Socialism is the Best Medicine

Socialism is the Best Medicine

Of Human Bondage: The Global Traffic in Disposable Labor

August 27, 2012

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BOOK REVIEW: Immanuel Ness (2011) Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism.

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” – Communist Manifesto

The capitalist class have perfected the art of the con. Their cozy phrase, “guest workers,” hides the brutal reality of extreme exploitation.

Workers from impoverished nations pay their way to rich nations to labor for paltry wages with no legal protections and no right to change employers. They are forced to work back-breaking hours, live in substandard conditions, and can be deported any time for any reason. In the truest sense, they are ‘disposable.’

We are told the “guest-worker” system benefits everyone: the “guests” make more money than they could at home; the money they send home helps their families and communities; the sending nations benefit from economic development made possible by remittances; and the receiving country has workers doing jobs that native workers do not want. Everyone wins. NOT.

In Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism, Immanuel Ness exposes every one of these sentiments as a bald-faced lie. Using statistics and interviews with Indian and Jamaican workers, Ness shows how the global temp-worker system benefits only the capitalist class and drives down conditions for ALL workers.

Labor shortage?

Ness links the decline in state support for education with the ease of importing skilled foreigners who will work for less.

There is no shortage of American labor, skilled and unskilled. Ness documents how, even as unemployment rose among American information technology (IT) workers, IT corporations were pleading a shortage of workers in order to acquire more cheap programmers from India. In South Carolina, a state with persistently high unemployment, the hospitality industry imports thousands of temporary Caribbean workers every season.

The donor nations do not benefit. Their economies are distorted to supply workers for export. High unemployment and the elimination of publicly-funded social services (demanded by the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) force workers to migrate for jobs to help their families pay for education, medical care, and other social services that were previously provided by the State. Long absences tear families apart and contribute to social breakdown.

The hunger for capital is relentless. Corporations that can move production to areas of cheaper labor do so. The ‘disposable’ immigrant worker is the employers’ solution for industries that cannot move, like hospitality and medical care. These workers are not protected by U.S. labor laws; they get no benefits; they can be discharged when not needed; and they can be deported for protesting or organizing. They also serve as a permanent surplus of cheap labor that undermines the ability of native workers to protect their unions, wages, and benefits.

The State plays a dual role in supporting a disposable labor system. On the one hand, it allows as many “guest workers” as employers demand. On the other hand, it promotes an anti-immigrant stance that divides the working class, pitting native-born against foreign-born. Both hands strengthen the capitalist class.

Solution?

While Ness’s book is rich in information, it is written for academics and difficult to read. The best parts are his interviews that describe workers’ experiences and conditions. For me, the main points of this book are:

  • We live in an international economy. As capital moves freely over the globe in search of more capital, it subjects the workers of all nations to increasingly similar conditions.
  • By enforcing national borders, capitalism prevents workers from uniting to defend themselves. National borders divide workers into legal, illegal, documented, undocumented, permanent, temporary, native-born, and alien.
  • The global trade in labor proves that the capitalist class have no loyalty to any group of workers. The extent to which workers fail to understand this and stand behind “their” capitalist class is the extent to which they fail to protect their own interests as workers.

This book confirms the need for workers of all nations to unite in common cause against the capitalist class.

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