Corporate politics worldwide is essentially how the transnational capitalist class (TCC) manufactures consent in its favour by any possible means.
Supranational economic planning agencies such as the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank and the OECD in tandem with global business planning forums such as the World Economic Forum, the Trilateral Commission and the International Chamber of Commerce carry out the political agenda of the TCC by pursuing pro-capital international regulations even as the national governments harmonize their deregulating regulations with those of the international regulations. The purpose is to eventually transform transnational capital to a class with a sense of universalism. To construe that the supranational agencies are autonomous is an illusion as they work on the shadow dictates of their creators. The TCC is led by metropolitan capital.
The implementation of the dictates of the supranational agencies is so coercive that whoever opposes them is snubbed and crushed by way of various sanctions of not only these agencies but also of their creator-metropolitan states. Many a time, this goes beyond economic sanctions, as its ideological and political content represents international governmentalism forced upon by the leadership of America.
The international regulatory harmonization is confined largely to those particular areas important to capital as political stability, low transaction costs, minimal investment risk, and facilitation of inter-state movement of capital and goods and, more generally, to structuring the global political economy in ways that are supportive of capital and trade. Privatizing and trans nationalizing of public services including health, education, collection and supply of water, transport, energy, etc; eliminating all forms of state intervention to regulate investors; opening national public expenditure to transnational competition; privatizing social security, pension funds, insurance; and appropriation and commodification of all types of resources, i.e. water, biodiversity, patents on life etc., are all on the agenda of the supranational agencies such as the WTO.
And this is sought to be done without enforceable international regulations on social-human rights, labour rights, education, health, housing, etc. These social sustainability regulations are regarded as imposition of excessive and unjustified costs on capital and trade.
As the national governments seek to decimate radical social movements, the new world order of the TCC has become a breeding ground for brutal states, radical movements and also terrorism.
The shifting of regulatory responsibilities to the international bodies is also a part of the calculated effort to depoliticize local governments, especially with respect to those matters that might be contentious at the national level. The shifting of welfare related responsibilities downwards to the mercy of private agencies (corporates and NGOs) is to glorify the private sector and market by discrediting the public sector.
Further, regional economic integration projects like ASEAN and SAARC have the goal of converting the whole regions concerned into virtually one nation for capital. The region will be a single market as also the production base in terms of free flow of goods, services, and capital investments without free flow of labour. Free flow of skilled labour, i.e., engineers, management professionals, etc. is allowed sometimes. Moreover, these projects have the potential of emerging as regional states in influencing economic, political and social policies. Therefore, with regional integrations taking shape, transnational corporations will ultimately be more powerful than the states. And by their blackmailing threats to relocate, they can easily control and suppress labour and labour resistance.
Consent in favour of the TCC is also manufactured through the creation and operation of the new international division of labour in terms of global value chains associated with a vast global reserve army of labour. The multinational brands are reaping super profits in manufacturing by exploiting cheap, informal labour of developing countries by way of flexibilised production and flexibilised labour relations and by transferring all the economic (infrastructural), social and environmental costs of production and all financial and operational risks to the subcontracting factories in the developing countries. International division of labour sometimes presents a spectacle as if the capital of developing countries is reduced to the status of managers of transnational capital. The local managers remain submissive for the fear of losing job any time as transnational capital may fly away to a more profitable destination any time. The decline and fall of the Soviet Bloc and the integration of China into the capitalist world economy have drastically increased the number of workers competing with one another worldwide. Besides, accumulation by dispossession in various ways has resulted in the mass destruction of livelihoods and displacement of population, thereby swelling the reserve army of labour in almost all developing countries. In sectors other than manufacturing, the TCC is virtually converting the informal sector producers into wage labour at their own workplaces — by way of promoting cash crops, contract farming and the like and assimilating them into the global value chains. In the process, a consent in favour of capitalism is enforced by leaving no space for any alternative system of working and living for the majority of the population. This dependence of people on capitalism is aided well by transforming educational and cultural institutions into capitalist ones, and by continuously creating new wants for the people and propagating competitive consumerism and individualism.
Finally, consent on a long-term, non-coercive basis is sought in the following ways. At the factory level, new management techniques are used for manipulating the workers’ personalities to willingly consent to power relations of the employment relationship. The identity and fate of workers are cleverly attached to the success of the companies or brands. Managers and CEOs show patronizing behaviour and present the employment relations as family relations, thereby confusing control with coordination. They also resort to continuously feeding some kind of nationalist or regionalist or racial feelings in order to blur the class consciousness of the workers. Implementation of total quality management (TQM) techniques, for example, promotes the workers’ willingness to deploy all their capabilities to increase the profitability, and systematically infuses in workers a false consciousness as if they get empowered in doing so. Any independent organization of workers is not allowed to emerge by direct interventionist mechanisms of the bosses. All these practices cumulatively build up the cultural and political hegemony of capital in the workplace.
The effectiveness of strategizing on these lines is sought by indulging in propaganda work not only at the factory level but also at the societal level. Corporate owned or controlled mass media, film industry, public relations industry, advertising industry, and NGOs and academicians in conjunction with state propaganda machinery, pro-corporate political parties, and various reactionary social and cultural organizations constitute the propaganda army of the TCC. They work directly or indirectly to form consent of the people for the way of life and the way of reformist-thinking that capital wants to promote. Misinformation, no information, glorification of individualism, self-interest, greed, competition (for getting rich) and endless consumerism, over-emphasizing the role of corporates in development, projecting bad image of democracy and any democratic movement, projecting human face of capitalism and TINA (there is no alternative) syndrome, glorifying obedient workers and projecting bad image of those not ready to accept exploitation, etc. are all part and parcel of the propaganda, which particularly co-opts the vocal middle class sections. The mass media fully controlled by the corporates consciously downplays and many times completely ignores great strikes on the part of workers and strong people’s movements and reduces their political effectiveness to the minimum. Moreover, by over-projecting and thereby intensifying the consciousness of social divisions and conflicts, the capitalist propaganda targets to break and delay the unity of all the working people to effectively fight against the hegemony of capital.
Now, consider labour politics as a countervailing power against the above corporate politics.
The history of capitalism is also the history of wage labour–the working class. Workers have rebelled on and off against capitalism. Workers have organised unions, struck, picketed, boycotted and formed political organisations and parties. Sometimes they have won their battles and improved their lot. And many a time they have lost and bitten the dust. And yet they can say to capital, as a collective chest-up, a la the song by Queen, thus:
“There are plenty of ways that you can hurt a man
And bring him to the ground
You can beat him
You can cheat him
You can treat him bad and leave him
When he’s down
Hey I’m gonna get you too
Another one bites the dust
There have been, in the last two decades, numerous wildcat strikes (e.g., in China) and even violent struggles leading to workers killing the managers/CEOs (like in the case of the Graziano company in Noida in India).
Marxist intellectuals, in general, see in the global working class a powerful enemy of capitalism even as some others, including many Marxists, have given up the hope that the working class will ever defeat the capitalist class in the absence of serious strategies to find unity and overcome divisions within itself.
In light of this, it is argued here that labour politics for advancement of the welfare of the working people must have three inter-related pragmatic agendas, viz., building unity in diversity to defeat capital’s attempts to divide and rule; adopting new organising strategies for translating crisis into opportunity; and reducing the reserve army of labour and its negative impacts.
The history of socio-political movements including labour movements is also the history of pursuing sectional issues and interests, and thereby, ultimately, digging their own graves. In order to build unity in diversity of working people at various levels first, the common issues of all sections of the working class must be articulated and second, an organisational structure needs to be built so as to function at all levels by providing enough elbow room for unity in diversity in terms of caste, gender, race, minority and nationality issues and integrating the fragmented souls of sectional issues all the same.
Currently, organizing and collective bargaining at factory level are becoming highly difficult if there is no strong support from other unions in the industry and in the region. In sectors with greater informalisation of workforce, it has become almost impossible to organize factory level unions. However, these problems also create a new and better opportunity to build more political class organizations of workers treating families/dependents of workers also as part of them, and to address concerns of social, cultural, political and economic issues that the workers face in the factory as also society. The industry unions built on such strategies, while increasing the overall power of the working class, will also increase the collective power of workers at the factory level. It may also prove effective in ending trade union economism (business unionism) which divides the workers of different factories in the same industry by practising collective bargaining based on the paying capacity of particular employers. Industrial unionism and industrial collective bargaining can set the common standards of wages and working conditions in particular industries and thereby build a strong base for workers’ unity across factories in particular industries. Business unionism needs to be replaced by social movement unionism or social justice unionism wherein labour organisations are not distinct from social movements and form a part of a wider ecosystem of political activism that includes faith groups, civic and residents’ organisations and student groups.
There is an urgent task to build a certain level of common understanding among various trade unions and other labour organizations representing various shades of ideologies and politics to form a united front of labour so as to shift the balance of power in favour of labour and to transform labour movement from being defensive to becoming offensive for compelling the state to legislate and implement pro-labour policies. Moreover, with the regional integration of economies, the labour movement in any country may not remain effective if there are no efforts to integrate the labour movement at the regional level. The struggle for pro-labour policies at the national level can be effective only if it is accompanied by an international labour movement challenging the WTO and instituting international regulations on labour particularly for transnational corporations, and fighting for a pro-labour policy in regional integrations. The struggle against anti-labour mobility of capital can only be effective with regional-international solidarity of labour. In the current international division of labour with production chains/assembly lines of multinational corporations spread in various countries, the struggle of workers in particular factories in particular countries affects workers in other countries and therefore international solidarity across assembly lines determines the level of effectiveness of the strikes.
In parliamentary democracy, labour as also social activists must realize that no national level mass movement can be effective if it is not emerging as a political organization and political movement and using parliamentary politics as a means for consolidating and reconsolidating its mass base and politics, and affecting the state policies in favour of masses.
The propaganda of capital needs to be countered with an equally effective counter-propaganda of labour. This is a difficult task and requires building alternative institutions of education, research, culture, media, etc. However, if socio-political movements clearly understand the importance of this task, they can at least make it as an integral part of their organizing and movement building work so as to continuously raise the consciousness of workers.
Expansion of the reserve army of labour is one of the factors that weakens the unity of labour and increases the dominance of capital over labour by intensifying the competition among workers for jobs. Therefore, labour movements must counter this by taking up three tasks. First, there should be fight for uniform labour code and coverage of all workers under protective labour laws. Secondly, forming cooperatives of the self-employed workers can be the most effective way to transform their vulnerable livelihoods into sustainable livelihoods, and thereby helping them to come out of the sink of the reserve army of labour. Moreover, consumer cooperatives of industrial wage workers can be formed involving the family members of workers so as to reduce the vulnerabilities of workers. The co-operatives may also be an effective means to develop a collective consciousness and to create an alternative way of living and working, thereby scuttling the dominance of capital over labour. Thirdly, a social security system that reduces the vulnerabilities of the workers and guarantees adequate benefits to sustain a dignified living, also reduces the negative impacts of the reserve army, because it reduces the compulsions for accepting low wage jobs. Therefore, it is a most important issue of the labour movement. A universal social security must guarantee employment and pension, as the Constitutional right of all citizens in the Indian context, for instance.
Annavajhula J.C. Bose,
Professor, Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi;
Director, Centre for Workers Education, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in the blogs are that of the authors and no way represents the position of the Odisha Economic Association. For any copyright materials used by the authors, if any, the authors would solely be responsible