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Back to Front - Goodbye China

WORKERS, MAR 2008 ISSUE

THESE‚ÄąDAYS Hoover and Vax household appliances are made in Hong Kong. And when the owner of the brands warned last year that growing "inflationary" and cost pressures in China were forcing it to look elsewhere for future manufacturing capacity, it was a straw in the wind for this new "workshop of the world".

The cost pressures listed were the familiar moan of capitalists down the decades: a combination of rising raw material costs, wage inflation in southern China and an increased tax burden.

The company, it was said, was looking to slow its expansion in China and increase its production capacity in low-cost markets where it was close to some of its major customers – perhaps Mexico or lower-cost countries in eastern Europe. (Who knows – perhaps in a few years in Britain, the way the government is driving wages down.)

Capitalism is forever seeking out new, more undeveloped places where it can exploit cheap or cheaper, unorganised labour. This is an immutable law of capitalist economics.

The first "workshop of the world", Britain, has seen its industrial heritage deliberately destroyed as the capitalist masters moved production out to cheaper countries where workers were less organised and had lower standards of living. The same process has started to hit hard in the USA, and is beginning to be applied to the western countries in the EU, as with France and Sarkozy.

Always the capitalists are looking for new sources of cheap, unorganised labour. Over the years they have been attracted like moths to light by the seductive glare of parts of Latin America, China, India, parts of southeast Asia, now eastern Europe. Where next, Africa?

And now the process of capitalist development of birth, rise and decline seems to be speeding up. Look at the development of industrial capitalism in Britain from its birth in the latter half of the 18th century, its hurly-burly expansion well into the 19th century and its absolute decline in the 20th and 21st centuries – it has taken its course over a relatively long period. But the industrial "workshops" that have followed it have each in turn experienced much shorter historical spans.

And China, if the Hoover prognostication is correct, is going to have a short period indeed from capitalist headlong expansion to retraction and decline.

The whole structure of world capitalism is unstable and unsteady. The capitalist master plan (if they are allowed to get away with it) is that working classes are always going to be thrown up in shorter and shorter periods of time in new places and then left to rot in declining industrial wastelands as production is taken elsewhere.

Industrial cultures that depend on learning, science, materialist outlooks and widespread interconnections will be created, only to be undermined and denied once decay and unemployment rear their heads and fascism, obfuscation and bigotry can take their place.

Workers throughout the world are experiencing economic ravages from the same callous capitalist class, but they have different economic terrains in which to fight and different objectives to attain. In the 'traditional' industrial countries like Britain the desperate task is to fight to hold on to industry, wages and decent standards of living in a situation of diminishing industrial strength. In the new industrialised countries, the task is to organise and fight for better wages and conditions, for dignity and civilisation, in the midst of expansion and turmoil.

In new conditions very different to that of 1848, with the speed of change accelerating, the essential truth in an upside-down world is that Marx is still right in the final words of the Communist Manifesto: "Workers of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a world to win."

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