"They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America?" - Fidel Castro
“the world is flat,” proclaims the title of thomas friedman’s infamous and best-selling boko. recent decades have seen the normalization of relations with china, the passage of nafta, cafta, trade agreements with south korea, colombia, panama, and more. the latest sweeping agreement, the trans pacific partnership, looms on the horizon, lying in wait for the presidential election to pass and the populist tides to recede. (external - login to view)
neoliberalism is the ideology of the day among the mainstream on both the right and left, such that it exists in america. barring a surprise trump victory, and likely even then, globalization’s march will continue unabated. a review of clinton’s history quickly reveals a pattern of enforcing free trade dogma and right wing governments in latin america and the global south. in brief, beyond her suppor for free trade agreements as secretary of state, she validated coups of reform governments in honduras and paraguay, pushed for privatization of mexico’s oil industry, had foreign aid to el salvador withheld pending passage of more privatization (a classic go-to move), squashed haitian wage increases, and so on. (external - login to view)
in america, occupy railed against “the 1%” and bernie saanders decried the transgressions of wall street. the left that makes up their movements argue against the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the wealthy elite. america’s economy is growing, officially, but the working class doesn’t see that growth. and america, for all its riches, cant (or refuses to) even provide its citizens with single payer health care. these people cry out that income inequality has soared to tremendous new highs. and this is all true. (external - login to view)
but this is only half the story. the american economy doesn’t end at our nation’s borders, but extends worldwide. trade liberalization and privatization are the policies our ruling classes have insisted on for years, and yet when it comes time for any accounting of the successes and failures of capitalism, especially in comparison with socialism, we tend to only look at america and western europe, the exploiter nations on the top of the capitalist heap, to deem the ideology a success story. to the extent that the world actually is “flat,” we need to account for the rest of the world as well. why is there a holodomor that socialism is guilty for, but no potadomor in capitalism’s death column? or, in more modern terms, as castro puts it, where is the success of capitalism in africa, asia, and latin america?
our system needs to take responsibility for these thirld world exploited nations. we need to take responsibility for bangladesh.
Police in Bangladesh using bamboo staves, teargas and water cannon fought with textile workers demanding back pay and an immediate rise in monthly wages on the streets of Dhaka today.
Witnesses said at least 30 people, mainly workers producing garments for global brands, were injured. Pictures showed children apparently being beaten. Ten policemen were also hurt.
Although there has been violence for several weeks, today saw workers erecting barricades, pelting police with stones and attacking cars. Police described the fighting as the worst yet seen.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2...n-beaten-police (external - login to view)
bangladesh is a part of our economy. in the processof wealth extraction, american companies will refuse rto pay any more for garments than they are forced to, in many cases using their influence to resist boosts to bangladeshs wages and safety standards. and wages and safety standards in the bangladesh garment industry are very very bad.
we did this. (external - login to view) and it’s time we acknowledge our culpability. it’s time we acknowledge that foreign nations in the global south are part of the capitalist apparatus, integrated into our own economy to the extent we do business with them. and we do a lot of business with bangladesh. bangladesh is the world’s #2 exporter of garments, behind only china. 80% of their annual export earnings come from the garment industry, making up $21.5b out of $27b total. the US alone imports almost $5b worth of garments from bangladesh. if you open up your wardrobe and pull out a few sweaters chances are one of them will read “made in bangladesh.”
www.nytimes.com/interactive/...&pgtype=article (external - login to view)
but, as the chart above also shows, the workers make a pittance in this poor nation, even when compared to other impoverished countries.
people don’t seem to have any trouble imagining abhorrent conditions in 19th century sweatshops, dickensian nightmares where women and children work long hours for peanuts. but somehow no one seems capable of recognizing that this sort of thing continues today, and we profit from it. the people are brown and far away, but that doesn’t make their exploitation and suffering any less real. and that suffering is immense: in 2013, a factory collapsed, finally bringing conditions in bangladesh into news, much to the chagrin of western importers.
www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/wo...-collapse.html (external - login to view) posted:
The collapse of Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories employing more than 3,000 workers, is now considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry, with the death toll so far at 446 and many others still missing.the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. happening in the year 2013, when western people thought those sorts of days were long behind us. that death toll eventually rose to 1129, and that wasn’t even close to the first tragedy to unfold in the bangladeshi garment industry. in may 2013, a fire killed 8. (external - login to view) and a few months earlier, in december, a fire killed 112: (external - login to view)
basic safety standards should be a given worldwide, and certainly in any country we choose to do trade with. even those who would rationalize the extreme wage gapyou’d think would agree with that. but some of the dumber neoliberals out there actually, in the wake of the rana plaza tragedy, sought to defend dangerous working conditions.
yglesias backs up his arugment that lower safety standards are acceptable with the fatuous argument that, “while having a safe job is good, money is also good.” yes, he literally said that, (external - login to view) and his reasoning didn’t get much deeper in his follow-up article. (external - login to view) what goes unsaid in these pieces is that there is nothing inherent to sewing clothes that necessitates workers laboring in deadly conditions. in ihs slavish devotion to neoliberal orthodoxy, yglesias embarrassingly fails to make the observation that nobody should have to risk their life to work a loom. it is only a religious approach to his ideology that allows him to rationalize such callous positions. yglesias argues the garment trade offers the best job opportunity these people have available (what he means: the best we’re willing to offer them), and in time as the country advances conditions will improve.
there have in fact been some modest improvements for laborers in bangladesh here and there, but not for the reasons yglesias supposes. in fact, minimum wages have been lifted not by a benevolent invisible hand, but only by force. it takes events like the historic death toll from the factory collapse to exert the pressure necessary to imrpove condtions. it takes violent labor protests and unrest. only in response to upheavals such as these can that greedy invisible hand be pried open enoufgh to snatch a few more dollars per month, while the hand clenches and resists with all its might.
the 1994 minimum wage saw no increase until 2006, although with annual inflation near 7%, the buying power of those wages sank by 25%, (external - login to view) even as the garment industry exploded in size (yglesias says bangladesh got “a lot richer”). the 2006 minimum wage was $20/month (1660 taka). in 2010, this was increased to $37/month, or 3000 taka. but despite this large increase, workers still were pulling in only one third of a living wage. (external - login to view)
even with this massive minimum wage increase, this huge concession, workers still cant even approach paying for basic necessities. and here the eyes of many westerners may glaze over… the wages are low, theyre very low, but isnt that normal in these third world countries? how low are those wages really? well, the lowest in the world: (external - login to view)
and these wage increases were only won after workers put their lives at stake to protest conditions. the unrest pictured above, with the policeman raising his club to strike the cowering child, these protests in which workers were beaten and bloodied were the price for an increase to this new frighteningly low wage. and they had no allies among their wealthy overseas buyers.
laborers in bangladesh have seen another significant wage increase since then, from $37 (3000 taka) to $68 (5300 taka). how did they manage this? well, by having over 1000 of their mothers and sisters buried in the rubble of the rana plaza factory collapse, of course. after the april disaster, violent protests and international pressure saw yet another “victory” come to the garment workers of bangladesh. (external - login to view)
but these advances have been resisted at every turn, and many of the promised wages still go unpaid.
there is the fact that an engineer deemed the rana plaza unsafe the day before the collapse, but that workers were made to continue just the same. there is the fact that this same engineer was then arrested in the aftermath, for the crime of having been right. (external - login to view) there is the fact that the ruling elite insist on business continuing as usual, because any interruption threatens the “lucrative” contracts they have with western brands. the bangladeshi finance minister, in the wake of the disaster that killed over 1000, says: (external - login to view) “The present difficulties, well, I don’t think it is really serious. It’s an accident,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “And the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all.”
and even in the wake of the disaster, there were the buildings deemed cracked and unsafe that workers were sent back into, the eight-story factory with disintegrating beams, propped up by temporary cast-iron pillars. (external - login to view) (“The factory is fine,” said an administrator, Shafiul Azam Chowdhury. "No problem.”)
there is the flawed new law crafted in response to the tragedy that the human rights watch says actually makes unionizing harder, and which allows the government to crush striking workers. (external - login to view)
there is the parliament and media, filled with factory owners and other executives. there is the government committee that monitors production and includes members from the military, the police, and intelligence agencies, because keeping the factories running is treated as a matter of national security. there are the paramilitaries, empowered to crack down on workers. there are the workers blacklisted for participating in protests based on the slightest suspicions. (external - login to view)
and there is the labor leader, aminu islam:void(0)" target="_blank">, (external - login to view) kidnapped and tortured in 2010 before being executed in 2012, his body, knees broken, dumped in a paupers grave. (external - login to view)
hunter s thompson wrote about nixon that he “was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal.” im reminded of that obituary when i read about how the headquarters of the bangladesh’s powerful Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association itself is illegal - constructed without proper approval, resting on land illegally obtained, a judge ruled that it should be destroyed in 2011. it still stands today. (external - login to view)
the natural response is to throw up ones hands, to insist that this is how things are in such poor nations, and that we have nothing to do with it, that it's not our fault. but the complicity of our country, our brands and our retailers in this injustice is explicit. bangladesh is actually the platonic ideal, the national sweatshop we seek with our policies, the end goal we desire with the de,mands for privatization and austerity that humanitarian aid and fiscal relief so frequently hinges on. cheap garments by the armful, ready to be stamped with our brands and sold on our shelves for the mots extreme profits imaginable (which then, of course, will undergo a second degree of filtration as the proceeds are channeled to those at the top of these corporations).
but there is even more justification than that for saying our complicity for these brutal conditions is explicitit. as it turns out, as rational profit-seeking capitalists, our companies refuse to increase what we pay these crumbling garment producers for their wares, and even more than that, are sometimes the final impediment to improved safety. factories that produce garments for top brands are ripe with unpaid workers, sexual assault, and unsafe conditions. (external - login to view)
walmart, in fact, likely has some share of the blood from the factory collapse on their hands. from an article roughly 4 months before the building collapse: (external - login to view)
perhaps unsurprisingly, companies like target and walmart are singled out for criticism, altohugh many factory owners fear publicly speaking out, as they risk losing the contracts that keep them in business. in the lengthy excerpt below, factory owners discuss how the last wage increase, the one achieved in the wake of the rana plaza collapse, was not met by a sufficient increase in purchase prices, leaving them struggling to pay the new (still substandard) wages:
Rising wages squeeze Bangladesh garment makers as factories await upgrades | Reuters (external - login to view) posted:
The task of coping with a 79 percent increase in the minimum monthly wage to $68, imposed last December at the urging of some retail chains, comes as competition intensifies among emerging markets producing garments for stores like Walmart (WMT.N) and Zara (ITX.MC). That is squeezing sales in Bangladesh's main export industry.a $68/month wage, according to many factory owners, is not even financially viable for them because of the stinginess of their western buyers. but the race to the bottom will prevent them from making any steep demands, because the next factory owner will take a little bit less. anbd if bangladesh as a nation ever asks for too much, if their minimum wage sticks its neck out too high, companies will abandon them entirely, move to a country like indonesia for their business, another nation with a garment business and shockingly low wages.
At Dhaka-based clothing company Simco Group, one of the thousands of businesses the sector comprises, chairman Muzaffar Siddique said that before the wage increase his net profit margin was a little more than 2 percent. Now he's losing money on orders, and reckons four out of every five garment makers in the world's second-biggest clothing exporter after China are in the same boat.
"I approached one of my Western buyers to raise prices, and the relevant company said, 'It is your business and you have to manage it ... you cannot slip it to us'," Muzaffar said. He declined to identify the Western buyer.
Babylon Group, a garment factory in Dhaka that says it makes clothing for major global retailers, is another company struggling to adjust to the higher cost base. It employs more than 12,000 people, and since the wage hike has lost money making clothing for customers, according to documents seen by Reuters.
For one recent order, the company generated a net loss of 2.42 percent of the sales value, the documents show. A similar order placed before the wage hike generated a net profit of 2.69 percent of sales value. The documents seen by Reuters showed a similar pattern for orders from two different European retailers.
Emdadul Islam, a director with Babylon, asked that the customers not be named for fear that he would lose business.
"Wage pressure will affect efforts to improve safety," said Emdadul. He said retail customers had agreed to pay "a little" more for their order, but the price rises were not enough to cover the higher wages.
At Impressive Group, a garment maker located about six miles from Dhaka, managing director Mohammad Mosharraf Hossain Dhali said buyers from the United States and Canada were paying 5 to 10 cents more per piece of clothing. That only partially defrays the rise in wage costs, he said, declining to identify the buyers in question.
"It is not possible to sustain continuous losses so our focus is to raise productivity by 20 percent," Mosharraf said. The factory would apply "motivation tools" such as incentive bonuses to get workers producing clothing faster, he said.
one simply cannot in good faith claim that capitalism is working. one cannot claim that it lifts poorer countries up. it is predatory by nature, and if our businesses have their way, workers abroad will conitnue to toil in deadly conditions, in total perpetuity. thye will continue to exist on slave wages of $68/month that don’t always get paid while walmarts ceo makes $23m a year, while walmart itself posts annual profits of $15,000,000,000 to keep those shareholders happy.
it is not we who should be looking down our noses at the cubans, and their 1950s cars, but they who should be looking down their noses at us, and our 19th century empire, our modern day rubber plantations.