In Cambodia, the government killed at least four people demanding an increase in the wages of garment workers from $80 per month to $160 per month. That would make the industry non-competitive, say the owners of the businesses. One-third of Cambodian kids are malnourished, and only 25% of the population has electricity. The explanation for the killings is that the workers were violent, and were “blocking access of public roads and [destroying] public and private property”. Today we learn that the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has banned public gatherings. In Cambodia, as elsewhere, property is much more important than the lives of workers.
The New York Times explains all this without discussing the involvement of the owners of the businesses. It talks about the alignment of the protesters with opposition to the dictatorial control of Prime Minister Hun Sen. It talks about wealth inequality. It doesn’t explain that the Cambodian rich are aligned with Hun Sen, and that they profit from the misery of the workers. It carefully refrains from pointing out that the clothing manufactured by these workers is sold by Gap, Walmart, H&M, Adidas and Puma, among others. For that, you have to read the Guardian.
Governments always and everywhere are perfectly happy to kill working people, as we know from our own bloody history and from the history of other nations. Nowadays the killing and maiming is done indirectly, by allowing businesses to operate with little supervision of health and safety. In 2012, there were 4,383 workplace fatalities, and 905,700 injuries involving days away from work. And need I mention West, Texas?
Or it’s done by ordering the military to step in and replace uppity workers, one of the steps Ronald Reagan took after he destroyed the union of airline traffic controllers. Margaret Thatcher considered bringing in troops to end a miners strike in Britain in 1984. Here’s how the NYT describes it:
As striking miners challenged her grip on power in 1984, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher secretly considered calling out the British military to transport vital supplies of food and coal around the country and declaring a state of emergency to bolster the government in one of the defining confrontations of her tumultuous years in office, according to previously classified documents released on [January 3, 2014].
How sweet, she was only worried about transport of “vital supplies”; her deep concern for the interests of the rest of the country was her motivation. In fact, the documents discussed by the NYT show that the goal of her government was to crush the labor movement and impose class discipline on the workers of Great Britain. If that meant declaring a state of emergency and mobilizing troops to break the strike, so be it. She was only deterred by the fear that it would infuriate the workers even more than her aggressive tactics designed to benefit owners of capital, her primary source of support and control by the State. As it turned out, the workers were starved out and returned to work without military intervention.
The state never does anything like these brutal offenses when it comes to the rich or their property. I can’t think of a single example of a government killing a corporation, or a rich person, so lawlessly. Harry Truman tried to seize control of Youngstown Sheet & Tube during the Korean War, but the Supreme Court slapped him down. Occasionally a corporation is broken up into smaller parts, as happened with the oil trusts in the early 20th century, or with ATT later, but they quickly reassembled themselves, and in no case was there a loss to the rich people who controlled the businesses.
There are a few cases of expropriation of private property in other countries, but almost always there is compensation for the rich owners and their corporations. For example, when Mexico nationalized its oil industry in 1938, US oil companies got the US government to intervene on its side, and eventually they were compensated in full. Haiti is an even more repulsive story. When the country broke free of colonialism, the French government demanded reparations, which ruined the newly formed country.
We must be a nation of peasants to be willing to tug our forelocks and say yes sir and would you like champagne with your caviar sir to the rich like we do.
Image by Tom Tomorrow