factory collapse in Bangladesh. We must break the barrier in our own minds of nationalism and patriotism and build such global solidarity among workers, not motivated by some notion of morality in defense of those less fortunate than ourselves, but to defend out own class interests.   "United We Stand" is a good slogan.  Who we unite and stand with is the crux of the matter.  The coupon clippers that have driven Americans from our homes, denied our youth education, our sick health care are as responsible for the deaths of our class brothers and sisters in Bangladesh.  They call themselves Americans too, but we must not be fooled by that, there are Americans and Americans.

There will be no manhunt in the offices or board rooms of Wall Street for these criminals, just like those whose decisions led to the deaths in West Texas. They know too well the conditions that are necessary for them to make their millions and they make their choices accordingly.

Such a movement is necessary, but what we stand for is crucial.  Taking in to public ownership the finance industry and banks is crucial because workers cannot change this situation if we don't own capital and control its allocation in society, not the individual savings of workers and the middle class, but a collective accounting of how this capital is used in  production.  Taking under workers control and management  the dominant sectors of the economy is what will change this situation, not having illusions in capitalism regulating itself.

The usual crocodile tears will flow for these victims of the market from the apologists of capital.  The US capitalist class will blame it on their junior partners in Bangladesh.  We will hear their usual arguments that it is "crony capitalism" that is at fault as if the US isn't the home of "crony capitalism".

Our future can only be guaranteed if we end this madness, end capitalism as a means of producing human needs and replace it with a world federation of democratic socialist states.

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