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For most of us, globalization is vicious exploitation

Editor's note: Please see Invasion of the Gene Snatchers (http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=1391) for information about a radio interview of Professor Ignacio Chapela.

This and other agriculture news items are available on the main CropChoice page, "past headlines," "links," and "press releases."-- RS

For must of us, globalization is vicious exploitation

by James Goodman
Wisconsin dairy farmer

(Thursday, Feb. 13, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Ever since the first plans were being made to implement "free trade," we were promised it would be a win/win situation.

American consumers, manufacturers, farmers, laborers -- everyone, we would all benefit. Not only Americans, the whole world would benefit. It would pull the developing world up because good, high-paying jobs would be created. When borders opened to the free flow of goods and services, consumers would have more choice, and at a better price. Agricultural goods could move around the world to new markets, depressed farm prices would rise, and rural America would again become the breadbasket of the world. Farmers in developing countries would have new markets for their goods, and they would be pulled out of abject poverty.

Sounded great, didn't it? But like most things that sounded too good to be true, it was. American workers who had jobs that paid pretty well in the scheme of things found that their employers could pack up the factories and move to a country where the workers weren't so well paid. No tariffs, so goods could be shipped back into the United States and sold, often cheaper than when they were American-made. Not only was labor cheaper, but environmental laws were generally more lax in, say, Mexico, Haiti or China. You could use child labor and there were no laws forcing a 40-hour workweek.

Consumers found goods were cheaper when they were made overseas, but they also found they had less money to spend since their wages were stagnant or falling. Nothing like the threat of shipping your job overseas to end those demands for higher wages or, heaven forbid, union organizing. How about the foreign workers, did they now have the high-paying jobs as promised? No, they had poverty-wage jobs and the sweatshop was back. They had low pay, poor working conditions, and plenty of eager workers waiting in line for them to quit.

Thanks to American farm goods flooding the world market unhampered by tariffs, indigenous farmers were driven off the land by low prices for their goods. They descended on the cities seeking jobs in the new factories. They produced the goods that were shipped around the world and sold so cheaply that domestic workers couldn't compete.

American farmers found themselves being forced to produce more but found they were getting paid less and less. Dairy producers were now competing against farmers from New Zealand, India and Southeast Asia. Milk components were shipped to the United States so cheaply that dairy farmers here were forced to sell out. Auctioneers couldn't keep up.

Beef, vegetables, fruit -- it could always be found cheaper somewhere else in the world. Often it wasn't produced under health standards equivalent to those imposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they admitted they couldn't possibly inspect it all, but hey, it was food, it was cheap, and people here needed cheap food. Agricultural chemicals banned in the United States could still be used in many countries. Environmental laws were lax at best, labor was cheap and workers didn't complain about safety issues.

So who was benefiting from the great promise of globalization? Certainly not the average worker or consumer or farmer. So who? Those who controlled goods and services, production, distribution and sales: the multinational corporations. Free trade has long been their dream and with GATT, NAFTA and the WTO they are slowly gaining control of all goods and services worldwide. Surely their stockholders benefit, but most people don't own stock. The economies of the world are collapsing in the interest of corporate profit that benefits the very few.

Globalization is not new to the developing world; it used to be called colonialism. What used to be done with ships and cannons is now done with economic power. Resources are extracted, labor is exploited and the corporations profit. Governments are not the globalizers, corporations are, but governments willingly promote and enforce the economic ruin of their people. Progressive radio host Jim Hightower says "everybody does better when everybody does better" but he doesn't mean corporations. They are not people, they are legal entities created by governments and they need to be controlled by governments.

* Isn't it time we stopped this globalization nonsense? Water buffaloes are fine animals, but most folks from Wisconsin don't want water buffalo milk in our cheese, even if Kraft does. Farmers in India know far more about what crops grow best in their fields than Monsanto does. Mexican farmers have been growing corn much longer than Pioneer and did just fine without them. Workers in Milwaukee seemed to do a great job of manufacturing Briggs & Stratton engines for years, so why were they cut off?

It's a senseless equation, and we need to stop it. We need to let the rest of the world run their own lives. We need to take back our economy and tell our government they work for us, not the corporations.

Editor's note: This piece ran in the Feb. 8 edition of The Capital Times and is available at http://www.madison.com/archives/read.php?ref=tct:2003:02:08:198640:EDITORIAL