Sunday, May 5, 2013

600 Bangladeshi workers killed by capitalism. Only workers control will prevent further catastrophe.

Profit comes first
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

By all accounts the number of workers killed when a building housing garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh has topped 600.  The decrepit building had the charming name of Rana Plaza. The feudal working conditions for Bangladesh garment workers is widely known and workers, mostly women but including children, have waged pitched battles with police and company thugs over the years. 

Western capitalists like the Wal Mart heirs have done very well out of the Bangladeshi workers.  These six wasters accumulated more wealth than the bottom 41.5% of American families as of 2010, more than 100 million Americans.  This breed of do nothings are all on the Forbes 400 of richest individuals and earned their money the hard way as Alter Net put it, "They inherited it."

Forbes 400
No 6 Christy Walton $25.3 billion
No. 9: Jim Walton, $23.7 billion
No. 10: Alice Walton, $23.3 billion
No. 11: S. Robson Walton, oldest son of Sam Walton, $23.1 billion
No. 103: Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion
No. 139: Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion

Coupon Clippers like the Walton's don't invest money in places like Bangladesh or China to improve living standards in these countries. Like all big capitalists, they have no allegiance to any country, they are global predators and it is the cheap price of doing business, especially the low cost of and limited rights of labor power.

The death toll in Bangladesh has caused some concern among the wealthy US elite whose existence is dependent on driving down the living standards of US workers and in the meantime turning a blind eye to the 18th century conditions that exist in the factories of their suppliers. Profit is the great persuader.

There is a need now to appear to be doing something in the aftermath of this horrific catastrophe where 600 or more workers have lost their lives on the altar of profit. The NGO's and other so-called non-profits want some standards put in place and demand some improvements. It's likely after this that the real power behind the process, the western multinationals, will be open to some new ideas. After all, the non profits won't deny the Waltons their blood money.

From what we read in the corporate media raising prices seem the way to go. Americans have benefited from the super exploitation of Bangladeshi women and children in the form of cheap prices for what we wear. We import more than 97% of what we wear according to Bloomberg Businessweek pointing out that in the era of increased capitalist globalization women's clothing costs have fallen 7% and men's 8%.  In the UK apparel prices have fallen 20% in the last 8 years.

Businessweek points out that the "Worker Rights Consortium", described as an "independent" labor rights monitoring group estimates it would cost $600,000 to bring Bangladesh's 5000 factories up to western safety standards for a total cost of $3 billion.  According to WRC, this would add less than 10c to the price of the 7 billion garments the country sells to the western retailers.  Business Week likes that idea confident that the Bangladeshi factory owner could pass that on to the retailer and the retailer to the US consumer adding only 25c to the cost of an item.

Problem solved? I don't think so.

Possible obstacles to such a revolutionary solution to the plight of the Bangladeshi worker like market forces, supply and demand and a brutal police state, are absent.  But an even more important omission is profits.  Profits are always absent.  They just seem to forget about this aspect of production.  I am not questioning the cost estimates of making a factory"western" grade when it comes to safety, feeding the world's people would be easily accomplished were it not for the capitalist economic system that directs the production of human needs and I should add that western grade is nothing to boast about, I've worked in factories.   The UN's World Health Organization itself estimates that access for all to improved water and sanitation services would cost around US$22.6 billion per year.  This is a paltry sum in the overall sphere of things and only 25% of the Walton family's total wealth. It is a drop in the ocean when compared to the $26 to $32 trillion believed to be stashed in offshore accounts by the richest percentage of the global population. We must abandon this Neo Malthusian nonsense that hunger and starvation is a product of overpopulation as opposed to the system of production where food is a commodity, if you can pay for it you eat, if you can't you starve.

To ensure these "upgrades" are met, BusinessWeek suggests  factory owners can "sign on" to the "Bangladesh Fire and Safety Agreement" which is a program the Workers' Rights Advocates promote.  To ensure effectiveness,  the program advises, the agreement would "establish" a chief inspector.  This inspector would be, and here's why Business Week is OK with it, "independent of companies, trade unions and factories to execute a safety program."

Here's how BW describes the process:
"Audits of hazards would be made public. Corrective actions recommended by the inspector would be mandatory. Retailers would agree to pay factories enough so that they could afford renovations, and retailers would be forbidden from doing business with noncompliant facilities."

This would all be enforced through the courts in "retailers home countries" which means here in the US or in Europe for most of them.

Coupon clippers like the Waltons and the other heads of the major players among the western retailers are very happy with such a toothless agreement that may cost them a few cents and rid them of negative publicity like the deaths of 600 workers. 

It is the same old story.  Eliminate any indication of workers control at the shop floor and rank and file level.  The idea that an individual like the program's inspector is actually independent is nonsense.  The whole idea is to strengthen the control of the capitalists class.  The only independence this individual will have is from the influence of the workers and our organization while representing the interests of the capitalist class.   Workers cannot rely on bourgeois justice, legal system or political parties to defend our interests. 

This attempt to pacify the giant multinationals and weaken the independence of workers organizations should come as no surprise. The Worker Rights Consortium is composed of liberal representatives from academia, including students and the trade Union bureaucracy that is cooperating hand over fist with the coupon clippers in their efforts to drive US workers living standards down to the levels of Mexico and China.  The trade Union leadership's behavior in the face of the vicious and brutal attacks is nothing less than criminal. They are completely wedded to the market and the profit system.

What will eliminate prevent events like the Bangladesh tragedy from happening in the future is a global united movement of the working class coordinating unity in action, mass industrial and political action against the capitalist offensive.

We cannot make production safe until we control production.

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