THE OLD STORY OF POVERTY – II
No distinction between Orient or Occident
The face of poverty in Greece and Nigeria and Myanmar and Colombia and Egypt and Albania and Russia and Cambodia is the same. Everywhere, all the worm gears of capitalism have the same technique: long work-day, threat with uncertainty, appropriation of surplus labour, dehumanised life. It’s like a sump: fruits of all labour are collected for a few, writes Farooque Chowdhury
STATEMENTS of two political leaders were mentioned in the Asahi Shimbun report. One of the leaders decried the income gap. The leader said: ‘Young people cannot become regular employees even after graduating from university. Non-regular workers are paid much less.’
Doesn’t it reflect labour’s bargaining (in)capacity and its precarious position? And, what does labour’s bargaining incapacity signify? Mainstream economists know the answer well.
Narration of the Asahi Shimbun report includes:
The middle-aged man showed a letter from his employer that was handed to employees: ‘If someone wants to sacrifice him- or herself to work, recommend that the person work 15 hours and 40 minutes a day, or 4,200 hours a year.’
The person worked at least 250 hours each month for a monthly wage of 200,000 yen. But his pay slip only showed 70 per cent of the hours he actually worked, and he was paid only half the promised amount.
Capitalism in this millennium, joyfully invented as so and so by a section of proud mainstream economists determined to prove Marx’s depiction of capitalism now wrong, has not forgotten the thieving. ‘Dignified’ capitalism is not dervish, it is thievish. Should anyone dream of fighting out poverty by keeping intact the thievish system? Still there are enlightened persons with the ‘mission’, today with this name and yesterday with that name, banking on and business-ing with the system.
The middle-aged man, the press report from Japan said, graduated from an elite high school and entered a national university in the Tohoku region. The man in his 30s living in a one-room apartment in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward has taken on a variety of jobs, including work at a construction company, an adult-entertainment business and a waste-disposal facility. All of those were black companies. The person took out consumers loans, and poverty forced him to sleep in buses and trains for a couple of years.
Neither adult-entertainment nor waste nor turning a debtor brought his emancipation from poverty. But despite the fact poor-‘friend’ ‘monks’ in the service of banks shall not stop delivering their commandments to ‘fight’ out poverty.
Although, the report said, the person was supposed to work ‘inside Tokyo’s 23 wards’, he was frequently dispatched to remote areas. On a typical day, he woke up at 7:00am and worked until 1:00am. His monthly salary, 200,000 yen, did not include overtime. He eventually became ill and quit the company. He now lives on welfare. ‘Many jobs become difficult if one gets older,’ the man said. ‘It’s not that I am lazy, but there are no decent jobs. Only “black” jobs are available.’ A company he was employed with asked him to cut his hair and warned, ‘You can be fired at any time.’ ‘I cannot tell if or when the company will fire me,’ he said. ‘In order to stay mobile, I do not buy extra home appliances, including a refrigerator.’
Isn’t commanding hair cutting, how much petty that may appear, a form of regimentation? And, doesn’t uncertainty with job take away freedom and sense of security, much cherished goals of capitalism? An all-encompassing regimentation is imposed with such petty regimentation implemented with the demonic tool of ever-uncertainty at all levels of life in capitalist society.
The man, at the time of the press report, was on medical leave due to physical and mental illness.
The Asahi Shimbun report quotes Makoto Kawazoe, an official at the General Union of Young Workers in Tokyo, as saying: ‘The largest segment of the poor is actually working. In addition to low wages and short-term employment, they lack sufficient unemployment benefits, which make it difficult for them to move out from the impoverished class.’
Isn’t it a chain that binds down human being? Doesn’t it happen elsewhere? It happens in the entire domain of capitalism.
It’s not only an Oriental ‘tale’. Germany, today’s mighty economy, faces similar reality.
‘Poverty afflicts Germany’s older “guest workers”’, a Deutsche Welle report by Günther Birkenstock (July 11) presents a few poverty-facts: Older foreigners living in Germany, who have worked there for many years. are more commonly affected by poverty than German citizens. It’s a divide within labour – ‘privileged’ and non-privileged, a requirement to have a favourable bargain by capital.
Thousands from southern and eastern Europe, the report said, migrated to Germany in the 1960s and 70s. Most were fleeing poverty in their countries while a booming Germany was in need of a labour force. The need led the economy to allure the migrant labour, ‘lovingly’ naming them ‘guest workers’. With a hope for a better life, the migrant labour worked in steel factories, mines, automobile manufacturing plants and cafeterias.
But, alas, prosperity remained a mirage for most of the migrant labour.
Citing a recent study by the economic and social sciences institute of the Hans Böckler Foundation, the report said: Today, more than 40 per cent of migrants in retirement age are affected by poverty, which is more than triple the poverty rate among German citizens.
According to Eric Seils, co-author of the study report, poor payment is one of the three main reasons for the high poverty rates among older migrants. Other two main reasons are: Many of the migrant labour were left out, lost jobs, in the 1980s when the industrial sector slumped and the service industry grew, and they were excluded from becoming government employee, a large and prosperous sector not at all affected by poverty. In the face of problem, the ‘guests’ were ignored, left out as the variable capital would not then help increase profit.
In 2006 a German Institute for Economic Research study on elderly poverty brought the issue to light. ‘The number of foreigners in old-age poverty has increased from 170,000 in 2006 to around 270,000 today,’ Seils told DW in an interview. And that number is likely to climb further, he added.
Further north, poverty doesn’t spare capitalism.
The reality in Sweden, the Nordic country that prides itself with prosperity, is not a happy one. The suburbs of Stockholm, one of Europe’s richest capitals, experienced riots last May, and the riots were fired by unemployment and immigrant poverty.
The riots, at least for three days, found mob attack on a police station. Cars and an arts and crafts centre were set ablaze and two schools were damaged.
The economy produces inequality, and the increase in inequality in the economy is fastest among the advanced OECD economies. The Nordic country has failed to substantially reduce long-term youth unemployment and poverty although average living standards in the economy are still among the highest in Europe. The poor within society don’t enjoy the highest living standard. According to the OECD, unemployment among the Swedes is 6 percent while it’s 16 percent among the immigrants in the country.
The face of poverty in Greece and Nigeria and Myanmar and Colombia and Egypt and Albania and Russia and Cambodia is the same. Everywhere, all the worm gears of capitalism have the same technique: long work-day, threat with uncertainty, appropriation of surplus labour, dehumanised life. It’s like a sump: fruits of all labour are collected for a few. These ‘stories’ are as old as labour, as old as appropriation of surplus value, as old as getting rich by a few. These ‘stories’ have been told many a times. Still these need to be told as mainstream, advocatus diaboli, the devil’s advocate, doesn’t cease its propaganda of this business and that business but don’t look into the source of riches for a few.
Farooque Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelancer.
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ALTHOUGH a High Court order came nearly five years ago in... Full story
The face of poverty in Greece and Nigeria and Myanmar and Colombia and Egypt and Albania and Russia and Cambodia is the same. Everywhere, all the worm gears of capitalism have the same technique: long work-day, threat with uncertainty... Full story