[Marxism] Protectionism, British mine workers, and air traffic controllers

lshan at bcn.net lshan at bcn.net
Thu Feb 5 07:58:33 MST 2004

The response of capital to the British miner's 1984 strike reminds me of
Reagan's onslaught against the air traffic controllers strike 3 years
earlier in 1981. Their defeat was a terrific blow against the U.S. labor
movement. At the time, it seemed a ripe issue for labor to rally around. The
U.S. public had been prepared by publicity around safety issues, the stress
of the air traffic controllers jobs, and the number of hours they worked.
Their demand was not only for higher wages, but for shorter hours, i.e., the
hiring and training of new workers.

Reagan fired the striking workers and the labor movement played dead. I have
often thought that the leaders were bought off (and I do mean bribed) and
the lower echelons and rank-and-file workers were so startled by their
leaders capitulation that they were unable to respond.

However, the question I want to pose regarding the British mine workers is
this: supposing the mine workers were threatened with the importation of
cheaper coal from, let us say, West Virginia or the Ruhr (this is fiction,
of course--I have no idea whether it would be cheaper or not) or elsewhere.
Is it in the interests of labor generally to protect the British
mineworkers? Or do they take the view of another person on this list who
argues that only the workers in the foreign coal industry can take this
position? And is it the workers in the foreign coal industry who make this
argument or their government (members of which are subject to bribery, of
course)? Certainly, the workers in the foreign coal industry might see their
temporary, and perhaps their long-term, interest be to dig the coal for

And in discussing this issue, we are almost always talking about immediate
demands and needs. Whatever the long-range interest of workers is, they have
immediate interests to deal with.

Alternatively, I can see an anti-globalization argument that says coal
should not simply be stripped from one area to another for the benefit of
the owners, i.e., their accumulation of capital which does nothing to
develop the infrastructure of the coal (or tin or copper or bananas)
exporting nation.

One of the pillars of the Russian Revolution was its establishment of a
government monopoly of foreign trade. Is was so important to Lenin that it
was the subject of his last notes before the Tenth All-Russia Congress of
Soviets. As a legal right, it is unquestionable. In fact, modern capitalist
globalization is the creation of extra-national organizations by imperialist
states that use their own national monopoly of finance to suppress this
unquestioned national right and to control and internationalize the finance
and industry of national states. Although anti-globalization partisans often
advance the right of each nation to control their economic destiny, I am not
aware that Marxist political writers have generalized from the "monopoly of
foreign trade" pillar of soviet society in order to apply it to the
anti-globalization argument.

from Brian Shannon

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