Smile, Work and Die

Pic: Todd Huffman (CC)

Pic: Todd Huffman (CC)

Via Truthdig:

The 300-plus people killed in the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh this week were not lost to an accident, but are among the many unnecessary victims of predatory, globalized capitalism, argues Vijay Prashad, a professor of South Asian history and the director of international studies at Trinity College in Connecticut.

Prashad informs the moment with an excerpt taken from Karl Marx’s “Capital,” the title referring to the component of the capitalist economy that pushes for maximum industrial output with no consideration for the laborer except that which is required to keep him or her alive and working:

[I]n its blind unrestrainable passion, its wear-wolf [sic] hunger for surplus labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight…. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by reducing it of its fertility.”

Below, Prashad brings the theme up to date with the Bangladeshi tragedy, which he contends was an unnecessary consequence of negligence and greed and thus should be regarded as a criminal event.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Vijay Prashad at CounterPunch:

These Bangladesh factories are a part of the landscape of globalization that is mimicked in the factories along the US-Mexico border, in Haiti, in Sri Lanka, and in other places that opened their doors to the garment industry’s savvy use of the new manufacturing and trade order of the 1990s. Subdued countries that had neither the patriotic will to fight for their citizens nor any concern for the long-term debilitation of their social order rushed to welcome garment production. The big garment producers no longer wanted to invest in factories – they turned to sub-contractors, offering them very narrow margins for profit and thereby forcing them to run their factories like prison-houses of labour. The sub-contracting regime allowed these firms to deny any culpability for what was done by the actual owners of these small factories, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of the cheap products without having their consciences stained with the sweat and blood of the workers. It also allowed the consumers in the Atlantic world to buy vast amount of commodities, often with debt-financed consumption, without concern for the methods of production. An occasionally outburst of liberal sentiment turned against this or that company, but there was no overall appreciation of the way the Wal-Mart type of commodity chain made normal the sorts of business practices that occasioned this or that campaign.

Bangladeshi workers have not been as prone as the consumers in the Atlantic world. As recently as June 2012, thousands of workers in the Ashulia Industrial Zone, outside Dhaka, protested for higher wages and better working conditions. For days on end, these workers closed down three hundred factories, blocking the Dhaka-Tangali highway at Narasinghapur. The workers earn between 3000 taka ($35) and 5,500 taka ($70) a month; they wanted a raise of between 1500 taka ($19) and 2000 taka ($25) per month. The government sent in three thousand policemen to secure the scene, and the Prime Minister offered anodyne entreaties that she would look into the matter. A three-member committee was set up, but nothing substantial came of it.

… In the Atlantic world, meanwhile, self-absorption over the wars on terror and on the downturn in the economy prevent any genuine introspection over the mode of life that relies upon debt-fueled consumerism at the expense of workers in Dhaka. Those who died in the Rana building are victims not only of the malfeasance of the sub-contractors, but also of twenty-first century globalisation.

Read more at Counterpunch.

8 Comments on "Smile, Work and Die"

  1. Charlie Primero | Apr 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm |

    I miss the good ‘ol days. Uncle Joe Stalin would have shipped those protesters to Siberia, bull-dozed the dead factory workers into the soil, and had a new factory up and running within a month.

    • lol your satire slays me yet again Charlie
      difficult to picture who can rely on others’ mantras, sometimes
      “thou shalt not kill”?
      ‘alright i’ll do what i want to those with that mantra and not worry’

    • Jin The Ninja | Apr 29, 2013 at 11:14 am |

      it’s interesting that in the face of a critique of 3rd world labour conditions and economic inequality due to global capitalism and western hegemony, you interpret that as being ‘pro stalin.’ it’s also interesting that although you have occasionally derided ‘corporate capitalism’ of which this is an example of the worst kind- you didn’t deem it acceptable to note the gross loss of human life at the hands of your fellow and saviour, ‘profit.’ instead you immediately ran to the familiar corner of red-baiting- which is the go to of right-libertarians, conservatives and neo-cons everywhere. i guess the difference isn’t so nuanced after all.

      • Charlie Primero | Apr 29, 2013 at 11:51 am |

        Vijay Prashad is a Marxist. You are correct that I’m not fond of Marxists.

        • Jin The Ninja | Apr 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm |

          but instead of countering his marxist analysis with a libertarian analysis- you made a joke about stalin- when 300 people died and thousands more in other incidents in the manufacturing capital of the world- driven by market capitalism and western corporate interests.

          a marxist =/= a stalinist btw.

          • Charlie Primero | Apr 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm |

            Right. This is because I found it ludicrous to the point of being comedic that a Marxist is bemoaning the death of 300 people while promoting an ideology that slaughtered hundreds of MILLIONS of human beings.

          • For the record, many define Stalin, despite what he claimed to believe, as a “state capitalist” rather than a “Marxist.”

  2. I heard a report on my local Pacifica station, KPFK, that the workers showed up one day and noticed that there was a huge crack in the building and said they were worried and did not want to go in. They were told by the bosses that the building was safe. They were also told that if they did not go to work they would loose a month’s wages. They went to work and the building collapsed on them. According to the same report, these are people making the equivalent of $30 per month, working 12 hour days, 7 days per week making cheap clothes for the likes of Nike et al.
    Hooray for capitalism!

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