Guest Writings

Fruit and the Loom Brand New and Same Old by S Artesian



Sunday, April 24, 2005

1. The future of advanced capitalism, called “globalization,” was unveiled 32 years ago when it was already 200 years old, on the Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins in Santiago, Chile. Chile became the host, the in vivo subject/object of and for export capitalism. If the three modern princes of reaction and regression, Kissinger— the would-be Metternich, Friedman— the monetarist Ayn Rand in drag, and Pinochet— the petty man on miniature horseback, had a better feel for PR, they would have claimed paternity for the birth of globalization, trademarking the word and living it up on royalties deposited electronically into their Riggs Bank savings accounts. But then the three marketeers would have to accept responsibility. Or maybe not.

Responsibility is, of course, anathema to markets and private property. The ultimate creation of the bourgeoisie, the corporation, was developed precisely to avoid and evade personal responsibility. If the bourgeoisie deny the existence of class, substituting the imaginary individual in order to obscure the social expropriation of labor, the very same bourgeois class creates the imaginary individual, the corporation, in order to protect their class wealth.

2. After the overthrow of Allende, the Pinochet government reversed the land reforms initiated under the Frei and continued under Allende. The anti-reforms were critical to the severe economic contraction that expelled hundreds of thousands of former agricultural producers, workers and owners and mostly male, from the land, and the labor process. Economics is, after all, and first and foremost, nothing but class struggle.

And class struggle is always international. The anti-reforms were part of the reorganization of the economy for export, for servicing international capital. With the anti-reforms, Chilean fresh fruit exports began a significant and sustained increase, growing 20% per year.

Employment followed the expansion, as the bourgeoisie love to say. Employment in the fresh fruit sector of agricultural production grew from 66,000 in 1974 to 178,000 in 1992. The terms of employment followed the class struggle, the anti-reform, as the bourgeoisie don’t care to advertise. Permanent employment in the entire agricultural sector declined 40% from 208,000 to 120,000 while total temporary employment in the sector more than doubled to 300,000.

The increased production in the fresh fruit sector was fed by the increased temporary employment of women workers. Increasing steadily throughout the late 70s and 80s, by the 1990s women were 30% of the labor force, and women worked almost exclusively as temporary workers and on a piece work basis and often as sub-contracted laborers.

The “great” movement of globalization was built exactly on these three corners— a new triangle trade, of female labor, at lower wages, hired daily to be dismissed overnight.

3. “Globalization” wasn’t that “great” to begin with and never got any better. Annual rates of growth in manufacturing, trade in manufactures, general economic growth, overall trade never equaled, much less exceeded, average annual rates of growth for the 1950-1973 period. But in comparison to the rates in the 1980s, globalization was just a little bit of bourgeois heaven right here on the bourgeoisie’s earth.

Globalization, trade expansion, market growth were driven forward by a recovery in the rate of return on investment in manufacturing. As is always the case, that recovery in profits depends on the relations between the components of production, living and dead; upon the ratios and rates of exchange between wage-labor and capital. The reproduction of capital, locally and globally, takes place precisely to that degree that labor is stripped of every “asset,” every ability, every use, save its ability, its usefulness in exchange; exactly to the degree that labor is incapable of reproducing itself separate and apart from wages. Thus backward and forward capital pushes against “traditional” forms of subsistence, and against “reformed,” “ progressive,” “protected” conditions of work in both agriculture and industry.

“Globalization” breaks through the isolated, simple deprivation of rural life, the simple, subsistence poverty of “under-development,” to create the expanding, interdependent, exploitation and immiseration of modern capitalism.

4. World trade in textiles and garments grew tenfold between 1973 and 1992, tripling since 1992 to approximately 450 billion dollars. The expansion of this capital sector has been based on those principles of “economics” established in Chile: disruption of traditional village economies and/or counter-reform of agriculture; increased female participation in the work force; lower wage-rates for women; increases in temporary, sub-contracted, mostly female laborers.

In Chile, women workers were unable and resistant to internal migration. The increased participation of females in the textile industries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America has been marked by the increased internal migration of women to the industrial, or urban zones, from the rural and traditional village economies. In the Shenzhen special economic zone of China, the population increase from 300,000 in 1978 to 3,000,000 in 1998. Two-thirds of that population is migrants, with two-thirds of the migrants women aged 15 to 29 years old. In Bangladesh, employment in the textile sector increased from 4000 in 1978 to 1,200,000 in 1994; 85 percent of those employed are female.

“Professional” economists will refer to the “nimble fingers” of women (and children) as the reason, the “demand” for the increased employment of women, thus proving that biology and not patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. Political economy, like biology, cannot account for history, the social changes in the organization of labor and production — the previous concentrations of men in textile production; the lower wage rates paid to the more nimble, hence more productive, women workers; the increased use and classification of temporary labor despite the nimbleness of the more productive, lower paid women workers.

Anathema, heresy, vital threat to the flim-flam men of capital’s various religions, “Darwinism” is a godsend to the scam – artist ideologists of free markets. “Down with Darwin! Up with Social Darwinism!” scream the vouchers distributed to and by the faith-based, corporate, god and dollar trusting salesmen of globalization.

5. From the Quangdong to Bangladesh to the Dominican Republic to Mauritius to Bangkok, Madagascar the terms of production and employment in the textile and ready-made-garment (RMG) sectors follows a pattern cut from the same cloth: young women from rural impoverished areas, migrating greater or shorter distances, to industrial clusters or urban areas, entering the labor force and obtaining their first waged work in textile or RMG production.

The sector is organized around low wage, intense exploitation export-oriented production. And the single largest export market is that of the United States. Rates of growth in textile and RMG exports to the United States from these less developed areas commonly exceeded 20% per year in the 1990s.

Prior to 2005, developing countries’ exports received some protection in the form of quotas, and almost guaranteed market shares under the 1995 WTOs Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC). This agreement extends the protections and quotas established under the pre-existing Multifiber Agreement (MFA) while requiring member countries in general, and the advanced countries in particular to bring their textile and clothing import policies into conformity with the provisions of the GATT. The ATC accord established a ten year transition period, expiring in January 2005, at which point quotas, protections, and tariffs on textiles and clothing would be withdrawn, and that perfect capitalist condition, the war of all against all, might resume.

For the textile exporting countries and the textile importing countries, there is a 10,000 ton elephant in the room and the elephant is China. The recipient of over 600 billion dollars in direct foreign investment since 1986, and an an equal amount in loans, China’s potential output alone can satisfy 50% of world export demand for textiles and ready made garments.

Since January, US imports of textiles and RMG from China have grown 62.4% from the year earlier period. The total dollar value of US imports of textiles and RMG, however, has grown only 17% year to date. And the reality is that even that 17% is an inflated number. WTO figures suggest 2/3 to 3/4 of the increase in the dollar value of world trade over the past two years is the result of the US currency’s depreciation.

The “great fear” of China in the textile markets is the distorted image of global overproduction of textiles. The expanded reproduction of capital has not been able to sustain an increasing rate of return on investment and increased profits. Slowing growth of export markets, problems in the circulation of commodities are in reality difficulties in the realization of surplus value as profit. And this difficulty is not confined to the textile sector. On the contrary, the contraction in the markets for textiles, in the consumer markets for ready made goods, is a reflection of the generalized overproduction of capital in the advanced countries.

The response to this difficulty will include increased rates of exploitation, reduced wages, layoffs, and the shuttering of factories. The impact on production workers, on this global force of laboring young women will be, is already, dramatic. The improvements in diet, health care, educational opportunity, physical security brought by temporary, if irregular work, by increased, although less than those paid men, wages, will disappear. Already subject to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of male supervisors at work and thugs on the streets, declining employment will make that many more women targets for attack and the involuntary servitude of the sex industry.

Where in the 19th and 2oth centuries, the bourgeoisie would pretend to “offset” contractions in their domestic markets by investments and expansion of overseas markets, the developing countries cannot play the film in reverse, cannot offset the contractions and competition in export markets through expanding domestic markets. Expanding, creating the domestic market, means and foremost, completing the reorganization of agriculture, of the land slavery, the subsistence poverty of agriculture. It is exactly that task that capital cannot accomplish. It is exactly that failure that makes all capital export capital; that makes globalization what it is today — the same old, brand new— the reproduction of misery.

S. Artesian
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April 24, 2005

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