Globalisation: The New Colonialism
Globalisation is a specific economic strategy developed by established industrialised countries and transnational corporations to control access to, and exploitation of, the world's markets. Because the primary beneficiaries of global economics are the transnational corporations and their shareholders, it is a strategy that works well for profits, but not for people.
Fifty-one of the world's top one hundred economies are companies, not countries. Their only allegiance is to their profit-seeking shareholders. The world's top three billionaires have assets greater than the combined GNP of all the least developed countries and their 600 million people.
Economic Decision Making
Multinationals think globally, and have the economic muscle to make governments listen. Economic decision-making is more and more being transferred away from national governments to multi-national corporations and to unaccountable bureaucrats in the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organisation.
In their quest for market dominance they are prepared to use whatever means necessary to sweep aside smaller local competitors and to trample underfoot the social and environmental needs of whole countries. They also have the power to get away with corporate murder, slave wages, child labour, intimidation of union officials and high levels of pollution.
This issue of globalisation is not just an issue for the developing third-world countries. Those who control the global economy are not just creating an ever widening gap between the richer and the poorer countries, they are also widening the gulf between the rich and the poor within countries. Even in those countries that have benefited from the global economy there is an inequitable distribution of those benefits. Clearly it is an issue for us here at home. The poor within both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are not faring well under globalisation. Both countries have the highest poverty levels in the industrialised world outside of the United States.
A recent United Nations report on Human Development placed the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland fifteenth and sixteenth respectively out of seventeen Western countries with over 15% of their population living in human poverty. Many of us have long argued that the so-called "tiger economies" do not really enhance the lives of the poor, and the benefits of the Celtic Tiger have certainly not benefited the marginalised poor in the Irish Republic. The United Kingdom fares little better. The difference between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in terms of human poverty is a mere 2%. The UK is reported as being the most unequal in terms of the distribution of wealth with the richest 10% of the population having ten times more than the poorest 20%.
The success of the global economy requires national governments to force down labour standards in order to attract investment. We have seen some of the effects of this in the United Kingdom with increasing demands for deregulation, the creeping privatisation of public services, resistance to demands for a living wage and the refusal of New Labour to repeal the plethora of anti-trade union laws brought in under the previous Tory government. There is also a growing health and safety issue for workers and consumers everywhere which demands solidarity within and across nations. Figures issued by the HSE for the year 2000/01 indicate an increase of 34 per cent increase in workplace fatalities across the United Kingdom. It is also estimated that more than 3,000 workers die each year in the UK from asbestos-related diseases. Human life is cheap when you put profits before people.
The only international industry police force with real, enforceable sanctions, the World Trade Organisation, uses its muscle to protect trade at the expense of workplace safety and environmental standards. Poisonous exports and toxic materials can have global protection, while workers can't.
Deregulation within the food industry will substantially increase the danger to public health. What could be more disastrous than allowing the powerful meat industry to inspect its own produce? The conflict of interest between the provision of safe produce and the maximisation of profit is just too great. The meat industry is just not ethically equipped to regulate itself. If you think that is too strong a statement I recommend that you read the Swann report into hygiene practices in slaughterhouses and the more recent BSE Inquiry Report that was published last October. Yet that is what the government, under pressure from both the European Commission and the World Trade Organisation, plans to do.
Workers everywhere are told to expect worse conditions, less security and lower wages because "that's the reality of global trade". Make no mistake about it these global trends do affect us in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The British poor and the Irish poor will continue to get poorer while the rich in both jurisdictions will continue to get richer. The latter will rest safe in the knowledge that the divided poor will never be in a position to mount a serious political challenge to their system of inequality and legalised corruption.
Whether our political allegiance is to the United Kingdom or to the Republic of Ireland, do we really want to live in a British or an Irish society that is controlled by soul-less multinational interests propped up by native lackeys. Do we really want to live in a society, however politically correct it might be, where there are gross inequalities between the rich and the poor?
If Irish patriotism and Ulster loyalism mean anything, surely they mean working for the social and economic emancipation of the underprivileged in both jurisdictions and in challenging those who have embraced the new colonialism of global economics. This is what our priorities should be as we struggle to find an exit strategy from the cycle of alienation, conflict and violence that has beset us for so long.