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happy valentine’s day

February 14, 2014

Protectionism in the context of global capitalism is a dead end. While the idea has merit on the surface, keeping jobs home or bringing them back, it runs into a number of problems, the biggest one being the social relationship between capital and labour and the boundaries that constrain the latter.

Capital is adept at dissolving boundaries for itself. What most likely began as a movement to make it easier for finance capital to move freely across national borders has translated into a movement to make it easier for commodities to move just as freely. Workers, on the other hand, have national borders and strict immigration policies to contend with, not to mention the cost of relocation.

Capital already has the upper hand when it comes to its social relationship with labour. And in the age of global capitalism, capital can pretty much go where it pleases, while workers in one city, state, or even country are forced to compete with workers across the globe, making solidarity among workers and strong bargaining positions that much harder to achieve. Workers aren’t just forced to compete with workers in the same locality, they’re competing with a global proletariat making national labour movements increasingly impotent.

To take one concrete example, workers at Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga plant are voting on whether to be represented by the UAW. But anti-union workers and even a state senator are arguing that new VW investments may be diverted to Mexico if the vote passes, pitting workers in Chattanooga, TN, with workers in Puebla, Mexico, and undermining the vote.

According to a story in Reuters, Sen. Corker said he’s “been ‘assured’ that if workers at the factory reject the UAW, the company would reward the plant with a new product to build.” And one of the anti-union employees at the plant agrees, saying, “We are in a battle with Mexico on where this new product goes and it stands to reason that the union will add costs. We need to keep costs down to fight for that new product.” In order to be competitive, workers in Chattanooga have to compete with Mexican wages and working conditions.

Of course, VW claims that the vote will have no bearing on their decision whether the new product in question will be made in Chattanooga or in Puebla. But conveniently enough, the meeting to decide will be held after the UAW vote, giving VW quite a bit of leverage by pitting local workers (e.g., fighting against unionization and higher wages, etc.) and governments (e.g., giving out favourable tax incentives/subsidies, implementing anti-union measures, etc.) against one another for the additional capital and jobs.

Let’s face it, neoliberalism has made things like protectionism a thing of the past. We need to start thinking outside of national borders because the ‘working class’ is global and can only fight against capitalism globally. Just like the IWW motto, we need One Big Union of all workers the world over.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my fellow proles the world over. ♥

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