07 March 2011

Globalization and the race to the bottom in Wisconsin

The globalization of economics as we have come to know it is revealing itself rather dramatically in Wisconsin. It has ravaged the market for well-paying blue-collar jobs in the U.S., reducing the wages and benefits of middle class Americans in the bargain. Now right-wing politicians are exploiting the wreckage to slash the wages and benefits of public sector workers. It's called the race to the bottom.

The race does not, however, include the corporate sector. Just as politicians like Wisconsin governor Scott Walker use the new global order to justify union-bashing, they use it also to justify cutting taxes for corporations, citing the need for ever more investment. Ah, the symmetry of global capitalism!

Now don't get me wrong. I support globalization. I support the breaking down of barriers. But what we have seen isn't globalization, it is—for lack of a better word—corporatization. It is drawing up agreements that advance the interests of corporations, particularly in their relentless search for cheap labour, while dismissing or even undermining the interests of workers, the environment and democracy generally. For example, under NAFTA American corporations are free to seek out cheap labour in Mexico but Mexican workers are not free to seek out high wages in the United States.

The theory of corporatization is that we will all benefit ultimately by trickle-down from the prosperity of corporations. As workers in Wisconsin are finding out, there isn't much trickling going on.

A humane globalization would ensure that the rights of workers and respect for the environment were internationalized no less than trade. If tariffs were not allowed to protect a country's industries, neither would the exploitation of workers nor the abuse of the environment. But such is not the case. Blue collar jobs in places like Wisconsin can be farmed out to the coerced labour mills of China, dragging American wages down in first the private sector, then the public. It is a sad spectacle to see a noble idea—globalization—corrupted into a vehicle for exploitation and the undermining of human rights.

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