Socialist Worker

No Logo: a 'bad mood rising' against the system

Naomi Klein's No Logo, a new book which rips into the giant firms that want to control our lives is reviewed by Charlie Kimber

Issue No. 1686

No Logo cover

No Logo is a new book aimed at the millions across the world who are not satisfied with the trashy future offered by the multinationals and the governments that support them. Its author is Naomi Klein, a young radical journalist from Canada. She celebrates the feeling that there is a "bad mood rising" against the giant companies and their brand names.

She hopes that "as more people discover the brand name secrets of the global logo web, their outrage will fuel the next big political involvement, a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting transnational corporations. "Anti-corporatism is the brand of politics capturing the next generation of troublemakers and shit stirrers." No Logo explodes the empty promises of globalisation, the idea that letting the market rip leads to wider prosperity and broader choice. "This is a global village where some multinationals, far from levelling the global playing field with jobs and technology for all, are in the process of mining the planet's poorest for unimaginable profits. This is the village where Bill Gates lives, amassing a fortune of $55 billion."

The giant multinationals are trying to restrict what we can read or listen to. Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the US, routinely removes magazines from its stores which do not fit the company's "family values" philosophy. Even major titles like Cosmopolitan and Vibe show the company advance copies to check they are acceptable. Record companies often change CDs to fit in with the retailers' views. Blockbuster Video, which controls a quarter of the US home video market, has forced film makers to change scripts and cut scenes.

Branded at school

KLEIN TEARS into the giant corporations who "proudly inform you that Brand X is not a product but a way of life, an attitude, a set of values". She shows just how much the corporations try to dominate every aspect of life, and how governments have let them do it. Pizza Hut controls the catering in 4,000 US schools. Children who get the equivalent of free school meals are not allowed to eat at the Pizza Hut section.

Instead they are restricted to the facilities for "poor kids"-and even these canteens are not allowed to provide anything which might be regarded as competition with the school catering's main sponsor. Coca Cola's schools programme reaches everywhere. In 1998 Greenbriar High School in Georgia organised an official "Coke Day" in an effort to win the corporation's $500 marketing competition. The centrepiece of the day involved all 500 students wearing Coke T-shirts. Heroic school student Mike Cameron was not prepared to conform and, in an act of gross rebellion, wore a Pepsi T-shirt. He was suspended from school.

Exploitation zone

KLEIN ALSO shows the brutal sweatshop exploitation condoned by clothing companies and shoe manufacturers who trade on their "stylish" image. In the Cavite export processing zone in the Philippines 50,000 workers produce items such as Nike running shoes, Gap pyjamas and IBM computer screens. The zone is a (tax free) miniature military state, one of 52 in the country which employ almost 500,000 people.

Almost all firms in these zones have rules against talking at work. Some do not permit smiling. In Cavite the regular shift is from 7am to 10pm. The minimum wage is $6 a day. But firms can, and do, apply to pay less because their work is essential to "boosting export trade". In Sri Lanka sweatshop workers sleep in dormitories painted with white lines like car parks. If you want really cheap labour, go to China. Here, according to a 1998 survey, workers producing goods for Adidas, Nike, Wal-Mart, Ralph Lauren and others commonly work 84 hours a week in fume-filled factories. They earn around 13p an hour.

One of the effects when work is subcontracted abroad is to destroy jobs in countries like the US. Millions of people are offered nothing but low paid, burger-flipping "McJobs". A young worker in the Starbucks coffee empire told Klein, "People our age are finally realising that we get out of university, we're a zillion dollars in debt, and we're working in Starbucks. This isn't how we want to spend the rest of our lives. I was hoping that Starbucks would be a stepping stone to bigger and better things. But unfortunately it's a stepping stone to a big stink-hole."

Revolt against corporations

NO LOGO is much more than a catalogue of corporate crime. It charts the rise of revolt against the corporations, stretching from attempts to unionise in Indonesia and the Philippines to the anti-sweatshops movement which is now so strong on campuses in the US. Klein rightly points out that anti-capitalist feeling is growing in the US and Britain, as well as the Third World: "Today it's hard to find a contented company town where citizens do not feel they have been betrayed by the local corporate sector." Klein shows that campaigns can hurt the multinationals. In 1997 black and Latino kids from the Bronx, mostly aged 11 to 13, protested outside Nike's headquarters. These kids had previously competed to get the latest in Nike footwear. But they had learned that shoes which sold for between $100 and $180 cost Nike $5 to make.

Similarly, environmental campaigners Helen Steel and Dave Morris took on and humiliated McDonald's in a British libel trial in 1994. They showed that the company exploited children as targets for advertising, paid low wages and had autocratic management. No Logo is a powerful read and full of hope. But it leaves you thirsting for a deeper understanding of capitalism. It is certainly true that some clothing companies have abandoned all manufacturing and subcontract everything to companies abroad.

But that is not the dominant industrial trend. For the past 30 years US durable manufacturing output has grown steadily by around 3 percent a year. The city of Seattle, where the revolt against the WTO took place, is itself dominated by the Boeing plant where around 80,000 people work. And, as Klein partially recognises, it is easy to overestimate the power of the brands and the multinationals to fool us.

Dissecting capitalism

MARXISM PROVIDES an analysis of the dynamics of the capitalist system. In the 19th century Karl Marx felt outrage at capitalism, and the injustice and inequality around him. Marx's work, and the work of later socialists, confronts head-on the issues which Klein raises.

It is the relentless search for profit which explains why firms scour the earth for the cheapest raw materials and the best value labour. It is the aggressive competition at the heart of the system which leads to firms getting larger and larger as they smash their rivals. But Marxism also analyses the emptiness at the heart of modern life which the brands falsely claim to solve. Capitalism separates workers from any control over the means of producing wealth. They are forced to labour for the elite which owns and controls the means of production.

The vast majority experience work as something alien and unpleasant. In addition, they have no say over what happens to the products of their labour. This condition of alienation is dehumanising, with workers separated from their real human nature, and from each other. When the market dominates everything, processes which are the result of human decisions appear to be unalterable laws. It is "the market" which appears to decide who has a job and how much people are paid, who starves and who feasts.

Marxism lifts the veil on this system and puts humans back in charge. It shows that the system which produces drudgery and (for the most part) compliance also produces crisis, revolt and a working class which can be the basis for a revolutionary transformation. No Logo makes you angry about the stifled existence which the multinationals offer humanity. But it also leaves you hopeful that there is a massive mood for change. The mood of anti-capitalist revolt needs to develop into an effective socialist organisation to build a new world.

No Logo by Naomi Klein is normally £14.99.
Bookmarks is offering it at the special price of £12.99 (plus £2 postage) for a limited period. 
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Article information

Sat 4 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1686
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