Friday, November 20, 2015

Material World: Workers of the World – in it together (2011)

The Material World Column from the March 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wherever we are situated on the globe we workers repeatedly find ourselves up against challenges we are unable to deal with as individuals. In isolation we are feeble against the power of states, governments and laws protective of business owning interests. The only way to make headway (often temporary) against overwhelming odds is to be part of a larger group, usually a trade union. The challenges – related to earning capacity, conditions of work, ability to support self and family – are all necessary considerations within the overall political system in which we live. There is no opt-out clause enabling real free choice.

Because of the manner in which the political/economic system works there can only be room for a certain limited number, a percentage of the workforce, to be employed. Even in times of so-called full employment there is always still a pool of unused labour, surplus to requirements in large areas of the world. Capitalism is a competitive system through and through; businesses competing with each other for the available customers and resources, being taken over, going bust, accumulating into larger and larger conglomerations to cut or save costs; workers competing for fewer vacancies, being forced to accept longer hours, reduced pay and benefits to stay in the game. Who doesn’t recognise this scenario?

The negatives of competition
Awareness is growing worldwide that this competitive system is wreaking havoc on the environment on every continent as it also increasingly causes misery for people on an ever-widening scale. Resources and labour are the two requirements to be accessed as cheaply as possible in order to turn them into the biggest profit possible with little or no regard for any consequences. Externalities – issues such as poor air quality leading to severe health problems, forced removal of populations to enable mineral extraction and large dam projects or large scale homelessness and poverty following massive layoffs in times of economic difficulties – are simply ignored.

Competition can certainly be a positive motivation in sport and games for enjoyment, a healthy challenge, self-fulfilment and the like – but not in day-to-day living or as a requirement for putting bread on the table and a roof over our heads. In these situations the negative force of competition puts undue stress on workers causing unnecessary aggravation, even going so far as to wreck family life and be the reason for thousands of suicides every year. Divide-and-rule has proved to work brilliantly well against different sectors of the workforce nationally and works equally well internationally; note the recent clamour for jobs outsourced to Asia and Mexico to be brought back to the US and rising antagonism across Europe, even government inspired, to groups of immigrants from other nations of the same EU who might be taking our jobs.

Peasants suffer too
"For over a 100 years those who thought they knew what was happening in the countryside around the world have predicted the disappearance of the peasantry. Surely, by now, they should all be gone! Instead, integrated into La Via Campesina, peasants are turning up everywhere, a troublesome and discordant voice in the chorus extolling the praises of globalisation.” (Historical Overview of La Via Campesina by Annette Desmarais.)

La Via Campesina is a global organisation formally created in 1993 with members in 56 countries across five continents. It sees small farmers in the South as the victims of “neoliberal globalisation” (their term), and, with its inexorable competition for profits, seeking out the cheapest resources, thecheapest labour, countries with the poorest safety records etc, a policy of discrimination against the poorest members of world society,

The choice is ours
Land Grab, the takeover of productive land (and water) for the profit of outside interests and 180 degrees opposed to traditional agricultural methods, is expanding in a growing number of African countries. Farmers in many parts of the world as well as Africa have traditionally lived together collectively, sharing land, with no concept of land ownership. Governments in these areas being taken over have been corrupted by the chance of becoming mega-rich through deals with foreign third parties to sell land and water rights and as a consequence, an externality, leave many of their citizens homeless, landless and without livelihoods.

A chapter in Fran├žois Houtart’s Agrofuels on the ‘deadly sequence of crises’ sums up the situation facing us all. All of what we are up against ‘is a logic which pervades our entire economic history from the last two centuries.’ In other words, it is no accident but a deliberate plan which is causing so many of us so many different problems as wage earning workers, whether as public service workers in Britain, farmers in Africa, miners in New Zealand, Chile and China or manufacturing workers in North America. We, the workers, are in this together if we are to make a difference, if we are to bring about the change we so desperately need.

Shall we continue forever to accept being individual wage slaves in the great divide and free-for-all that is capitalism or shall we, the common people, together reclaim what has been stolen from us and choose a social system of life together in mutual cooperation, truly free for all?
Janet Surman