[Marxism] Re: Bhagwati and Sweatshops
juliohuato at hotmail.com
Mon Feb 16 20:05:45 MST 2004
Mine Doyran wrote:
>A Letter from Professor Bhagwati to a Columbia University Committee engaged
>in decision on the question of a Living Wage etc. in judging whether
>apparel firms supplying Columbia T-shirts etc. should be asked to sign on
>to A Social Responsibility Code
Yes, this letter reflects precisely the views I just reproduced in my
previous posting, although according to the cited Henwood & Featherstone's
article, Bhagwati would have preferred a more shaded version of the letter.
Still, I hope people on the list take the time to read carefully Bhagwati's
letter. It is clear in it as in the quotations on my previous posting that
Bhagwati's argument is not that unionization or labor rights in the Third
World should be opposed, but that it is up to each Third World country to
decide on those issues.
The Social Responsibility activists at Columbia were not demanding a living
wage in the United States, but a living wage in poor countries if such
countries are to be allowed to sell apparel with a Columbia logo. Hey, why
don't they focus on the more obvious task of attaining a living wage for the
workers within the U.S.? There are tens of millions who don't earn enough
to make a decent living. After all, this is their country, they have a
right to vote here or -- if they think voting is useless -- they still can
be more effective demonstrating against the U.S. Congress, the White House,
or -- if nothing else works -- leading a revolution.
Bhagwati's argument is clear. The rich countries are using labor standards
as a stick to hit the poor countries on the head. If the workers in a poor
country are going to unionize and lift their standards, that's a matter of
domestic policy and politics. It doesn't need to be a trade issue. If it
is introduced as a trade issue, then it is to weaken the hand of the poor
countries in trade negotiations. Bhagwati's is clearly an anti-imperialist
The logic of Social Responsibility is transparent. It is like saying that
because a country is not "democratic" (according to some rich country's
standard), then the U.S. has a justifiable reason to stop trading with it.
>From there to actively try to subvert a foreign government or fund
subversion is a slippery slope as the example of Cuba reminds us frequently.
The idea that "democracy" or "labor standards" can be imposed from outside
by means of trade blackmail or imperialist aggression is preposterous. Do
we need to prove this here?
I don't second guess the good intentions of the protestors, but they're
peeing at the wrong tree. Labor standards imposed on Third World imports is
a protectionist trick. The use of the WB, the IMF, the Treasury, etc. to
twist the arms of governments in the Third World and make them accept these
standards is an act of imperialist blackmail. If Mine Doyran or Julio Huato
say it, big deal; but if Bhagwati says it in his terms, then people may
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