The tragic blaze in Pakistan that killed nearly 300 workers last week was the world’s worst factory fire, surpassing the terrible death toll of 188 in the Kader toy factory fire in Thailand in 1993. The latest fire was a particularly horrific product of the dangerous and oppressive conditions that are the common experience of tens of millions of workers in Asia and many other parts of the world.
Over the past three decades, countries like Pakistan and Thailand have been integrated into globalised production systems like never before. In the garment industry, global corporations contract out production of their prestige products to the sweatshops of Asia, setting in motion a dog-eat-dog competition to cut costs and provide the lowest price.
National governments are the facilitators of this global system of capitalist exploitation. Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene spoke for them all when he publicly declared in the late 1970s: “We must kiss and welcome the international corporate investors.” In other words, everything must be done to attract foreign capital, whatever the consequences for the working class.
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