Christmas shopping? Where were your gifts made, and what were the conditions like?   By James Martin Stop! You! Yes You! I’m confiscating your rights. Tough shit, we are in a competition. You wake up from your Egyptian cotton quilt, grab the Danis …

Walton Pantland
Christmas shopping? Where were your gifts made, and what were the conditions like?

Christmas shopping? Where were your gifts made, and what were the conditions like?

 

By James Martin

Stop! You! Yes You! I’m confiscating your rights. Tough shit, we are in a competition.

You wake up from your Egyptian cotton quilt, grab the Danish Bacon from your Nordic fridge, or your horse meat from Romania, apply to British bread, drink tea from India or coffee from Colombia, sugar from Brazil, paid for at an American owned supermarket with a note printed on paper from South America. You then get to work in a Czech car, with a German engine with parts from China, running with oil from the Middle East, obeying laws agreed on by four nations of the UK within a framework of European directives. You get to work, the entire workforce has an immigrant in their family tree from within 3 generations, and your salary is paid for by a company with headquarters in Edinburgh, London and New York. We all breathe the same air.

Bang should go the nationalism. But what is Globalisation?

Before I start, I need to have a chat with the elephant in the room. Globalisation is nothing new. It’s not like we have just woken up and realised that we can get to another continent in 4 hours. This isn’t one of my historical pieces, however if I point out that Alexander the Great occupied territory spanning from India to Athens, the Vikings had colonies in Canada and the Roman Empire was trading with China and India as early as 250AD (the Latin for coffee by the way is Potio Arabica). I think we can take it as read that we have lived in a globalised world for some time.

The current use of the term ‘globalisation’ has become some kind of euphemism for competition. We hear too often the arguments from politicians that we need to ‘compete’ with China, India, BRICS or PIIGS. They use the word ‘compete’ because it gives an impression that it is something that could be won, in reality there are definitely winners in this competition – They winners definitely ain’t you and I and I don’t want to think of the prizes in this contest. It’s yet another example of spin from the right wing; they are very subtle about these things. I’ll give you an example of this; in 2008 we had an ‘International banking crisis’, now in 2013 we have a ‘Crisis of public spending’. Does anybody remember that switch over? Very Subtle. We in 2013 are also hearing more about how our workplace protections are making us ‘uncompetitive’ when compared to insert country here. We really need to understand that behind these euphemisms, you know, those comparisons of the ‘country’s credit card’ or ‘the national interest’, I think there is something else is going on.

My definition of globalisation, is working closer with our comrades overseas, Justice for Colombia, solidarity in Greece, supporting LGBT rights in Russia. All campaigns supported by trade unions, unless you are interested in international issues, it wouldn’t be of any surprise to me if you had only come across the names of those campaigns, it’s not as if they are widely reported on, when did you last see a trade unionist mentioned in your favourite TV soap? Like with anything that sounds like a trade union campaign or any form of solidarity, mainstream media will not give it air time. This conspiracy of silence is etching us closer to a very dark future, (isn’t the equality of a country represented by the strength of its trade unions?) for the avoidance of doubt, this isn’t a conspiracy theory about the New World Order (for readers of my previous article). The future I speak of is the increasing trend to portray, through that mainstream media, the belief that immigrants and ‘foreigners’ are ‘bad’ whilst at the same time no air time goes to reporting those that remain in their native country or their extreme endless endurance in sweatshop like conditions that your boss uses to justify the erosion of your hard fought rights.

We are becoming increasingly distracted and divided. Turn on the TV news and watch an MP justify the mass cull of ‘gold plated pensions’ for teachers or NHS staff or the ‘gold pay packages’ for fire-fighters due to spending cuts or competitiveness. Not that there is anything ‘gold plated’ about them in first place and ignoring the fact that I want our teachers and fire fighters to do their job without worrying about paying bills, you know just before they attempt to give me a life by educating me or save my life on the operating table or putting out a fire (for obvious reasons), the public reaction now seems to be that we should the rights from those professions. Shouldn’t we be turning to our own employers and arguing for better conditions in our own jobs? For me, it’s a bit like saying ‘Because I don’t drive and yet those bloody ambulances are driving about when I can’t, they shouldn’t be able to’ – It’s nonsensical. I bet the right wing can’t believe their luck, the public are arguing their own collective rights away through self-interest, with just a few media headlines.

If the right couldn’t believe their luck domestically, they are actively rubbing their hands when it comes to international issues. Do you remember at the beginning of the Greek bailout? When the mainstream media reported that those ‘feckless’ Greeks could retire as early as the age of 57, we didn’t support the Greek people who have now had every shred of hope removed, we said ‘well the retirement age is higher in the UK and so if they want ‘bailout money’ they should work longer’. Where were the protests at Parliament square demanding the UK Government to reduce our retirement age? Why is it that the only organ of resistance is the Union movement? The race to the bottom becomes less of a race when there’s only one team in the race, workers; it’s more like a solitary sprint, the Unions wanting the race to never start in the first place.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said that “Ideally you’d have every plant you own on a barge – ready to move if any national government tried to impose restraints on the factories’ operations or if workers demanded better wages and working conditions.” There is a corporate line that sums up the profit loving modern CEO, making the phrase ‘corporate responsibility’ a joke worthy of Sickipedia. The argument is used regularly in pay discussions, I can name a few I’ve seen, it goes like this: ‘you can’t have a pay rise this year, we need to remain competitive’, in reality what that means is ‘we are exploiting people overseas to do your job and if we pay you more, we are closing the plant’. If that’s bad enough, the conspiracy of silence I spoke about before on the silence of the media of international dispute is highlighted by the national conscious that believes it’s illegal to go on strike in China, you know state oppression and all (please note that sentence may give the impression that I think China is a great place to be a worker, the occupation of Tibet or proliferation of sweatshops for example, shows me differently) and yet its just not the case.

There have been 636 strikes in China this year

There have been 636 strikes in China this year

At the time of writing, December 2013, there have been 631 industrial strikes this year according to just one source – the China Labour Bulletin.

We need to support workers overseas if we are ever to organise against the collapse in our rights. The future is bleak if we don’t, a homogenised global workforce working until they die in their job (if they are lucky enough to have one), on barely subsistence wages without any welfare net to support those out of work, where healthcare is determined by affluence of birth and where health and safety has gone ‘mad’ and decided to call it a day.

This video should have more than just 31,000 hits (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk0xbjamHt0), it should be viral. We need to stop division nationally and start to fight back internationally.

Let us reclaim the term ‘globalisation’, it’s been stolen. Globalisation should mean supporting USi and international union affiliations, countering myths, twinning the union in your company with an overseas workplace and if we just get out there and educate ourselves – apparently you’re closer to Norway than London in Aberdeen and most of us will start our day using something produced more than 1,000 miles away in the first 10 minutes of waking up. Anyway, I’m off to listen to my favourite band, headed by a Belgian-born Brit educated at an American and European international school in Luxembourg; who spent his childhood in the Lebanon, Liberia and Britain with his Scottish Mum and American-Italian Father – Placebo for those guessing, not an ambassador. Shrinking the world may be, shrinking rights – Not on my watch (which incidentally was made in China).

The Roman Empire evolved into the Catholic Church; The British Empire evolved in to the Banking industry. The point is that empires don’t last as geography. If you ask me, ‘what resources does a country require?’ You’re asking me the wrong question. Countries don’t need any resources, corporations do. There’s no nationalised industry left anymore, nothing a country really owns in which it would anything. Tesco needs food, BAE needs steel, Esso needs oil, a nations citizens are now consumers. The American Empire question irritates me, we don’t have geographical empires anymore, we have corporate empires and their colonies are the supermarkets you shop at.” – James Martin, recent TV interview

You can follow the writer on Twitter at @cptjamesmartin.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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