Globalization and Internationalism
The ever-extending globalization of the economy has created a new reality filled with problems and opportunities for those of us who are fighting for a better world. As we struggle for the basic economic necessities of life, as well as equality, democracy, and a clean environment at home, we see that our fate is inextricably tied with the fate of the working class on every continent.
Economic globalization is capitalism in the era of electronics. Manufacturing can be carried out in different locations depending on labor costs, the availability of labor-replacing technology, location of customers, location of raw materials, specialization and assembly, the regulatory environment, and subsidies from governments eager to attract employment. While Apple’s iPhone is assembled by Foxconn or Pegatron in China, the components are manufactured by more than 20 different companies in hundreds of locations throughout the world.
Electronic telecommunications today gives corporations the ability to spread their business functions out to different areas in the world – research and development, software development, data entry, management, finance, sales and customer service – depending on the availability of technical expertise, reliability, and labor costs. This of course means those working for the same corporation are scattered, with a production, supply, and distribution chain that stretches around the world.
On the other side of the coin is the migration of workers to where fixed jobs are located. Employment in sectors such as food service, health care, domestic service, transportation, construction, automotive and appliance repair, brick and mortar retail, and personal services can’t be exported. Migrants move to other countries where they take on these largely lower paid jobs. According to the International Organization on Migration’s 2015 World Migration Report, there are an estimated 232 million international migrants and 740 million internal migrants in the world.
Corporate Global Governance
At the same time, transnational capital is seeking to consolidate its power to impose its will on sovereign nations through trade agreements and other international accords. For instance, the tobacco company Philip Morris sued Uruguay after it enacted strict laws aimed at promoting public health. Following the rejection of the Keystone Pipeline by President Obama, TransCanada Corporation is suing the U.S. government for $15 billion in damages under North American Free Trade Agreement rules. The company wants to build the pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and use “eminent domain” to seize land from ranchers, farmers and other property owners. The Investor State Dispute Resolution of the currently sidelined TPP would have also allowed corporations to sue governments.
The European Union, dominated by the needs of capital, has seven supranational institutions. The European Parliament is the only one of them that is elected, and elections occur only every five years. The European Court recently issued a ruling that labor laws and legislation in each country are subordinate to the free movement of global capital.
Another method of international corporate dominance is through loans by banks, directed by entities like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Bank. For instance, The World Bank’s stated official goal is the reduction of poverty. But according to its Articles of Agreement, all of its decisions must be guided by a commitment to the promotion of foreign investment and international trade to the facilitate capital investment. When the sovereign debt of a nation reaches a certain level, these lending institutions are called in to provide loans with strict restructuring conditions favoring the corporations, combined with austerity measures to guarantee the repayment of the loans. Austerity measures include spending cuts for social services and other government functions, tax increases, and pension reductions.
The role of other international entities like the United Nations and large non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Oxfam, Gates Foundation, World Vision, and Doctors without Borders is to address some suffering, but never challenge the capitalist conditions that cause the deteriorating social conditions and human suffering. Partnerships are often created between NGOs and corporations seeking low-cost, public relations ploys, while bolstering the capitalist system.
Nationalist Responses to Globalization
The downward spiral in the standard of living of previously secure sections of the working class of developed countries has created a great deal of anger, confusion and frustration amongst them. Caused by loss of decent stable employment, and fueled by the advances of technology under capitalism, some sectors of the working class are being led to the belief that workers of other countries and immigrants are the cause of their problems.
The successful Brexit referendum last June for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union was fueled largely by nationalist, anti-immigrant ideological sentiment. The right-wing anti-immigrant Danish Peoples Party won 21percent of the vote in 2015; the Freedom party of Austria won 35 percent, and France’s National Front 28 percent. The election of Donald Trump, albeit by a minority vote amid voter repression in an election where many stayed home, was in part a response to the declining standard of living of the working class. Some believed Trump’s claim that the offshoring of jobs and the presence of immigrants were the cause of their problems.
As automated electronic technology globalizes production and business services, capitalists continue to scramble for markets as worldwide purchasing power declines, due to the race to the bottom in wage compensation, and permanent job loss caused by the electronic economic revolution. This has increased the drive to militarization and war in the Middle East, the Ukraine, Africa, and the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands in Asia, as the United States and others seek to maintain or extend their dominance.
History of Internationalism
Ever since the slogan “Workers of the World, Unite” was raised at the First International in the 19th century, there has been international solidarity in the anti-capitalist struggle. The English working class supported the North during the American Civil War, following Marx’s statement, “Labour in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin.” He also wrote that for English workers “the national emancipation of Ireland is no question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment, but the first condition of their own emancipation.”
During the national liberation struggles of the 20th century against colonialism, Cuba showed great international solidarity, particularly in Africa. Cuban troops were sent to Angola to support its left-wing government, helping defeat South African insurgents, also leading to Namibia’s independence from South Africa and adding pressure on the apartheid regime. Cuba’s history of internationalism also includes sending doctors all over the world in times of crisis and the offer of free medical school education to tens of thousands of students throughout the world (including the United States), if they agree to serve underserved populations in their own countries.
Over the years, many people from the United States have shown solidarity with the working class of other countries. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in 1937 showed great courage, fighting to oppose Franco’s fascist military regime in Spain. Organizations and unions supported the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, such as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which refused to unload South African cargo in 1984. Many activists and organizations in the latter part of the 20th century supported those fighting against U.S. backed regimes in Central and Latin America.
A New Era of Internationalism
Now more than ever, as we respond to the new conditions created by globalization, we have to see internationalism in a new light. It’s more than a question of ideological solidarity, or one-way support activities of good causes. It is a practical question – we can’t fight for our own basic necessities as long as capitalism keeps us separated from others who are fighting for the same necessities and the same system we are. We have a global working class that is connected as never before, but remains nationally isolated from one another in many ways. There must be conscious efforts to forge and maintain ties to address our mutual interests.
There are lessons in current examples of how objective conditions have compelled people to come together. For instance, the Tri-national Conference for the Defense of Public Education is an organization of advocates of public education from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. It was founded in 1993 to build understanding and solidarity among education activists in the three countries. Immigrant workers are part of the American working class and as such offer an organic connection to the working class of other countries.
By definition, the environmental movement to save the planet from species extinction, from global warming and the pollution of our air and water, requires an international movement. A recent example was when 130 environmental groups called for an end to capitalism at a UN-sponsored conference in Venezuela in 2014. There are also people-to-people examples of internationalism, such as the struggle over land and water rights at Standing Rock, where flags fly from more than 200 Native American nations and international supporters have descended into the North Dakota camps. Or take Flint Michigan, where people from Windsor, Ontario in Canada donated 50,000 bottles of water to Flint residents in response to a call by the Windsor Spitfires junior hockey team.
Some unions have forged real ties internationally. Since 1991, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the Mexican telecom union, Sindicato de Telefonistas de la Republica Mexicana (STRM) have been working together, defending worker and union rights and supporting each other in cross-border bargaining, organizing, and mobilization. CWA has also supported Colombian unionists, who are under violent attack, and works with the UNI Global Union based in Nyon, Switzerland, which represents more that 20 million workers from over 900 trade unions in the skills and service sectors.
Our greatest internationalist service is the struggle against our own corporate State and the struggle for the establishment of a cooperative society. To do that we have to propagandize, organize and unify our own working class in all of its complexity – urban, suburban and rural, employed and unemployed, immigrant and native born, in all its colors and ethnicities and varying levels of consciousness. We begin this by focusing on those sectors where unity is most possible, where there is an equality of poverty. This includes the hard work of showing workers who do not yet understand they will only save themselves and their families by fighting for their basic necessities, alongside others of their class. This is why we dedicate ourselves to promoting class consciousness and providing a vision of a cooperative society.
March/April 2017 Vol27.Ed2
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011