IF GORDON BROWN and Alistair Darling, Sarkozy and Merkel, the TUC and the EU all keep telling us how bad “protectionism” is, then maybe we ought to look at exactly what they are against – just in case it’s something that may be good for us.
In the 1980s and 1990s, when the global nature of capitalism became apparent to all, movements around the world including trade unions rallied against this ‘globalisation’. Some trade unions such as Unite have argued for international trade unions to combat globalisation, and it has even merged to create one with the United Steelworkers of America. The International Confederation of Trade Unions, to which the TUC is affiliated, has even stolen the slogan “Globalisation of Solidarity” from the Cubans in order to improve their anti globalisation credentials. The Cubans, however, know how to practise such solidarity.
What we were witnessing was simply capitalism abandoning the nation state on a much greater scale than before. Capitalism needed ‘Free Trade’ agreements to enable it to operate without hindrance of national states or laws. It needed unimpeded trade, capital flows, migration of labour and direct foreign investment. The EU was the example of such a Free Trade Agreement, but was soon to be followed by attempts by the USA, largely unsuccessful, to establish such agreements.
The quid pro quo was that nation states must not interfere with the global development of capitalism and that capitalist competition must be allowed to operate unhindered on a world scale. Any attempt to look after the interests of national capitalism would be branded as protectionist and outlawed.
Proof that capitalist globalisation could be successfully resisted came from Latin America. Led by Cuba, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean thwarted Washington’s attempt to saddle them with the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. The US had to be satisfied with an agreement with Colombia and El Salvador alone.
Meanwhile, LDV vans, Vauxhall, Corus Steel at Redcar and much of British manufacturing, have been allowed to go to the wall because of banks’ refusal to lend and the government saying that it cannot support these companies because that would amount to protectionism.
Meanwhile, the government’s car scrappage scheme, involving a subsidy of £2,000 for every 10-year-old car traded in for a new car, has seen an increase in the volume of cars sold, but 80 per cent of them are imported, with a huge number coming from Hyundai’s factories in India. But to insist that this subsidy, our money, should only go to companies employing British workers is protectionism.
Twenty years ago the argument was about import controls, to protect British manufacturing, so the arguments are not new. But if all those who profess to be against capitalist globalisation are serious about confronting this beast, then they should look to attacking the very pillars of globalisation and support its antithesis.
The opposites of globalisation are the nation state and protectionism. Support for these need to be central to any opposition to globalisation. Then of course, there are the pillars of globalisation, the unimpeded capital flows, unimpeded migration of labour and unimpeded foreign investment. These also have to be opposed. But they can only be successfully controlled when we have control of the national state, Britain.