Confronting the Impact of Neoliberal Free Trade Policies
on Labor and the Environment
By Richard D. Vogel
V. Confronting Globalization
Rising inequality and global climate change are direct outcomes of the increasing domination of the world economy by transnational capitalism. The past 30 years have seen the consolidation of the corporate hegemony of national governments and international institutions and the declining fortunes of working people worldwide. The rapid deterioration of the global environment is affecting everyone and escalating militarism presents a threat to all. Undoubtedly, combating globalization will be one of the most important struggles of the 21st century.
The question is, as always, what can be done? In order to successfully combat globalization we have to learn to think globally while engaging in related political action on various levels concurrently. Matrix 2 provides a way to approach the challenge:
Matrix 2 explores the political initiatives to combat globalization that emerge from the foregoing analysis of the global megatrends. Each row of the matrix displays related national and international actions that address each megatrend listed in the left-hand column. For example, reversing globalization will require ending tax breaks, subsidies, and government underwriting that promotes globalization in the US and abroad, while at the same time breaking the hold of the transnational corporations on international trade and finance organizations. The challenge to increasing globalization will also require the renegotiation of all free trade agreements (including NAFTA) as fair trade agreements.
The vertical dimension of the matrix reflects not only the hierarchy of the megatrends but also the relationships between the various initiatives. Considering the same example of increasing globalization, matrix 2 indicates that ending the repression of labor will have to be linked to terminating the direct government support of corporations in order to reverse the megatrend of rising inequality.
Note that while matrix 2 stresses collective initiatives, it includes essential actions that can be effected by individuals. Such actions are the foundation of any grassroots political movement.
While the various relationships between megatrends and initiatives are complex, understanding them and acting on them is essential to combating globalization. Business and government agents have embraced global thinking at all levels of planning and operations and so must labor activists and their allies.
Considering the sheer power and momentum that is driving globalization, the actions identified in matrix 2 may appear to be beyond reach. Stopping and reversing the global megatrends will entail extensive economic and governmental restructuring that will be resisted by all the forces that multinational capitalism and its allied state forces can muster.
Despite the odds, there have been three significant, though by no means final, victories against globalization schemes in the last 2 years. The examples that they offer to the anti-globalization movement are invaluable.
- The debacle of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) was a defeat of transnational capitalism's plan to build a massive private transportation corridor from Mexican ports on the Pacific coast through staging and distribution facilities in central Mexico to the US and beyond (http://www.monthlyreview.org/0206vogel.htm). The primary purpose of the corridor was to transport cheap manufactured goods from the Far East to markets in the heartland of the US and Canada. The TTC was the key link in the global chain. The I-35 branch of the corridor from the US inland port at Laredo, Texas was slated to run due north through Kansas City to Winnipeg. The I-69 branch was planned to run northeasterly from Laredo all the way to Port Huron, Michigan.
Clearly this global transportation corridor, the largest surface transportation project in US history, would have greatly expanded the infrastructure of transnational capitalism in North America and furthered globalization.
The people of Texas foiled the plan (http://.www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/010609dnmetttc.43c00ac6.html). Though the TTC would have profited transnational capitalism quite handsomely, it would have cut wide swaths through the countryside, including some of the best farmland in the state, divided and disrupted numerous cities and communities along its route, and degraded the environment of entire regions. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) conducted a statewide misinformation campaign to promote the scheme, but it backfired. The TxDot town hall meetings, intended to manufacture public consensus, turned out to be standing-room-only events where local citizens, politicians, businessmen and women, environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, and numerous ad hoc organizations denounced the corridor scheme (http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/vogel181207.html).
The TTC victory is remarkable because it was conceived and executed almost exclusively at the grassroots level. The neoliberal politicians in Austin retreated in the face of populist unity, but have not surrendered the fight. Their back-up plan is currently posted on the TxDot website (http://www.dot.state.tx.us).
- Stopping the offshoring of US and Canadian transportation jobs to Mexico was another major victory in the struggle against globalization. Under the terms of NAFTA, US and Canadian owned trucking companies based in Mexico and employing Mexican drivers (working for Mexican wages) were to be granted access to all of North America, a move which would have drastically undercut the transportation labor market in the North (http://www.monthlyreview.org/0206vogel.htm).
This characteristic neoliberal stratagem was blocked decisively by the political actions of labor unions (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14045396), independent trucking associations (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/215014/truckers_plan_blockade_of_white_house.html), and environmental organizations (http://www.sierraclub.org/environmentallaw/lawsuits/0195.asp).
- The defeat of the various guest worker programs that were proposed in 2007 was a major setback for all of the capitalists in North America who want to exploit labor from the South (http://www.monthlyreview.org/0107vogel.htm). The leading proposals (all modeled on the infamous Bracero Program) would have flooded the US and Canadian labor markets with millions of workers from the South living and working in the country in conditions of virtual servitude. The impact on the working people in the North would have been devastating.
This neoliberal strategy, currently in effect in developed countries around the world, was thwarted in North America by resistance from a broad spectrum of political groups ranging from organized labor and immigrant rights organizations on the left to traditional conservatives and nativists on the right. Since economic recovery of capitalism requires intensified exploitation of labor, proposals for comprehensive immigration reform are sure to resurface soon (http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2007/June/200706291319321xeneerg0.4296839.html).
Although these three victories against transnational capitalism are tentative and will have to be fought again, they are significant challenges that offer valuable lessons for the revitalization of the anti-globalization movement.
The task at hand now is to develop the vision that allows us to engage the numerous issues before us while linking them to the struggle against the global megatrends that are ravaging the world and its people. Armed with a global outlook, working people can consolidate their victories and successfully confront neoliberal globalization.
ConclusionThe current economic crisis has temporarily slowed the momentum of globalization, but transnational capitalism is pushing for even more globalization as a path to its economic recovery. The future of the USA and the world will be set in the next few years--either the juggernauts of increasing globalization, rising inequality, climate change, and rampant militarization will continue their disastrous courses, or the working people of the world and their allies will confront globalization squarely and find a way toward a just and sustainable future.
iA credible analysis of current global megatrends can be found in The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme, 2007-2036 that was produced and is periodically updated by the UK's Ministry of Defense (MOD). The DCDC Mission Statement and the text itself make it clear that the UK's MOD fully embraces the mission of defending globalization (www.dcdc-strategictrends.org.uk/). The extent to which the US Department of Defense has adopted the same mission is the subject of section IV of this essay. The JOE (Joint Operating Environment) 2008 is the corresponding US strategic study (http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/storyarchive/2008/JOE.pdf).