The new era of globalised production was meant to avoid two things—economic crises and workers’ resistance.
The first theory collapsed along with US investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008, whose fall triggered the worst international recession since the 1930s.
Now a growing rebellion by workers in China and Bangladesh signals an end to the myth that “footloose” capital left low paid workers powerless.
Strikes in Chinese factories owned by multinationals have been followed by strikes and protests by Bangladeshi textile workers (see page 4). And the strikes have scared the bosses.
We were told demands for higher wages would simply result in firms upping sticks and moving to the next pool of cheap labour.
Yet workers in China’s components assembly plants or Bangladesh’s textile factories have a crucial role in the global supply chains of huge multinational firms.
This gives them real bargaining power to organise and drive up wages.
Many are organised around fragile “just in time” production network which keep vital inventory stocks low making them quickly vulnerable to strike action that stops production.
Workers in China and Bangladesh are following in the footsteps of workers in Spain and Italy in the 1960s, Portugal and South Africa in the 1970s and South Korea in the 1980s.
They are no longer prepared to tolerate the low wages and harsh factory discipline that their parents, who were first generation rural migrants, accepted.
Globalised capitalism has created an ever bigger and more powerful world working class. The size of the new Chinese proletariat alone is vastly bigger than the entire international working class when Karl Marx wrote.
Chinese and Bangladesh workers have fought before. But a new force is stirring—and they are our sisters and brothers.