DOWN WITH ANY ELITE
September 9 2001
This is the first sentence of chapter fourteen of the book No Logo written by Naomi Klein (Flamingo 2001). I recommend the book.
In the first part of the book Klein nicely describes the growing usurpation of the mind of the masses by multinationals. Production is being replaced from Western countries to places where people can be forced to work for nearly nothing. On page 352 is written that the CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, earns $9.783 an hour while the average wage of the 19.000 Haitian workers who work for Disney is only 28 cents an hour. It would take a Haitian worker 16.8 years to earn Eisner’s hourly income. The analysis emphasises the dominating presence of brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Disney or Shell. The book is positively criticized and also amplified by Walden Bello on http://www.nologo.org under the section My Book.
The last chapters describe the growing resistance of the masses. But as you advance in the book it becomes more and more clear that these actions are not very successful.
It is strange. Klein writes about the growing intrusion of the public space by transnationals but most of the actions have nothing to do with this idea. Only symptoms are attacked. Klein wonders indeed if the struggle against Nike can be called successful when the only consequence of the actions is the increase in revenue of Reebok and Adidas whose shoes and clothes are manufactured in the same sweatshops as the products of Nike. And she wonders about the success of the boycott of Shell when Chevron is afterwards also suppressing the wishes of the Nigerian Ogoni people and polluting the Nigerian waters.
She applauds some successes (by lack of an alternative?) but a small
increase in the wages of people in sweatshops in the Third World
(where most of the workers are women under twenty-five years old) will not
change the world.
A small increase in wages, a little less pollution, slightly better food but Nike is still shifting the production to yet even cheaper countries while workers who got higher wages are sacked. When Shell was attacked on Internet it did not listen to arguments but hired an Internet manager to refute the arguments. When McDonald was attacked because most of its advertisements are directed at small children, it tried to silence activists in court as happened in the McLibel case. The current actions do not change the people at the top and they continue their prime task, earning money for the stockholders (and themselves). They never even think that it is despicable to force people to work for more than 90 hours a week or that it is immoral to sack pregnant women. The actions described by Klein do not influence the minds of the leaders. She does say that “those people have names and addresses” but she never specifies how actions can make use of these names and addresses.
The economic analysis of Klein explains many things about the way multinationals are acting. In the part about actions she overlooks the fact that nothing will change by the described actions. A study of 124 countries representing 94 percent of the world's population shows that since 1987 the top 20 percent of the world's population raised its share of total global income from 69 to 83 percent (Bello). The elite, the people at the top, lives within a small circle of like-minded and like-living people, who have enough money, a very powerful network and the wish to continue their existence at the top of the world. They only listen as their eliteworld is intruded by the masses, just as the world of the masses is now intruded and dominated by the elite. Only when elite and mass come nearer to each other (and that is only possible when the power relations change) people will change, the masses as well as the elite. Now the elite stays aloof of all actions and the situation on the world will not change fundamentally.
I ask activists to stop asking or even begging people at the top if
they should be so friendly to become a little bit nicer towards people
from the masses.
Yours truly, Joost van Steenis
When you want to
receive an e-mail message each time I publish a new article,
To the index of All Letters