KNOW YOUR ENEMY: CAPITALISM
Throughout the world, hundreds of thousands of students, workers, and professionals have mobilized in opposition to globalization, focusing on institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank (WB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the destructive vanguard of the world’s corporate elite.
The Progressive Labor Party (PLP) welcomes and participates in the bold energy and enthusiasm of the rank and file of this new movement. The emerging alliance between workers and students is especially heartening. At the same time, a careful analysis of the world situation and how this new movement fits reveals that there are friends and enemies, good strategies and bad, inside this movement. We offer this analysis to encourage the youth in this movement to develop the skills to help build a world-wide anti-imperialist, anti-racist movement which can, under the leadership of the PLP, defeat capitalism in all of its forms once and for all and build a communist world.
During Fall 1999, before the WTO protests, demonstrators greeted Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley at every stop of his national "free" trade road show. He usually politely debates "responsible" proponents of "fair" trade, including leaders of the AFL-CIO. However, in LA, he finally lost his cool. A clever worker folded over a sign that read "Globalization of Capitalism Sucks!" so that it read simply, "Capitalism Sucks!" As Daley left the debate, he demanded of his "responsible" opponent, "That sign has got to go!"
Why did the omission of just two words send this top ruling class agent into such frenzy? Because Daley knows that the "responsible" [read: loyal] opposition, despite any tactical differences with the Clinton administration, aims to build a pro-U.S. nationalist/patriotic movement. They don’t want to destroy capitalism; they want to reform it for their profit interests.
The leadership of the organizations involved in these protests, from the national unions to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are trying to channel the anger of honest, principled workers and students against exploitation and oppression into support for U.S. imperialism. Even many of big labor’s own bureaucracy see the language in the WTO protocols for what it is. "If the AFL-CIO thinks the WTO is going to [enforce] workers rights and [prohibitions against] child labor, they are living on another planet," said King County Labor Council fair trade representative Martha Baskin. She was promptly fired.
This kind of movement can be used by the rulers to prepare for future wars. More than likely, that war will be a ground war in the Middle East to secure oil profits. Yet, as long as capitalism reigns, no wars in any region of the world can be ruled out. By focusing on only globalization and the WTO, IMF, and WB, the AFL-CIO and its allies among the environmental and other NGOs purposely direct attention away from the capitalist system which is the real cause of unemployment, sweatshop and prison labor, racist police terror, and the rise of fascism and imperialist war.
GLOBALIZATION IS STILL IMPERIALISM
Throughout the last 25 years, the worldwide system of production for profit has created an insane crisis: one unique to capitalism, where there is too much steel, too many autos and too many manufactured products to sell at a profit (1, 2, 3). This is a crisis of overproduction.
As profit rates decline and more goods are produced than can be sold, competition among capitalists intensifies. Fascism is monopoly capitalism in crisis, which drives more and more capitalists to increase the degree of exploitation of workers by driving down wages and benefits as far as possible. Moreover, they must increase the use of racist police terror and mass imprisonment to break the resistance of the working class.
Today, over 1 billion workers, 1/3 of the world's labor force, are unemployed or underemployed. U.S. workers have been devastated by an astronomical growth of ‘temporary,’ part-time and low wage jobs and forced labor: workfare and prison labor (U.S. jails account for 1 out of every 4 prisoners in the world!; see PLP pamphlets: Workfare: Slave Labor U.S. Style and Prison Labor: Fascism U.S. Style). A typical U.S. married couple had to work 247 hours (over six weeks) more per year in 1996 than in 1989, despite an 8% rise in the economy's productive capacity (4). Throughout the world, nearly 1.3 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, and close to 1 billion cannot meet their consumption requirements (5).
During this period, U.S. workers living standards continue to plummet. Layoffs, speedup and overtime are increasingly the norm for all workers. Real wages have fallen about 40% since the 1970s. Unemployment may look low, but the jobs generated by the "new economy" are mostly in the low-paying service sector (6). The massive layoff trend in manufacturing continues. Additionally, 2 million prisoners are not counted in the numbers of unemployed workers. They would add nearly 2% to the unemployment rate for all workers, and over 10% to the unemployment rate for black workers (7). Poverty rates have increased in the 1990s. In 1996, over 20% of U.S. children were officially "poor" with poverty rates for black and Hispanic children around 40% (8). Yet, a CEO’s compensation has grown to an average of $6 million per year.
In a world where the capacity exists to make far more steel, autos and commercial planes (and everything else) than the market can possibly buy, labor contracts are manipulated to give the bosses a freer hand to cut the workforce and to get lower wages, etc. The general reality of over-production means the total jobs of the world’s workers have to go down. The big capitalists and union bosses know this. They must acknowledge working class consciousness and anger about lower wages, job cuts, etc. even as they try to pacify and prevent that anger and class consciousness from spreading or direct that anger towards U.S. imperialist rivals (such as China or Russia). Thus, big union (AFL-CIO, UAW, IAM, USWA, Teamsters) leadership spreads passivity and nationalism among the U.S. working class.
What is the Greatest ‘Evil’?
The liberals are asking us to see the IMF and the WTO as the root of all evil. As revolutionary communists, on the other hand, we want to show a wider panorama: the inter-connection between the IMF, the World Bank, the military, the AFL-CIO, NGOs and the Government itself. In short the whole array of institutions at the service of capitalist domination and exploitation both in the U.S. and the world.
For example, take Mark Weisbrot writing a liberal Znet commentary (3/23/2000). He claims "The IMF…is arguably the most powerful institution of its kind in terms of its impact on the lives of hundreds of millions - and indirectly billions - of people." However, the IMF could not run a country without the capacity of U.S. imperialism to bomb, embargo or occupy it militarily. Without that military, the IMF would have no clout.
Spending more than France, Britain, Japan, China and Germany together the U.S. military budget is enormous. Projected at $1.2 trillion between 2000-2004, it dwarfs any call for debt cancellation. Thomas Friedman in a moment of candor pointed out: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell-Douglas, the designer of the F15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technology is called the United States Army, Airforce, Navy and Marine Corps (9)." Liberal analysis continually loses sight of the ‘hidden fist,’ glossing over the essentially dictatorial - not democratic - nature of capitalism.
"The IMF," the Znet commentary goes on, "does all the things that NAFTA did, in dozens of countries, making it labor’s most powerful adversary." The IMF is an enemy all right, but sadly, labor has far more direct and powerful adversaries. The AFL-CIO, for example, sits like a Trojan horse right in the center of our working class movement. The U.S. working class has experienced and continues to experience increased exploitation and oppression but the AFL-CIO has not mounted one strike or, even, a mass political campaign against any of these attacks against workers.
History of Globalization (or more importantly Imperialism)
Long before the advent of the WTO in 1995 and the IMF/WB in the 1940s, capitalism had spread its greedy tentacles throughout the world. Capitalism has been a worldwide system for several centuries. It arose through global conquest, slavery, genocide, and plunder, as Marx demonstrated in his analysis of "primitive accumulation" in Capital. It divided up the world among the leading imperialist powers during the late 19th century. And early in the 20th century, a decade before World War I, Marxists, led by V.I. Lenin and Karl Kautsky, engaged in an important debate over the nature of imperialism (see Lenin’s Imperialism: Highest Stage of Capitalism).
Kautsky argued that imperialists could and would unite in one globalized elite to prevent future world wars and workers’ revolutions, while Lenin argued that inter-imperialist conflict would manifest themselves through war. World Wars I and II (which killed over 100 million people) settled this important debate for most of the 20th century.
After WWII, the U.S. ruling class was financially, economically and militarily in a position to dominate the non-socialist world. And that is what they set out to do, creating along the way economic institutions like the IMF and WB to complement their military might. Since WWII, U.S. imperialism fought many more "lesser" wars to protect its profits. From Vietnam to Iraq to Kosovo and Chechnya, tens of millions have died from imperialist and inter-imperialist wars to divide up the world. Now anti-WTO/IMF/WB groups have rekindled that debate. They are (unknowingly) recycling Kautsky’s flawed argument when they claim that the WTO/IMF/WB represents a new capitalist consensus to override national sovereignty and democracy.
The WTO emerged as the dominant forum for trade matters as the Soviet Union imploded. With their main enemy gone, the liberal Rockefeller wing of the U.S. ruling class (Eastern Establishment capitalists such as Exxon/Mobil, GM, GE, AT&T, IBM, Chase Manhattan, Citigroup, and the larger Wall Street houses) hoped the WTO would usher in the era of U.S. imperialism’s economic dominance of the world—the New World Order. Rockefeller, Inc., also, wanted to use the WTO as a tool against its domestic enemies in the U.S. congress. Unfortunately for the U.S. ruling class, the New World Order was shorter than the Third Reich.
Today, the world is racked by capitalist economic and political crisis—anything but order. The WTO and IMF have turned into another huge battleground of inter-imperialist rivalry. As pointed out by Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Dean of U.C.-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business: "The failure of the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle has been interpreted by the opponents of globalization as a David-and-Goliath battle, with small non-governmental organizations as the victorious David and huge multinational corporations and their governmental champions as the vanquished Goliath. This interpretation is wrong. The meetings broke down not because the opponents of globalization protested outside on the streets. The proponents themselves were unable to reach a compromise on a negotiating agenda within the allotted time (10)." Walter Russell Mead, in "Skewered in Seattle", was even more blunt (11). He argued that without one demonstrator, the WTO meeting would have failed because of serious disagreements over trade between the three emerging trading blocks: Asia, North and South America, and Europe.
Starting in 1999, as an international currency, the Dollar has a new rival in the Euro. But the Euro has one major disadvantage: the European Armed forces are divided and comparatively weak. So while the German ruling class can nominate their candidate to head up the IMF, in the end, they have to agree on a compromise. The U.S. ruling class, still, has the final say. However, the U.S. ruling class, also, faces a challenge from Asia. In response to the recent Asian financial crisis, Japan floated the idea of creating an Asian Monetary Fund. China immediately seconded the idea. And now, in order to keep the IMF and U.S. leadership together, the U.S. is seeking to divide China from Japan. Thus, the fight around the IMF is a fight around imperialist leadership!
In 1999, the WTO told the European Union to open its markets to hormone-raised beef from the U.S. The EU countered by getting the WTO to declare the U.S. was giving unfair tax subsidies to Boeing and Microsoft. Up to the WTO meetings in November 1999, the EU refused to accept the proposed agenda for the Seattle meeting, saying it was highjacked by US service and health industries. Meanwhile, the bosses in weaker countries say the whole thing is just a charade for the bigger imperialists to dominate third-world economies which also significantly contributed to the failure of the WTO to even agree on meeting agendas.
Brewing Military Divisions
The widening splits in the WTO take on added significance with the emergence of new military blocks. The fallout from the Kosovo war has already started to change the military map. Within days of the completion of the Kosovo debacle, the EU decided it needed its own military machine, independent of NATO. Furthermore, in 1999, the merger of Germany’s Daimler and France’s Aerospatiale into a military and commercial behemoth capable of challenging Boeing and Lockheed Martin was the first concrete step. The Pentagon is not pleased. "We favor an evolution toward a trans-Atlantic model of defense industries," whined Cheryl Irwin, a Pentagon spokesperson.
The Brookings Institution, which represents virtually the same Rockefeller-dominated bloc of capital as the Fortune 500 firms operating in China but focuses on the long term, not bottom line of immediate profits, foresees armed conflict with China: "The most significant long-term security issue facing the two powers may prove to be China’s attitude toward America’s continuing military presence in East Asia and the Pacific. The United States would strongly resent Chinese pressure on local states to weaken their ties to the United States. The United States is and will remain a Pacific power and presence, and that its regional profile includes, but is not limited to, U.S. forces in Japan and in Korea, even after unification....The United States might one day find itself in the position of having to contain an expansionist, hostile China (12).
To make matters worse for U.S. imperialism, as China shifts into modern capitalism, its oil consumption will rise by 2010 from some 600,000 barrels a day today to 3 million barrels, nearly half Saudi Arabia’s current production. East Asia now counts on the Mideast for 70% of its oil which will jump to 95% in the first decade of this next century. To assure their supplies, Chinese bosses are implementing a two-fold strategy of armed confrontation with the U.S. Foreign Affairs magazine reports: "The new energy realities contribute to China’s aspirations to develop a blue-water navy capable of force projection in the South and East China seas, the Indian Ocean and beyond." Closer to the oil wells, "The heart of the dependence could increasingly be China’s relations with Iraq and Iran—two countries accounting for nearly 20% of proven global oil reserves—which in the past have involved significant arms transfers (13)."
Therefore, the main danger posed by global capitalism in coming decades will not come from capitalist unity through the corporate managed trade of the WTO or the IMF. The real danger is the sharpening competition and conflict among capitalists. It cannot be overcome by either the Free Traders of the WTO or the reformed trade rules and "high road development standards" recently advocated in Davos, Switzerland by Fair Trade spokesperson and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney (14).
Can Capitalism Be Nice?
Participants in the Fair Trade movement should consider this question: Suppose your anti-WTO/IMF actions succeeded in producing corporate accountability, an open WTO or IMF, and fair trade? How much of a difference will these reforms actually make?
Corporations will still exist to extract surplus value from workers and transfer it to investors-owners. Corporations will still produce for profit rather than to meet human need. Corporations will still ruin the health of workers by maintaining unsafe workplaces and despoiling the global environment, will still plunge the economy into periodic crises of overproduction and would still maintain a reserve army of labor as a whip over the working class, using racism, nationalism, and sexism to divide us. An open WTO or IMF that allows "progressives" on its boards will still be like a university board of trustees or regents committee with its student representative. The student is allowed a voice and a vote, but the trustees or regents still hold power.
Put more urgently, the fair trade/anti-globalization movement is already on a slippery slope. Organizations like the WTO and IMF have gone from the business pages to the front pages, indicating the imperialists can no longer contain their rivalry to meeting rooms. The WTO, like the UN, has become another arena of sharpening fights between the US, their European rivals and other up-and-coming capitalist powers. While each imperialist aims to pay the lowest wages possible, they fight each other to wrest market share, sources of labor and natural resources from their competitors. Today’s trade disputes will inevitably turn into trade wars, and these trade wars will inevitably turn into shooting wars and ultimately, world war. If the anti-WTO/IMF/WB protesters remain in the grip of the fair trade/anti-globalization movement’s patriotic outlook, they will eventually become supporters of and cannon fodder in an imperialist war. But if they adopt an internationalist and anti-capitalist position, they could help build a movement that can put an end to capitalism.
Sweatshops Right Here in the U.S.
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) doesn’t have to go to Latin America or Asia to fight against sweatshops. In the Los Angeles, CA garment district, workers are constantly struggling against increased exploitation. As the following example from the recent experience in 1999 of a LA garment worker shows: "Soon there’ll be a lot of work, but you’re going to have to do your part," said the supervisor. "What do you mean by that?" a garment worker asked. "That you’re going to have to accept the new piece rates," answered the supervisor. "Go to hell. We’re not going to accept that. If you want a strike, a strike is what you’ll get" the worker ended by saying.
These struggles and confrontations are constant in the garment industry. On the one hand, the bosses try to get every last penny out of the workers. On the other hand, the workers try to survive and adjust to the constant lowering of wages. A large number of the more than 100,000 garment workers in LA earn less than the minimum wage. Estimates for the number of undocumented immigrants in the LA garment district range from 50%-75%. Even though the capitalist law says that they must pay the minimum wage, along with other small improvements, the reality is that these factories are an oppressive battleground, everyday. In fact, the conditions in the garment industry in LA are as horrific as in many of the foreign sweat-shops that Global Exchange and USAS target: no unions, sub-minimum wages, no benefits, no overtime, buildings full of code violations, and workers subject to physical abuse by their bosses.
Furthermore, U.S. immigration laws help in the exploitation and oppression of undocumented immigrant workers. The employer sanctions law is part of the latest US immigration law. The law makes "knowingly" hiring undocumented workers a federal crime. This law was supposedly going to stop employers from hiring undocumented workers. The penalty includes fines and even jail for repeated violations. However, it helps create an "underground" economy. The bosses will hire undocumented workers and "look the other way" or "play dumb" when they bring in false documents. But since the whole thing is "illegal", the boss acts as if he or she is doing the worker a big favor by hiring him or her. The boss then makes the workers work overtime without pay, and/or work for less than the minimum while reporting that the worker makes the minimum.
A major fascist, anti-immigrant program implemented by the Clinton administration is Operation Gatekeeper. This program doubled the number of border patrol guards at major border crossings, like El Paso and San Diego, to capture undocumented workers trying to cross at these crossings. However, people still try to cross the border because economic crisis and imperialism in Latin America continues to force them to come to look for work to help their families eat and survive. Thus, because more of them try to cross in areas farther from these major crossings, they are forced to cross in the desert and mountains, which has resulted in an increasing number of deaths from the heat, the cold and drowning. Programs like Operation Gatekeeper have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of workers and the deportation of 500,000 workers in the last three years (15).
The Truth About Non Governmental Organizations (NGO)
Public Citizen Global Trade Watch
In addition to the AFL-CIO, liberal non-governmental organizations like Global Exchange, and Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Global Trade Watch (GTW) play a key role in the leadership of the fair trade/anti-globalization movement. Consumer activist and NGO bigwig and presidential candidate Ralph Nader has made common cause with Hitler-clone Pat Buchanan, and his backers include none other than textile billionaire Roger Milliken (16, 17).
Nader’s supposed reason for uniting with an open fascist like Buchanan is their shared opposition to free trade. Mike Dolan, Public Citizen’s field director for trade issues, who has helped lead GTW’s anti-China crusade (see China box), gives a "left" cover to pro-U.S. nationalism. When Buchanan announced his decision to run for president in March 1999, Dolan wrote in an e-mail on Public Citizen’s private trade-strategy discussion group, "[W]hatever else you say about Pat Buchanan, he will be the only candidate in the 2000 presidential sweepstakes who will passionately and unconditionally defend the legitimate expectations of working families in the global economy (17)." The subject line of the e-mail read: "Trade Patriot Buchanan." Others report that, privately, Nader has spoken positively of a Buchanan candidacy, arguing that Buchanan will raise important global-economy issues rather than dwelling on social issues (17).
However, this unprincipled opportunist alliance of convenience speaks more about Nader's true political nature than anything else. Roger Milliken has financed the anti-globalization efforts of Nader’s Public Citizen and related organizations (17). Milliken has been a key financial backer of fascists William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, the John Birch Society, the Heritage Foundation, and Pat Buchanan (17). And now Milliken and Ralph Nader have formed a "tactical alliance" to oppose free trade. A tactical alliance of progressive anti-WTO forces with some of the most openly racist forces in the U.S. ruling class reveals most clearly the danger of a populist movement that fails to repudiate nationalism and racism. The only thing worse than a scenario in which masses of environmentalist students and masses of unionized workers are fighting each other is a scenario in which they are united with each other in a fascist crusade under the leadership of Roger Milliken.
When visiting GTW’s website (www.citizen.org), one finds that it supports "Stand up for Steel." Indeed it proclaims: "More than 10,000 high-wage, high-tech workers in the U.S. steel industry lost their jobs this past year as U.S. factories laid off workers in response to a surge of imports from Japan, Russia, and Brazil. This import surge was caused in part by the WTO's equally problematic "cousin" organization, the IMF, which pushed countries to increase their exports to the U.S. as a way to get out of the financial crisis caused in part by past IMF policies. The United Steelworker's of America (USWA) joined with steel industry leaders to ask the President for emergency relief. The President said he would not help because WTO rules forbid such action." GTW explicitly blames "a surge of imports" for layoffs of U.S. steelworkers. However, the layoffs of U.S. steelworkers are due to new high tech mini steel mills (which cut costs by using new technology to get fewer workers to do the same amount of work) not imported steel (18). Protectionism—blaming foreign imports for job losses and adding tariffs to imports—does not stop layoffs but does build nationalism (i.e., patriotism).
With "Stand up for Steel," the GTW joins with the USWA leadership to win U.S. steelworkers to the lie that the cause for layoffs is "cheap foreign" steel rather than all steel capitalists of the world including U.S. capitalists who lay off their workers to cut costs. "Stand up for Steel" tries to convince U.S. workers (and students) that they have more in common with U.S. bosses than they do with workers from other countries, particularly Japan and Russia. Furthermore, pro-U.S. nationalism among U.S. workers aids the main wing of the U.S. ruling class in it's preparations for the inevitable wars it knows it must fight, particularly in the Middle East. However, one of the main topics of GTW’s web-site is concerned with copious denunciations of China. An entire section of the GTW web-site aims to drum up opposition to the granting of permanent most favorite nation (PMFN) trading status for China.
GTW laments the feudal slave-master Dalai Lama and his supporters' loss of Tibet. The fascist, free-Tibet movement portrays pre-1950s Tibet as a "happy" place. In reality, the then socialist (but, now, turned fascist) Chinese government freed the 99% of the population who were serfs or slaves from the feudal theocracy. In fact, the Chinese government built the few roads, hospitals and schools, which still exist in Tibet today. The Dalai Lama received $186,000 annually from U.S. intelligence agencies during the 1960s (19). The CIA also created and supported the Tibetan contra movement during this period (20). The complete lack of popular support for this movement in Tibet is revealed by the fact that it had to base itself in Nepal, and its subsequent complete collapse when the CIA stopped giving it money and arms.
Another NGO active in the fight against giving China PMFN trading status and in the anti-WTO/IMF/WB, anti-sweatshop movement is Global Exchange (GEX), an organization founded in 1988 by Medea Benjamin, a self-described ex-hippie. GEX’s most recent campaign has centered on a class-action lawsuit filed in 1999 that targeted 18 American companies using mostly Chinese subcontractors in Saipan, U.S. Mariana’s Islands. The suit, which was filed jointly with the garment union UNITE, alleged that these subcontractors violated U.S. labor laws by forcing workers to work twelve-hour days, seven days a week and by subjecting them to verbal and physical abuse. While Saipan contractors could place a "made in the USA" label on their products, they paid an hourly wage of only $3.05 (not the U.S. minimum of $5.25). Targeted companies have been settling with GEX (21).
On March 29, 2000, Global Exchange announced that eight more major US clothing retailers (including Calvin Klein, Sears, and Tommy Hilfiger) have agreed to settle the class action lawsuit brought by GEX and others over sweatshop conditions in Saipan. The Gap still refuses to settle. GEX praised the settlement, which was described as follows: "The settlement provides that in future contracts, retailers will require factories to comply with strict employment standards, including guaranteeing overtime pay, providing safe food and drinking water, and agreeing to honor employees’ basic human rights." These modest improvements in Saipan workers’ conditions will make production in domestic U.S. sweatshops and prisons cheaper (and, thus, more attractive to U.S. garment bosses) than production carried out in Saipan. However, they will not reduce sweatshop labor either in Saipan or in California.
The lawsuit, which ignores the brutal treatment of garment workers in the United States (such as in Los Angeles or New York), earned GEX a telling ally, the huge U.S. garment manufacturer Levi Strauss & Co, that indicates the limits of "fair" and "living" wage demands. Levi Strauss endorsed the 1999 class action suit, and later that year Levi Strauss, Mattel, and Reebok joined with GEX to establish human rights principles for manufacturing in China (22, 23).
GEX has also received support from the San Francisco and James Irvine Foundations, both of which are tied to Levi-Strauss. Peter Haas, director and major stockholder of Levi Strauss and a member of the San Francisco ruling class, is a trustee of the San Francisco Foundation. James Gaither, a former advisor of Lyndon Johnson (whose administration orchestrated the murder of millions of Vietnamese as part of the Vietnam war) is a director of Levi Strauss and a trustee of the Irvine Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, RAND, and Stanford University (24).
Clearly, some of the U.S. ruling class see the GEX program as beneficial. Why? Because its fair wage program provides a liberal cover for exploitation and serves as a tool in competition among capitalists.
Consider the case of Levi Strauss. Levi Strauss terminated its relationship with Saipan contractors in 1992 and now takes the high road by promoting itself as a "fair" employer. Levi’s insists that subcontractors pay the "prevailing" local wage and limit the workweek to sixty hours (25). In 1996, this meant that Levi-Strauss paid its Mexican workers $4 a day, the Mexican minimum wage (as if that was not bad enough, Levi also made these workers pay for their own water and toilet paper). And, Levi’s, like its competitors attacked by GEX, not only manufactures overseas but constantly relocates its factories to find the lowest wages and, thus, to earn the highest profits. In 1999, right after endorsing the GEX lawsuit, Levi Strauss & Co announced that it was closing down eleven factories in the U.S. and Canada and laying off 5,900 workers (30% of its North American work force). Having lost 13% of its sales to competitors, like the Gap, Tommy Hilfinger and WalMart, it was moving its production to areas with lower labor costs and planning to increase its spending on advertising (26).
Levi-Strauss made huge profits off its low-wage workers in the U.S. In 1994, its profits from sales in the United States increased from 47% to 50%; and Robert Haas, then CEO of Levi Strauss, earned $4,765,624 (27). But, driven to maximize its profits and market share against other capitalists, it shut down U.S. factories to go to countries where the prevailing standard of living was even lower and where the profits it could extract were even higher.
The lesson here is that capitalism is a system based on exploitation. All capitalists exploit workers, paying them only enough to reproduce themselves according to the socially necessary living standards. Employers steal most of the value that workers produce. It goes into the pockets of owners and bankers as profits and interest.
Yet, Medea Benjamin and GEX have repeatedly endorsed capitalism, what they call "cool capitalism." In fact, while GEX receives some foundation funding, it earns most of its money from its own businesses. It operates a tourism business, which conducts "reality" or adventure tours of impoverished areas of the United States, Latin America, and Asia, and sells ethnic crafts through stores in Northern California. Benjamin sees these businesses as models for "how ‘we’ like to see big business operate."
When asked how people could best help the poor, Benjamin suggested that concerned students study accounting and get MBA’s so they could help the poor set up small businesses (28). While smaller incomes for corporate CEOs might seem more "fair," and small businesses might provide an income for some, such reforms and "cool capitalism" will not end exploitation, economic crises or capitalism’s inherent drive to maximize profits.
All the exploitative conditions that GEX condemns in Saipan and other locations in Asia and Latin America exist right here in the U.S. GEX and its allies campaign against exploitative conditions in off-shore production while ignoring and denying the widespread and growing existence of these same conditions in the U.S. When GEX joins with the leadership of UNITE in opposing sweatshops in Saipan, with the leadership of the Teamsters who oppose Mexican truck drivers entering the U.S., with the leadership of the USWA in opposing importation of steel from Brazil and Russia, they are not building solidarity with workers in Saipan, Mexico, Brazil, and Russia. Instead, they are uniting with U.S. bosses against the workers of those countries. That road leads not to international workers’ solidarity, but to nationalism and ultimately to fascism.
RELEVANCE FOR STUDENTS
Across the country, tens of thousands of students are involved with the anti-globalization movement. Additionally, many more are involved with the National Student Labor Alliance (NSLA). This group backs United Students against Sweatshops (USAS), and the campaigns for a "living wage" for campus workers, as well as other campaigns. Of all the student campaigns, the largest currently going on nationwide is the anti-sweatshop campaign led by USAS. USAS works closely with Global Exchange. The latter sponsors the tours of workers from Latin America and Asia, who speak against the horrible conditions they work under. GEX helped draw up many university codes of conduct. They also support the Workers' Rights Consortium (WRC). The WRC is a group, of an increasing number (currently 17), of universities which have joined for the purposes of enforcing university codes of conduct. In short, the WRC is supposed to be an enforcement mechanism for these codes. Its board includes Steve Weingarten of UNITE and U.S. representative George Miller of California. The same Miller who was involved with the deal worked out in 1999 between GEX and some garment corporations.
Despite these apparent good deeds, GEX, as well as the other unions and NGOS, in no way have workers and students best interests at heart. A major financial backer of GEX is James Gaither, who, among other things, sits on the board of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 1992, Carnegie joined the Brookings Institution (a U.S. Rockefeller et al./Eastern Establishment ruling class think-tank) in publishing a blueprint for war and fascism, entitled "Changing Our Ways" (29). This document calls for state capitalism, winning workers to the idea of keeping America number one, and war preparations "against a major hostile power...in Europe or Asia." Indeed it states, "The U.S. is the world's leading military power. We must keep it that way. No nation should be able to threaten the world the way the Soviet Union did (Pg. 56)." Part of these war preparations involves making workers and students think a liberal U.S. government cares about the plights of workers. The U.S. ruling class worries that extreme individualism and deep cynicism hamper winning students and workers to fight for the "greater good of the nation" interests of U.S. capitalists. Their worry is behind the recent media support for the National Student Labor Alliance (particularly the anti-sweatshop campaign), even as they promote proposals for restoring the draft.
One of the ruling class supporters for USAS is U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. He supported the students sitting in and occupying the administration buildings at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and University of Wisconsin-Madison in February 2000. Also, among them are Democratic Reps. David Bonier and minority leader Richard Gephardt, who signed a letter in support of USAS' demands (30).
All of these ruling class liberals (including Clinton and Gore) support U.S. bosses' plans for oil war in the Middle East. Gephardt’s voting record leaves no doubt about his support for U.S. imperialism’s military interventions. He backed Clinton’s invasion of Haiti. In 1995, he voted to keep U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan. He voted for a $245 billion 1997 military budget—$10.6 billion more than Clinton had requested (31). But that’s just for openers. Gephardt & Co. demand massive military action to defend the tottering Rockefeller et al. Middle Eastern oil empire. All of these liberal ruling class warmakers are closely associated with the liberal Economic Policy Institute, which in turn, has many links to the Brookings Institution. Brookings' director of Foreign Policy Studies, Richard Haas, has written: "…the United States will only have a limited number of occasions to use force against Iraq, and it must make the most of them…U.S. diplomacy can succeed only against a backdrop of the availability of military forces and the will to use them" (32).
Furthermore, in a recent article, Haas describes the most important lessons the bosses should draw from the first ten years after the so-called end of the Cold War. They are: 1) "...military intervention remains a central feature of American foreign policy." 2) "Decisiveness is almost always preferable to gradualism." [Don't talk, shoot!] 3) "Both Iraq and Kosovo suggest that short of occupation, military force is not a very good tool for changing regimes." Therefore: 4) "...only ground forces will be able to protect [U.S.] interests." "Domestic opposition to such a commitment can be reduced and overcome by concerted presidential effort (33)."
AFL-CIO: FRIENDS OR FOES OF WORKERS?
Racism and nationalism put forward the lie that workers have more in common with bosses of the same skin color or nationality than they do with other workers. The bosses use racism to make hundreds of billions every year in extra profits. More importantly, racism and nationalism within the working class hinder or destroy workers' ability to unite and seize state power from the bosses.
A workers movement must fight tooth and nail against racism and nationalism wherever they occur. The AFL-CIO leadership does just the opposite! Sometimes, their promotion of racism is open, and, sometimes, it is done passively. For example, black and immigrant workers (as well as women workers) were originally excluded from the AFL-CIO and its predecessors (34).
Rather than attacking slave labor workfare, as a fascist attack against workers, the AFL-CIO is attempting to organize workfare workers (35, 36). In fact, the UAW openly proclaims its support for the idea of welfare recipients working for their welfare checks (37). Among other things, this supports the racist, sexist lie that women, particularly women of color, taking care of their children are not working. It also sustains the lie that capitalism can ever have enough jobs for everyone. On the contrary, capitalism depends on a reserve army of unemployed workers to keep workers wages low (or using forced labor at lower wages such as in sweatshops or prisons). By not challenging this kind of systematic attack on the working class, the AFL-CIO bosses only further help to institutionalize this fascist program.
A further example of the AFL-CIO's support for racism and fascism is their support for U.S. prison labor. In 1998, when activist workers at Boeing discovered that Boeing was using prison labor, Tom Johnson, head of their IAM local, goose-stepped behind the bosses' line that Boeing's use of prison/slave labor was "community service." According to the AFL-CIO, social justice means attacking China for using prison labor, but here in the U.S. it's a different story. The Wall Street Journal reported: "The AFL-CIO backs the idea of inmates [in the U.S.] working but wants it done 'carefully' (38)." What does carefully mean? Does it mean that they want to organize the prisoners? If so, it is literally organizing inside the concentration camps! This statement of endorsement is nothing less than blatant support for U.S. bosses using concentration camps for black and Latin workers!
As the most oppressed workers, black and immigrant workers are generally the most militant fighters against the bosses. The AFL-CIO leadership now claims to be the friends of immigrants. They make much ado of their supposed support for amnesty for undocumented immigrants. They point to their recent reversal on the Employer Sanctions law (which, in addition to supporting, they strongly encouraged its passage into law) as an example of how they are now the "champions" of undocumented workers. Yet, even though the bosses pay immigrants less than they pay U.S. born workers (recent immigrants on average make 58% of what U.S. born workers made, 39), the AFL-CIO has never fought against these racist wage differentials, which are an attack on all workers.
Furthermore, in the same resolution which supported amnesty for undocumented workers (and the reversal of the employer sanctions law), the AFL-CIO "called on the federal government to maintain efforts to keep illegal immigrants [undocumented workers] out of the country (40)." These efforts which the AFL-CIO supports, include but are not limited to, the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border with programs like "Operation Gatekeeper", the U.S. fascist crackdown on illegal immigration. The AFL-CIO endorsed Vice-President Gore for president in 2000 and has always supported the Clinton administration which means supporting Operation Gatekeeper and other anti-immigrant laws. By supporting these racist attacks, the AFL-CIO builds further divisions among the working class, aiding the U.S. bosses’ ability to drive down workers' wages.
The AFL-CIO call for amnesty serves the U.S. bosses' need for soldiers. U.S. bosses are increasingly running short of potential recruits for the armed forces, particularly the army. Since they will soon have to fight an oil war in the Middle East, they need every worker they can get to join. Moreover, a call to bring immigrant workers under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO, wins them to feel part of this country, vote, and look to politicians to solve their problems.
WHAT IT IS TO BE DONE?
Tens of thousands of young student and worker activists have become involved in new movements against exploitation of workers. They want to take part in a struggle to create a better world. They must not be misled into a patriotic campaign that objectively serves the interests of US imperialism. The AFL-CIO, GEX and GTW help the bosses by directing the anger of workers and students against ALL exploitation > toward other bosses. U.S. workers and students must fight against racist prison labor, workfare, and exploitation of immigrant workers here in the U.S. We must fight against the U.S. ruling class in order to unite with workers fighting oppression in other countries.
One Working Class
The fight to smash prison and sweatshop labor must not be a nationalistic fight against certain foreign countries, but an international fight against the system that requires extreme exploitation. We must unite all the workers and students of the world under one banner to fight against all prison labor and sweatshop conditions. We should protest racist police terror wherever it occurs because it helps keep workers passive and enforces low wages and sweatshop conditions. We must fight all aspects of developing fascism and imperialist war.
It is inspiring to see students and workers uniting to fight against the bosses' attacks. More of this unity is necessary. However, following liberal fascists like John Sweeney or Ralph Nader is not the answer. The answer is to fight for a world without racism, sexism, imperialist war, fascism, and exploitation. What kind of system keeps 1 billion people unemployed or under-employed while forcing hundreds of millions of others to work long grueling hours? What kind of system allows 100 million people to die each year of starvation and starvation-related disease when there is more than enough food to feed everyone? The system is capitalism, and the time to get rid of it is now!
The crisis of over-production and imperialist war will not eliminate capitalism. Only a mass international revolutionary communist party dedicated to eradicating the capitalist system and replacing it with a communist society run by workers can eliminate the profit system. Under communism, all poverty or wealth will be shared with distribution according to need, not profit. Decision-making will be collective and everybody will be asked to participate in running society. We invite you to join us in this struggle!
We march against imperialism, the real global economy!
We say workers of the world unite, not workers of the U.S.A. unite.
We march for neither "free" nor "fair" trade, but for production and distribution according to need: abolish wage slavery!
We march on May Day against all bosses and for our class, the international working class!
We march against racist police terror and prison slave labor.
The Economist. 5/10/98.
Greider, William. The Nation. 4/10/2000.
Wall Street Journal. 8/7/1997.
Economic Policy Institute (EPI). The State of Working America. Washington D.C. 1999.
UN Human Development Report. 1999.
Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Ibid.
Left Business Observer. 2/25/99.
Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Ibid.
New York Times. 3/28/1999.
Business Week. 2/7/2000.
Los Angeles Times. 12/5/1999.
Brookings. October 1997.
Foreign Affairs. March 1996.
International Herald Tribune. 1/29/ 2000.
Amnesty International Report on Operation Gatekeeper. 5/1999.
New Republic. 1/10/2000.
New York Times. 4/29/1999.
New York Times. 10/1/1998.
Outlook. Indian English Language Weekly. 2/15/1999.
Seattle Times. 8/9/99.
San Francisco Chronicle. 2/15/99.
San Francisco Chronicle. 6/14/99.
Foundation Grant Index. 1999. Who’s Who in America.
New York Times. 2/23/99.
SEC report, Compact-D Disclosure
Los Angeles Times. 6/23/99.
Changing our Ways. 1992. Brookings/Carnegie. Washington D.C.
Gephardt et al. letter to USAS. 2/25/1999.
"Clinton and Gephardt, Splits Within Splits." Communist. a PLP magazine. January 1998.
Brookings Policy Brief No. 7. 1996.
Brookings. The Use and abuse of Military Force. 1999.
Rich Gibson. Labor History: A Short Outline. http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/labhist.htm.
New York Times. 4/13/1998.
New York Times. 2/19/1997.
UAW. Solidarity. 1/1998.
Wall Street Journal. 6/29/1999.
Meisenheimer, R.R. "How do immigrants fare in the US labor market?" Monthly Labor Review. Bureau of Labor Statistics. December 1992. pp. 3-19.
New York Times. 2/17/2000.
FRONTLINE OF FASCISM: KKKOPS
One of the most overt examples of developing fascism lately has been the increase in cold-blooded murders and terror by the police. Fascist cops have murdered thousands of workers and youth and increasing numbers are murdered every year (Stolen Lives Project). During 1997 and 1998, over half a million workers in New York city alone were stopped and frisked for no reason by the cops (Pacifica Radio, 3/5/2000). Many, though but by no means all, of the victims of police terror are black and Latin workers and youth. The police are also the main defense for the bosses against the wrath of the working class. Ask any worker on strike who the cops serve! As wages fall and living standards worsen, the police' job is to increasingly terrorize workers to keep them from fighting back. Indeed, the fascist crackdown against the mostly white workers and students demonstrating in Seattle in 1999 was but a small taste of the treatment experienced every day in black and Latin communities.
WHY DEBT RELIEF FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES?
On January 21st, 2000, German Chancellor Schroeder used a Financial Times article to call for 100% cancellation of debts for the most indebted countries. Then Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, called Jubilee 2000 ‘a great campaign’, and his number two man, Gordon Brown, said it had ‘A vision…of justice that will liberate nations (i.e., the organized capitalist class) from unsustainable debt.’ The ball was rolling. Canada, France and even Clinton joined in. ‘No debt’ was chic among the chic.
Yet, debt is useful to capitalism. Marx described it as "one of the most powerful levers of primitive accumulation." His analysis still hits the target. "In late 1990," writes Susan George in The Debt Boomerang, "Citicorp made the biggest single debt-equity deal in history buying 60% of (Argentina’s) ENTel’s southern division…for $114 million in cash and $2.7 billion in debt (page 75)." It matters nothing to the working class whether the wealth they created is appropriated via debt payment or corporate profit, it still comes from the exploitation of their labor. A system like imperialism that is built on racist exploitation can not liberate the working class. Why, then, are the likes of Blair, Brown, Clinton and Schroeder calling for debt cancellation?
Part of the answer lies in places like the Ivory Coast, a country saddled with debts that amount to 200% of its Gross National Product (GNP). In 1999, an Army coup bought a new regime to power. They immediately announced that there was not enough money in the national budget to pay both the interest on the debt and the civil service. Furthermore they declared they were going to pay the civil service! The government in Paris (France owns 40% of debt in Africa) went berserk and the Ivory Coast backed off, but, clearly, the level of debt was so burdensome that anti-imperialist rebellion was in the air.
Besides, debt was already contributing to the poverty, pestilence and warfare that was triggering instability in region after region. Debt, at least in the most oppressive cases, was outliving its usefulness. For a country like the Congo, with a debt level equivalent to 450% of its GNP, debt cancellation is not even an liberal proposal. It is a simple accounting matter. As Gordon Brown said, debt is only useful as long as it is "sustainable." Unsustainable debt is dangerous.
Yet, a big part of the answer lies in the Asian crisis, which triggered crises in Brazil and Russia. Although the US gained some, Europe and Japan were hit hard by this crisis. The Japanese, backed by the Chinese, began to talk of an AMF (Asian Monetary Fund) replacing the IMF, while the Financial Times reported (9/21/1998): "It is an unfortunate fact that some sections of the German financial establishment look on the IMF as a gang of economic terrorists." Estimates vary but Europe in particular has lost billions in exports as a result of the crisis. Canceling debts would free up some capital to buy manufactured goods from the major powers and be a (small) compensation for the hit world capitalism has taken. Debt cancellation, then, is the cry of a whole section of capitalists anxious to hold together the post World War II imperialist alliance led by the US.
The hypocrisy of the unions and NGOs
On April 12, 2000, the anti-globalization/free-trade forces led by the AFL-CIO, Nader’s Global Trade Watch (GTW) and others are demonstrating against admitting China into the WTO. Specifically, the demonstration is to show opposition to the U.S. granting permanent "most favored nation" (PMFN) trading status to China (a condition for entry into the WTO). Moreover, the AFL-CIO is intensively lobbying investors to not buy PetroChina Company stock (on 3/30/2000, Goldman Sachs & Company set the price for its initial public offering of the PetroChina Company, China’s dominant oil and gas producer). Recently, the Teamsters in their union paper claim (referring to a picture of man facing a Chinese tank): "if he can stand up to communist China, so can you." They then go on to urge Teamster workers to tell their congressmen to vote no to permanent normal trade relations with China.
Congress is scheduled to vote (probably by May 2000) on the China Trade bill which (among other things) would give China PMFN trading status. Currently, congress votes every year to renew normal trade relations with China which give China low tariff access to U.S. markets, the same treatment that most other trading partners receive (New York Times, 3/29/2000). U.S. corporations and the Clinton Administration favor granting China PMFN trading status as part of recent trade deals with China which include supporting China’s membership in the WTO. The China trade deal gives China PFMN trading status but, also, gives U.S. capitalists unprecedented access to Chinese markets. So, why are groups like the AFL-CIO, Teamsters, and GTW (among others) so concerned about China’s trading status with the U.S.?
First, the union and NGO anti-China campaigns bring leverage against U.S. corporate competitors in China as this Boston Globe article (2/2/2000) reveals: "They [the union and NGO leadership] see this as an opportunity to construct a political bargain in which they eventually support Chinese membership in exchange for introducing environmental conditions and labor rights into the WTO rules. Such a change in rules eventually would allow the United States to block imports from a country that does not meet environmental and labor standards." While many U.S. capitalists support more free trade with China, they need to gain as much of an advantage in trade with China as possible. A 1999 U.S. Department of Commerce study found: "relatively few U.S. companies are realizing profits or even a return on their investments, (in China)." In 2000, the U.S. is actually buying more from China than ever before with the trade deficit at about $70 to $80 billion.
Second, while most U.S. bosses focus on the immediate profits from increased trade, the more long-term capitalist thinkers > understand that Chinese bosses are a long-term strategic threat to U.S. imperialism. China is becoming a major economic and military power. It is increasingly challenging U.S. imperialism not only in Asia but the rest of the world. Building up the economy and infrastructure of places like China cuts two ways for U.S. bosses. The profits enhance U.S. firms’ quarterly balance sheets, but trade surpluses, airplanes, roads, satellites, and other improvements only serve to increase China’s economic and military threat as a rival to the U.S. The American Prospect, published by the Economic Policy Institute, identified some of the huge U.S. corporations promoting shortsighted involvement in China: "The leading organization of the new China lobby is the ad hoc Business Coalition for U.S.-China Trade. The coalition is coordinated by the Emergency Committee for American Trade, a $1 trillion bloc of 55 major U.S. companies, including General Motors, Mobil, Exxon, Caterpillar, … , Boeing, … , Procter and Gamble, …, IBM, … (January 1997)."
The AFL-CIO and GTW (among others) say China violates human rights and treats its workers and environment terribly. Thus, their argument is the U.S. government should not reward China with PMFN and entry into the WTO. China, like the U.S., does exploit and oppress its workers (and entry into the WTO may speed up this process in both the U.S. and China). The Chinese government is "communist" in name only. China was once socialist but has long returned to open capitalism (see Road to Revolution IV, a communist manifesto by PLP). In fact, like in much of the world, fascism is intensifying more in China. However, as stated earlier, fascism is developing in the U.S. too.
In fact, the hypocrisy of the AFL-CIO and GTW (among others) is hypocritical and disgusting. For example, at the GTW website (www.citizen.org), as of January 2000, they say: "…China continues to ignore its 1992 Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. prohibiting trade in prison labor products." Yet, nothing is said about the many products made with prison labor by U.S. capitalists IN the U.S. both for export and domestic use! In fact, the U.S. has incarcerated more people (about 2/3 are black and Latin) than any other nation, a half million more than China (which has nearly FIVE times the population of the U.S.).
By ignoring racist prison labor in the U.S., the AFL-CIO and NGOs help support it. Moreover, > they clearly help U.S. bosses be more competitive by targeting > Chinese companies use of cheap prison labor while ignoring U.S. corporate use of cheap prison labor. Finally, by hypocritically crying about Chinese prison labor, they are > helping the U.S. bosses to whip up racist, patriotic, anticommunist support for > trade wars today, and shooting wars tomorrow!
THE AFL-CIO AND U.S. IMPERIALISM
The AFL-CIO leadership has had close links with U.S. intelligence agencies (thus the name AFL-CIA). Since WWII, the AFL-CIO has supported every imperialist war the U.S. has been involved with: from the Korean War, to Vietnam, to Iraq with its continuing murderous sanctions, to the war in Kosovo. During the Cold War, says NY Post columnist Ben Wattenberg (9/6/1999), "the AFL-CIO was the most stalwart institutional bastion of anti-communism in America." The AFL-CIO’s international department set up four regional "institutes," one each for Latin-America, Europe, Africa and Asia. These institutes would create "free" trade unions backed by CIA funds to mobilize the election of U.S.-backed candidates or the overthrow of those governments who opposed Washington: in France and Italy in the late 1940s, Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), El Salvador (1985-1990), Panama (1984), Nicaragua (1980s), Grenada (1983), the Philippines (1991). The AFL-CIO also backed foreign unions which would attack militant anti-U.S. unions. From 1984 to 1990, the Reagan-Bush Administrations handed over $54.6 million directly to these four AFL-CIO institutes to promote approval of U.S. foreign policies; at the very same time that Kirkland-Sweeney & Co. were calling these administrations "devils to be defeated at all costs."
At this time, Sweeney led the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and sat on the board of the AFL-CIO and the League for Industrial Democracy (LIND). The LIND is a think-tank that is strongly interlocked with the AFL-CIO international institutes. Many LIND board members are also on the boards of the international institutes (LIND Program Summary 1985-1989). The LIND published many papers in support of U.S. imperialist foreign policy. Sweeney and his "new labor" regime claim to have broken with the AFL-CIA’s past. However, as a board member of the LIND, Sweeney, even when not directly involved, at least supported U.S. imperialism's attacks against workers.
The trustees of the AFL-CIO's institute for Latin-America (the AIFLD) read like a Who’s Who of corporate America: Rockefeller, ITT, Exxon, Shell, and IBM, among nearly 100 corporations. All of them donated money to the AIFLD. All of them pay Latin-American workers slave wages. AIFLD chief, LIND board member, and CIA agent William Doherty told Congress that, "Our [the AFL-CIO’s] collaboration [with business] takes the form of trying to make the investment climate more attractive."