From Socialist Voice, January–February 2009

DELL man walking

The 1,900 workers in Dell—the latest innocent victims of mobile capital and disposable labour—might be interested in findings by the Harvard economist Richard Freeman. He calculates that over the last twenty years the work force available to global capital has doubled. Indeed its size has tripled since 1980. This is due to workers from the former USSR, eastern Europe and China joining in the global labour market. The remaining increase came from population growth in countries that were already part of the capitalist system in 1980.
     Marx notes that capitalists are already a “class for themselves,” as they are aware of their common interests. Workers, however, are only a “class in themselves,” in that—despite their common conditions—they do not see their common interests. Capitalist society reinforces this fragmentation of collective thinking by convincing workers that they are not workers but company associates, part of the Dell team, consumers, taxpayers—anything you’re having yourself as long as it’s not called the working class.
     Transnational corporations (acting-for-themselves) want to be able to move around the globe so they can avoid, evade, undercut, lay off and pollute at will in pursuit of profits. They move jobs to countries with fewer, weaker or non-existent labour and environmental standards. Governments fall over themselves to promote this practice by offering grants and tax subsidies out of public funds so that the transnational will park its profit-exporting entity in their state for the foreseeable future. When the transnational inevitably proposes moving on, the local business community will call for a further lowering of labour and environmental standards to encourage it to stay a little longer.
     These vested interests, which act in a manner akin to remora fish, will say (if challenged) that they are speaking on behalf of the endangered work force. The unsolicited representation of these vested interests masquerades as moral principles. Yet it is no substitute for democratically elected governments and independent trade unions standing up to these corporations.
     Capitalists (who, according to Marx, are merely “capital personified”) have increased their ability to play one country off against another. The result is that the pretence that parliamentary democracy controls economics is further exposed. Our present system allows capitalists to move “their” property around the globe without concern for the impact on workers and society. Work forces are cast aside, regardless of their past loyalty and productivity.
     What is required to combat capitalism is a strengthening of democratic control over capital at the local, national and international levels, not a lowering of wages to please capital. Some would say that such a move would challenge the notion of individual property rights. Tell that to a Dell worker whose individual property right to “their” job has been subject to a compulsory purchase order, with the sale and the price previously decided in some foreign board room, without the job-seller’s knowledge, participation, or approval.
     Individual property rights emerged in the time of Aristotle and were even applied to wives and slaves. Today such a concept, that one individual could own another, is relegated to the criminal underworld or to feudal societies. Yet in today’s society we witness the increasing patenting of animal species, seeds, and plants, such as the extracts from the neem tree. Capitalists, and their mouthpieces in the media, will proclaim that this is necessary in the “free” market.
     Property rights and their markets ought to be subservient to society. This is the mechanism for a correctly functioning democracy. The notion that an adult spending about five minutes in a polling station every five years—or about one hour of their life—constitutes democracy needs to be challenged. Democracy has to be extended to all aspects of people’s lives: the work-place, the community, education, health, etc.
     Students of theoretical economics are familiar with the notion of the capitalist free market with its so-called invisible hand continuously readjusting prices and costs to equilibrium. The only other fraternity that require the notion of an invisible hand are pickpockets.
     However, an invisible hand has been historically used by free-marketers to keep democracy out of the market. The result is that a global coup d’état has occurred that benefits those that are powerful in the market at the expense of the weaker sections. The global purchaser of labour never had it so good.
     As for alternatives, regulating capitalism is an oxymoron. You cannot constrain a system that is more powerful than its constraints. Regulations that were designed to buttress up capital since its previous crisis in the 1930s were pared away at alarming speed since the 1970s. Ever since, individual capitalists have lobbied against these regulations, avoided them through loopholes, evaded them illegally, had them superficially enforced, and ensured that violations were seldom punished and if so lightly. Therefore, a new raft of regulations or amended old ones will suffer the same systemic resistance, avoidance and evasion as before. And those who engage in such practices will have the financial resources, as before, to do so.
     A system designed to champion individualism as its cornerstone is not a sustainable long-term solution for the planet and its inhabitants. The entire capitalist system needs to be turned on its head. Production of the necessary goods and services for society needs to be controlled by the many, not the few.
     Dell workers around the world have more in common with each other than they have with the people who decide to either hire or fire them. Dell workers have more in common with other workers than they have with the people who allow, call for and promote capital in its personified form to act as a class-for-itself against the rest of society.

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