File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 126


Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2001 20:02:31 -0500
Subject: Re: Plea: help


When George W. Bush, economists, politicians and journalists accuse the
alternate globalization protestors of being anti-poor, they are usually
working with an abstract  model of development which goes loosely like
the following.

Nations which are poor and underdeveloped need to go through a phase of
menial cheap labor because over time a portion of the earnings will be
invested back into the local economy. This will gradually allow a
sustainable infrastructure to be built which in turn provides the basis
for greater wealth accumulation as industrialization develops.  Today's
poor working class will become tomorrow's middle class and a lucky few
will even become rich.  For an illustration, just look at the success of
the Asian tiger economies.  They provide the basic pattern for the
ultimate success of global free trade.

The problem with this model is that it assumes there is a fixed law of
economic development that tends towards both the metaphysical and the
ahistorical.  It seems reasonable to ask whether on not there are
tendencies in today's economic situation making this outcome less
likely.

The anti-sweatshop movement has pointed to a number of such factors. 
One of these derives from the basis that multinationals tend to
outsource their assembly operations to the lowest possible bidder.

Typical workers live in a compound that houses them as well as providing
their workplace.  He or she is usually young and hired on a temporary
basis which means that no work entails no pay.  The pay that is received
is extremely low and most of it returns back to the contractor as living
expenses.  The hours are long, as many as 16 hours a day, as much as
seven days per week.  The benefits are non-existent.  If someone becomes
sick or pregnant, they are simply let go.

Furthermore, if these workers unionize, the contracts are sent to
another labor compound that is less expensive.  This allows
multinationals to cherry pick the cheapest supplier and play one country
off against another to obtain the best possible terms, while
simultaneously absolving themselves of any responsibility because they
are "just a buyer" themselves.

The spectre that results from this is that these areas may never follow
the mythic path of development to a middle class future at all.  Rather
they would simply form a permanent underclass that parallels those
already existing in the inner cities of industirialized nations.

This would lead to exactly the scenario that Steve has outlined.  A vast
army of cheap and ready labor that would keep the Northern communities
supplied with a steady stream of brand name consumer goods while these
citizens have the additional luxury of smugly patting themselves on the
back and saying: "We are helping the poor to better themselves.  There
is no other way."

A new millenium. The same old lies.


   

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