[OPE-L:2451] Re: Re: The transnational working class?

From: Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Date: Tue Feb 29 2000 - 16:08:14 EST

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I have to agree with Nicky on this one, though with one or two caveats.

Firstly, globalisation has had precisely that effect on industrial workers
in Australia. They and the rural sector have borne the brunt of
globalisation's closing-down of local production and relocation to cheap
wage countries.

As a result, while the right "intelligentsia" sings the praises of
globalisation in the news media, they are the ones who have been grumbling.

This has had a particularly bad side-effect in Australia, because one thing
which has transformed the place over the last 30 years is immigration. We
have the world's most multi-cultural nation, as an accidental by-product of
an early "populate or perish" program which had the racist intention of
keeping Australia free from Asians. However, the inability to attract a
sufficient number of Anglo-Saxons meant the program was first opened up to
North Europeans; then Southern Europeans; then the Middle East... as these
populations grew, the whole idea of discriminating in favour of Anglos
became unsustainable.

The "White Australia" policy was ditched (some time in the early
1960s--still quite late in international terms), and the basis of the
program became family reunion and racial non-discrimination, and refugee

The last factor ballooned with the collapse of Kampuchea, then the
Vietnamese exodus. The second established continental quotas, so that
immigration to Australia was open to all nationalities.

This has been fantastic from the point of view of a white, middle class guy
like me, living in the heart of the city. What was a very boring Anglo
culture (with great weather) has been transformed into a cultural melting pot.

It would have been great too from the point of view of white working class
guys IF it hadn't also coincided with the quite different policy of
embracing globalisation. As a result, those factory workers who have lost
their jobs, and their descendants who haven't had access to any in the
first place, formed an association between globalisation and

Then along came a redneck politician called Pauline Hansen, and all of a
sudden we had a racially-motivated political party in Australia.

That party has since collapsed in internal bickering, but it was ugly for a
while there. Harmony has returned, but it's evident that the root causes of
the disharmony are still there, just lacking a voice.

The caveats I'd put on Nicky's case are (a) historical--our tariffs have
long ago been dismantled; (b) the *thoughtful* working class response to
globalisation can be to say that, well, the only reason this policy exists
is because it can exploit differences in wages and national standards.
Let's do what we can to raise at least the latter, because any increase in
conditions and wages in the third world reduces the appeal of globalisation
in the first place.

That's only a muted caveat, for the simple reason that while you might
eliminate things like lax policies on pollution, etc., you're never going
to change the wage differential substantially (at least in the positive way
by increasing third world wages) in a foreseeable time frame.

So the sad fact is that globalisation, as well as impoverishing a lot of
first world workers, is also likely to inspire their political allegiances
to shift right rather than left.

At 09:32 AM 2/29/00 +0800, you wrote:
>Hugo R writes (OPE-L, 2449):
>>it seems plain to me that, unless we assume a peculiarly
>>restricted vision on the part of workers in struggle, that if production
>>markets are becoming more transnational (as the evidence seems to
>>show), then workers' struggles and the wider processes of class
>>formation and politics are also likely to become more transnational.
>>Which brings us then to the central questions of.. how, and to what
>Why is it plain to you? It isn't plain to me, and I worked in factories
>for 15 years. In fact, I fail to see what mechanisms could possibly drive
>the process you describe; ie 'globalisation' will create international
>solidarity. If that's what you are saying, I can't agree. The reverse
>effect seems more 'reasonable' - from a workers point of view.
>Say, for example, that I am a textile worker in Melbourne, Australia. It
>is likely that I will have been involved recently in very militant actions,
>motivated largely by a real fear that I will lose my job to a worker in
>Indonesia. The Australian textile industry - 'inefficient' in comparison
>with the Asian textile industry - survives only because of high tariffs.
>Workers rightly perceive that the current drive to reduce tarriffs to zero
>will result in hugh job losses (as happened in our automobile industry)...
>Seeing an international problem as a local problem is not necessarily
>'restricted vision' on the part of workers; I see it as a rational response
>to a real problem. The paradox is this: capital is mobile across borders,
>but labour is not. Indeed, workers will never be able to cross borders
>with the same ease as capital (in the e-commerce world this disparity is
>more pronounced, not less). Given that labour is not mobile across borders,
>a focus on 'national interests' will always capture workers when the going
>gets tough (and swings to the 'nationalist' right should not be any
>surprise in an era of increasingly globalised industries).
Dr. Steve Keen
Senior Lecturer
Economics & Finance
University of Western Sydney Macarthur
Building 11 Room 30,
Goldsmith Avenue, Campbelltown
PO Box 555 Campbelltown NSW 2560
s.keen@uws.edu.au 61 2 4620-3016 Fax 61 2 4626-6683
Home 02 9558-8018 Mobile 0409 716 088
Home Page: http://bus.macarthur.uws.edu.au/steve-keen/
Workshop on Economic Dynamcs: http://bus.macarthur.uws.edu.au/WED

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