Don't Wait for Globalized Social Policy - Organize Here and Now!

By Shniad, Sid | Canadian Dimension, January-February 1997 | Go to article overview

Don't Wait for Globalized Social Policy - Organize Here and Now!


Shniad, Sid, Canadian Dimension


Ramesh Mishra argues that transnational capital enjoys power so great that it is no longer possible for governments to pursue progressive social policies. He contends that it is this vast increase in corporate power which has caused governments of every stripe to pursue similar policies with respect to taxation, social spending and the deficit. Finally, he argues that these circumstances compel us to promote progressive change at the international level. I believe he is wrong on several accounts.

Mishra is just one of the policy analysts who have succumbed to the notion that globalization has triumphed and that it is irreversible. Seeing the world from this perspective makes it difficult to promote progressive social/political responses on anything other than the most idealized level.

Those who share this perspective fail to realize that the economic environment is not an independent variable. It is shaped by the contest between capital and other social forces. And despite all the talk of globalization, this is a true today as it has always been.

Mishra argues that we should enshrine social standards in international social charters. But he puts his finger on the problem with his own prescription when he asks "...what if they [the social standards] end up as pious declarations of ideals and aspirations with very little purchase on reality?"

Those who argue that we must elevate social protections to the international plane are characteristically short on concrete proposals. It is no accident that proponents of this perspective confine their analysis to the level of abstractions: if it is impossible to nail down capital at the local or national level, as they contend, how can it be easier to do so at the international level?

Clearly, in this era of transnational capital on the rampage, the corporate sector is in no mood to tolerate progressive policy alternatives. We have countless examples of governments that have announced their intention to pursue modest reform programs, only to become the target of hysterical media and propaganda attacks carried out by big business.

But to acknowledge the adversity that progressive governments face at the hands of the corporate sector is not to excuse their capitulation to the corporate agenda. People are desperate for progressive change precisely because this agenda is taking such an enormous human toll. This was why they cast their votes for progressive alternatives in the first place.

Instead of responding with a well thought out counterattack designed to challenge the logic of the corporate agenda, however, progressive politicians tend to lose their nerve. Soothed by the argument made that alternatives are no longer possible at the local, regional or national levels thanks to the irresistible forces of globalization, they make no serious effort to confront big business. Instead, these politicians opt for the politics of the "high road," proclaiming their desire to work hand in hand with the corporate sector.

By capitulating without a fight, these politicians do nothing to increase popular understanding that society's problems are rooted in right wing political and economic policies that have been put in place at the behest of the corporate sector.

Bob Rae had a choice

Case in point: Bob Rae's social democratic government in Ontario. The creation of a government-run automobile insurance system was a major plank in the Ontario NDP's 1990 election platform. This was not a radical plank. Drivers in Ontario who had been gouged by private insurance companies could for relief look to British Columbia and Manitoba, where government-run auto insurance companies provide residents with efficient, reasonably priced car insurance.

But private insurance companies especially those headquartered in the US - were determined to prevent further government encroachments into their business. Mounting a sophisticated propaganda campaign, they threatened that massive job losses would follow if the government got involved. …

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