Trade war with China: An opportunity for dividing workers

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According to the bourgeoisie, China has become the new workshop of the world. The media are full of images of ‘Made in China’ shirts, trousers, shoes and other clothes arriving in Britain, Europe, or the USA. For the western bourgeoisies, it’s obviously necessary to put limits on this flood of Chinese textiles. But for the working class, the question is very different. If today Asian goods are invading western markets, it’s because the derisory cost of labour power in Asia make it possible to produce at a very low cost. But in the cause of their economic war, the bourgeoisie everywhere is obliged to exploit workers more and more viciously. In the cause of competition, capitalism is plunging workers all over the world into a spiral of misery.

Textiles: an expression of the trade war

Since the beginning of 2005, 17,000 jobs have been lost in this sector and 14 enterprises closed in the USA. This is linked to a 120% increase in imports in cotton shirts and a 300% increase in underwear. The American government reacted immediately: “By acting so quickly to impose protection measures, the American government has sent a strong message, showing that it understands that this enormous flood represents a real crisis for our workers” (C Johnson, president of the Textile Federation). In fact, the American bourgeoisie, like the bourgeoisie elsewhere, doesn’t give a damn about the workers. What worries it about the current economic war is the declining ability of its national capital to compete on the world market. It’s for the same reason that the countries of the European Union are trying, despite their divisions, to enter the war in battle order. The European Commissioner of Trade has just announced that the EU aims to put urgent limits on Chinese T-shirts and linen. It has also asked China itself to take measures to avoid using the protection clauses contained in the agreement around China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation. As for France, which is still an important textile producer, its demand is even clearer. The French bourgeoisie is demanding protectionist measures right now. It is obvious that several thousand lay-offs have already been envisaged in this sector. The French bourgeoisie would like us to believe that it is doing this to protect the working conditions of ‘its’ workers. It even goes so far as to denounce the lot of the Chinese workers, who are being sacrificed on the altar of profit. This is just a way of hiding its own attacks, its own behaviour as an exploiting class. The fact is that the bourgeoisie’s policies are everywhere the same. In a situation of profound economic crisis, maintaining profits means reducing wages on its home turf in order to export at a lower price. Contrary to what is said by the ‘alternative worldists’ or the leftists, this is not the policy of this or that neo-liberal state. The capitalist crisis obliges all nations to engage in a merciless trade war, and all of them impose the same pressures on the working class. For each country, it’s vital to grab the best possible place on the market, whatever the consequences for the workers.

This is why the Chinese bourgeoisie reacted straight away to the protectionist measures put into place by the USA and the EU. The Chinese minister Bo Xilai, cited by the Nouvells de Chine agency made it clear that “China is firmly opposed to the limitations imposed by other countries”. This same minister declared on 18 May last year; “Integration into the textile trade is a right which China has enjoyed since joining the WTO. China will not impose limits on its own exports on textile products”. The message could hardly have been clearer. With the new recession that has already started, no capitalist country can afford to hand out presents to the others.

Relocation is a direct attack on the working class

The same goes for the question of relocations – shifting whole enterprises to areas where costs are lower. A study commissioned by the Finance Commission of the French Senate, carried out by the Katalyse group, envisages “the relocation of 202,000 service employees” during 2005-2006 in France This phenomenon of relocation, which got going in the 90s, is going through a real acceleration. Here again the only concern for capital is the maximum return on investment. For France, as with the other main industrial countries of Europe, the favourite destinations are precisely China, India, and now Eastern Europe. The most recent important example of this is the transfer of the giant electronic company Philips to Lodz in Poland. The Confederation of British Industry says that over the next 10 years “there will be no jobs for unqualified people in Britain”. The Daily Telegraph comments cynically: “We must make sure that people get qualifications. If you are qualified, you have nothing to fear”. Lies! Lay-offs are falling like rain in all sectors, whether state of the art or not. Unemployment registers are full of people with too many diplomas.

Not content with attacking the wages of the working class, the bourgeoisie uses issues like Chinese textile imports and relocations to mount a huge propaganda campaign against the workers.

The bourgeoisie makes the most cynical use of the terrible living and working conditions of workers in India, China or Eastern Europe in order to argue that workers in Europe don’t have so much to moan about. This then allows them to demand new sacrifices in order to stand up to the competition from Asia or Eastern Europe. This serves the purposes of the ruling class in a number of ways.

First, it serves to make workers in the more developed countries feel guilty, so that they hesitate to fight against attacks when so many workers in the world live in even worse conditions. It also raises the threat that if workers don’t work more for less, there will be even more relocations. Any resulting unemployment won’t be the fault of bankrupt capitalism, but of the selfish workers.

Finally, by painting a picture of Asian workers who, under threat of starving to death, put up with working for practically nothing, the whole propaganda barrage creates divisions between workers. This use of scapegoats has been a constant feature in the life of capitalism. Today fingers are pointed at the workers of China, India, Poland or Hungary. Yesterday it was the workers of the Caribbean, Algeria, Morocco, or elsewhere. The proletariat should not be taken in by this nauseating message. Everywhere the working class is exploited. It is exploited all the more ferociously where it is less able to defend to itself.

As the Communist Manifesto proclaimed in 1848, “the workers have no country”. Everywhere they have the same interests; everywhere they suffer the same oppression.

Whether companies or countries are competitive is the problem of the bourgeoisie, not of the workers. Workers need to develop their unity and solidarity across enterprises and across nations, to fight capitalism’s attacks wherever they occur. And the current revival of class struggle renews the promise that this is no dream but the real future being carved out of the present.

Tino, 2/7/05.


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