Joel Spring – Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind

A summary of one thread within this excellent book….

The DFES (2013) has an overwhelmingly positive view of the future role of ICT in schools and colleges, noting that it has transformed other sectors, that parents and pupils expect it, and that pupils need ICT to equip them with future-work skills. In DFES literature, digital media seems to be presented as a neutral technology through which individual students can be empowered, with emphasis on the benefits such technology can bring to schools, such as more personalised learning, better feedback, a richer resource base and the possibility of extending the learning day. This discourse further constructs not only technologically reticent staff and lack of access to ICT resources as a potential problem, but also centralised government itself, with the forthcoming renewal of the ICT curriculum being fully endorsed and authored by Google, Microsoft, and IBM, with the vision being that 16 year olds will be able to write their own apps by the age of 161.

There are, however, those who are skeptical about the neutrality ICT, the claimed inevitability of its expansion and the supposed benefits of the increasing digitisation of education. One such skeptic is Sociologist Joel Spring who, in a recent book, Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind, draws our attention to the increasing control of education systems around the world by global corporations, a process which he refers to as Educational Corporatism.

The Nature and Extent of Global Educational Corporatism

According to Spring, a global shadow elite network is responsible for encouraging the growth of Information Communications Technology in state education programs in the USA and increasingly in other countries, something which is unsurprising given that the global education market is a $7 trillion industry, greater than the value of every other information industry combined (WEF 2014).

This network consists of a relatively small number of IT and communications company executives who have close links with senior policy makers in governments, who together have overseen an increase in the use of ICT for the surveillance and education of students. Spring characterises this network as a ‘Flexnet’ because the key actors, or ‘Flexians’, move between government departments and education, media and ICT companies, spending a few years working respectively for one government department before moving to an ICT corporation, and then back to the public sector to spearhead technological initiatives drawing on their corporate contacts to do so, and finally moving back to a more senior Corporate role, supposedly to take advantage of the profits generated from said initiatives.

The Corporate takeover of New York City’s Schools

The means whereby Flexians within the global shadow elite operate is illustrated by the Corporate takeover of New York City Schools.

In 2001 billionaire and superlcass ICT mogul Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City. After lobbying for and gaining control of New York schools, Bloomberg appointed as school chancellor Joel Klein, a lawyer from another ICT conglomerate, Bertelsmann. Technically Klein lacked the legal requirements to head NYC schools, but this requirement was waived by the state commissioner for education.

Klein initiated changes that centred on student testing and data collection (echoed in education ministries around the world). To aid in this, he contracted with the company Wireless Generation to use their ‘ARIS’ system of data collection and management. Klein then left his position as chancellor to become executive vice president at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which bought 90% of Wireless Generation for $360 million.

In addition to the above, while Klein was chancellor, Murdoch’s New York Post also supported Klein’s efforts to establish more charter schools and undermine protection for teachers.

The Global Neoliberal Agenda for Education

At a global level, the shadow elite influence governments through The World Economic Forum and The United Nations, which both voice considerable optimism about the future role of ICT in meeting the world’s educational needs in the future. As an example of this optimism, Spring points to The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2010-11, authored by prominent members of the Shadow Elite.

Where education is concerned, the report anticipates ‘Transformation 2.0′, a process in which educational institutions will make increasing use of analytic software tools which convert data into actionable insights. This not only means the now well established use of data on students’ past test results to predict the probability of their passing or failing certain subjects and then directing resources more efficiently to those in need, but the report also predicts the increasing use of ‘data exhaust’, or more qualitative information collected on students throughout their school careers, for the same purposes which in the future might mean increasing surveillance of the number of and length of virtual interactions students make each term in in order to inform educational interventions.

Individual schools and universities do not possess the resources to develop and maintain the kind of software required to collect and collate such ‘Big Data’, so ‘transformation 2.0 might see educational institutions becoming locked into long-term data-analytics contracts with global ICT companies: The future of education might be one where schools do the teaching at a national level but informed by data analysis carried out by global corporations using global data sets.

The WEF report makes several other recommendations:

  • To use ICT to make education more engaging and better suited to the needs of each student through making greater use of data analytics and what Spring calls ‘edutainment’ software, which special emphasis being given to promoting STEM subjects.
  • To better link technology to assessment.
  • To support access to online instruction in and out of school.
  • To increase ‘productivity’ in the education sector: ICT is seen as a relatively const-efficient means whereby schools can accelerate student progress, rather than employing more teachers.

According to Spring’s analysis this vision is ideological and it represents a global Neoliberal agenda for the progressive privatisation of education through governments spending more public money on data analytics, online instruction and assessment delivered by global ICT corporations. It is already the norm in the US for IT and communications companies to develop educational software which are provided to schools for a profit, a practice which the ICT elite wishes to see replicated in other parts of the world.

The ICT Shadow Elite’s ambitions are not limited to developed countries, they are also targeting the education sectors of developing countries, and as an an example of this Spring cites the Microsoft-UNESCO agreement established in 2009 regarding ICT and Higher Education. As part of this agreement, Microsoft offered £50 million of ‘seed money’ to introduce a range of educational technologies to a number of countries – such as DreamSpark, MicrosoftLive@edu, Digital Literacy Curriculum, and The Microsoft IT Academy Program. Spring’s theory is that such an initial seeding will reap dividends in the future as public education sectors expand they will spend increasing sums of money on upgrading software and buying related ICT educational products from Microsoft in future years.

Potential Problems with Increasing Educational Corporatism

Spring points to several possible negative consequences of global companies effectively having more control over national education systems.

Firstly, this is likely to further reduce educational management to the employment of data mining and analysis to predict how student test scores and graduation rates relate to social characteristic information and identifying which limited interventions can be made to improve examination results, with the effectiveness of teachers further reduced to how efficiently they can enhance these measurable results.

Secondly, it is likely that there will be an increasing level of control of knowledge by ICT corporations. The concern here is that this will lead to the further standardisation of knowledge into a form which can be easily assessed through technology, which potentially means preferencing quantifiable knowledge over more qualitative and critical knowledge which require more human intervention to asses. In addition to this, schools are increasingly likely to be seen as institutions whose job it is to provide a 21st century workforce for ICT firms, meaning the preferencing of STEM, ICT and business related courses.

Thirdly, the corollary of greater control being handed to global ICT corporations is declining autonomy of individual schools and teachers. This actually seems to be an explicit goal of the global shadow elite: the WEF (2011) states that the main barrier to extending technology in is ‘human’, with ICT, rather than more teacher-time being (quite literally) sold as the most effective means to personalise learning in order to meet the needs of each learner.

Another idea which potentially undermines teachers which is widely publicised by prominent Flexian Bill Gates is that we should have least one good course online for all subjects rather than lots of mediocre ones. This idea seems both sensible and inevitable but its manifestation might come in the form of a core of highly skilled experts constructing corporate-approved online content for a global education market, with for-profit companies responsible for managing testing and tutoring replacing much of the work teachers currently do.

A final possible consequence is an increasing inequality of educational provision. As governments struggle with finances in the age of ideological driven Neoliberal austerity, it might be that cash strapped schools move towards providing online only tuition for some courses while students at better managed and funded schools retain more formal ICT-supported lessons. This is precisely what happened in Florida in 2010-11 when 7000 students in Miami-Dade county were placed in virtual classrooms in order to beat the state’s class size mandate, which specified a maximum of 25 students per class, but did not apply to virtual classrooms.

Conclusion:

While the increasing use of ICT in education appears to offer many benefits, such as enhanced personalisation of learning and increased teacher productivity, the importance of Spring’s analysis lies in reminding us that while technology itself is neutral, the way in which it is deployed is not given the corporate networks and which are currently lobbying for the further digitisation of state education, and the neoliberal agenda of which this is a part.

At present it is difficult to see how anything can halt the spread of Educational Corporatism: there is a clear demand from today’s students and their parents for digitised education and global ICT corporations are clearly well positioned to play an increasing role in the delivery and management of virtual learning environments; and with further government cuts likely, the viritualising of learning seems an obvious way to save money in the education sector by reducing the number teachers.

Whether or not the future of education will be one of reduced teacher autonomy with for-profit Corporations having greater control over national curriculums and thus even more access to students, and what the effects of this will be remain to be seen.

Bibliography 

C. Paucek et al (2014) Chapter 8: Online Education: From Novely to Necessity, in World Economic Foundation: Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches. Geneva: Switzerland.

DFES (2013): Digital Technology in Schools. http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013. Archived at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130123124929/http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools

Spring, J (2012) Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind. New York: Routldege. Kindle Edition.

WEF (2011) The Global Information Technology Report 2010-11: Transformations 2.0

Sociology in the News (4)

Three articles about the close and friendly relationship between politicians and big business caught my attention this week.

The three articles below all illustrate how the Marxist critical theory is still relevant, and also serve as good examples of why we have shifted towards neoliberalism – basically big business and government are tightly interwoven, so it’s no surprise that government policy is pro-business – whether we’re talking about the EU, or Ireland, a member of the EU, or the UK which is about to leave the the EU!

Theresa May ‘Banging the Drum’ for Free Trade at the G20 summit

According to this BBC news article, during her first international appearance since Brexit at the G20 summit Theresa May

“banged the drum for free trade, an increasingly lonely message as electorates around the world urge their leaders to greater protectionism”

It’s difficult to know precisely what this means – but it’s highly likely that this means more neoliberalismneoliberalism – lower rates of tax on TNCs, to attract them to the UK, more deregulation (cutting ‘red tape’) and more privatisation of public assets, (already raging under the Tories) – basically more of putting the needs of business and the capitalist class first.

Apple’s 13 Billion Euro Tax Bill…

Or the 13 billion bite!

The European Union recently decreed that that the Irish government should recover 13 billion Euros in bax taxes from Apple, whose headquarters are based in Cork.

Ireland already has one of the lowest corporation taxes in the world, at 12.5%, but it agree 25 years ago it agreed to give Apple a number of subsidies in order to attract the corporation to Ireland, which effectively means it has been paying 0.005% tax during that period.

The reason the EU is demanding that Ireland claim the money back is because the subsidies are against competition law – states aren’t allowed to give preferential treatment to one company over another – by giving them cash hand-outs for example, but allowing tax-breaks effectively amounts to the same thing.

This amounts to giving Apple 220 000 Euros for every year for each job located in Ireland.

The revolving door between Government and Big Business 

A third article by John Harris in the Guardian reveals that there are very close links between EU and British cabinet ministers and big business – basically what happens is that ministers spend a period of time in political office, which often involves dealing with big business, and once they leave politics, the go on to work for big companies, advising them on how to get privileged access so they can easily lobby those in the corridors of power – which makes it easier for them to get ‘sweat heart tax deals’ like Apple did.

The event which prompted the article was that former EU commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso took a job as a nonexecutive chairman and adviser to Goldman Sachs which helped cause the financial crash of 2008, but Harris points out that this is normal – between 2009 and 2010 alone, six out of 13 departing EU commissioners moved into new corporate or lobbying roles.

Harris also suggests that we ‘watch closely as the alumni of the governments headed by David Cameron exit full-time politics. Already, in fact, an odorous cloud has started to form. Earlier this year a Daily Mirror investigation found that 25 former ministers in the coalition government had taken paid roles in sectors they once oversaw’

Somehow I get the feeling quite a few of these news update posts are going to be about the further advance of neoliberalism!

Union Carbide – The Worst Industrial Accident in History

Possibly the strongest piece of case-study evidence supporting the Marxist view of crime

In December 1984, an explosion at a pesticide plant in Bhopal India, then owned by the American multi-national Union Carbide, lead to deadly gas fumes leaking into the surrounding atmosphere and toxic chemicals into the ground. That was more than 25 years, but, according to the Bhopal Medical Appeal (1), a toxic legacy still remains.  In addition to the 3000 people that died almost immediately, over the last two and a half decades, there have been a further 20,000 deaths and 120 000 cases of people suffering from health problems, including severe deformities and blindness, as a result of the toxic seepage into the surrounding area from the plant (2).

Since the disaster, survivors have been plagued with an epidemic of cancers, menstrual disorders and what one doctor described as “monstrous births” and victims of the gas attack eke out a perilous existence – 50,000 Bhopalis can’t work due to their injuries and some can’t even muster the strength to move. The lucky survivors have relatives to look after them; many survivors have no family left.

The plant had actually ceased producing pesticides by the time of the explosion, because Union Carbide had realised that there was not sufficient demand for this product in India. The apparent root cause of the accident was that the plant had not been properly maintained following the ceasing of production, although tons of toxic chemicals still remained on the site. More details of how the accident happened can be found at (1) below

It wasn’t until 1989 that Union Carbide, in a partial settlement with the Indian government, agreed to pay out some $470 million in compensation. The victims weren’t consulted in the settlement discussions, and many felt cheated by their compensation -$300-$500 – or about five years’ worth of medical expenses. Today, those who were awarded compensation are hardly better off than those who weren’t.

In 1991, the local government in Bhopal charged Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s CEO at the time of the disaster, with manslaughter. If tried in India and convicted, he faces a maximum of ten years in prison. But neither the American nor the Indian government seem interested in disturbing him with an extradition,

The Union Carbide Corporation itself was charged with culpable homicide, a criminal charge whose penalty has no upper limit. These charges have never been resolved, as Union Carbide, like its former CEO, has refused to appear before an Indian court.

Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical in 2001. Dow says the legal case was resolved in 1989 when Union Carbide settled with the Indian government for 470 million dollars, and that all responsibility for the factory now rests with the government of the state of Madhya Pradesh, which now owns the site.

To this day, despite requests to appear in court from the Indian government, and despite the compensation which itself may well be regarded by some as an admittal of guilt, the company and its CEO have not faced criminal charges and the owner continues to be profitable on the stock market.

In a rather strange bizarre turn of events, following a wave of publicity around the 25 year anniversary of the Bhopaln disaster, 7 Indian executives were recently found guilty in an Indian court, however, these are not the CEO, it is 25 years too late, one is dead, and they are presently released on bail.

Analysis – so what does the ‘Bhopal-Dow chemical suggest about corporate ethics? – How harmful is this?

If we look at the raw number of deaths and injuries, this is the worst industrial accident of all time; and in terms of immediate harm and suffering to people it ranks considerably higher than September the 11th – with a death toll of roughly 3000, so in terms of sheer numbers the amount of harm is huge.

What the eight Indian employees were found guilty of, and what the CEO would also have gone on trial for,  is neglect – neglecting to adequately maintain the factory once it was not profitable – and it was this neglect that lead to the explosion that caused the 20 000 deaths and 120 000 illnesses. So the company is directly responsible for immense human suffering because of this neglect.

In addition, Union Carbide also remains liable for the environmental devastation its operations have caused. The contamination that Union Carbide left behind continues to spread. Barrels of toxic chemicals still lie open, and people are still forced to drink poisoned water.

What makes this case worse is the actions of the company after the tragedy, which clearly suggest that the profitability of the company always came before the well being of the individuals harmed – the derisory settlement out of court in 1989 suggesting it was liable, without consulting the victims could be regarded as an effort to put an end to the affair – especially as the company is quoted as having said this is the case.

Then there is the fact that the CEO simply went missing for years afterwards and has failed to stand up for criminal trial.

On final analysis, however, the real problem here is the pursuit of the bottom line – it was increased profit that sent the company to India and it is wishing to avoid compensation for the victims – because they can get away with it in India. This is a classic case of a powerful company shafting the powerless, and it continues to this day.

As a brief aside, However, it is important to note that the company did not set out to kill 20 000 people and one can reasonably assume that Union Carbide did not actually want this to happen. Also, it might be argued that, in terms of motive, Union Carbide are not in the same league as mining companies or damn building companies or even Oil companies who displace people from their land without taking steps to compensate those displaced peoples adequately. One couldn’t have reasonably foretold that this would happen.

(1)  http://bhopal.org/index.php?id=22

(2)  See tropic of cancer…

(3)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ehFcv4ywvA&feature=related – follow the ‘short documentary’ series rather than the other documentary series

(4)  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8725140.stm

 

So I feel sympathy for the victims of Bhopal and (maybe?) cold, bitter hatred for Dow Chemicals – but what can I do?

Quite a lot for this one! – here are some ideas…..

Firstly, you can make a donation to the Bhopal Medical Appeal –  https://www.committedgiving.uk.net/bhopal/public/donor.aspx

Secondly, if you know where your nearest Dow offices are, or if you happen to find out when the next event will be that ‘Dow chemicals’ will be sponsoring or appearing at you might like to try something like this  http://www.youtube.com/BhopalMedicalAppeal (and check out the 12 year old – whose made me question my belief to never have children – because if they turn out like him, perhaps reproducing would be worthwhile after all)

Thirdly, you could watch this film and get inspired- http://theyesmenfixtheworld.com/ – which is about two anti-corporate media activists who stick it to immoral corporations with a sense of humour.  This part of their web site http://challenge.theyesmen.org/ gives you some ideas of how you can hold Corporations to account and undermine their power.

Eight Reasons Why We Should All be Marxists

The third of three posts on Marxism for A2 Sociological Perspectives – Arguments and evidence for the continued relevance of Marxism 

Contemporary Marxists argues that Marxist analysis is still relevant to an understanding of modern society. A considerable amount of contemporary Marxist thought focuses on how Capitalism has become globalised and emphasises the injustices of the global capitalist system; another strand of contemporary Marxist theory focuses on how the values of capitalism (in the form of ‘neo-liberal hegemony’) have penetrated Western culture to the detriment of us all.

You might like to think about what Marxist concepts are illustrated by these cartoons

  1. Some Sociologists argue that a class based analysis of global society is still relevant.

Leslie Sklaire argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’. These are the leaders of global corporations, certain politicians and their bureaucrats who control billions of dollars of assets and financial flows. They wield their power through undemocratic international economic institutions such as the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and the G20. These institutions were established after World War Two to help co-ordinate the expanding global economy and facilitate redevelopment after the war. However, many left wing theorists such as Joseph Stiglitz argue that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. Neo-Liberal policies include such things as privatising public services, cutting taxes and regulating industry less, thus allowing Transnational Corporations to open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take all the profits away without giving very much back. The basic idea here is that the global economy is run by Corporations and Politicians for the benefit of Corporations and their high powered political supporters (One of whom is ‘Gideon’ Osborn)

  1. There is considerable evidence that exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system.

Corporations are frequently criticised for exploiting workers and the environment – through sweatshop labour and pollution, where they can get away with it. Some of the most obvious examples include Shell and oil pollution in Nigeria; Coke’s legacy of draining water local water supplies in India to produce Coke, which results in drought in local areas and Apple’s use of sweatshops in China to produce the ipad.

  1. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

Marxist Theory is still relevant because…. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

I should just point out that the point of this post is to provide soundbites that you can use in an exam (or an arguement with a Tory supporter of the neo-liberal state apparatus) rather than a comprehensive or balanced account of evidence for or against (the variety of) Marxist theory.

Evidence of Elite control over the government

By far the best example of state putting the interests of Capital before the interests of the majority of people is how the government has responded to the present ‘economic crisis’. 

Simply put, the state is making the poor pay for the economic problems caused by the Transnational Capitalist Class. The average guy on the street is getting poorer while the rich are still getting richer! Consider also the recent case of Ireland, where the minimum wage is being cut by one euro, VAT is being increase, and public sector jobs axed, while Corporation Tax remains at an incredibly low 12.5%  

Getting back to the cuts in Britain, this is no surprise if you actually look at the characteristics of those who make up the cabinet and the wider Tory Party; you actually find that many of them are themselves extremely wealthy. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Chancellor are all millionaires – They are the Transnational Capitalist Class – and they are hardly likely to hurt themselves.

Evidence of Elite control over the Criminal Justice System

Another example of the elite class having control over the superstructure lies in the differential treatment of white collar crime and street crime. Even though White Collar Crime costs more to the economy than street crime, White Collar Criminals are still less likely to get punished. According to Tombs and Whyte, this is partly because the government invests fewer resources into investigating fraud and health and safety crimes (the types of crime Corporations are most likely to be guilty of) than it does into working class street crime.

Evidence of Elite Control over the mainstream Media

Greg Philo argues that it is simply crazy it is that the agenda in the media is about ‘what services should the government cut’ rather than ’should we tax the wealthy or make cuts.[1] Philo points[2] out that there are other solutions to the current economic crisis – there is enough property wealth in the country – we could just take it off them, but the government is making the average man on the street pay instead. In his film, 

Evidence of Elite Control of the Education system

Evidence for elite control of the education system lies in the fact that if you are wealthy, you can buy your children a private education, which gives them a much greater chance of getting into a top university and high getting a highly paid, prestigious job.  The statistics make for extremely uncomfortable reading… Intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’.Looked at another way, of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.[3]

People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools.’[4]

  1. There is evidence that we are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.

Antonio Gramsci, A humanist Marxist writing in the early twentieth century first pointed out that what he called ‘Hegemonic Control’ plays an ever important role in advanced Capitalist societies. Hegemonic control occurs when the intellectual and moral leadership provided by the dominant class provides the fundamental outlook for the whole of society.

Greg Philo points to one very good recent example of this in recent years – the fact that we are so willing to accept cuts to public services when the richest ten percent of the country own so much wealth that if we just took one fifth of their wealth we would clear the national deficit, yet this idea doesn’t not even appear in the media. Agenda Setting has removed it and so we do not even consider it.

  1. Capitalism is kept going by creating ‘false needs’

Successful companies today spend billions on advertising campaigns to convince us that we need the products that they make. Looked at objectively much of what we buy we don’t need, yet the Capitalist class invests billions convincing us to buy things that we do not need.

Worse that ideological control – More generally, numerous Sociologists such as Richard Wilkinson and David Garland point out that the more unequal a country, and the more a country has adopted neo-liberal policies – the higher the prison population. It would appear that the closer a country is to ‘pure capitalism’ the more punitive the elite class is.

  1. Alienation and Commodity Fetishism

We in west have become so obsessed with consumer culture that we end up defining ourselves through the products we consume, and how we ‘pick and mix them’ (this means fashion, holidays, houses, cars, mobile phones). From a Marxist point of view this is incredibly shallow – Marx believed that we are only fully human when we are fully engaged with the political and economic processes of our society. From the Marxist point of view, Capitalism just encourages us to be childlike and define ourselves through our styles and our hobbies and to forget about politics and economics. In the truest sense we are alienated from our productive base while our identities become more and more dependent on material goods.

  1. David Harvey argues that economic crises are inherent to the Capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.

Harvey argues that any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement because the root problems of Capitalism are the same as they were in Marx’s day – click here for his analysis of the problems of Modern Capitalism

  1. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it – especially in Latin America – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, for example, perceives himself as an anti-Capitalist, as do many people of Latin America. The Zapatistas in Mexico is another good example and the World Development Movement also has Marxist undertones.

  • See the first 20 mins or so of John Pilger’s ‘War on Democracy’ to here Hugo Chavez talk in Marxist terms – on stream

  1. Although you don’t see it in the media there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement are still very much alive today.

Related Posts

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – Eight Key Ideas

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism

The Role of Transnational Corporations in Development

A few criticisms of  the role of Transnational Corporations in International Development 

Criticisms of Coca ColaTransnational Corporations are one of the primary agents of Global Capitalism and many have been criticised because of the social and environmental harms they cause in the pursuit of profit. In this blog I outline some case studies of Corporations exploiting workers.

My main inspiration for writing this blog is ‘The Corporation’ (1) (2). However, although this blog does draw on this excellent resource, it also provides more contemporary examples of corporate harm than this 2004 documentary.

Examples of Corporations exploiting workers

Probably the best known criticism to be levelled at well known Corporations such as Nike, Addidas and Primark is that they profit from ‘sweatshop labour’ – with the workers who manufacture their products working extremely long hours in poor conditions and for extremely low wages.

In chapter 5 of The Corporation, one researcher calculates that workers at one of Nike’s factories in Indonesia were earning 0.3% of the final selling price of the products they were making. Now, I know there are middle men, but in classic Marxist terms, this is surely the extraction of surplus value taken to the extreme! The anti- sweat shop campaigns are years old now, but still ongoing –

Of course sweat shop labour is not limited to the clothing industry – the BBC3 series ‘Blood Sweat and T shirts/ Takeaways/ Luxuries’, (3) in which young Brits travel to developing countries to work alongside people in a wide range of jobs, clearly demonstrates how workers in many stages of the productive process, including rice sowing, prawn farming, gold mining, and coffee packing, suffer poor pay and conditions. Many of the goods focussed on in this series end up being bought and the sold in the West by Transnational Corporations for a huge mark up, and it is extremely interesting to see the Brits abroad struggling with the injustice of this.

Apple SweatshopsThe Daily Mail recently conducted some undercover journalism in a Chinese factory that makes the i-pad – where the report they ‘encountered a strange, disturbing world where new recruits are drilled along military lines, ordered to stand for the company song and kept in barracks like battery hens – all for little more than £20 a week.’ Apparently workers have to endure shifts up to 34 hour s long, and the factory has been dubbed the ‘i nightmare factory’ (4)

Even worse conditions are to be found at some of Coke’s bottling factories in Columbia according to the killer coke campaign. Campaigners have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Columbia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories. (5) (6)

Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Columbia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.

See http://www.nosweat.org.uk/ for more details of Corporate Complicity in sweat shop labour and Union Busting (7)

(1)  http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=FA50FBC214A6CE87 – All the chapters of the Corporation on youtube – although you should really show your support by purchasing this documentary!

(2)  http://www.thecorporation.com/ – The web site of The Corporation.

(3)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s6103 – The BBC web site for the recent ‘Blood, Sweat and luxuries programme which has an interest blog of comments and a ‘what can you do to help’ link.

(4)  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285980/Revealed-Inside-Chinese-suicide-sweatshop-workers-toil-34-hour-shifts-make-iPod.html

(5)  http://www.killercoke.org/pdf/KCBroch.pdf – a link to the main campaign leaflet of the ‘killer coke’ campaign.

(6) http://www.staticbrain.com/archive/killer-coke-coke-is-the-drink-of-the-death-squads/ – featuring a video of the song ‘Coke is the drink of the Despots’ – sing along if you like!

(7)  http://www.nosweat.org.uk/files/New%20general%20leaflet%2009.pdf – A link to the most recent nosweat leaflet which has some nice ‘sweatshop sums’ peppered throughout which provide facts such as ‘Children as young as 10 were found working in a shop for Primark – Primark made sales of 1.1 billion in the sixth months to March 2009.’

The Golden Arches Theory of Decline – This 2016 post by George Monbiot argues that Transnational Corporations such as Mcdonalds are undermining democracy and that a global system which concentrates power in the hands of a relatively few TNCs is not compatible with the democratic will of the people of Nation States – hence why Trump won in the USA – he’s one of the few political candidates to have promised to limit the power of TNCs.

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