L.A.LaborNews - The China Syndrome - meltdown in the movement (fwd)

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at yale.edu
Mon Apr 3 06:32:53 PDT 2000

>On Behalf Of Stephen E Philion

> However, there can be no argument that with 100 million members, China
> has the largest trade union organization in the world. The All China
> Confederation of Trade Unions has approximately eight times as many
> members as does the AFL-CIO. ...
> However, it is not just in Communist countries that such a structure is
> found. The South African labor movement proudly proclaims its alliance
> with the Communist Party and the African National Congress on its website
> <www.cosatu.org.za>. Is Sweeney planning to go on a tirade against South
> Africa next? Not likely. Just south of the border, Mexico has "enjoyed" a
> similar system since 1910. The labor movement, the CTM, and the ruling
> party, the PRI, are like two peas in a pod, yet no sanctions are demanded
> against Mexico.

THe analogy with South Africa (or the problem with the analogy) is what makes this piece so wrong-headed. COSATU, however relunctantly, has launched strikes in defiance of official ANC government policy and its union leaders are controlled independently of the ANC leadership. That is what distinguishes COSATU from a state controlled worker organizations in a place like China.

The difference is pretty clear-- state-controlled worker organizations control the interests of the state, not of the workers who are members. Now, if the state is progressive, as China or Mexico have been at times, those organizations may do good and useful things, as any state bureaucracy can. But that doesn't make them unions, just the form of state bureaucracy operating in the workplace. The crunch comes when countries like China and Mexico assume a more neoliberal economic policy. Then, the state-controlled worker bureacracy becomes not a means to empower workers but to discipline and control them, while blocking the emergence of any independent worker organizations not controlled directly by the state. This has been a chronic problem in Mexico where eminently leftwing US unions like the United Electrical workers have sought to create strong cross-border organizing relationships with independent unions like FAT, only to see collaboration between the CTM and the Mexican government to try to squash union rights.

The Mexican analogy is a good one for the China WTO fight. By the logic of this piece (and the general argument supporting the China WTO deal), progressives should never have fought the passage of NAFTA, since all the arguments over xenophobia and limited strategy could be made against that fight as well. Yet the NAFTA campaign is never mentioned, a truly bizarre omission.

But since unions and environmentalists did fight NAFTA with a broad progressive consensus, the campaign against the China deal is hardly some new "hijacking" of the movement, but a logical continuation of the fight against NAFTA, against GATT& the WTO, against fast-track authority and against the MAI. There are no doubt some forces using chauvinist arguments in arguing against the China deal, but that says little about the rightness of the argument for the strategy; it just encourages a critique of rhetoric used. (Much as good faith opponents of the Kosovo intervention criticized some of the pro-Milosevic rhetoric coming from some quarters.)

The whole argument that "no sanctions are demanded against Mexico" is just bizarre. Refusing neoliberal trade deals are now equated with "sanctions"- essentially mirroing WALL STREET JOURNAL economic positions. There are arguments against the China-WTO deal campaign, but ignoring the obvious NAFTA fight analogy makes this whole piece a pretty unconvincing one.

--- Nathan Newman

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