|A. The History of the
||Knowledge of the role of labor is
essential to understanding the economics of the culture of capitalism. In Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism we
portray the workings of capitalism as a black box into which investors or capitalists (and
we all are, in one way or another, capitalists) put money, and from which they expect to
receive more money. The black box can be anything from a bank account or an
insurance policy to a stock portfolio or a multinational corporation. For the
investor, the way that the amount of money is increased in the black box matters little.
All he or she knows is that one sum of money returns a greater sum. However,
it is the workings of the black box that we must understand, and the organization and
exploitation of labor is often what determines how much greater that sum is. The
question is what is the human cost of turning money into more money?
|Reading 1. The Manifesto of the Communist
||Reading original texts, as opposed
to second or third hand descriptions of them, is invaluable, and Karl Marx and Friederick Engels'
Manifesto of 1848 is one of the most influential texts ever written. It can be said
to mark a critical stage in the awareness of workers that they represented a special and
unique class, and that the economy of which they were a part depended on their
exploitation. Ironically few people, in spite of its historical importance, have
actually read it. You can skip the various prefaces (although they are generally
brief), but read the Opening
(as familiar in some countries as the Gettysburg Address is to us), and the section on Bourgeoisie and
Proletarians. Feel free, of course, to continue and read the whole thing.
1. An Eclectic List of Events in U.S. Labor History
||A quick view of U.S. labor
history from 1806 when the union of Philadelphia Journeymen Cordwainers was convicted of and bankrupted by charges of criminal conspiracy
to the 1989 coal strike against the Pittston Coal Company.
|Exercise 2. Between a Rock and a Hard Place:
Sweatshops in America
||Marx and Engels' view of the laborer
was formed, in part, by the working conditions they witnessed in the textile mills
of Manchester, England in the first half of the nineteenth century. But
"sweatshops" seem always to be a feature of industrialization. The
Smithsonian Institution features a Web tour of the history of sweatshops in America,
beginning in the 1820s, and taking it right to the present. Take the tour, and later
you will get an opportunity to determine how you contribute to the development of
|B. The Role of Labor
in the Global Economy
Problems and the Culture of Capitalism we discuss the expansion of multinational
corporations to countries all over the world. Generally the expansion marked the
continuing effort of businesses to seek out the cheapest source of labor. There is
nothing intrinsically wrong in this; after all, the role of the capitalist is to make
money (as those of us with bank accounts, insurance policies, and pension funds fully
appreciate), and one of the best ways to do that is to reduce the cost of production and
service. This tends to be more important for some industries than for others;
industries (such as textiles, shoes, electronics, and toys) that are highly competitive,
in which styles change rapidly, and in which profit margins are small, depend for their
profits on cheap sources of labor. The question, of course, is how does this search
for cheaper sources of labor impact on people?
|Reading 2: Participation
in the World of Work
||Finding cheap sources of labor
requires a surplus work force; that is, the greater the number of people looking for work,
the lower wages they are likely to accept. And, as this report by the International Labor
Organization notes, there are lots of people looking for work. That is one of
the problems with the economics of the culture of capitalism; there are what economists
call "business cycles," the ups and downs of manufacture and trade.
Economists are generally correct when they say that these cycles eventually balance
out. However, as the present global financial crisis indicates, what for economists
are ups and downs, for people translate into prosperity and crisis.
|Reading 3. "Just
||Sarah Cox begins this article on the
economics of sneakers by contrasting Bev Smith, a well-known Canadian basketball
Olympian,and Sukaesih, an undistinguished Indonesian factory worker. One wears the
sneakers, the other made them. The article explains why shoe manufacturers,
such as Nike, seek to exploit cheap labor, and discusses the consequences of their
actions. Nike, of course, is not unique (and is probably not as bad as many other
companies), but it has been the focus of labor protest because of its prominence.
Our Fruit, Their Labor and Global Reality
||You need not only
consider who makes your shoes; consider also who collects your
food. This article by Dana Frank outlines the ways in which fruit
producers, such as Chiquita, Del Monte and Dole, try to keep their labor
costs as low as possible by playing counties off against each
other. It is a good example of what anti-globalization activists
mean by "a race to the bottom."
Industrial Complex and the World Economy
||This article by Eve Goldberg and
Linda Evans is a general attack on the growth of the prison industry, particularly in the
United States. There are more people per capita in U.S. prisons than in any other
country of the world. They argue that prisons have become big business, and that
there is a vested interest in ensuring that there are enough prisoners to fill them.
Furthermore, they argue, prisons have become major sources of cheap labor for
|Exercise 3. How Much Do You
Contribute to the Growth of Sweatshops?
||One of aims of the book Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism is to
help readers understand how entangled we all are in the global economy, and how our
actions contribute to many of the problems that seem so distant from us. To
illustrate, play this global game from the Smithsonian
Institution's Web exhibit on sweatshops.
|C. The Roles of Women
and Children in the Global Economy
||An important characteristic of labor is the
fact that it is segmented. That is, it is divided into relatively highly skilled and
well paying jobs, and supposedly less skilled, low paying jobs. The implication of
this of often missed by people who speak about "eliminating poverty"; if this
division always exists (and it will as long as there are industries that depend on cheap
labor for their survival), then there must always be an underpaid and overexploited
group. The identity of this class of workers may change, as it did in the United
States. But regardless of the identity of these workers, as long as there is a need
for cheap and overworked labor, and as long as there are more people than jobs, the
unemployed and underemployed will always be with us. Furthermore, social
discrimination, whether it is an outgrowth of the culture of capitalism or not, will make
certain groups--largely women, children, and disenfranchised minorities--more susceptible
than others to economic exploitation.
|Reading 6: Life on the Line
||None of us are removed from the
exploitation of labor. This article by Miriam Ching Louie from The New Internationalist
describes the plight of migrants and women in the United States and Mexico who produce
many of the jeans sold all over the world.
|Reading 7. Child Labor is Growing
in Africa: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/inf/pr/1998/4.htm
||As economic conditions decline,
women, children, and disenfranchised minorities must work for lower and lower wages.
Furthermore, the breakdown of social units, such as families, requires more people to seek
employment. Thus, in Africa, as this report from the International Labor
Organization reveals, 41 per cent of all children between the ages of five and 14 are
involved in economic activity.
|Reading 8. Sex Industry Assuming
Massive Proportions in Southeast Asia
||Laborers must subsist on the sale of
their labor--there is little else they have to sell in the market. For women, the sex
industry is often their only opportunity for wages. As this report from the ILO indicates, the
sex industry is one of the few growth areas in Asia.
||Not only must some segments of the
population accept less desirable jobs, they often must accept lower wages than more
favored segments of the population for the same work. Thus, as this article from the
AFL/CIO indicates, women earn
for equivalent jobs, on the average, .74 for every $1.00 earned by men.
||Most people believe that
slavery is a thing of the past. However, as this article by Kevin
Bales reveals, slavery thrives in many parts of the world. You can
also get some basic
facts about the world slave trade.
Click Here for Additional Web Resources on the