Outsourcing illustrates the laws of the capitalist economy (part 3)
We’ve seen in the two preceding articles on this subject (WR 290 and 295) that the fuss over outsourcing essentially serves as a means to blackmail the working class into accepting lower wages and deteriorating conditions of work.
The irreversible crisis suffered by capitalism is invariably shown in the massive numbers out of work. Labour power, whose exploitation constitutes the source of capitalist profits, sees its price fall along with other superabundant commodities on a saturated market; but above all it is reduced by the need to drastically reduce the costs of production, in particular the wage bill. This is the sole means at the disposal of the bourgeoisie to maintain competition on a shrinking market. Over nearly a hundred years of historic decline, the capitalist system has shown that it can only offer a future of growing insecurity to those that it exploits: a future of mass unemployment and of absolute pauperisation, which can also include those that have a job.
In its struggle, the working class of the whole world has the same task. It can no longer remain at the level of trying to limit the effects of exploitation. The only realistic perspective, the only one which will allow it to put an end to all the torments of the capitalist system, it to attack the causes of its exploitation. The only way out of the economic crisis of capitalism, the only way the proletariat can make a better life, involves the abolition of the commodity character of labour power, the destruction of capitalist social relations and thus of wage labour at the world level.
A campaign against the proletariat
Outsourcing is also directly used to attach the proletariat to the ideology of competition, to imprison it in defending national capital and thus submitting to its imperatives. This is what the bourgeoisie aims for by selling the idea that the capitalist state could be a protective wall against the damage done by globalisation. An example of this is the spiel coming from the United States about “forbidding companies who outsource to participate in calls for public tenders”. Apparently it was a great victory for democracy that it has now been made “compulsory for a consultation of personnel and the region’s elected before any transfer of production abroad” (1). The empty chatter of the government, and of the opposition, about how “it’s necessary to act in this country, to guarantee the employment of nationals” (G. Bush) tries to reinforce the mystification of a state ‘above classes’ and ‘at the service of all its citizens’ and to maintain the illusion of a possible conciliation of interests between the dominant class and the working class. Quite the contrary, in no case can the state constitute an ally for the workers. The state is both a guarantee of the dominant class’ interest in maintaining its system of exploitation and a tool for orchestrating attacks against the proletariat. As is shown both by the merciless economic war between all states of the world, and by the outbreak of open military conflicts, the national state is the instrument par excellence for competition among capitalists. It is not a lifebuoy for the working class but its most redoubtable enemy. In its struggle, it is the state that the proletariat must confront first and foremost.
On the other hand, bourgeois propaganda, by putting the responsibility for the decline in living conditions for the western proletariat onto the Polish, Chinese or Asian workers, serves as a means of dividing up the different parts of the world proletariat. For example, from 2004 and during 2005, the bourgeoisie made the ‘conflict’ at the Vaxholm shipyard in Sweden, the model of an ‘anti-liberal’ struggle. The employment of less well paid Latvian workers was used by the unions to orchestrate a gigantic campaign, which was taken up by the bourgeoisie even outside of this country. In the name of “solidarity” and the “refusal to discriminate between workers”, the blockade of the shipyards by several union federations, under the slogan “Go Home!” ended by depriving the Latvian workers of their livelihoods and forcing them to leave. This turned into a vast, national mobilisation in order to steer the workers behind the authorities, the Social-Democratic government and the unions in order to “protect the Swedish social model” and defend “the code of work, guarantee of our security”. This experience only shows one thing: directing the proletariat to fight for ‘legal codes’, encloses the proletariat, fraction by fraction, in the defence of ‘its’ conditions of exploitation within each capitalist nation, chopping it up into opposing and competitive entities. By trying to entrap the working class in this defence of the national capital, the bourgeoisie sows divisions among the workers and blocks off any possibility of workers’ unity and solidarity beyond frontiers.
One class, one struggle
This question of solidarity is always posed when the bosses put the workers from different geographical sites or even the same firm against each other through outsourcing. Workers’ solidarity is going to be a fundamental element in the future of class struggle. Both in the countries from which the outsourcing takes place, and in those which become the destination of relocations, no fraction of the proletariat can remain aloof from the present resurgence of struggles, which has been provoked by the economic crisis in the four corners of the world. Our press has already reported on workers’ struggles in India (WR 292), in Dubai and Bangladesh (WRs 294 and 296). In China as well a growing number of workers’ struggles are developing, which today “have hit the private sector and factories of the Chinese coast and their exports. Some factories who subcontract for foreign companies, thanks to a plentiful and docile supply of labour [are hit] because the workers, above all the new generations, are more and more conscious of their rights. They have also reached a point where the situation is no longer acceptable” (2). In Vietnam at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006, the country was hit for several months by a wave of spontaneous strikes unleashed outside any control of the unions and involving more than 40,000 workers in the zones around Saigon and the interior regions. “The conflict bearing on wages and the conditions of work began in December in Vietnam (…) where dozens of foreign companies had set up factories in order to profit from the enormous mass of low paid workers (…). This wave of spontaneous strikes, considered the worst since the end of the Vietnam War (…) began nearly 3 months ago, mainly in the foreign owned factories situated in the southern area of Saigon” (3). We find here the same tendencies that characterise the present workers’ struggles elsewhere: workers’ solidarity is at their heart and they simultaneously involve tens of thousands of workers from all sectors. From the end of December “walk-outs followed one another for more than a month and hardened after a stoppage of 18,000 wage earners at Freestand, a Taiwanese firm whose factories make shoes for brand names such as Nike and Adidas” (4). January 3, “in the region of Linh Xuat, in the province of Thuc Duc, eleven thousand employees of six factories struck for an increase in wages. From the following day, strikes hit factories of Hai Vinh and Chutex. The same day, five thousand workers of the Kollan & Hugo Company rejoined the strike to demand an increase in minimum wages. (…) At the Latex Company, all the 2340 workers went on strike in solidarity with those of Kollan, asking for an increase of 30% for the lowest wage earners. These workers went to the Danu Vina Company, leading the personnel to join up with their strike. January 4, the Vietnamese workers of the plantation Grawn Timbers Ltd., in the province of Binh Duong, close to Saigon, demonstrated against a sudden reduction in wages with no warning and no explanation. The same day thousands of workers at the firm of Hai, Vinh, Chutex, situated in the same industrial region as the plantation of Grawn Timbers Ltd., went on strike over wages. January 9 and strikes in these regions continued. In the suburbs of Saigon four new strikes broke out involving thousands of workers” (5). In the capitalist world, competition constitutes the root of social relations and the bourgeoisie use it in order to divide and weaken those they exploit. The working class can only develop its own strength by opposing the principle of competition with its own principle of class solidarity. Only this solidarity can allow the development of the workers’ struggle as a basis for confronting the state and realising the project of a society that has gone beyond this world of every man for himself - a society without classes, communism.
In present-day society, the working class is the sole class able to develop solidarity at the world level. From the start, the workers’ movement has always affirmed its international character. Thus, at the time of Marx, one of the immediate reasons which led to the foundation of the International was the necessity for the English workers to co-ordinate their struggle with those of France, from where the bosses were trying to bring in strikebreakers. “The economic crisis accentuates social antagonisms, and strikes follow one another in all the countries of western Europe. (…) In many cases, [the International] succeeded in preventing the introduction of foreign strikebreakers, and where foreign workers who in their ignorance of local conditions became strikebreakers, often led them to practice solidarity. In other cases, it organised subscriptions to support the strikers. Not only did that give the strikers a moral support, but provoked among the employers a real panic: they no longer had to deal with ‘their’ workers, but a new, powerful and sinister force, having an international organisation” (6). The proletariat is never as strong as when it affirms itself, faced with the bourgeoisie, as a united and international force.
Scott, From Revolution Internationale 371, July 2006.
(1) L’Expansion, 13 February 2004
(2) Le Monde, 14 October 2005
(3) Depeche AFP, 15 March 2006
(4) Courrier International no. 796
(5)‘Massive strikes in Vietnam for decent wages’ on Viettan.org.
“Caught short, the government has brought social peace by imposing on foreign firms, over represented in Vietnam, an increase of 40% of the workers’ wages. But 40% of almost nothing doesn’t come to much: about 870,000 dongs, or 45 euros monthly for the workers of foreign firms and less than half that for those who work in local industry. Not such a great catching up considering the rates of growth: the minimum wage hasn’t moved for… seven years” (Marianne no. 470, 22 April 2006).
(6) Marx, Man and Fighter, B. Nicolaievski.