Globalisation and Working Class Resistance: Myths and Reality

Dipankar Bhattacharya

(Based on talk delivered at an anti-globalisation seminar in Guwahati on May 1, 2006 , hosted by the North-Eastern regional unit of the PNB Employees' Union as part of its silver jubilee celebration)

The word globalisation has become an integral part of everyday parlance in the country. The ruling classes and their parties, and large sections of the mainstream media present globalisation as a big boon for our economy. Even when they have to deal with the consequences of the ongoing economic policies of reckless liberalisation and globalisation the starvation deaths and debt-induced suicides that are transforming rural India into a veritable graveyard, the long list of sick and closed industries, the huge army of job-seekers, the acute lack of basic amenities and vast pockets of urban poverty, they prescribe more of the same policies as the only remedy. Even the Left parties in power are talking increasingly in terms of engaging with the reality of globalisation. It is only in meetings of parties and organisations involved in various streams of people's movements and working class struggles that we really hear about building resistance to the ongoing offensive of globalisation.

Our experience with the economic policies of successive central governments tells us that the ruling classes and their major parties, national as well as regional, have developed a clear consensus among themselves over the current economic direction of the country. Governments have changed quite routinely and frequently, but the economic policies have remained the same. If anything, the policies have become 'bolder', with every new government making its predecessor look rather slow and conservative! It is this 'competitive consensus' among the ruling parties and their coalitions that is promoted and projected by the media as a national consensus. And there is a constant attempt to project this class consensus of the rulers as being rooted in some sound logic or commonsense. Let us examine some oft-repeated aspects of this mythical commonsense which are often unknowingly internalised by many of us who would like to resist globalisation.

There is a widespread view that sees globalisation essentially as a technology-driven process or phenomenon. A senior minister of the Left Front government in West Bengal once told his interviewer in a television interview that he could not oppose globalisation in a one-sided manner because he could not possibly give up his cell phone! In other words, globalisation is synonymous with all the wonderful technological devices and scientific discoveries we use these days, the computer, the cell phone, the internet and so on. Indeed, there is a stream among anti-globalisation campaigners who would rather accept such an argument and call for a return to traditional methods and modes to put up an effective resistance to globalisation.

At every stage of its development, capitalism has always claimed such a monopoly right over science and technology. But the absurdity of this claim is not difficult to see. The products of science and technology would serve you as loyally and efficiently no matter whether you support or oppose globalisation. This is true for individuals, as users of science and technology; and this is equally true for systems. What does technology have to do with the nature of ownership or management of a factory or service provider? The same technology can be used in private as well as public sector, it can be made to serve capitalism as well as socialism.

The essential contradiction of capitalism, increasing socialisation of production versus private appropriation of the products and profits, has become all the more glaring now in the present days of globalisation. It is this contradiction which defines capitalism, call it globalising capitalism or capitalist/imperialist globalisation, and not the sophistication of science or the marvels of technology without which life seems to have become unthinkable and unlivable. The point that needs to be understood is that private ownership, monopoly control and all the absurd patent laws are actually restricting and retarding the development of science and technology and depriving billions of people the world over from the benefits of all these scientific and technological wonders. The progress in science and technology provides us with more reasons for, and ways of, fighting globalisation and not supporting it.

There is another false argument which describes globalisation as a supra-national process, a process which is impartial in imposing costs and showering benefits on all countries in the world, from the most powerful and advanced to the most weak and backward. We are told that since capital has become global and the process of production is getting transnationalised or internationalised, governance too will have to become global. National policies must therefore be subordinated to the global imperatives or requirements of capital and production, any other policy approach on the part of an individual country is sheer anachronism. The emergence of WTO is shown as a definite indication of this new global order and the fact that every member country has one vote at WTO is highlighted as a sure sign of the growing democratic credential of this emerging order.

This argument is used to obfuscate the brutal coercive role of the big powers on the one hand and to justify the capitulationist policies of countries like India and other third world nations on the other. But is not the hollowness of this argument quite self-evident? The United Nations has supposedly been the biggest institution of global governance, a contemporary approximation for a global state. But it is precisely in this era of globalisation that we find the UN being increasingly marginalised and bypassed by the US and the so-called anti-terror coalition led by it. After Afghanistan and Iraq , the US is now openly targeting Iran and calling for regime change in a number of countries. Bush has described the 9/11 incident as the beginning of the Third World War.

Globalisation is thus not ushering in a utopian global order where powerful nation-states would take a back seat. On the contrary, we see the US behaving in a fashion as though the entire world is now its exclusive empire. Some people may still argue that globalisation is essentially an economic process having little to do with the military/strategic factors underlying the ongoing war campaign of the US . But a close look at America 's growing strategic involvement in the Middle-East clearly reveals how the economic and military/strategic components serve each other within a single integrated US strategy of war. In fact, the latest National Security Strategy document of the Bush administration openly articulates this integral thrust of US policy. The document is introduced by Bush with the opening sentence that the US is at war and it combines the economic agenda of globalisation with the US agenda of 'war on terror' as integral parts of America's 'national security strategy'. The threat of US-engineered regime change is directed as much at alleged sponsors of terrorism as at opponents of globalisation.

In fact, advocates and defenders of globalisation are quite aware of the fact that globalisation cannot be sustained without America 's military might. Thomas Friedman, the well known New York Times columnist and best-selling pro-globalisation author, reminded his readers long before the beginning of Bush's 'third world war' that there could be no America Online without ' America on duty'! Marxists and leftwing trade union activists have however been only too aware of what Friedman means by ' America on duty' or to use another of his arrogant phrases, American internationalism. The fact that the US is simultaneously pursuing its economic and military agenda as part and parcel of the same strategy of globalisation would hardly surprise anyone who is familiar with the word imperialism and with the role played by US imperialism since World War II and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union . Friedman's American internationalism has now been sufficiently exposed as American empire-building, and globalisation is now widely understood as imperialist globalisation, or more specifically, as Americanisation.

Just as the US campaign for globalisation proceeds through both economic and military means, so does the Indian rulers' response to globalisation. There is a growing pro-US convergence along the entire line of Indian policies, from agriculture, industry and trade to defence and foreign affairs. The term Indo-US strategic partnership encompasses this totality of Indian policies: while the US recognises India as a key Asian ally in its campaign for global hegemony, Indian imports from the US now cover everything from wheat to atomic reactor. Globalisation in our part of the world is thus proceeding as much through the aggressive role of the imperialist American state as the loyal and comprehensive collaboration of the Indian ruling classes.

This is the context in which we have to intensify working class resistance to globalisation. The working class movement has to transcend the narrow trade union confines of the workplace and the industry and must reinvent itself as a key component of popular anti-imperialist resistance. All the Latin American countries that are offering such a powerful resistance to US imperialism right at its backyard provide brilliant examples of the expanding horizons of workers' solidarity - from unity within the class to unity with the broad masses of the people. In Europe , we have just seen the united power of the students and workers of France . Nearer home, the people of Nepal have shown us their power to force an autocratic monarchy backed by the world's biggest imperialist power to beat a retreat in the face of advancing waves of people's struggle.

These days in India we often hear the lament that imperialism is too powerful and the working class movement is too weak and disunited to resist the imperialist offensive. Some people argue that trade unions are no longer in a position to win any major battle and strikes can no longer be effective. But we must realise that far from diminishing the possibilities of struggle and blunting its weapons, globalisation is actually opening up new possibilities of expanding people's solidarity and intensifying their struggle. Only the other day, the employees of the State Bank of India succeeded in winning such a major pension-related victory because their weeklong strike had started having a huge impact on the globalising Indian economy. While the operations of the SBI remained paralysed for a week, there arose the real possibility of the SBI strike spilling over into a still more massive battle involving employees of the entire banking sector. All this must have played an important role in clinching the issue in favour of the SBI employees.

The more the Indian ruling classes rush with their strategic partnership with the US , the more will conditions ripen for a powerful anti-imperialist resistance of the Indian people. The working class movement must prepare itself for making the best use of this developing situation.