I know where I was conceived.

I know where I was conceived. It was in a small rickety, squeaky bed in a small room at the end of a small corridor, door on the right. I’m quite convinced all nine of my younger brothers and sisters were also conceived there although I can’t be absolutely certain. I’m not at all sure of where my older siblings were conceived. They are my father’s children but not my mother’s. They shared this house with the rest of us but the details are not important for now. The small room where I was conceived was also the room where the baby of the family slept. There was always a baby in the family as I was growing up.

 

The house containing this small room was also small, and it was always full of children. It no longer exists. The small room and the small house are gone now, torn down and replaced by a large brown duplex not so many years ago. No one driving by on the inconspicuous street on which it fronts would ever know that the house in which I grew up had ever existed. Yet there was life there, lots of life. There still is life on that same place, in the brown duplex, but the people living there now would have no idea of the life that preceded them in that very location years before, just as I have no idea of the life that goes on in that duplex now. We share the experience of a place those duplex dwellers and I, not that they are aware of that. Why would they be?

 

January 29th, 2015, marked the 69th anniversary of my parents’ wedding day. My father has been dead since April, 2007 but my mother lives on in body if not in mind. She no longer recognizes the faces nor the voices of any of her family members and every moment of her life now is disconnected from her past and even from the very moment preceding it. She spends most of her days in a state of catatonia, as a result of years of dementia, she cannot feed herself and three years ago she was beaten up by another resident of the home in which she lives, but that’s mostly forgotten now.

 

In days gone by, when I was born, say, there was much life in my mother. She was a young, beautiful, strong twenty-one year old woman, twelve years younger than my father. In her time, she bore ten children, five daughters and four sons. I’m the oldest of my mother’s children but the sixth oldest of my father’s. He had five daughters from a previous marriage before his wife died in 1946 in childbirth bearing her sixth child, a son they were to call Roger. He shares a coffin with his mother.

…to be continued sometime.

Does big business serve us or do we serve big business?

Thorstein Veblen, the controversial American economic historian and philosopher who died in 1929, just before the Great Depression, understood the capitalist mode of production better than most.  He wrote extensively on Karl Marx’s work (in The Place of Science in Modern Civilization) and found it to be internally logical but based on the moral premise that workers deserve to receive the full value for their participation in the productive process.  According to Veblen’s interpretation of Marx, work is a social activity but the output of that activity is appropriated privately.  We know that workers do not receive the full benefit of their participation in the work process, their employers pay them only part of the value workers create.  Otherwise, surplus value and profit could not be possible.

Just as a quick aside, Marx understood that workers did not share in the value they produced except in the receipt of wages, a value pre-determined in the productive process by and large.  Workers sell their labour-power (that is, their capacity to work) to the capitalist in the labour market. A capitalist has to have all the elements of productive capacity in place before production begins and that includes labour. So, labour is part of the cost of production determined before production can begin.

It’s interesting how screwed up we are about our place in the world, particularly around our role in the productive process.  So, business evolved historically as a means to satisfy certain human needs and wants.  It’s a method by which production and distribution are organized.  Ironically, as business capital came to dominate industry more and more, we, as members of societies in our capacities as productive beings, came to serve business rather than the other way around.  Of course, we have the idea that we all live as citizens in democratic society, free to move around from employer to employer if we want.  In other words, we have the illusion of having some control of our lives, but that’s just what it is, an illusion.  The fact is that we are supposed to be served by business but we are essentially the servants of, and work at the whim of, business.  The world has been stood on its head.  Make no mistake about it though, business cannot exist unless we offer ourselves up as workers to it in the labour market. (I’ll deal with public sector work and small business in the next post.)  We are workers, citizens and consumers but it is our role as worker that is the most important in our world.

Business is becoming more and more global in scope and reach.  With some exceptions it used to be that businesses hired workers locally for local production and distribution and for local consumption.  That all changed starting in the 15th Century but the 19th Century was when this movement increased dramatically.  Workers in the Canadian forest industry (employed by British companies) produced timber for British manufacturing plants and to build tall ships. Later workers in BC produced lumber predominantly for the American housing market.  In truth, Canada has always been a source of raw materials intended for processing elsewhere as much as possible.  That’s not entirely true, but as a basic thrust and overall aim, it is accurate.

In the 1920s the British Empire was losing power over its colonies including Canada while the United States was growing stronger and more influential on a global scale.  In that period of time, the Canadian government succeeded in negotiating the Auto Pact with the US whereby cars sold in Canada must be made in Canada.  Since that time, the US has been on a mission to erode those early gains by Canadian workers, and the Auto Pact has been unravelling for at least a couple of decades now helped along, I may add, by free trade agreements.

This is all to argue that business, and us as workers, used to live primarily under the banner of citizenship.  It made sense to think of Canadian business and American corporations.  (This is also true for union, by the way)  That’s no longer true for the largest global corporations.  More than ever, capital dominates industry and production on a global scale but it still has certain national ties that make it seem as though it serves national interests, including those of ordinary citizens.  That is no longer true and is getting to be a more and more dangerous illusion.

The seemingly miraculous rise of China as a global economic power must be understood as arising from a massive shift of capital by Canadian, American and European business to productive capacity on (for example) Chinese soil in factories using cheap labour.  “Canadian” business has no loyalty at all to Canadian workers.  That’s clear.  Its business logic and primary mission is to accumulate capital.  If that means shutting down factories in Oshawa, Windsor, Hamilton and Montreal and opening them in export processing zones in China or by creating “Chinese” contractors to manufacture consumer goods, so be it.  Now, work is also becoming obviously global with the shift of manufacturing capacity to China (and other countries like India, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, etc.) and the rise of the new class of ‘temporary’ workers in Canada.  Things are shifting all over the place.  It’s hard to keep track of it.

The problem with modern capitalism is that it’s completely anarchistic.  There’s nobody in charge.  Corporations are all in it for themselves and countries are becoming increasingly powerless to do any planning that does not put corporate profits first, that is, if they were ever  really interested in doing so in the first place.  Citizenship counts for very little anymore in a world where corporations like Monsanto, Nestlé’s and Exxon call the shots and politicians serve them in any and every way they can.  This includes looking hard to find every way possible to  shift wealth from public to private hands including public-private partnerships (P3s) and the systematic dismantling of government services and their replacement with private contractors doing the same work.

To use a business metaphor, the bottom line is that we are in the throes of a massive shift in the global distribution of capital and labour.  For the foreseeable future, it doesn’t look good for us as workers or as consumers.  As we lose our jobs we will not be able to afford the products produced in China by corporations based in North America, Europe and Australia, even if they are getting relatively cheaper and cheaper.  That can’t be good for businesses that rely on us buying their products made in China but they aren’t going to change the way they do business because they are caught in the treadmill of needing more and more profit and accumulated capital in order to survive.  And they’ll do anything to survive including encouraging global fascism while dismantling democratic institutions (what’s left of them)  as a means of ensuring the ongoing concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands, while pushing harder than ever using advertizing to convince us to spend, be individualistic, mistrust government, oppose taxation, and ‘get ahead’ by ‘working hard’.

Global Corporate Charters

http://www.gtinitiative.org/documents/IssuePerspectives/GTI-Perspectives-Global_Corporate_Charters.pdf

So, I’ve been researching and teaching about the expansion of the global capitalist system for decades.  From all the research I’ve done, it strikes me as just about inevitable that business will soon break away from its national charter licence system to one that is supra-national.

International law as it now stands is virtually toothless, but it won’t be long before a global justice system with enforcement capabilities will be necessary.  When large business corporations no longer operate nationally, but have their headquarters in one country, research and development in another and production in several others with no one country able to legislate their activities, it’s time for a change.  The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, formerly the Canadian Manufacturers Association, has no problem representing businesses who produce nothing (or virtually nothing) in Canada.  Businesses that formerly produced (manufactured) refrigerators, stoves and other appliances in Canada but who now produce them in China in their own factories or under licence to Chinese companies or in other countries with low wages and virtually no health and safety standards for workers are still considered Canadian manufacturers.  To me that’s pretty odd.

As business corporations become more and more global they will need to be regulated more and more globally if we have any hope at all of avoiding becoming nothing but fodder for the creation of obscene corporate profits. Of course, it’s much more complicated than I’ve stated it here.  I’ll have more to say about this in subsequent blog posts.  In the meantime, have a look at the article for which I’ve included a link above.  Check out its provenance,  the Tellus Foundation.  What they propose in this article is a new global charter system for business corporations.