by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
Some Americans feel, mistakenly, that they live in a different universe from Bangladeshis. However, “The American retailers supplied by the Bangladeshi workers routinely practice wage theft, reduce hours worked and prevent their employees from earning a living wage.” It is, so far, only a matter of degree.
Freedom Rider: Crushed by Capitalism
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
(photo by Taslima Akhter)
“Worldwide finance capitalism is the villain in this tale.”
When we speak of people being crushed it is usually in metaphorical terms. Political defeat, and oppressions of various kinds can be described as such, but the reference is rarely a literal one.
At a textile factory complex in Savar, Bangladesh at least 300 and perhaps as many as 1,000 garment workers were crushed to death when the building they were working in collapsed. It was the second incident of large scale fatalities involving Bangladeshi textile workers since last November when 112 people were killed in a garment factory fire.
American, Canadian and European retailers have come to depend on sweat shops located in Haiti, Bangladesh, or China in order to maximize their profits. When Americans shop at Walmart, H&M, the Gap, or Sears for clothing bargains they often emerge with clothing made by people who risk their lives in return for very little income.
It is too easy to blame the Walmarts of the world when these deaths take place, but Walmart is but a symptom of a larger disease. Worldwide finance capitalism is the villain in this tale and will continue to crush millions around the world as it reaches what appears to be its late stage of existence.
This financial system has nothing to offer except a succession of bubbles, first Internet, then stock market and finally real estate. The end result of these machinations is always suffering of the masses of working people, who are becoming more and more expendable in the capitalist world.
“When Americans shop at Walmart, H&M, the Gap, or Sears for clothing bargains they often emerge with clothing made by people who risk their lives in return for very little income.”
It would be a mistake to see the Bangladeshi experience as being so different from our own. The American retailers supplied by the Bangladeshi workers routinely practice wage theft, reduce hours worked and prevent their employees from earning a living wage or having an opportunity to secure more employment. Part-time work has become the norm, making American workers’ lives more and more difficult and making the employer more and more wealthy.
Walmart workers may not be crushed by collapsing buildings but they are churned in and out at a rapid rate, unable to earn enough to qualify for the little health benefits that the nation’s largest employer offers. There is a reason they are called associates and not employees.
The subcontractor system used in Bangladesh to separate image conscious retailers from the dirty work of dangerous factories is used in this country too. A federal judge has ruled that Walmart will be a co-defendant in a class action lawsuit alleging wage theft at distribution centers run by subcontractors. When we Americans see news stories about the Bangladesh tragedy we ought to see ourselves in the story too.
Even Americans who have retired from the workplace treadmill aren’t safe from exploitation, in this case by our government. Thanks to Barack Obama and congressional democrats the comfort they should have in their later years is waning fast. The Obama-created budgetary sequester has taken a toll on cancer patients turned away from treatment because of cuts to Medicare. Head Start centers have lost slots for children, unemployment benefits have been cut and Section 8 housing assistance has been slashed.
“When we Americans see news stories about the Bangladesh tragedy we ought to see ourselves in the story too.”
Americans are at the mercy of greedy corporations and two political parties who plot to steal their money and keep them poor. The illusion of difference has played out like a kabuki play, with Democrats acting as if they are fighting the Republicans. Ultimately workers and retirees lose out as their money is snatched in clear and brazen class warfare.
Bangladeshis reacted to the deaths with great anger. Walk outs, demonstrations and strikes cut garment production in days after the building collapse. The righteous indignation is the first step towards justice for Bangladeshi workers, but it is also the first step for people all over the world. Americans are convinced to side with a political party that works only to push them into poverty when they too ought to be hitting the streets.
The system we live in is essentially corrupt and cannot act in our interests. We are being treated like sweat shop workers as the unsustainable economy we live in implodes. Unfortunately, there is little understanding of our true plight. There should be a discussion of the desperation of our conditions, what causes them and what we should plan for next.
The Bangladeshi workers get the full brunt of the terror inherent in our system. Our demise is slower and a bit less violent, but it is an ending nonetheless.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.