Monday, October 18, 2010

The arrests of striking workers in India affect workers everywhere

The neo-liberal business model that has global firms raking in profits without allegiance to workers or home countries is coming under increasing pressure from the very ones whose backbreaking labor make that model possible: workers.

Approximately 500 striking workers at electronics manufacturer Foxconn's operations in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu have been placed under arrest by the government, thus pitting Taiwan-based Foxconn and an Indian government against Indian workers.

Foxconn, which produces iPhones and Nintendo among other products, is where at least 10 workers committed suicide in plants in Shenzhen, China, north of Hong Kong, over the past year or so. Chinese media reported that Foxconn workers were being forced to work as much as 80 hours overtime, more than double the legal limit.

Following the story is the international, pro-labor Web publication, LabourStart, whose editor, Eric Lee, urged this week that "we need to flood the offices of state officials with the demand that the jailed workers be released."

The growing unrest among workers in China, India, and other countries is watched closely by neo-liberal leaders. Nearly 2,000 workers for Honda in China’s Guangdong province, went on strike in mid-May, shutting down production at the company’s four plants there. They were protesting low wages and poor working conditions. Workers at the Hyundai plant in Chennai, India, shut down operations there, too, in June.

The rash of suicides by workers at Foxconn’s plants in China prompted the company to raise wages twice within a single week—first by 30 percent, and then by 70 percent.

The Chinese government has given indications that it is hearing the workers' protests, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has called for reforms to help the workers.

Although Labor South focuses on labor issues in the U.S. South, it also addresses "Global South" issues because this South is intimately connected to a greater South that stretches from Singapore to Cape Town to Buenos Aires to New Orleans.

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently that her nation's efforts to build a multicultural society have failed and that future immigrants essentially need to become German-speaking Germans, she placed the onus nearly completely on the immigrants themselves, ignoring the economic factors (in a global economy dominated by the free-trade, cheap-labor neo-liberal model) that are forcing many millions of workers around the globe to leave their homes and families and seek a livelihood in an often-hostile society--as if they do that gleefully with dollar (Euro) signs in their eyes.

Let's bring it back to Dixie. One company that has benefited wonderfully from global trade is Arkansas-based, virulently anti-union Wal-Mart, which exports billions of dollars worth of goods from China and which has benefited from that nation's undervalued currency as a result.

Working people are all in this together. That's why Eric Lee is right. Support those workers in Tamil Nadu. They're our neighbors--in more ways than one.

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