Sort by

The Biggest Victory for Workers This Year Happened Yesterday

David Callahan

In today's global economy, a victory for workers anywhere is a victory everywhere. Why? Because capital's advantage over labor in recent decades has rested on its ability to play workers -- and governments -- off against each other, moving production to wherever wages are lowest. That advantage will endure as long as poor countries with huge populations lack strong labor standards, and offer a hospitable home to sweatshops. 

But should the biggest poor countries substantially raise wages, as well as tighten environmental and safety standards, corporations will eventually run out of places where they can set up sweatshops. The race to the bottom -- a key feature of globalization -- will, finally, come to an end. And workers everywhere will benefit. 

All this is why we should be paying close attention to the big victory that workers just achieved in Bangladesh. Yesterday, factory owners across that country agreed to a 77 percent hike in the minimum wage -- giving into labor demands that have been rising since a disastrous factory collapse earlier this year. 

Now, granted, labor activists didn't get the doubling of wages that they wanted. But the increase is still signficant, and comes on top of new measures to protect worker safety in Bangladesh -- measures that will also raise the cost of production in that country. 

This is a big deal given that Bangladesh has one of the largest low-wage labor forces in the world -- after China, India, and Indonesia. Last month, I wrote about a huge national strike in Indonesia, so higher wages may also be coming to that country. And wages have increased enough in China that manufacturers there often outsource to places like Cambodia and Vietnam. But major labor agitation is also emerging in those two countries, where the sweatshop sectors have grown rapidly over the past decade.

Okay, I know: We're still a long ways from a world where there is no place to outsource cheaply. But recent events, including what just happened yesterday in Bangladesh, suggest we're at least moving in the direction of such a world.