Media supports industrial militancy

In: Uncategorized

2 Aug 2010

This is my comment from the latest Fund Strategy.

Those who rejoiced at the end of working class militancy could be in for a nasty shock when they realise what is happening.

Influential voices in the West are starting to express sympathy with strike action for higher wages.

The Financial Times was perhaps the first to do so with an editorial headed “workers are now in revolt” (June 3). It expressed the view that “the freedom to strike is … a fundamental right” and “the big challenge is to spread higher incomes across the whole country”.

The New York Times sounded even more militant. An editorial on July 5 stated: “Exploited workers don’t need an extra parent. They need higher wages, better working conditions and a chance to form independent unions”. It went on to argue that too much of the country’s prosperity has been absorbed by companies’ profits. “Too little has gone to workers”

Finally, the Economist, a publication more often known as an avid supporter of capitalism, argued in its July 29 issue that “letting wages rise at the expense of profits would allow workers to enjoy more of the fruits of their labour”. It even featured a stylised ­picture of smiling workers holding wads of money in their clenched fists.

Confession time. These quotes have all been tweaked – although only very slightly. They are all about industrial militancy in China rather than the West.

Such commentators typically promote higher wages for Chinese workers while at the same time supporting the imposition of austerity at home. Clearly they are partly motivated by sectional interests. Higher Chinese wages would probably mean more western exports. As the Economist put it:

“A 20% rise in Chinese consumption might well lead to an extra $25 billion of American exports. That could create over 200,000 American jobs”.

Such arguments might sound enlightened and cosmopolitan but they are not. Instead they represent an evasion from the difficult task of promoting prosperity at home. It is too easy for western pundits to demand that Chinese operations pay higher wages. Working out how to overcome the economic plight of the developed countries is another matter.

Cutting through the mood of austerity would be a start – discussing how to go forward via growth rather than obsessing over exactly what should be cut.

As for Chinese workers, they can no doubt do without the opinions of western pundits. China’s prime concern will be, quite rightly, its own prosperity.