Immanuel Ness discusses trade unions and labour laws in India, social relations between labour and capital in the global south, merits of spontaneity in workers’ agitations, and much more.
Immanuel Ness, professor of political science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, spoke to The Wire on trade unions and labour laws in India, social relations between labour and capital in the global south, merits of spontaneity in workers’ agitations and much more.
Ness has studied the working class in India for more than a decade and his observations appear in his book Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class which also has China and South Africa as case studies. The full transcript of the interview is available below the video.
Akhil Kumar: Hello and welcome to this video interview with Immanuel Ness. I am Akhil Kumar from The Wire and today we will discuss trade unions, labour laws, and the concerns of the working class in the global south and India vis-à-vis the developed nations in the West and other places which Immanuel has recently visited for his research. Immanuel Ness is a professor of political science at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. His book, Southern Insurgency: the Coming of the Global Working Class has India as one of the case studies. Welcome, Immanuel. Your research on India has required you to travel across the country a number of times, I’m assuming? Can you begin by commenting on the trade unions in India and the social relations between labour and capital here?
Immanuel Ness: Yes, I think it is well known that the trade unions have declined dramatically over the last 20-30 years since liberalisation took place. The original base of the trade unions were in the old import substitution industries and in the public sector and over the period of neo-liberalism that has gained greater force especially now, the capacity for trade unions to represent workers has declined dramatically. As a consequence, we have seen a growth of production for export promotion and also for internal production to a great extent. Much of this is funded by foreign direct investment and through private capital.
There is a very large amount of private capital in this country that pushes forward the kinds of rapacious production and these are the sectors of the workforce that traditional trade unions have had a very hard time organising in general. Many of the workers are contract workers and many of them work at wages that are 1/5th of what full-time workers have and this represents the major contradiction of trade unions in this country. The official unions have not mobilised nor organised members of the contract sector which represents at least 80% of all the workers in this country. That alone is one of the big questions. However, workers are organising themselves as they always do and always will. That’s part of the aspirations of workers that will always happen to a greater or lesser degree.
Over the last several years, I have seen an extensive growth in the level of self-activity amongst the workers and a greater degree of recognition that this sector of the working class in this country, which represents the mass majority of workers, is highly exploited, are living under the most horrendous slums and shanties around and within cities. They represent the major social force for transformation, not just from an economic perspective but also from a more extensive perspective, one that would perhaps change the society into one that is far more representative.
AK: You have studied working-class organisation in a number of countries. Did you notice anything unique during your research that you found in the methods in which the Indian trade unions organise and the Indian working class is putting up a resistance to global capital?
IN: Yes. Picking up on the point I was making earlier, Indian trade unions do not organise the vast majority of workers. They only organise exclusively amongst those workers who are full-time, permanent labourers, who tend to be better off and earn higher wages. They too are exploited but they are not super exploited in the way that contract workers are. So, in my travels around this country over the last decade or more, I found a number of organising campaigns that have been initiated. Most of them had been around issues of full-time workers. There have been some attempts amongst trade union organisations or NGOs to organise contract workers or at least to represent them in some way, but they have not been sustained in any case.
In India, the main contradiction is between contract workers and permanent workers and so you see various efforts amongst permanent members to organise and unions to organise and mobilise workers who are permanent, but efforts are made on the part on unions to organise contract workers to represent the vast majority. That is the major difference of India and other countries around the world where there is trade union competition. For instance, in a case such as South Africa, you have globalisation efforts that run the spectrum. In other words, there are contract workers in South Africa. However, you do not have the kinds of separation that are so distinct between permanent and contract workers. One could, for instance, point to cases where union officials will say, “we have been extremely successful in mobilising these Hyundai workers.” When I ask them about the contract workers, they say they do not organise them at all.
I think we should be happy for the kinds of organisations that do take place but I also think that if we really want to be serious about it, it represents a dividing line and further divides the working class in this country. If you are going to only mobilise full-time, permanent workers who are relatively privileged, and not mobilise the vast majority of workers who are far more impoverished, who live under far more difficult, unsanitary conditions without proper housing, and who work in conditions without even a basic wage package or pension. They go to work places where one can hardly breathe, such as Wazirpur.
This is a major issue in this country, and it is not so much in other countries. This is not to say that this is true and other countries do not have struggles. There are very important struggles that are unfolding and there are contradictions in the labour movements that are somewhat similar to India in the sense that the parties that represent trade unions and trade union centers are fraying and losing their commitment rooted in class struggle unionism. This is something that is almost universal, but in India, the major contradiction and division, is the difference between permanent and contract, and it plays itself out in furthering the super exploitation of the labour force of this country.
AK: You mentioned that you found out that the major trade unions are not interested in working with the unorganised sector. Why do you think that is?
IN: I would say that there are many different possibilities and credible arguments that it is not just a willful neglect of the majority of workers in this country. It has much to do with the setup in general that the structural conditions to organise contract workers are so limited that it makes it almost impossible for official trade unions to engage in that kind of activity. I would also say that the capitalist state of India, major corporations and the laws of this country make it almost impossible to organise contract workers. On the one hand, I would argue that the structures of the state that regulate labour and capital relations through labour commissioners and so forth read down negatively to any kind of possibility to organise within the system. The only way to organise is really outside the system and outside the official labour capital setup, as I would put it.
In that way, for instance, one could file a complaint but even those complaints are very difficult to act on and to affect more than several workers at a time. You can have workers struggles that involve more than a few because most workers are not even considered to be permanent. Due to this lack of permanency, if you go to the labour board or the labour commissioner and they will say “where is this worker? He doesn’t work here”. Workers can be fired at any moment and so in some ways, they are not even seen and this contract sector makes it very difficult for official unions to push it forward. One can also argue that there is a high level of corruption. In general, it is easy to just organise the permanent sector and with such a large working class in this country, if you are only just organising permanent workers that is a sizable class of workers and so if 20% of the workforce in this country were organised into a militant workforce, able to contract capital, that would be significant. At the same time, one can just imagine if the vast majority of workers, the other 80% or more, could be organised into unions that would create conditions for social transformation.
This is not something individual leaders of these unions want to do or they do not have the capacity to do it and it would take a huge fight against the state to achieve this. As I said a moment ago with respect to South Africa, the struggle in South Africa is unfurling and will continue to because there is a resistance that is developing amongst the working class and it is willing to fight back hard. There are some sectors of the trade union movement there that is willing to fight back to change the system. As we know, the end of apartheid did not bring about the equalisation of wages in any way. It has not provided labour rights in any significant manner, it has not created any kind of economic democracy, it has created more inequality as a consequence of their subservience to the norms of neo-liberal capitalism.
In this country, there is a longer history. The unions have been ossified over a long period of time and just like in the United States, this is the easy path. In the United States there is also reluctance to organise the least permanent, the temporary, the part-time and the contingent. There is a disdain for them in general. It is hard, its difficult and there is dispersion of that workforce. It is not easy to maintain relationships with those workers because they are easily fired and so it is a path that only organisations that are really willing to go on the line and take risks will actually succeed in doing so, and they will succeed.
AK: The emergence of this class of labour – the unorganised and contractual sector of labour – also has a lot to do with the labour laws in this country and the way they are changing right now. Do you think that is also the reason why we have come to a place where there is a huge unorganised sector which does not have job security, which works on low wages and do you also think that this is a common thing in the third world counties and developed nations?
IN: Yes, absolutely. I think that the march for greater levels of profitability and for the capacity to build a country, ‘Make In India’ is the big initiative being promoted by the current government. It isn’t too different from preceding governments, but what it is trying to do is trying to relax the existing labour laws and what it might do is push permanent workers into the informal sector, so I don’t think it will help contract workers in any way. Contract workers’ positions have always been marginalised. What these new liberal laws will do is create higher levels of flexibility for capital now, which will only assist multinational, monopoly capital institutions to invest in this country and invest in highly exploited labour.
I would argue that the conditions will only become more harsh, so the laws such as making women workers work 24 hours a day into the night is an example of flexibilisation in the guise of identity politics. Women have the right to be exploited at night just as they do in the daytime, but that is just one small example of this liberalisation which will take place and allow employers to hire workers for shorter periods of time. And so if I were a trade unionist in a trade union center, a leader of those unions would resist the kind of liberalisation laws that would contribute to greater levels of exploitation and a further reduction of membership. So while unions are already weak, they still have some influence in sectors of the economy that are primarily rooted in production for the state and so forth. That capacity will erode as time goes by and the ability to represent workers will diminish as a result of these laws. So flexibalisation leads to higher levels of precariousness – a term that I don’t generally use – for the more permanent sectors of the economy. In that sense, the permanent workers will fall to a position that is less solid and there might perhaps be a withdrawal of provident funds from workers in those sectors.
This is a dynamic that is happening in a lot of other countries, especially in the Global South where you see an effort to attack those organised workers and push them further into the proletariatised relationships without any protections, whether its wage, pensions, occupational safety, and so on. It’s a very disturbing development and there will be a need to react outside of the sphere of legislation. There is no question about that. I would also say that the strikes, while they are important, they seem symbolic. They seem like they are a year by year event which many people in the West may hear about and recognise that there are hundreds of thousands of workers that went on strike, but really what does that mean besides the symbolism behind it. If they went on strike for several weeks or months, which would be very difficult, they may gain something in the end for higher wages. Without that happening, these one day or two day strikes will not amount to much.
AK: On that note, what do you think of the recent strikes in France and the labour movement that is emerging in France where students have also joined the workers against the reforms and the labour laws there?
IN: France has a long history of labour militancy even though they do not represent the unions in a significant share. Historically, France has had a far lower union density rate than most countries in Europe or North America and the West, certainly with respect to the third world too. This stake is really cutting at the heart and soul of the labour movement because here again they are trying to introduce flexibility, just as they are here in India. In other words, there is a race to the bottom which many people refer to within labour circles. The capital is racing to the bottom and each country is trying to make itself more appealing to foreign investors as well as local investors. So, with respect to that series of strikes that broke out in May and into June and still continues to be a struggle between the unions and the socialist government of Hollande. If he succeeds – and it looks like he is holding out to succeed in an effort to reform labour laws to allow flexibility – it will contribute to the marginalisation of the working class there, especially the most permanent, the most well off, workers who are working for the government.
There are two points about the French system. It shows us the perils of relying on a political party for support, especially a socialist democratic party. The socialist party is really a capitalist party. It is a party that supports big business and France has those parties that are really partners of capital. That is one thing and I think that has been clear for years. The second thing that I would like to emphasise is that even if jobs in France are marginalised to some degree and made more flexible, the workers conditions in France are far better than they are in India and the rest of the Global South.
We do not have the conditions of super-explotation in France and Europe as you do here. One example of the super-exploitation is that we could be very concerned with the condition of the working class in the West. Of course, there is a higher cost associated with living in the West, but the typical worker makes anywhere from 2-5 lakhs a month. The typical, full-time worker in the permanent section is lucky if they make 50,000-75,000 rupees. So we can see a great difference in terms of the remuneration for workers and that is not even the typical worker; these are the permanent workers. You find that you have contract workers who make anywhere between 2,000-10,000 rupees on average, and so I would in no way consider an equivalence between the kinds of workers in the West – and this is one of the points of my book, Southern Insurgency – because I think there is a very high level of super-exploitation here.
It does not just translate itself with respect to specific jobs because a person says that the standard of living or cost of living is much better so they will make more money. I would argue that through the process of exchange and the fact that the workers in this country produce profit that are reinvested in the West or are sold in the West, it would be wrong to suggest that workers in the West are equivalent to workers here. In this country there is a very large garment sector, there is a very large shoe and athletic production sector, there is also electronic centers where the level of wages are an average 1/100th of what the wages may be in the West in equivalent sectors to the point that in fact, the garment sector does not for any real purposes exist. In North America and Europe it has been completely decimated.
India may produce some automobiles for Europe. Automobiles are kept lower priced because of the high levels of exploitation. I would argue that it is not because of technology but because of a large reserve army of labour, as Marx would point out, that keeps labour prices very low in this country, far lower than the West. If there is an abundant reserve army of labour, you will continuously have this kind of exploitation, especially if you have weak unions and a rapacious capitalist state as you do increasingly. We prey on this kind of exploitation and that capital flows to its lowest level just like water does and it flows here and it will continue to until workers fight back harder.
AK: Even in India we have seen that there is this emerging mistrust in the established trade unions. For instance, tea plantation workers in Munnar rebelled against the trade unions. The women rebelled because they felt that the trade unions were not representing their interests. We have also seen spontaneous movements in a lot of places in India. Why do you think this mistrust in traditional unions is taking place and do you think the established trade unions need to re-examine their strategy and reconnect with the workers in some way to gain the trust? Or do you think these spontaneous movements can lead them somewhere to substantial chance?
IN: I would argue that, that is true. You find, as you were pointing out with respect to women plantation workers and beyond, there is a growing level of mistrust and it expresses itself through spontaneous workers actions that are of a syndicalist nature and so forth. Especially when it takes place within a union framework, it calls attention to the failure of trade union centers to represent those workers. I would argue that because they are spontaneous they do not represent a threat. This is the major problem with spontaneity. I think a lot of people on the Left praise spontaneity, which I do myself, but it happens frequently. If you traverse the world you will find workers engaged in this kind of syndicalism or some people refer to it as ‘horizontalism’ – fighting against not just the boss but also their unions which have sold them out or not represented them properly. That is ubiquitous throughout the world. In India, it is very important that workers are representing their interests in this case. However, without a sustained organisation it will fall by the wayside. If you have a sustained organisation that does not necessarily want to fight back, these spontaneous actions would not lead to anything and I would bet that you would have more and more spontaneous actions. What they might lead to is maybe a short-term fix – a wage increase that would be implemented over a marginal period of time and then withdrawn as the standard of living and costs of living rise. So, it does not lead to any kind of improvement whatsoever in the long-run.
Some people would say that you are not taking into consideration that these actions are helping people in the short-term. I actually praise these actions and I think that they are very important, but I cannot say that they will lead to anything because they have always happened. I have always had trust in the working class and I think we all should hope that they will engage in militant action if they are highly exploited. All things being equal, that will happen. Will they have an organisation willing to back them is problematic and so unions don’t have much to fear from spontaneity whatsoever and this is a very serious point I think many academics, labour advocates, advocates and so forth must recognise that many people like to study how great the workers are, as I think struggle each day and take risks mostly for the boss, unfortunately, in terms of life-losing risks of being killed on the job.
However, I would say that the trade unions need to recognise the necessity to mobilise these workers and not just in spontaneous actions but sustained actions with direct objectives and goals and that should go beyond even the workplace. So, we can expect spontaneity. Unions will not be necessarily affected except for the continuous process of erosion of their membership, the distrust in their membership and the lack of any sense of solidarity with the union. This is happening not only in India but throughout the world where in fact some unions may risk that membership if it is large enough in a specific sector. In India the economy is so diverse and so gigantic that I don’t think there would be one sector in which that would take place that would actually shake the trade unions in a significant way.
We can examine a number of other countries where you have a highly concentrated capitalist investments where workers go on strike. In mining sectors or in highly concentrated EPZs (Export Processing Zones) where that could actually have an effect on unions, but in this country unions do not even represent EPZ workers to any great extent
AK: Coming back to policy, we are not into our 25th year of economic liberalisation and throughout these 25 years we have seen lot of policy measures aimed at opening up the market and promoting free flow of trade. Recently, our prime minister, Narendra Modi, put out these two flagship programs called ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’ which are focused on getting more people employed and getting the GDP higher. We are also focusing on getting more investments through foreign direct investments. What do you think of that?
IN: When I think of the efforts to achieve greater levels of foreign direct investment, these programs that you have mentioned are continuous attempts over the last 25 years to make India a country that is highly welcoming to foreign capital. The only way to do that is to relax labour laws. If you relax labour laws you will have an inimical effect on those sectors of the economy that are unionised, so unionisation rates will decline and that’s why we see these general strikes that take place over a period of time, protesting the changing laws that would allow for greater levels of flexibility at the expense of higher levels of exploitation of workers, including that thin layer of workers in this country that actually have some kind of protection, which is declining.
The other question that I look at is that I think it’s very important to juxtapose China and India in this context. They both have the same population. One has a further and higher level of GDP per capita, maybe twice as much or more, in which the working class has better conditions even without independent trade unions. That would be China. This is a very interesting question about political economy – could India become China? I don’t know, though I would say not in the short term. I don’t consider India an advanced capitalist state and this is not a question of parsing. In any case, I don’t consider China to be advanced. People like to come up with these terminologies of what countries are within the global economy but considering the level of poverty in this country compared to even China, it has got a long way to go.
The idea of ‘Make in India’ and all of these kinds of efforts to attract foreign capital will come at the expense of workers. Even if they attract capital into some of the more technologically advanced industries, in this country there is a high level of dependency on sweated labour. Low-wage labour and the contracting system makes it appealing for foreign capital so if you are a foreign investor looking at the athletic shoe wear industry which is a very big global industry in the global supply chain, and you are thinking to invest in India, you want the state to build the infrastructure, you want them to build the factories, you want them to provide a labour force that is docile. This has happened in China and has not really worked. As I have demonstrated in my book, there have been strikes that have made investors think twice before being in China. In India, what will they do? They will say the state may build all these kinds of infrastructures etc., but because the state is not that strong in terms of regulating the economy and its workforce, and because in China there is greater expectation for higher wages, because India will have the advantage of a contract labour system, it will use it as a means to attract foreign capital and it is doing so by eroding labour laws.
I don’t see major investment processes of infrastructure that are directed at foreign capital that say we are going to build a high-level technology base which will also have workers that are readily available who are in good physical shape, who are young and motivated to work. I see India saying, “some to India, because our wages are the lowest.” That is really, in some ways, a grotesque form of means to attract foreign capitalism. It is not saying that we are attracting capital because our workers are skilled or that our workers are docile even, but it is saying that our workers are so impoverished that they will expect pennies on the dollar compared to other workers around the world and that includes China. Not pennies, but a fraction of the wages that Chinese workers get.
I have seen that the major difference between China and India – notwithstanding the fact that there are economic processing zones, economic belts that exist in the peripheries in places like Hayrana – is that you see the relaxation of laws that make it easier for investment but you don’t see the level of economic activity rooted in new technology and proximity to foreign trade. While I think that India and China have great differences and that China depends on its ability to produce mass amounts of production very quickly, with respect to India, its reliance on a contracting labour system and the super-exploitation of labour – which does take place in China too but to a far greater degree here – is a major attraction to foreign capital.
However, on a positive note because I am an optimist, especially with respect to workers and the possibilities for change, if there is a workers movement that develops in this country that is focused on mobilising the contract sector, it could lead to dramatic change and not just inspire workers in this country but the working classes in the world. I consider India in many cases the epicenter of future struggles, especially as workers and activists recognise the significance of the working class position in this country. Unlike many other places, it is the contract labourers who are at the center of the class struggle more than any other sector in this country and so I am an optimist. I never was before with respect to India but I think I have reason to be optimistic that activist organisations that are principles outside of traditional trade unions will take the lead and will be able to mobilise this working class.
We know that people have their cultural values, their differentiation on the basis of class, caste, religion and so forth, but there are great possibilities for unity in this country that I would say, just as the government has become more repressive with respect to labour laws, I would say that the working class is becoming more self-consciously a class for itself and so I am very optimistic about that future.
AK: You have spoken quite a bit about the differences in the labour conditions in India and China. Since you have researched both in India and China, can you elaborate a little more on the methods in which the Chinese workers are organising and resisting repression and that in India?
IN: Yes. In India you have trade union centers and a system of politics which allows for many parties to run. Those trade union centers run the gamut, ideologically. They are representing fewer and fewer workers. With respect to China, you have one central trade union – the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) – which is run by the Chinese Communist Party, which dominates the trade union system there. In China, workers go on strike to a far greater degree than in India and so those strikes are largely expressed through spontaneous actions. For instance, we are now seeing a rise in the number of strikes that is shaking the Communist Party and the ACFTU into responding in some rudimentary way. Wages have gone up as a consequence of strikes and I think that is an object lesson for Indian workers – that striking is something that could actually lead to major wage gains, especially if workers strike within an industry or even across industries within a region. Yet, at the same time, you have the structure of a political party and a trade union which does not allow for independent organisation outside of that structure. So either you are to reform that trade union – the ACFTU – to become more responsive or be more class conscious and respect the interests of the workers, or you are going to have to create new organisations and that is not necessarily in the cards as I would see in the short term.
With respect to India, one of the advantages of India is that you have the possibility of forming organisations independent of the trade unions or the trade unions could reform themselves, and that could be true for China as well. There is the possibility of independent action that is greater here than in other countries. Therefore, the problem is that, just like in China, the unions are docile, they don’t really go on independent actions and they represent only a fraction of the workers. However, there is the possibility of independent trade unions that are rooted in parties, as opposed to NGOs, that could have a very large effect in transforming the calculus here in this country. Consequently, I would say that those groups would probably potentially grow dramatically because I think they do have workers’ backs and workers recognise that they represent their interests, especially the contract workers. The permanent workers will also have an interest in defending their wages now that there has been this government attack under the BJP leadership against the permanent sector workers. So, as we saw with Maruti Suzuki to an extent, there could be a unity between permanent and contract workers. I think this is the wave of the future.
AK: You mentioned an interesting point in your book – that here, you have seen that the permanent workers and the contractual workers, even though they are paid different wages, one of them is paid relatively well and the other is paid peanuts. Even then, you say that you have seen solidarity between them instead of more difference and more falling apart.
IN: Absolutely, and I think that solidarity will grow as these laws get enacted. I think they will get enacted or will get watered down in some way. But as the labour conditions in the permanent sector decline and erode, the permanent sector workers that are in and outside of trade unions will recognise, I believe out of self-interest, that their solidarity must come through allying in some way with the contract sector workers, who themselves are divided in certain ways and on certain bases. I am highly optimistic about that possibility and I think that what the government is trying to do will backfire against it, and I hope that takes place, because if someone cares about the working class and the Indian people, it is very important to build those kinds of solidarities. I would argue that there is a great need to do so and unions should focus on mobilising contract workers as well as full-timers even though its not in immediate interest to do so.
Absent that, I think the only possibility is for organisations to do that outside the NGOs and so forth, without foreign interest, who will mobilise politically and mobilise workers organisationally to defend their rights. As we have seen in Wazirpur, it has been major advances that took place two years ago in 2014 during the strike, in which there weren’t any permanent sector workers. These were contract workers who formed alliances across the steel sector in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Delhi. It is really stunning to see the level of poverty and exploitation. Once again, it reminds me of being in 19th century Britain in a novel. Obviously I’ve never been there, none of us have ever been there. It is such a shocking place to be. You can hardly breathe and even for visitors it is difficult and shocking to be in that neighborhood.
AK: Moving to global politics, we have recently witnessed Brexit and then we see statements from the US presidential candidate, Donald Trump, saying that he will take away jobs from Indians. We have seen this shift from a spirit of internationalism in trade unions and free flow of workers. Do you think we are now moving towards a situation where some sort of nationalist sentiment is creeping into trade unions as well? We saw some trade unions supporting Brexit and some of the working class backing Trump. Do you think there is a reason to worry for the working class?
IN: I think we have reason to worry to begin with because in any case, I don’t think there has been much international solidarity amongst trade unions and workers. It is something that we should all try to fight for. We see certain examples, especially within transports and logistics, dock workers often engage in solidarity around strikes. Getting to the growth of nationalism in Europe and North America as well as in East Asia and elsewhere, I think that this is a global trend. It reflects a rising level of fascism throughout the world and fascist parties of various types are proliferating, they have over the past 5-10 years and it is likely that some will take power.
With respect to Brexit, I would say that, to a large extent the opposition was to immigrant workers as opposed to exploiting workers in India or China. I don’t think the rhetoric focused in any way on how Chinese and Indian workers are taking our jobs. In the UK, it focused primarily around the issues of these immigrants are taking our jobs, these immigrants are living in wonderful homes, these immigrants are doing so much better than we are and they don’t deserve to even do as well. That is really a sign in which there is a growing level of nationalism. There is very little truth in those statements but sometimes there is a grain of truth, because there is absolutely an immigrant presence in the West, including North America which has a large Indian immigrant population that is relatively well-to-do and highly skilled, but not entirely.
I would say that the rise in nationalism, Brexit in one case is here to stay especially if we don’t have Left parties to fight back hard enough. In the United States, with respect to Trump as well as Clinton, the rhetoric of Donald Trump is appealing to the most ignorant people who have no clue and who actually benefit from products being sold to the US and being produced here in India. Donald Trump’s base is rooted amongst the working class and middle classes and even upper-middle classes which benefit from the exploitation of workers in India and China and elsewhere. They have no interest in ending this kind of exploitation. Trade with India and China has only helped Americans. The idea that American workers are going to produce garments at one dollar is bizarre and ridiculous – it will never happen.
What American workers want is to continue to have these kinds of relationships and so China and India make easy targets for the rhetoric of a working class in the United States that is downwardly mobile, yet it benefits from the exploitation of labour here in the Global South. I would say that that will never happen. I do not see the production of garments in the United States in the same way that it has been in the past because of the high levels of surplus values that are extracted in the South and realised in the North, and because American workers do benefit from the exploitation of workers here, which I think is the real issue of international solidarity. American and other Western workers should have alliances with working class here, whether that will take place in the future remains to be seen. Maybe if there is a socialist movement that is class conscious, that can happen in both places.
The rhetoric of Trump and the rhetoric of others are meaningless. They do not really have any base whatsoever, even amongst those people that they are appealing to. The only worry one would have is that it would contribute to higher levels of ‘xenophobism’ in the West, and it has. It is an easy target to blame people in other parts of the world, especially Asia and Africa, for the woes they have in the West which aren’t comparable in any way. Certainly, we have a working class that is exploited as well, and that working class should have the class consciousness to engage in solidarity with Indian and Chinese workers, South African workers, Bangladesh and Egyptian workers. That will help them to a higher extent and will also help the workers here, which is the main issue. I would worry more about Clinton in the sense that she wants to exploit India more. The Democrats are more interested in exploitation and are more interested in the in liberalisation that goes on. It is the ruling class really, and that is true in the UK and Europe and Japan, etc., they want to be able to exploit at a higher level.
The worry is that this process of foreign capital investment in India and throughout the Global South is cutting at the very base of the working classes in these countries and their capacities to survive in the urban zones where they now live in majorities. That is the major concern.
AK: Since we’re running out of time, we will have to end on that note. Thank you, Immanuel, for joining us. Thank you for watching this discussion and if you want to get regular updates on labour news in India and across the world, you can subscribe to the newsletter, the link to which you will find at the bottom of this video. Thank you for joining us.
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